Apparently, most novelists groan and moan and hang their heads when it comes to writing a synopsis (a summary of the novel in only a few paragraphs). They don’t feel that it’s real writing, and the synopsis is such a short summary, the elegance and subtlety of their novel is trampled all over.
Nonetheless, if you want to submit your novel to agents and publishers, you’re going to need to have a synopsis.
Why do I need to have a synopsis?
It’s a good idea to know what the purpose of the synopsis is, because then you know what angle to approach it from.
The synopsis is not for you, nor for your readers – it’s solely for your agent. This is because agents receive far more manuscripts than they can read, and by looking over a synopsis, they are able to easily eliminate those that will not be worth reading.
Problems that can be identified from a synopsis are: gaping plot holes, unrealistic character motivations, epic fail endings (e.g. it was all a dream), lack of structure and unprofessional or lazy author (not bothering to deal with basic things like typos, following guidelines, etc).
So, let’s move on to how to master the synopsis…
What to include
There are some things an agent will be looking for in your synopsis, so don’t forget these elements:
The main characters
Briefly introduce the main characters, but don’t worry about supporting or minor characters. Give some information about the protagonist’s most important motivations, emotions and conflicts.
The core conflict
This is central to the story and it has to be gripping and compelling. For this to happen the conflict itself has to be interesting to start with, and it has to be put across in an energetic, exciting way.
Any major changes
All stories are about change, so give some information about major developments in the plot and evolutions of character.
The final crisis and resolution
I know, I know, you don’t want to give away the ending, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to. Seeing that you’ve got a decent resolution is one of the main reasons an agents wants to read your synopsis.
What to avoid
In many ways, what you leave out is more important than what you include when it comes to a synopsis. Less is more, people!
Trying to include too much detail about plot
A good novel is going to have many twists and turns and red herrings, but you simply can’t include these in the synopsis. Don’t panic, the agent will assume all of that is in there, not that it isn’t.
Trying to include too much detail about characters
Likewise, there will be many colours and shades of relationships between the various characters and there isn’t time to go into all of it. Stick to the core relationships.
Using prose style writing
The synopsis should be written in the active voice, third person present. Don’t include pretty descriptions and elegant metaphors – save that for your novel. Be mean, be lean.
Including too much detail
Have I mentioned this already? However much it hurts, cut out anything that isn’t absolutely critical to the core conflicts, developments and resolution.
An example structure of a synopsis
Obviously, there is no one size fits all and you’ll have to write your synopsis to meet your genre, style and novel. However, here is a very rough guide to how to structure your synopsis.
Paragraph one of your synopsis
Start strong, include a hook. Identify the protagonist and their main conflict.
Paragraph two of your synopsis
Develop the plot and characters and describe any major plot twists and conflicts that lead to the final crisis.
Paragraph three of your synopsis
End with a powerful crisis and satisfying resolution to the major conflict. Include a line about the wrap-up.