Sunday, July 1, 2012

Writing the Damned Synopsis

Ah, it’s summer vacation! The classroom is packed up, the children are enjoying time away from school, and their teacher finally gets some writing time. It should be bliss. Except that first on my list of writing to-dos is “write the damned synopsis.” I’ve put it off as long as possible, but the time has come. (Cue music that indicates doom and gloom)

In doing my research on synopsis writing I’ve come across plenty of mentions that this is the one task almost universally dreaded by authors. That makes a fledgling writer feel a little bit better, but it still doesn’t help get the task done. When I decided I should go ahead and submit my first novel, (previously known in this blog as my “practice” novel, but now that I’m planning on submitting I’ve decided it should have a better appellation), I knew the most daunting tasks weren’t the rewrites, but the query letter and synopsis. So this past week, I put butt in chair and started working on the synopsis. Something quite passable came out of the task. I did my happy dance. But, wait, what’s this? Every publisher has a different page requirement for synopses? And they don’t tell you anything about required formatting such as line spacing? And one publisher doesn’t want pages, it wants less than 200 words? Come on! (Cue more doom and gloom music- make it gloomier this time!)

I was so pleased with myself that I was able to condense my 74,000 word novel into a two page synopsis. Well, I was able to make it two pages when I changed the line spacing from 2 to 1.5 on the recommendations of several agents’ blog posts on the subject. But I wanted to cry, and maybe I did just a little, when I saw that one of the publishers to whom I plan to submit requires a synopsis of only 200 words, or less. How to do that? Or better yet, how to do that and make it sound like something more than a blurb? Shouldn’t it, at the very least, convey the conflict, beginning, middle, and end? I set out to see what I could do. I must have at least ten different versions saved on my computer. None of them is perfect. But one, with a bit of tweaking, might do. I call it the ‘supermarket line version’—the way I’d explain my story to someone standing next to me in line at the supermarket.

If I learned only one thing about synopsis writing that I would share with another novice it would be the supermarket line method. But I would recommend that a writer BEGIN by writing the short, short version first, and distill the story down to its very most basic essence. THEN, move on to the fleshed out versions, be they two pages, or ten. If nothing else, writing the 200 word synopsis was an excellent exercise for me.

Now, that query letter… (This requires nothing less than a Bach fugue written in a minor key)


  1. Ahh, yes - the synopsis followed by the query letter learning curve. My novel is over 110K words and in my imagination I think if it were shorter, the synopsis (especially the 200 word one) would be easier. In my imaginative publishing world, all queries, synopses, and manuscripts have the same requirements i.e. format and they all take attached documents.

  2. Yes, Judith! That sounds just like my imaginative publishing world!