Monday, August 3, 2015

The Dread Synopsis

 By Susan J Berger

I break out in a cold sweat when I hear the word synopsis. It reminds me of those horrible book reports I had to write in school. Images of How I spent My Summer Vacation and other hideous teacher subjects float behind my eyelids.

But a synopsis is part of the writers tool box. I wanted a better idea of what I should be writing. I approached the great reference desk in the sky - Google and I found help. Wonderful help. The links will give you the full posts from which I've quoted.

This is from Panic Free Synopsis by Jan Fields


Synopsis must be one of the most under-explained issues in children's writing. From a tall stack of writing books, I found nearly nothing on writing the synopsis. Finally, I spotted a definition in Book Markets for Children's Writers 2006: "A clear, brief description of the fiction or nonfiction project proposed, conveying the essence of the entire idea. A synopsis may be one or several paragraphs on the entire books, or it may be written in chapter-by-chapter format. Synopses should also convey a sense of your writing style without getting wordy."

Jan goes on to give some excellent ideas of what to include. For a children's book she suggests less is more. Limit synopsis to three pages or under.


Anatomy of a Children's Book Synopsis by Cynthea Liu

Points to remember:
The synopsis should give the reader a clear idea of what happens in the story (no cliffhangers)
It should also be INTERESTING TO READ.
It focuses on the main characters and the driving plot. It touches on minor characters and subplots AS THEY RELATE TO THE DRIVING PLOT.

Parts of a synopsis
Beginning – paragraph one
Middle – paragraphs two-three-four
End – paragraph five.

Cynthea gives good examples of beginning, middle and end.

Lou Treleaven in How to Write a Synopsis suggests that a good length is one page (I love this.)

When to write it

Should you write your synopsis before or after your manuscript? It depends on your method of planning. If you prefer to plot your novel first before writing, there is much to be said for coming up with a synopsis first which you can use as a working plan. It may need revision at the end to account for unexpected events but the basics will be there. Most writers, however, tackle the synopsis at the end, which is probably why it becomes so dreaded a task. Your precious manuscript is complete and ready to go out into the world, and now you have to squeeze all the magic out of it and bash out the main points in a page of dry, academic prose when all you want to do is get the thing out there and move on to the dizzy excitement of planning a new book. Tough! It’s got to be done.

Christy Burne gives Four secrets and a "before and after "example of her own.

1) Write your synopsis like you write your novel.
If you write in a sassy voice, use that same sassy voice in your synopsis. If your book is funny, use humour in your synopsis. And if you’ve crammed 10 tonnes of back story into the first sentence, cut it out and start again (just like writing a novel ;-))

2) Write your synopsis, then close the file for a week or three.
Just like your novel draft, a synopsis needs time to breathe. After three weeks of working on something else, you’ll see new mistakes and new room for improvement.

I like her examples and her voice. Worth clicking on..

Things to remember
Synopsis Format
In the upper left hand corner you should have the following info:
Synopsis of "Title here" Genre:.................Word count: By__________ Single space your synopsis. 
(Synopses longer than one page should be double-spaced.) Its paragraphs are usually indented, with no spaces between paragraphs. You do not use a cover page or any fancy headings or fonts.
Synopsis Checklist:
Does the opening paragraph have a hook to keep the reader reading?
Are your main characters' conflicts clearly defined? 
Are your characters sympathetic? Surely this only applies to the hero(s)?
Can the reader relate to them and worry about them?
Have you avoided all grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes?

Have you hit on the major scenes, the major plot points of your book? Did you resolve all important conflicts? Did you use present tense?

Synopsis Examples:

Here's a link to the synopsis of The Way Way Back from Writer's Digest.
Examples of synopses from Miss Snark's Crapometer blog posts

I hope this helps.  I'm off to re-write my synopsis. Again. Happy writing.


  1. Thanks for the tips. I hate writing these too.

  2. I dread writing synopses. Thanks for these tips.

    1. Your are welcome, Joanne. I know I need all the help I can get.

  3. Very helpful. I love the cartoon.

  4. Susan,
    How timely! Our SSRA chapter of RWA has a speaker, Connie Mann speaking on this very topic later this month. I liked that you provided several differeant examples, which I will be printing out. bhw... Based on my synopsis and query letter, my full 300+ page novel was requested. I'm supposed to get an answer by August 15th.My first novel, so I'm super excited.

    1. Barbara, I am so excited for you. Wishing you all the luck in the world.


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