the Novel Synopsis
©2003, Sheila Kelly
everyone hates or dreads writing a synopsis for their novel; for the longest
time I couldn't stand the damn things. I
mean, look at the task: first, you
have to condense a five hundred page manuscript down to ten or twenty pages.
It also has to 1) still make sense, 2) cover all the important points of
the story and 3) be interesting enough to catch the eye of a jaded editor who
probably reads thirty or forty synopses a week.
like you'd have better luck realigning the Hubble with a PDA, right?
the synopsis represents the writer's first and foremost selling tool, and it's
safe to say that composing an effective synopsis is as important as writing a
great novel. In today's market, you simply cannot sell your novel without
a synopsis, so it's imperative to learn how to do them the right way if you want
to get into print.
you create a synopsis, what you're doing is presenting an overview of your
novel. The main goal is to outline
the characters, setting, plot and conflicts in your story.
Let's go over what you need to put one together:
format of a novel synopsis is: double-spaced, one-inch margins, in submission
font (Courier 12 pt. is my font for everything I submit) on plain white paper.
Avoid dot matrix printers, and if you send a photocopy, make sure it's as
dark as the original. All pages are numbered in the upper right hand corner with a
header or footer of AUTHOR LAST NAME/Book Title (i.e. VIEHL/StarDoc) on each
page. Important note: before you write the synopsis, always check the publisher's
guidelines for specifics: some want
certain information such as name/address/phone number printed on the first page;
some have a certain page length cut-off; some have content restrictions.
that you have your format prepared, it's time to write the synopsis.
You'll need the following information from your novel:
Characters identities, goals, motivations and conflicts of the characters
central to the plot.
Setting a brief description
Plot the main and subplots of your story
Sequence of events how the story progresses
Theme what's the point of this novel?
already getting nervous, right? Relax.
Writing a synopsis is like drawing a very detailed map to show a stranger
how to get to your house. You know
where you live, you know how to get there, you only need to tell someone else
who has never been there how to do that. Same
thing with a novel synopsis.
your synopsis with an opening paragraph that presents a clear, brief view of
your protagonist, his/her world, and the situation he/she is in when the novel
opens. Going back to the map
analogy, this is like telling someone about the neighborhood where you live.
the Allied League of Worlds withdraws from the Pmoc Quadrant to pursue the enemy
Hsktskt Faction, Lieutenant Jadaira (Dair) mu T'resa and her squadron of SEAL
(surgically enhanced/altered lifeform) pilots remain behind to provide planetary
patrol. They have to; the aquatic
pilots can't survive away from their native underwater environment on
Kevarzangia Two for more than brief periods.
Mainly they deal with remnant ordinance and space traps left behind by
both sides, and which are hazards to the influx of refugees fleeing the
war." BioRescue by S.L. Viehl
that opening paragraph, I've briefly introduced you to my protagonist, Dair, her
world, and the job she's performing as the novel opens.
I've also touched on three of the most important conflict elements of the
novel: Dair and the other pilots
are aquatic lifeforms who are dependent on their world, their bodies have been
altered/enhanced, and they're a peace-keeping force who helps refugees.
By reading this paragraph, you know a little about Dair and her
important note: all synopses are
told in omniscient present tense. There
are no exceptions to this rule.
next paragraph(s) of the synopsis are what I refer to as the trigger, or where
you present what sets off the main conflict of your novel.
Ask yourself: What's going to happen to shake up the characters and the
world that you've just shown the reader? You
don't have to present the entire plotline in a nutshell, but you should
introduce the element of change that triggers the main conflict.
Orleans Homicide Detective J.D. Gamble doesn't need any more headaches.
Mardi Gras starts in two days, his caseload is a nightmare, and his
mother Elizabet wants him to quit the force, marry socialite Moriah Navarre, and
enter the political arena. Being
called in on an arson case at an abandoned warehouse by the Chief Fire Marshal,
his brother Cortland, is the last straw. After
J.D. arrives at the scene, he's astonished to learn that the only witness and
sole survivor of the fire is Sable Duchesne, the girl he once loved and lost.
When gubernatorial candidate Marc LeClare's burned body is recovered, he
has no choice but to take Sable in for questioning."
Into the Fire by Jessica Hall
main conflict trigger in my novel is when my heroine is detained for questioning
by her former lover. That single
event sets all of the other events of the novel in motion. Look at your story to find the same kind of key moment, event
or trigger, and present that after your opening paragraph.
body of the synopsis follows the opening and the trigger paragraphs, and this is
where you present the sequence of events in your novel.
Don't try to write a summary of every chapter in sequence.
Select the most important elements of each chapter and present them in
the order that they make sense. Give
your reader directions to make their way through your story.
you should have a wrap-up paragraph(s) at the very end of the synopsis, which
clearly states your ending, and also resolves the main conflict.
dreams that she and Matthias stand in the center of a circle of ten glowing
figures. A spirit-image of Gideon
joins them, and tells the council that Jax and Matthias have proven themselves
by finding his killer, and are worthy of Alenfar.
Matthias suggests that because they let Unger become possessed and murder
Gideon, the council is powerless, and their threats are nothing but bluffs.
Before he fades away, Gideon smiles at Jax, who finally understands why
he chose her not just for Alenfar, but for Matthias, who has been like a son
suggests to the council that matters such as their actual power and the
overseers' personal lives should remain the private business that they are.
The important thing is that from now on, she and Matthias will work
together to keep Alenfar in balance.
Jax wakes up, she's alone, but on her pillow is a single rose, glowing white in
the sunlight." White Nights by S.L. Viehl
this ending, I was able to resolve the main conflict and the central plot
threads by how I presented the final events of the story.
One note on personal style I like to end my novels with a personal
metaphor or symbolic gesture, act, or object, and I try to do the same with my
synopses (hence the final paragraph about the white rose.)
Synopsis Secret Weapons
down everything from your novel to fit into a synopsis is tough, there's no
question about that. There are no
shortcuts around the task, but there are some things you can do to make it
Eliminate excess adverbs and adjectives write as spare and clean as
you can. When you give someone
directions, you don't tell them what color all of the other houses on your
Create catch-phrases and buzz words present ideas in short form as
much as possible. Example:
"She was raised by nuns until she came of age to inherit her
family fortune" can be converted into "convent-schooled
Read TV Guide and
movie listings this sounds funny, but it's an excellent way to learn how
to condense. Hollywood can reduce
a two hour movie into a single ten-word sentence and still make it sound
Tell someone about
your novel "talking out" your book with someone else can help
tremendously. See if they can
follow your plotline as you describe your book, and listen to the questions
they ask. What they want to know
should probably be in your synopsis
Practice using other
writers' books if you're too anxious about writing a synopsis for your
novel, try writing one about someone else's book.
Make it one of your favorite books and you'll be surprised by how much
you know and how easy it is to write.
Some Final Thoughts
really didn't like writing synopses until I did a strange thing I wrote one
for myself. I was working on a
novel I'm writing for my children, and I decided to put together a synopsis to
organize my notes. I have no
intentions of ever selling this book, so for once I wasn't trying to impress an
editor. To my surprise, I actually
enjoyed writing it, and it turned out to be one of my best.
No dread involved, because there was no editor involved.
I try to keep the same mindset when I'm writing any synopsis I write them
for me, not an editor. It's been
much easier ever since.
together a novel synopsis may never be the writer's favorite task, but it is
necessary if you want to pursue a professional career.
Relax, practice, and have fun with it as much as possible.
Remember you know where you live.
Now tell the rest of us how to get there.