I've yet to meet an author who likes writing them but it's a necessary part of the game if you want to get published or even if you have four books under your belt like I do. There was a twist, though. I’d written them for my other books, but that was AFTER I wrote the book. Last summer, I had to write one before the book was done and that presented a number of challenges because when you have a completed work, you can easily assemble the key points in a synopsis – they’re right before your eyes. When I had to write the synopsis for my forthcoming STUDENT BODIES, everything was just bullet points on a sheet of paper and sort of a movie inside my head. (Yeah, I know … all writers are weird. I am their King.)
Not sure what a synopsis looks like? Well, here’s an excerpt from the synopsis to my novel UNSEEN WORLD. (I wrote it in 2006.)
Book Title: UNSEEN WORLD
Word Count: 80,000
MARSHALL CONRAD is a forty-something curmudgeon who strives to draw as little attention to himself as possible. He lives alone in a two bedroom apartment and likes to walk his obese Siamese cat on a leash in the evenings. He’s got a nosy upstairs neighbor named MARNIE BRINDLE and she’s taken to clicking snap shots ofMarshallwith her cell phone camera.
And he’s a superhero. Sort of.
He’s just saved the wife of prominent local Congressman Byron Aldrich and someone snapped a picture of Marshal lcarrying Mrs. Aldrich off to safety. The picture was then e-mailed it to the Drudge Report and suddenly Marshall Conrad is an instant celebrity. A national tabloid has posted a $1million-dollar reward for further proof of Greenfield’s so-called “superhero” and the town is filling up with crackpots and conspiracy theorists, not to mention the paparazzi.
It wasn’t supposed to work out this way. He’s been adept at staying out of sight during his ten year career as a crime fighter, and the last thing Marshall needs is a national audience for an apocalyptic showdown with a being from the UNSEEN WORLD. All hell is going to break looks at the apex of the summer solstice and Marshall writes a blog to warn the world if he winds up dead.
So I’m not an authority on writing a synopsis but I do know that authors lose a lot of sleep over writing them. What I can offer as advice if you’re putting one together is this: go back to your outline (assuming it follows your book correctly) and use the outline as opposed to the manuscript. Why? Because you’ll go nuts flipping forward and back over all the pages you’ve typed into MS Word to find those key areas that make the story flow. At the same time, your synopsis can’t ever read as follows:
“This happened. And then this happened. This also happened and then finally this happened.”
Your synopsis needs an element of drama to make it work – and remember, a synopsis is in large part a selling tool. Whether you’re selling your book to an agent or a publisher or whether your agent is selling a yet to be written work to an editor. Because of this, it’s gotta look polished. It needs to flow all its own and most importantly, it should to read a lot like an expanded back cover of a novel – if the back cover is designed to give a snapshot of a book with enough drama to get a consumer to buy your book, then a synopsis needs to be the back cover on steroids.
How big should your synopsis be? Well that will depend on how big your story is. Most of the stuff I write is between 70-80K words and I don’t think I’ve ever written a synopsis with less then ten pages – all single spaced. There’s a lot of stuff to cover in your synopsis so it really needs to bring the reader through all the key points in your novel and there must be a satisfying conclusion as well – just like your book itself.
So there you have it – my hard and fast rules for writing a synopsis. It doesn’t have to be a painful exercise and while they aren’t fun to write, the synopsis is a key piece of the “getting published” puzzle.