Thursday, August 9, 2012

Synopsis Writing - 101

I will have to say, synopsis writing isn't as hard as writers try to make it. Still, these little bad boys are crucial when it comes to submitting projects to editors and agents. Despite what many editors and agents say, they do read a synopses. This is especially the case if the editor or agent has requested a partial from you. My bet is that even if someone has requested a full manuscript from you, they will likely take a look at the synopsis if the beginning of the story may be a bit confusing.

What goes into a synopsis? The answer is again simple. We want to see the MAIN storyline of your completed project. I think you are getting the hint here when I stressed that single word. We need to see the beginning, the middle and the end of the story. We want just the main story line and we don't really  need to know much about the sub-plots, secondary characters or those random little scenes that you spent so much time writing within the book.

As always, I always go back to that same chart I have mentioned time and time again here on the blog.
Let's look at what goes into that synopsis and we'll color code it for you.

The first part of the query needs to set up the location and the characters. We need to see the Goals, Motivations and Conflicts of the main characters in the story. If you are telling something that requires world building, then make sure you give the reader some context to work with. Don't go overboard here.

One problem we frequently see shows up with those paranormals, fantasies and Sci-fi stories. Going into too much detail describing the species of the charcters pushing things too much. On the other hand, just giving us names without that context will kill you as well. Give us enough to work with.

Now you will dive into the main story line. Hit the highpoints of the plot but you don't need to discuss EVERY scene that happens in the story. The key is the high points. Show that the story has some forward momentum and that we see the conflict really building toward that ultimate dark moment.

And, please, hit on that one moment when it looks like the world will fall apart. No, don't go into an analysis of it. Just tell us what happens. Think DRAGNET here. "Just the facts, mam."

We need to see how the story is going to wrap up. This is going to get us to that final conclusion of the story. Again, this is one of those times when you need to keep it simple. You will likely not have a lot of scenes you will want to highlight, but take the time to show a couple of those scenes.

And finally, give us the conclusion. Tell us how it ends. We need the conclusion.

Think of a synopsis for THE WIZARD OF OZ. What needs to be included?

  • The story is about Dorothy and her adventure through Oz to discover who she is and her place in the world.
  • Highlight her life in Kansas. She wants to talk to someone about Toto getting lost and no one will listen so she runs away.
  • The Twister shows up so she runs back home and is taken to Oz
  • The house lands on a witch and she is now in posession of the ruby slippers
  • The Wicked Witch of the West shows up and wants the slippers.
  • Glinda tells her to "follow the Yellow Brick Road" to the wizard who will help her.
  • Along the way she meets The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodsman and The Cowardly lion.
  • She gets to Oz but now has to run an errand for the wizard to bring back the broom of the Witch.
  • She ends up confronting the witch and kills her.
  • Returns to the wizard but he won't help
  • Glinda shows up = There's no place like home.
  • And she is back.
This is all we focus on.

Other keys to remember:
  • This is just a plot line so creativity is not important.
  • We don't need to see your "creativity"
  • Keep it simple.
  • Honestly 3-5 pages double spaced is more than enough.
  • Unless told otherwise, chapter by chapter synopsis is not necessary.


  1. Great outline of the main points to hit! I think synopsis writing is hard for most writers because it involves a bit of emotional distance. You need to relay just the core structure and major points, not all the lovely little details.

    I've always wondered about how to convey dual storylines, though. My current WIP has two storylines that occur at separate points in time with different POV characters. Neither one is small enough to call a subplot, and it would seem odd to leave off all mention of one. (And let's assume for this purpose that, yes, both are important to the story, both enhance the other, they are intertwined, etc.) Would it be best just to do a synopsis for one and then the other, back-to-back, or to alternate between them as they occur in the novel?

  2. great post, bonus points for color coding :) sadly, i just submitted synopsis without exposition at the beginning (slaps forehead)

  3. Ah, this is excellent, thanks for sharing it. Bookmarked for frequent use later I think!