Crafting a Synopsis, or You Thought Writing A Novel Was Hard?

Does a synopsis scare you?

Don’t worry. You’re certainly not alone. Crafting a synopsis is a difficult challenge, even for the best writers. If you’re getting a critique at the conference, you’ve likely read over the line that says “include a one-page synopsis’ hundreds of times—and you’ve likely cringed each time.

Believe me when I say, you NEED to learn to write a synopsis. It’s an integral part of the query and submission process. Lots of agents and editors read over your synopsis before they ever read a word of your actual book. I encourage you to do some research before you spend a lot of time on your synopsis. There are some great websites on the internet that give samples synopses. But you need to know where to start, right?

There are several keys to writing a selling synopsis. Here are the basics:
1. Write in third person, present tense.
Example: Nurse Goodbody is done with men. She thinks they’re all the same:
unreliable, insensitive and rude. But when she meets Fireman Sam after he’s admitted to her
ER after the collapse of an apartment building, her heart begins to melt.
2. Use your first paragraph as a summary paragraph. It should hook the reader and give them
an idea of the arc of the story.
3. Leave out all the parts that aren’t 100% necessary. Unless physical characteristics are pivotal
to your plot, leave them out. Scenes that do nothing but build character or move the action
forward might not be necessary either.

Take this first “hook” paragraph for instance:

Robbie West, a 5’10″accountant for a professional football team, who has blue eyes and blond hair, who lives in Portland, Oregon is sick of watching his bad boy friends score with beautiful women. So, on a Tuesday morning, when it’s raining, he decides to go to the leather goods store in the mall, right beside the cookie place, and buy a jacket. He gets one with silver buckles and a Harley Davidson logo. Then, later that afternoon, after a few beers, he decides to get a tattoo of a flaming guitar on his left bicep. On Friday night, after he cashes his paycheck, he heads to a well-known biker bar on Highway 514 and looks for some action. When he runs into Deborah Lawson, an undercover cop trying to bust a dangerous motorcycle gang, he thinks he’s met the perfect woman. But he has no idea she’s working instead of looking for a good boyfriend.

WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL FOR A SYNOPSIS. Not to mention all those horrible clauses in the first sentence that would take hours to detangle. We don’t need to know his physical description, the weather, where he buys the jacket. All of these are details that add to the richness and depth of the narrative, but they don’t belong in a synopsis. Most people would have stopped reading in the first sentence. It does little to hook the reader’s interest. Instead, write something like this:

Robbie West is sick of crunching numbers while his bad-boy clients get the best girls. Dressed in a leather jacket and sporting a tattoo that still hasn’t healed, he heads to Biker Mike’s Bar, hoping to use his new image to find the girl of his dreams. When he saddles upto Deborah Lawson and buys her a shot of tequila, he has no idea she’s an undercover agent working to bust a ruthless biker gang.

While this isn’t necessarily a book you want to read (or write), you get the point. Write in third person, present tense. Cut the fat and make sure your hook paragraph moves quickly and grabs the intended reader.

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