Not nearly as terrifying as the live pitch, nor as frustrating as the query letter is the dreaded synopsis. I say dreaded because it feels like you’re taking delicious farm fresh veggies and freeze-drying them, later to be consumed by someone else who won’t get the farm fresh taste your whole novel has.
Plus even though you get a few pages instead of page (a la query) you still must condense all that info into a nice freeze dried package AND still make it appealing.
GETTING THOSE SYNAPSES TO SYNOPSIS
The best tip I’ve ever received in the entire universe (including less-than-helpful just conquer-them-all advice from Raxacoricofallapatorius) is this:
Start by summing up what happens in each chapter with one sentence.
You’ll probably end up with big sentences or more than one per chapter, but trust me when I say this is one of the best ways to begin. In fact, often I’ll have a bunch of note cards and each card has each chapter and a brief summation of what happens in that chapter. I find it’s easier to analyze the whole story if I have bite-sized chunks before me to glance over quickly. I’ve found a few plot and character holes that way.
Take Harry Potter and the (Philosopher’s) Sorcerer’s Stone. Chapter 1 could be something like: The prim and proper Dursley’s receive a nasty surprise on their doorstep—their orphaned nephew. Isn’t that really the whole point of Chapter 1? To begin to show us a stark contrast of cold and sometimes cruel magic haters for when the magic begins to happen?
That may be your initial summation of Chapter 1, but you still want those freeze-dried veggies to be appealing, so maybe you make it two more succinct sentences. Or maybe your chapter is complex enough it needs two sentences.
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Find the major point of your chapter and make that point what you put in your synopsis.
LET’S TALK ABOUT FORMAT
How do we format the synopsis? The first answer is exactly how the agent/publisher/whatever you’re submitting it to tells you. The second answer is if they’ve left it up to you, then more than likely double-spaced, 12 point font, 2-3 pages.
If it’s supposed to be pasted in email, unless they say otherwise I would highly recommend single space with an extra space between paragraphs. In email form, it’s easier to read (I also do this with chapters they’ve requested). This is for pasted-in-email. If it’s requested as a Word doc or PDF, stick to the double-spaced format.
And if it is a Word Doc or the like, I recommend in the header putting Your Name/Title/Pg #, so Rowling/Harry Potter/1. Make it easy for them to remember who you are and what this project is. I’d also add a title before the first paragraph, something like: Synopsis – Harry Potter.
Again, if the agency/publisher/whatever asks for something different, do what they asked for. Otherwise, all these things I’ve mentioned are fairly standard.
FEEDBACK STILL APPLIES
Give your synopsis to people you trust to be honest and let them tear into it. Even though this is the freeze-dried version of your novel, you still want it to be well-written and as appealing as possible. Besides, if they find your synopsis enthralling they’re likely to think your book must be amazing (and it had darn well better be).
If your synopsis starts out as being 4 or 5 pages+ don’t worry. First worry about appropriate summarizing each chapter. Once you have all that written down THEN go back through it and cut and revise what you need to in order to get the word count down.
I’d recommend reading some short stories (Anton Chekhov is always helpful) to learn more about conveying a lot with just a little. Besides, it’ll help your novel also become more succinct. A good writer should never use three words where one would do.
Now, strap yourself into your favorite writing spot, stretch those fingers and let those synapses fire away.
Anything you’d add about writing synopsis? Do you love it? Hate it?