Monday, April 30, 2007

The Dreaded Synopsis

By Josi S. Kilpack


My book is written in first person, shouldn't my synopsis be in first as well?
In a word: No.

In about 700 words, here is why.

A Synopsis is not like a novel, short story or any other piece of creative writing. It is far more similar to technical writing--like the instruction manual to your treadmill--and it is always always written in third person, from a narrator's POV, never a character.
A synopsis is not designed to build suspense, reflect your writing style, or make an editor beg for more . It has one purpose--to lay out your story in a narrative form from page one until the end. It's point is to condense your entire book into something an editor can read on their way to the bathroom. In it, the editor gets to know your main character, your plot, your main subplots, your climax and your conclusion. If any of these parts are weak or missing, it will show up in your synopsis and the editor will exercise their SASE and send it back to you.
You're probably thinking "Sounds like one more hoop to jump through." You're absolutely right. A synopsis is a test, not only of your ability to follow instructions, but your willingness to do so, your understanding of the business of writing, and to test your writing skills. Anyone that has written a synopsis knows it is HARD to do. but the process itself helps you to become a better writer, not only with your next synopsis, but for the book you're currently knee-deep in.
So, here are some tips.
1) Synopsis length varies from one publisher, agent, editor to another. Read their Writers' Guidelines and give them whatever they ask for. Write the longest option they give you, for instance if they say 2-5 pages, for heaven's sake write five. It will allow you show some of your style and include more elements. Any length 2 pages or greater should be double spaced. If a length is not stated, the general rule is 2 pages double spaced or 1 page single spaced (the word count is within about 25 words in either format).
2) 1 inch margins all the way around (no cheating)
3) 12 pt New Times Roman font (don't get fancy, they hate fancy)
4) Put the following information in the upper left hand corner:
Title here (in italics)
Genre here--novel word count here
Synopsis Word count here
Author's name here
*This information should be single spaced even if your synopsis is double spaced.
5) Make the synopsis fully inclusive-It's up to you the writer to know what are the most important elements of your story and include them. And TELL THE ENDING. Never say, "And then....please contact me at for the rest of the story." This is breaking the rules and defeating the purpose, because the point is to tell the whole story so the editor knows if it's something they are interested in. They don't have time to read the full manuscript until they know if they like the story.
6) Introduce characters in ALL CAPS the first time you mention them, then regular case thereafter. (UPDATE: Per some feedback from Agents and Editors at a recent writing conference, I have been informed that this is no longer in favor for book submissions. It's still in place for Screenplays, but using the typical format of first letter capitalized is the preferred formatting for novel synopsis)
7) Write the story chronologically, as things happen in the story.

there should be no:
*Bulleted points like this
*Reader opinions

Just write a super-condensed-fully-inclusive-narrative of the story. That's all :-)

If you have more questions about a synopsis, please leave them in the comment trail. thanks.

1 comment:

Heather Moore said...

Thanks Josi! This is so helpful!