Wednesday, September 2, 2009

#@%*#@%*! Synopsis

If you are a writer, odds are at some point you’ve been asked for a synopsis of your work. After months, maybe even years, of crafting a novel, writing a synopsis sounds as easy as making cupcakes for the drama club’s bake sale. Then you sit at the computer and realize that maybe you underestimated the task at hand, feeling as though you’ve just been informed that those cupcakes for the bake sale must be red velvet cake with cream cheese icing and oh yeah, made from scratch, without sugar or gluten and they still have to taste like heaven.

Not so easy.

Writing a synopsis is shrouded in mystery. Ask ten editors and agents and you’ll get ten different answers. One page. Ten pages. Shorter is better. Must include the beginning, middle and end. Should read like jacket flap copy. Shouldn’t read like jacket flap copy. Must see character arc clearly. Best if written with the same flavor as the novel. Is your head spinning yet? Mine is.

I recently had the the much, much, boiled down, then reduced again, 2 page, sound bite of my 65,000 word novel critiqued. The feedback was not all that glowing – the general consensus being the story was underdeveloped.(I can feel you shudder with me) Yes, it was helpful, but the sort of helpful that required going back to the drawing board for more than a ten minute fix. I now have about five different versions of my synopsis. Super-short to way too long. My favorite one stands at a hefty seven pages. The one I will most likely use is five pages. Some of you are probably shaking your heads thinking, “Dear, that’s about four pages too long.” But if an editor wants to see how your story is developed – I mean, really developed not the "a couple of really cool things happen, the character grows and it's all tied up in a big red bow" version – how can that be done in one page?

So I’m opening it up to you – what are your best tips for writing a synopsis? Any good references or definitive answers out there? It would be nice to have a reference point.

Or at least know I’m not the only one driving in the torrential rain with one headlight.


  1. You are so right! Writing a synopsis can be just as hard as writing the complete novel. I'm not good at it. I don't like it. I have no words of wisdom other than persevere.

  2. It's murder. If I could sum it up I wouldn't have written the whole freakin book.

  3. Meg - thanks! perserverance is a must in this business.

    Aimee - lol - my feelings exactly.

  4. Aimee, ha! I write picture books, so luckily I don't have to go through this, but I have heard it is a nightmare!

  5. Good luck with the synopsis, Robin. I do wonder how a critiquer can tell that your story needs more development from a single page synopsis? I guess I'm a fan of the jacket flap copy type of synopsis.

    After reading about your struggles, I'm so glad I write short stuff!

    (Love your comment Aimee! You stated the dilemma perfectly. :o) )

  6. I was hoping to find a good synopsis resource in the comments, because I sure don't know of one! At least we're not alone in our dislike of writing them. (Aimee, that really was perfect.)

  7. Okay -- remember those Oil of Olay commercials where Catherine Deneuve said, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful!"

    Well, don't hate me because I don't find synopsis writing a big deal. I can write the basic bones of those things pretty easily. I don't try to tell all, but convey the basic plot with the basic what happens then and then and how it ends.

    I think it's from so many years of writing press releases and media kits. Two pages of double spaced copy is in my finger memory.

  8. Aimee, you win for comment of the year!

    J.A., if I didn't like you so much, I'd hate you for your synopses-are-easy comment.

    Many say, haiku is the hardest form of writing. I say, it's the synopsis.

    I guess we should be glad no one asks for a synopsis in haiku form.