10 Tips For Writing A Synopsis
by Cathy Bryant, © 2009
A good synopsis can help sell your story. It’s often required not only by publishers, but by other writers from whom you are seeking an endorsement. Internet research on the topic of synopsis writing turned up a wealth of information, so I have summarized it here.
TIP #1: MAKE SURE THE FORMAT IS CORRECT.
*1-inch margins, single-spaced. This format seems to be the norm for short synopses (two pages or less). Either double-space between paragraphs or indent five spaces at the beginning of each new paragraph. Longer synopses are double-spaced. (Check to see if the publishing house you’re submitting to has a preference by researching their submission guidelines.)
*Fan-fold computer paper is not recommended, and is often forbidden.
*12-point font (not fancy). This is a professional document. Don’t add graphics.
*Write in third-person, present tense.
TIP #2: A SYNOPSIS IS NOT A CHAPTER-BY-CHAPTER SUMMARY.
A synopsis needs to cover the highlights, big scenes, and turning points of your novel, so skip the details. Remember it’s a sequential overview of the story. It needs to be entertaining and catchy, capturing your voice and the tone of the novel. Editors often use your synopsis when pitching your novel to a pub board, so make it unforgettable–in a good way of course!
Your synopsis should show the editor that you know how to structure a story. Consider keeping a spread sheet as you do revisions, and list each scene and its intensity on a scale of 1 to 10. This makes it easy to pick out the turning points to include in the synopsis. Also use the scenes that propel your characters into Act 2 and 3 of the story.
TIP #3: MAKE THE TONE OF THE SYNOPSIS MATCH THE TONE OF YOUR NOVEL.
If your story is a romantic comedy, don’t make your synopsis read like a suspense thriller.
TIP #4: ADDRESS THE GENRE IN YOUR SYNOPSIS.
If your novel is an inspirational romance, show both the romance and spiritual thread of the story.
TIP #5: SHOW CHARACTER AND EMOTION.
Readers care about characters, and emotion makes the character. Be sure to show the obstacles your characters face and how they react to them. This includes how the characters grow and change through the course of the story. In your synopsis you need to highlight the goals (both internal and external) and motivations of your characters.
TIP #6: SHOW THE RESOLUTION OF THE STORY.
Back-cover copy intentionally leaves questions in the reader’s mind to entice them to read the story, but synopses should show the entire story, including the resolution. Remember, the editor wants to see that you know how to structure a novel.
TIP #7: INCLUDE ANY THEMES OR SYMBOLISM.
In my novel, Texas Roads, the symbol of a road is used throughout the story, so I used it in my synopsis as well. The theme of my novel is that home isn’t a place, but a relationship with Christ as our abiding place. I included that theme in my synopsis.
TIP #8: WRITE A GREAT HOOK.
We all know the importance of writing great hooks for our novel, scene beginnings, and scene endings. It applies to the synopsis as well. Make sure the first paragraph includes the name of the main character, the setting, the conflict, and the story question. Then wrap up the synopses by answering the story question in the last paragraph.
TIP #9: USE STRONG VERBS AND NOUNS.
Writers are encouraged to do this in their novels and it holds true for the synopsis as well. Work toward using an active, rather than passive, voice. Eliminate excessive adverbs, adjectives, and unnecessary verbiage.
TIP #10: JUST WRITE IT!
Study your story and make notes as to main scenes, character goals, etc., then sit down and write, turning off your internal editor. Once you get your ideas down on paper, it’s much easier to go back and tweak what you have, instead of fretting over every little thing as you write. It also makes the process a lot more enjoyable.
Writing the dreaded synopsis doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task. Hopefully these tips will make the process easier, and maybe even fun!
A Texas gal since birth, Cathy lives in a century-old farmhouse with her husband and a phobia-ridden cat. Her debut novel, Texas Roads, was a 2009 ACFW Genesis finalist and tells the story of a disillusioned widow’s quest to find home. The second book in the Miller’s Creek series, A Path Less Traveled, is scheduled for release in October 2010. For more information, visit Cathy’s website at www.CatBryant.com or her blog at http://WordVessel.blogspot.com.