Monday, August 29, 2011

Writing a Synopsis

by Calista Taylor

Boiling down your 80K-100K word manuscript to just a couple of pages is never fun, nor is it easy, but a synopsis is one of those necessary evils if you plan on querying your manuscript.  Matters are only made more difficult by there seemingly being no hard and fast rules with regards to length, and even spacing.

Here are some of the basic rules and guidelines to help you get through writing your synopsis.

  • A synopsis is a summary of your entire manuscript.  Unlike your query which only covers about a third of your manuscript, a synopsis tells the whole story, including the ending.
  • Write two to three different length synopses. Some say you should have one double spaced page of synopsis for every 20 pages of manuscript, but I feel this could result in a fairly long synopsis.  Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast rule to the length, although some agents specify a maximum word count.  I usually have 200, 750 and 1200 word versions of my synopsis, and if an agent doesn't specify, I send them the longest.
  • Make sure you include your manuscript word count, genre and pertinent information in the title area.
  • I usually use double spacing, however, you should check agency guidelines, since this can vary from agent to agent.
  • A synopsis is written in third person and present tense, regardless of the tense and pov your manuscript is written in.
  • Do not flood the synopsis with character names and places.  Stick to the main characters.  
  • When you first use a character's name, put the entire name in caps.This is done for the first time it's used only.  This is not done for place names.
  • Stick with the main plot points.  Though I'm sure there are plenty of sub-plots in your story, including all of them will make it difficult for you to condense your story.
  • Try to hit upon all the key points of your story—the initiating event, the conflicts and what escalates them, the turning points, the climax, and the resolution.
  • Most importantly, make sure the voice of your manuscript comes through.
As for making a synopsis easier to write, I wish I had a magic wand.  Different writers use different techniques.  Some summarize each chapter to just a few sentences, and then smooth it out from there.  I personally start by using my query as a guideline, taking extra care to rephrase things,  That gets me a third of the way through the novel, and then I do my best to add to that.  And just like your query, be prepared to write a dozen or so versions before you get one that works.

Do you have any tips for making synopsis writing easier?


Jemi Fraser said...

Good advice! Writing a synopsis isn't easy. I read somewhere to try using only 6 paragraphs for the short synopsis. Deciding what should be in each paragraph made it easier for me to do that one.

Calista Taylor said...

Deciding what each paragraph should cover is a great tip, Jemi!!

Leslie Rose said...

Great checklist. I have an anxiety attack every time I hear the word synopsis. At the SCBWI intensive I just went to the guideline was 3 pages double spaced or 1 1/2 pages single spaced for length.

LD Masterson said...

And just when I think I've got all the rules down pat -

I had an agent tell me this weekend NOT to include the ending in the synopsis she requested.

Of course, the other one I talked to said to include it.

Calista Taylor said...

Leslie, I swear I know people that break out in hives when they hear the word "synopsis", so take comfort in knowing you're not alone.

LD, that's the first time I've heard someone not want the ending in a synopsis. At least it's an easy request to fulfill.

Caryn Caldwell said...

Great advice! My main tip is to have it critiqued both by people who've read the book (so they can tell you if you're being true to the story) and those who haven't (so they can tell you if it's confusing).

Calista Taylor said...

Great advice, Caryn!! So true that each of those readers will see something different.

aliya seen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aliya seen said...

Writing a synopsis is little different from ordinary writing. You have to explain all your summary in well defined way. It also need research based work so write according to requirement. You can also present video summary for this task.