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Thursday, January 31, 2013

When Synopsis Comes to Visit

by Ellen

When Synopsis comes to call, I bite my nails in angst. If Query is in tow, I bolt the door and hide.

But not for long . . .

I reluctantly invite Synopsis to come for a visit. Even though I dread it, I know Synopsis needs to come. I tell myself that if it weren’t for Synopsis, I’d never know the bare bones of what I’ve created. Does my plot work? Is the conflict solved? Is the progression of my protagonist, antagonist, and other characters satisfactory throughout the story?

When Synopsis pays a visit, I’m taken down into the basement of my novel. It’s like putting a vacuum cleaner hose to a Space Bag . . . all that fluffy stuff is sucked out. What’s important is all that’s left. My questions are answered.

Below are a few important points according to Synopsis . . .   

THINGS to DO . . .   
     Write in an active voice, not passive.
     Summarize your novel from beginning to END. Tell the entire story.         
     Plot points, include exciting twists!
     Give a clear idea of your book’s central conflict.
     Focus on the main character, their emotions and struggles.
     Make sure the sentences in your synopsis “flow” from one idea to the next.

THINGS NOT to do . . .
     Stay away from adverbs, adjectives and too many transitions. Focus on essential details.
     Don’t mention every character, only the important ones.
     Forget about all those subplots. You don’t need them.
     No dialogue.
     Don’t write a synopsis as if it were an instructional manual for assembling a BBQ grill. 
  So . . .  how do we arrive at a finished synopsis? Here are a few helpful strategies.

     Outline-outlining is a helpful process. Some authors outline their novel first, and from this information, draft a synopsis. The synopsis becomes a roadmap to guide them along in the writing process.

     Storyboard-storyboarding can be used by both illustrators and authors. As a teacher, to help my students understand plot progression, we did the following.  Divide a piece of drawing paper, any size you like, into boxes. In each box, in sequence, jot a sentence about the plot and sketch a picture. In this way, you can visually see how things are working. Some authors do the same with note cards.

     Characterization-as you write your novel, chart you character’s personality traits. Make sure their actions fit their personalities.  

     Clustering- clustering is grouping your story by creating a free-flowing chart. Groupings might include plot, character, scene, chapters . . . anything you want. If you use clustering for plot, subplots are revealed, which aren’t necessarily needed when writing a synopsis.

     Your novel is finished. Now what?

     Revisions are done. You’ve sent a query letter out to an agent and they’ve requested the first few chapters and a two page, double-spaced synopsis. Your novel is 300 pages. Here’s where the vacuum cleaner hose to the Space Bag comes in. Shrink a novel down to two pages? It’s not easy. Below are some things you can do.

     First-if you are a writer that has outlined your work, or kept note cards, review them. Shrink things down to what’s important. Your synopsis is a miniature version of your work.   

     Second- focus on your pitch. Be sure you can express your book in a sentence. The pitch can be used as the first sentence of your synopsis, if you like.  

     Third- my favorite strategy takes time, but I find it the most helpful. I print out my finished novel and then, ignoring chapters, type out the major scenes in the order they occur. This helps me with plot points and my characters. If things aren’t working, I revise. From the scenes I’ve typed, I write a quick summary of the book. Finally, I par the summary down, down, and down until it becomes the synopsis.

     Fourth- polish your work. Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. If you are in a critique group, share your synopsis. If not, share it with a friend. It’s always better for someone with a fresh view to take a look.  Also, since there is no set way to write a synopsis, be sure and check the agent or editor’s guidelines.

     Fifth- hit send!!  Good Luck!!

Here are some resources I’ve found helpful:

Marshall, Evan.Producing a Knockout Novel Synopsis.”The Complete Handbook of Novel
     Writing. Writer’s Digest. 2010: 370-375.

The synopsis: what it is, what it isn’t, how to write it. http://www.caroclarke.com/synopsis.html

Vilardi, Debbie. “Navigating the Synopsis Maze.” SCBWI Bulletin. Jan-Feb 2013: 19

 SO . . . I would love to know what works best for you when Synopsis comes to visit! Please share!


  1. Thanks for sharing, Ellen! I was impressed with the synopsis you just finished. I'll be tackling a synopsis of my own soon, and I'm grateful for these resources.

  2. Thanks, Sarah! I'm glad it was helpful. Looking forward to reading yours!

  3. Excellent post EJ,

    Lots of good points everywhere!

  4. For the moment, I've broken out in hives. lol. ;) Synopses should be illegal!! But when I am forced to write one, I'm going to re-read this post. It'll give me the strength and guidance I'll need. Thanks bunches!!!

  5. Glad to be of some help! Thanks for dropping by, and good luck whenever Synopsis comes to visit!