Just exactly what is a synopsis? Well, I have to admit that I’m not an expert. In fact, I’m probably the anti-expert but I can tell you what it’s not. And how I have goofed in the past. And what you shouldn’t do.
I used to think that a synopsis was what you put on the back of a book. You know, the teaser to get someone to actually buy your novel. But alas, it’s not the case. And I found out the hard way. Once upon a time, I signed up for a critique at an SCBWI conference from an editor that I admired, and I thought my writing and my synopsis were all that. I mean how could she resist? I was brill. Wrong. My writing was fine. I don’t think it sucked, but it probably didn’t shout out–this is the next book that you absolutely must buy or die! She liked my writing but she was a little annoyed with me. Why?
Mostly I messed up when it came to the synopsis. The editor said she was bothered that I didn’t tell her what actually happened in my work-in-progress (wip). She told me that when she receives a synopsis and it only whets the appetite and is not a summary of the actual wip, she refuses to read the submission. Wow. Harsh, right? Obviously, this particular editor feels VERY strongly about synopses and what they should look like. According to said editor, they must encapsulate the beginning, the middle and the end all in one page. Sheesh. Not easy. There are other editors who are okay with a couple of pages, but if you can get a synopsis down to one page then you’ve done your job.
To sum up her points with a few of my own thrown in for ya:
1) a synopsis works best if it can be on one page.
2) It should include the beginning, middle and end of the novel.
3) It should not tease the reader, leaving them wondering what will happen next.
4) It needs to mention the protagonist and all primary characters but lesser secondary characters and certainly tertiary characters do NOT need to be mentioned.
5) They are typically written in third person and preferably in simple present.
6) Show how the protagonist changes by the end of the book.
I’d throw in a sample synopsis of my latest tween book, THE HOT LIST, however, my first synopsis was six pages. It truly wasn’t a synopsis but more of an outline of everything that was going to happen. I am embarrassed now that I called it a synopsis, as it was way too detailed.
Alright I’ll show you what I mean about far too detailed. Here it is goes:
Best friends Sophie Fanuchi and Maddie Chen, who call themselves the soul sisters because they were born on the same day, create a Hot List together of the cutest boys at Travis Middle School and, on a whim, Maddie and Sophie decide to write their list up in the girl’s bathroom next to the cafeteria.On their way to the bathroom, Maddie notes how Brenna Tate, who heads the pops, the self-declared crew of it girls, says hi to Sophie as if they’re buds. Sophie shrugs it off and says it’s just because in the spring they play soccer together. Maddie has always been a little bit in awe of the way that Sophie knows lots of the Pops (the name of the seventh grade it girls at Travis Middle School) because lots of them are on the soccer team, with Sophie who is goalie. What Sophie doesn’t tell Maddie is that her dad and Brenna’s mom have now gone out on three dates. Her dad is widower and, while, normally, Sophie tells Maddie everything, she just can’t tell Maddie about this since she’s hoping it will be short lived. Sophie tells Maddie more than anyone but she can’t always open up. Maddie just accepts this as part of Sophie being Sophie. Typically, whenever they discuss boys they always use secret code names but, in a flurry of braveness, they write the real names go up on the back of the bathroom stall door.
See what I mean? Look this is fine as a bullet point outline for an editor you’re already in contract with who wants to know everything, but if you querying editors and agents and you put in that much FYI–forgetaboutit! I mean who wants to know on the way to the bathroom so and so says hi to so and so. Really. Far far too detailed. So read this and know, if you want to write a synopsis, don’t do it like this.
I wish I could share with you the perfect synopsis, but I don’t possess it. Okay, I have some synopses, but they are WIPs that are not fully baked. Even if you have no cause to write a short synopsis, you should write one, though. I think it’s a wonderful exercise to shows you the essence of what your book is about. It’s like a fine reduction sauce. Wow, I’m sounding like a foodie, there. Apparently, I wanted to sound impressive for a moment. Like I’m the kind of person whose house you’d want to go to for dinner. I must be hungry because I want to digress.
Anyway, here are some sites that have some advice on synopses you might want to check out:
Best of luck to you.