I joined a writing group recently and as a published writer it seems people expect me to know about… stuff. Writing stuff. Editing stuff. Publishing stuff…
The first question they’ve come up with is help writing a synopsis…
Where to begin? I decided to start out by explaining the difference between a synopsis and blurb as these things do very different jobs but are often confused.
A blurb lives on the back of your book. It should contain the main “hook” of your story but be spoiler-free. After your cover, in a traditional “browsing through a book shop” sense, the blurb is the next thing the reader sees. The synopsis, by comparison, is the summary of your novel that a potential agent, publisher or buyer will read along with your cover letter.
The synopsis is massively important. It can be, almost certainly will be, the difference between your sample chapters being read and your precious manuscript being consigned to the “slush pile”. It has to convince the agent/publisher that reading your novel is worth their time; it has to convince them that your book is marketable, in their genre, well written, has an original hook, and is going to be something they can sell.
That’s a hell of a lot of work for one little piece of writing.
I’ve written a fair few in my time, here are my tips for writing a good one.
- Follow the format.
- Put it in context
- Give it all
- Keep it short
- Write it well
I’ve been told that a synopsis is always written in the third person, regardless of how the text itself is written. Beyond that, stick to standard format: one-inch margins, double space, indent your paragraphs, number your pages, use 12 pt Times New Roman or another easy to read font, etc.
Resist the urge to get creative with the layout. Let the words do the work.
Put it in Context
The purpose of the synopsis is to tell the person reading it what they are getting.
Tell them the genre/category your book fits in. Reference other authors that your readers may like (AKA “readalikes”). If you can summarise your story in one line, called a “logline” in movie world, start with that
“Titanic”: Two star-crossed lovers fall in love on the maiden voyage of the Titanic and struggle to survive as the doomed ship sinks into the Atlantic Ocean.”
“The Godfather”: “The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.”
“Reservoir Dogs”: “After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.”
Give it ALL
Now that you’ve given the genre, “readalikes”, and longline, it’s time to break down your main story beats and clearly define your protagonist and antagonist.
This is not the place to be coy. You don’t need cliffhangers, you don’t need open questions. Nothing should be vague or unexplained and the one thing you should never use in a synopsis is an ellipsis… You are not writing a hook or a blurb. You are summarising your whole story.
This is probably the toughest thing to do, to boil your story down to its rarest and purest form, but that is what you have to do and you have to…
Keep it short
Some people say your synopsis has to fit on one side of A4. Others say it should be 500 words maximum. Effectively these are pretty much the same thing.
The key thing is to keep it short.
Time is the currency that you are exchanging with the reader/editor/agent/publisher here. Don’t ask for too much and make the best use of what they give you.
Write it Well
So, that’s a lot of rules. A lot to do in a small number of words. But there’s one more thing you have to do on top of all of that.
You have to write it well.
This is the first time your potential agent/publisher/buyer is going to experience your writing so it’s important to showcase your voice and your style as much as possible.
Like I said, the synopsis is the most important thing you ever write!