Synopses

While putting the finishing touches on The Amber Ring these last couple weeks, I figured I’d also better throw together a full synopsis for it.

Synopses are kind of a drag.

Not because they’re hard to write – I’ve had more than my fair share of practice summarizing.  It’s because they’re not always easy to keep exciting.  Maintaining something of the flavor and tone of your work while drying it up to its basic elements can be a frustrating task.  I’m certain there are numerous others who can give better advice on the subject than I can, but since I’m here, and so, ostensibly, are you, I’ll go over some of the things I like to keep in mind.

There’s no real easy, short-cut way to approach the whole process, but here are a few points to ponder:

 

Tip of a fish

Synopsis Considerations

 

  • A synopsis is typically a two-to-eight page summary of the entire work – the big twists, the ending, everything (important).
  • The editor or agent you’re submitting to might have a specific requirement as to what constitutes a page, but if not, double-spaced 12-point Courier New with one inch margins is a good place to start.
  • The first paragraph is often best utilized in setting up the chief protagonist – who she is, and how she got to where she is when the story begins.  If you already have a pitch line, it might fit nicely in here.  The remaining paragraphs will then recount the events that constitute the story in the order in which they are presented.
  • At least to start with, only include details essential to understanding the main plot; subplots can be added in order of precedence if there is room left in your alloted space and it would make the summary stronger on the whole.
  • The manuscript to synopsis event space ratio can be wildly inconsistent.  Some scenes may take half a sentence, some half a page, depending on how much plot-essential material they contain.  Some scenes can be omitted altogether.
  • Use strong, descriptive, succinct language (because it’s that easy, right?  (>^-‘)> ).  Word economy is paramount.
  • It’s O.K. to be a little conversational; it can help to engage the reader.
  • If you need some ideas on summarizing, look up recaps for TV episodes, or pull up your favorite films on Wikipedia and read the plot sections.  These usually constitute what amounts to synopsis copy.
  • If you’re really stuck on a blank page, you can try zero-drafting (or better yet, dictating if you have speech-to-text software) your initial go by describing the story, stream-of-conscious, from start to finish as you would a good book or movie to a friend.  You can always edit the result up or down as needed, or scrap it and try again.
  • Cheat.  If page format isn’t directly specified, and you’re aiming for a certain length, tweak the margins and line spacing (but preferably not the font) to your advantage.
  • It doesn’t hurt to conclude the synopsis with a poetic statement that encapsulates some important thematic element from the story’s ending.
  • Have someone who has not read your work take a look at the finished synopsis, and ask them if the story when presented thus is easily followable, makes sense, and is free from superfluous material.

 

Ultimately, a synopsis just serves as a quick overview of a story’s plot to ensure that it’s coherent, original, and interesting.  It doesn’t have to be as brilliantly executed as the manuscript, but anything you can do within its limits to show off the promise of your work will surely be a point in your favor.

 

Bene scribete.

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12 responses to “Synopses

  1. Wow, your blog is awesome. My writing friends were just talking about this a few days ago. I’m going to direct them to this post. Very valuable information!

  2. I take a couple minutes to write a sentence or two about the most important things in a scene right after I’ve written/edited it – while I’m still high with the success of writing – on a card or file associated with the chapter. Then writing a synopsis becomes very easy: print the whole bunch out, prioritize in some way (say, by marking the important scenes with an asterisk), and edit for length – voila, synopsis of the whole thing, beginning to end. At least it gives me something to work with.

    Beats having to remember details later, or rereading my own writing to remember what went where.

    I won’t know my scenes/chapters better at any other time – nor will I be as convinced they are necessary to the whole.

    At this point I can use your tips about strong economic language and a conversational style, but the content is already there.

    I have tried describing it to someone – but find myself having to back track a lot to fill in parts I forgot to mention.

    • Excellent system! I’m sort of the inverse – I tend to write those notes immediately before composing a chapter, but they’re typically usable in the same manner.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  3. Writing a synopsis can be a pain because you need to encapsulate the entire novel into (what I basically think is) a short story. The back-page blurb can be even harder, But your idea of looking up recaps for TV episodes or films on Wikipedia is excellent. Thanks so much for the tips ;)

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