Thursday, 22 January 2009

How To Write A Synopsis

The job of the synopsis is to tell the story briefly and coherently; to outline the ups and downs of your story, and to introduce your characters and to demonstrate their appeal.

Your synopsis has to be good, because it has a lot of work to do: you’re going to use it to sell your book to an agent; your agent will then use it to sell your book to an editor; and your editor will then use it to sell the book to their publishers and sales people.

When I write fiction I don’t outline in advance, and instead use Word's endnote feature to attach a brief endnote to each and every scene as I write it. When I review my work, a quick read through those endnotes reveals most plot-holes and continuity problems which are then relatively easy to fix; and it provides me with a lump of text to base my synopsis on. But I still find synopses incredibly difficult to write, and struggle every time.

Thank goodness, then, for crime-writer Beth Anderson, who provides some very useful information about synopsis-writing on her website. Countless people have been saved from synopsis-writing hell by her great advice—including me.


Anonymous said...

The article by Beth Anderson was very useful, full of great tips, so thank you for directing me towards it.

One thing I noted was that a great deal of it was concerned with how to plan and plot a book, therefore avoiding getting stuck, going off on tangents or succumbing to pitfalls. All great stuff but I don't think it's the job of the synopsis to do this. Maybe it's just a difference in terminology, but what Beth calls the "long synopsis" isn't really a synopsis as such, but more like a design or specification for the plot and characters in the novel. This is a very important part of the process, if you use this kind of methodology. I do.

On the other hand, I felt a bit distracted from the reason I went there in the first place: to learn about writing the actual (short) synopsis. The selling tool and plot summary. There are great tips on this in the article nearer the end.

Once again, thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

Like the endnote idea I give all my chapters and scenes titles (using styles) then use the life-saving Document Map to navigate through and to show the plot points. I couldn't live without DM but may give endnotes a try too.

Jeannette StG said...

thanks, this seems useful info. I have been thinking on and off on a coffee table book with my paintings...any advice?

Jane Smith said...

Captain, I outline non-fiction but just make up my fiction as I go along, so I'm with you on the synopsis-as-outline bit for novel-writing: but I still thought that Anderson's discussion on the job of the synopsis was very helpful.

Debut, I've always found the document map a bit too time-consuming to rely on--I start fiddling around with it while I'm writing, rather than just getting on and writing--but that probably is more to do with my own failings than the complexities of the software!

And Jeannette: you're going to find it hard to find a good publisher to take you on unless you've already got a good record of exhibitions and sales behind you. If you do proceed, beware of vanity publishers which will make you pay for your own books: remember that publishers pay their authors (and artists), and never the other way round: if you're asked for money then it's a scam, and you should run away.