Thursday, January 21, 2016

How Much Goes Into A Synopsis

I know there are differing opinions on synopsis writing, but I am someone who believes in keeping it short and sweet. This is not because I know everyone hates writing a synopsis, or the fact that there are agents out there who claim they don't read the darn things. It is really about the purpose they serve in the submission process.

Whether you like it or not, you will be asked to write a synopsis for projects. Yes, there will be a time when you can simply toss an idea out to your editor and he or she will love it, but that will be a while down the road. So, with that said... suck it up and really work at writing these things.

I have always said that writing a synopsis is really not that hard. This is especially true when you understand the purpose of a synopsis.

In simple terms, the synopsis is there to tell us the central story arc. That's it. Nothing more. It is not there to tell us what your voice is. It is not there to go into detail on individual scenes. It is simply the story arc.And the purpose is simple. The odds are, if you are submitting a new project, we will only look at a partial to see your voice, but we want to know the rest of the story. This gives us a snap shot of whether or not the rest of the story will play out the way we want it to.

So what goes into that synopsis? Again, this is rather straightforward. We need:

  • The main story arc.
  • The main character(s)
    • Who they are
    • What drives them
    • What their goals are
    • What their internal conflict is
  • The central conflict of the story (which is likely summed up in the main story arc.
  • The conclusion
Where this becomes difficult for so many writers is the fact they keep "wanting to tell us more." I hear during pitches the same things. "To understand this, let me give you a little back story." We really don't need to see that. We are very clear there is going to be some back story for your characters. We fully understand that there will be friends who might be there for the characters. But they are not important.

For example, instead of telling us all about the back history of Gina, the next door neighbor who your main character goes to for advice every day, you can simply say, "Lois frequently talks to her friend who often guides here in what seems like the right direction but always ends up going wrong." That's it. Sure we will want to see how quirky Gina is WHEN we read the book, but until then, we don't need to know who she is.

If it is a romance, we know there is a pretty good chance they will hop into bed. That's fine, but going into detail of where, when and how good it was is not necessary. We are hoping if the hero is any good, then the time they spent in the hay loft was probably also pretty good.

The point is, keep it simple. Focus on the main plot and that is it. You should EASILY be able to sum up your plot in 3-5 pages. Just think beginning, middle and end. You will be fine. I promise.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome insight into the purpose of a synopsis, thanks Scott.
    I also found this gem of an article on How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis several years ago:
    It helped me tremendously, and even lets me recognize when the main plot isn't actually working. Writing synopses has actually become fun! ;-)