A couple of weeks ago, I told you about my basic take on synopses — what they are, what they aren’t, how they should appear, in either physical or pixel form. I promised to devote a post to how, exactly, to write one, including step-by-step directions. Here we go…
Let’s begin with one key fact: Your synopsis isn’t about the plot of your story. (I’ll give you a moment to scoff in disbelief, to roll your eyes, to tell me that I have no idea what I’m talking about.)
Your synopsis is about the character arcs contained within your story. Your goal, in writing your synopsis, is to tell about your main characters (usually two, possibly more if you have a really complicated, 250K or more epic on your hands). You are *only* going to tell plot details when you have no other way to describe what happens to your characters, how they change, mature, grow, etc.
Let’s look at how it works, paragraph-by-paragraph.
Paragraph 1: The Hook. Tell me about your book in the most abstract way possible. I want to know the high concept. The elevator pitch. The back-of-book copy. The key to this paragraph is TONE. Your hook can be dreamy and romantic, or it can be action-packed. It can be workmanlike or otherworldly. Just make sure it represents your novel.
Paragraph 2: Characters. Introduce each character, defining his/her role in the store. (Again, you’re ideally presenting two characters, but I can live with three. You’ll have to really sell me on needing more for a standard, 65K – 100K novel.) Each character introduction should include the character’s name, his/her motivation, his/her conflict, and his/her goals. Note that you do not need to provide any physical description of your characters at all (unless that description is vitally central to name, motivation, conflict or goal.) The key to this paragraph (duh!) is CHARACTER.
Paragraph 3: Plot. You’ll repeat this paragraph a few times (but only a few times.) Start each paragraph with a nice transition (“Meanwhile…” “Alas…” “On another planet…”). Add a sentence describing an action taken by your character. Add a sentence describing a reaction. End with a sentence that summarizes the effect of the action and reaction on your character. Of the three full sentences in each paragraph the most important one, by far, is the last. Action -> Reaction -> Effect. The key to this paragraph is DEVELOPMENT.
Paragraph 3s are the heart of your synopsis. They’re the most difficult part of the entire project. Many writers fall into a variety of traps when they write paragraph 3s, including:
- Vague, flowery, unclear language. (Every word should say what it means and mean what it says — this is not the place for poetry!)
- Misdirection about the hero or villain’s identity. (Your synopsis doesn’t hide the ball in any way, ever.)
- Excessive detail of plot, without focus on the effect of specific actions and reactions.
Paragraph 4: Conclusion. Wrap up your synopsis with a satisfying sentence (or maybe even two) that wraps around specifically to your first paragraph. Tell us the EFFECT of resolving the hook cast out in Paragraph 1.
Once you’ve written your synopses, you’ll want to polish them. Again. Again. One more time. Make sure that absolutely every word is essential (Hint: Use action verbs and specific adjectives.) Be certain that every word you’ve used is easily comprehensible. (This is a particular challenge with speculative fiction, because we rely so much on worldbuilding, purposely creating a world that might not be comprehensible to ordinary people.) Run a grammar check. Run a spell check. If you’re submitting your synopsis electronically, save it at 100% view (otherwise, your reader will have to read it in GIANT text or teeny text, which might make them feel very immature or very, very old.)
So. Sounds easy, huh?
Roll out your questions here. And next week, I’ll share a synopsis that I wrote recently — it’s far from perfect, so it provides a great jumping off point for discussion.