Some Advice on Synopsis Writing

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When I finished the ending to my first novel, it was a wonderful feeling. I knew I needed to go back and polish some things, but it was great to finally be done. In my naivety, I thought the hard part was over. What I didn’t know was all the writing I would have to do to hunt for an agent.

After I wrote multiple versions of pitches and query letters, all of which sounded great one day and then awful the next, then I moved on to writing a synopsis. It sounded pretty easy—just a quick run-down of what happens in the book. That’s when I realized the simple story I thought I had was an intricate monster of subplots, all of which could not be ignored.

In the midst of this headache, I decided to take a break and start my next novel. I thought it might be helpful if I did a little planning this time. What if I started with the pitch, and then wrote the query followed by a short synopsis? To my surprise, this is what a lot of authors do when brainstorming for their work.

I used the Snowflake Method, which takes you through sentence summaries up to page summaries for storyline and characters. Things do change when you actually sit down to write, but I was glad to have a skeleton of a synopsis to refer back to when I finished.

So if you haven’t written your novel yet, check out the Snowflake Method:

But if you are in the uncharted seas of synopsis writing for your finished novel, check out these tips:

  1. Take time to learn what’s best for you—this means trying out multiple ways of synopsis writing. Some people like to write short summaries for each chapter and cut it down from there. This didn’t work for me. I ended up with six pages and no idea what to cut. So I learned it’s better for me to focus on my pitch, my main theme/character goal, and expand from there. Here are a few different sites that might help you decide:

  1. Limit the number of characters you name—you really only need to name your main character and the antagonist. Too many names can be confusing in a short summary, so use descriptors for the supporting characters—his mother, the ultimate warlord, the cute neighborhood girl, etc. Only name other characters if they are recurring throughout the story and important to plot development.
  1. Read synopsis examples—these will help you know what story elements to include in a synopsis and what to leave out. One site I refer back to constantly is a series done by Chuck Sambuchino, where he gives synopsis examples using movies. Pick a movie you’ve seen and read how he writes a play-by-play of the action and the growth of the characters. This is exactly what we need for a good synopsis.
  1. Research agent submission guidelines—these vary greatly. Usually, they only ask for a one-page synopsis, but some want longer ones, so you might need more than one version of your synopsis. Some even have their own blogs or articles about how to write a synopsis, so if you have a dream agent, it’s worth taking a look.
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