So you’ve done it! Created your characters, planned a world, plotted a story, and turned them into a whole book.
It was hard. It took years. It filled your soul, and it stretched your sanity. It was one of the best things you’ve ever done and one of the worst—or so you thought.
As many writers discover after completing their book, they need to write a synopsis; a process that feels harder than typing “The End” on a 100,000-word manuscript.
Why? Because condensing those characters, world, story, and years of carefully crafted sentences into a one-page summary is damn hard. Like writing a book, however, you can do it, all you need is a little help from these do’s and don’ts…
Do Give Yourself Options
A one-page version is usually standard, but some publishers/agents do request a two-page option so it’s a good idea to write both. While you may balk at that suggestion when writing one version is hard enough, two will up your skill level. Working on multiple synopses will teach you what to leave out when you have to whittle a synopsis from two pages down to one, and will also provide you with enough options for any submission guideline.
Do Be A Reader
Before attempting your synopsis, read your book from start to finish and make notes about every chapter. You’ll know the plot inside out by the time you’ve written a book, but writer-you will remember the parts of the story you wrote but later deleted. Take the time to go over the story as a reader, noting down what actually happens in your finished MS and use those notes as the basis for your synopsis.
Do Be Concise
Even though you have pages of notes from your summary, your synopsis shouldn’t and can’t include everything. Highlight the most important events and arcs in your notes and include only them to keep your synopsis concise.
Do Cut Unnecessary Words
Just as you’d check your MS for unnecessary words, check your synopsis for the words you can safely delete.
Do Include Spoilers
Even though it’s hard for your writer-heart to include every twist and the ending because you’d rather an agent/publisher discover those gems reading your MS, spoilers are expected. Include every notable twist and the end, and write them in a way that makes the agent/publisher want to read how they came about, even though the synopsis has spoiled the fun for them.
Don’t Get Physical
Physical details of your characters have no place in your synopsis (unless it has a bearing on the plot) so don’t waste words describing the golden locks of your MC.
Don’t Go With The Minors
Minor characters don’t need a mention, and it doesn‘t matter if you’re attached to them or that your betas loved them more than the MC. You’ve got limited space to create a connection to a character in a synopsis, so keep the mentions to the absolute main characters; two if you can get away with it, four at most.
Don’t Give Play By Plays
A synopsis is not the place to delve into character history so don’t saddle your sentences with the MC’s whole life story when only the incident that kicks off the book matters. Same goes for the history between characters and how they know each other. Keep those details for the MS.
Don’t Be Thematic
As much as you want to highlight the brilliance of your theme and logic, the synopsis needs to be about your plot and what happens.
Don’t “And Then…”
Don’t get caught up in describing “this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” Find a way to tie together the story highlights and main aspects of the plot, without the “and then” moments in between.
Don’t Forget The Growth
Because your synopsis is more detailed than your query, you’ve got the room to show off character growth. Make sure to include the arc of the MC and how they change from the beginning of your book through to the end.
One final tip to try is to write the synopsis in the same voice/style as your book and take advantage of the chance to show off your word-smith skills. Combined with these do’s and don’ts, this should make the process of crafting a synopsis easier.
If you have any of your own synopsis advice, drop it in the comments. I’d love to hear it.
— K.M. Allan