Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Synopsis Dos and Don'ts

By Meghan Conrad

You've written your book. You've drafted your cover letters. You're all ready to go, right? Not quite. Before you can submit, you have to write the dreaded synopsis--a brief summary of the events of your book.

For the purposes of synopses, "brief" means two to three pages. Not seven, not twenty-one, but two to three. I realize that many of you are shooting me nasty looks, loath to reduce your manuscript, the manuscript of your heart, to a mere two pages. Unfortunately, dirty looks don't work all that well from a distance, and at some point, you're going to have to suck it up and write a synopsis.

When writing a synopsis, DO...
  • Focus on the primary action and characters.
  • Make sure that you tell us what's happening at the beginning, middle and end of your book. (And yes, your books needs to have a beginning, middle and end.)
  • Hit the main points, both high and low, of the plot.
  • Tell us how the book ends. It doesn't ruin the book for us, I promise.
  • Grab the reader's attention immediately. Your synopsis needs to be as engrossing as the book itself.
  • Keep in mind where you're aiming the book--if you're writing romantic suspense, you need to cover both the romance and the suspense in the synopsis. If you're writing erotica, don't shy away from talking about sex. (Similarly, if you're writing an adventure novel that happens to have romantic elements, focus on the adventure.)
  • Proofread. I know everyone's heard this one before, but if your synopsis is littered with errors, the assumption is that your manuscript will be, too.

When writing a synopsis, DON'T...
  • Get bogged down describing things. At this point, it doesn't matter how beautiful your heroine is or what the weather's like.
  • Tell us too much about the subplots and secondary characters.
  • Give loads of backstory. The synopsis should start where the book starts--that is, where the action is.
  • Talk about other books in the series, or plans to write more books in the same series.
  • Throw in a bunch of questions, especially if you've put in questions instead of an actual ending. We shouldn't have to ask questions--that's the whole point of reading the synopsis.
  • Try to be cute, saying that if we want to know the ending, we'll have to read/request the full, buy the book, whatever. It's presumptuous, it's annoying, and it's a waste of our time.
  • Use a different style of writing than you use in the book. If you've written a dark urban fantasy, your synopsis should reflect that--it shouldn't be a humorous synopsis.
  • Capitalize PROPER NOUNS. Yes, many formatting guides list this as appropriate, but it's rather dated at this point. We can figure out who the characters are without the all-caps.
  • Talk about other books. We want to hear about your book and what makes it unique, not about how your book is what would happen if the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series had a baby, and that baby was a hybrid vampire-wizard-werewolf orphan who is either sparkly or invisible, depending on the phase of the moon and what they ate for breakfast.


Jean Wogaman said...

Writing a synopsis is a painful experience, but I've discovered it can be quite useful to my revision process in that it forces me to boil down my story to its most essential elements. I try to start working on the synopsis after the second or third revision pass. That helps me see what I can afford to cut and where I should tighten my focus in my next revision passes. After I think I've created the best ms I can, I polish up the synopsis for submission.

Charlee Compo said...

I hate doing synopses only because I am one of those annoying people who can't 'sum it up in ten words or less'. That said, I must say that my former EC editor taught me a lot about writing one and I took her words to heart...after I stopped cringing from the whip marks she left on my back.

If you don't do an outline, at least jot down the main plot points and characters so you don't have to go back through the pull to pull them out.

Charlee Compo said...

Back through the book, feline who jumped on the table. Wish for once you'd let me complete a thought before scaring the bejesus out of me! Sorry about that folks.

Angelia Sparrow said...

I was told to write the synopsis in present tense and as neutrally as possible. No tone, no quotes, nothing. Just as dry as an abstract on a research paper.

Maybe I'll try for some voice on the next one.