Well Crap, Now I’ve Got To Write A Synopsis

I know the feeling.

You sweated bullets and cried blood for how long getting that ms together? Your tortured brain finally performed all the necessary contortions to produce a query that is written for results. And now… you get to write a synopsis!! Hooray!!

Ok well… not so much with the hooray. I’ve written a few synops and I’m not going to tell you that I secretly enjoy it, or that it’s not as hard as it sounds. ‘Cause I don’t, and ’cause it sucks.

Here’s the bad news: If you take the route that BBC-of-the-past (the unagented one) took, then you’ll choose to send your query only to agents that don’t request a synopsis. And while that might sound attractive, it also seriously limits your playing field. (Note – BBC’s agent does request a synop, good thing I got over my synopphobia).

Here’s the good news: I have never heard of a writer getting signed because they wrote such a hot-damn-awesome synop that the agent snapped them up like a toad with a three legged cricket.

The purpose of a synopsis is to show the agent that you’ve got a plot arc, character development, and pacing all figured out – without them having to read every single word of an ms they’re not sure they’re sold on yet. The purpose of a synopsis is not to torture you or make you stab yourself in the eye with a carrot.

Tips on writing a synopsis? There’s lots of advice out there, but just like writing a novel, you’ll find that some of it will work for you, and some won’t. So I’ll tell you how I do it, and you can take it or leave it.

First – Make sure that your story is edited before you write a synop. And I mean edited with The Bloody Hatchet of Adverb Gore.

Second – Edit it again.

Third – Write your synop as if you were telling your story to a friend. Just write it – have a brain vomit that includes the salient points in your ms. If you hit a point where you think, “Hey, wait a sec… if I move on to the next plot-moving point, it skips like, 50 pages.” Then you need to –

Fourth – Edit your ms.

Fifth – Hack away at that synop. Are you aiming for four pages, but you’ve got five? Should be fine – just kill some extraneous “that’s” and re-check your phrasing for the cheapest word count you can get away with and still convey your idea. Are you aiming for two pages, but you’ve got four? Well, haul that axe back out and take a hard look at those sentences you’re leaving in to illustrate how awesome you are, but don’t necessarily show forward plot movement. It’s called “Kill Your Synop Darlings,” and it’s a game with a high body count.

So now what? Ask your betas to look at it, especially those who have read the ms in question. You’d be surprised how many of them will have some insight on how to improve it. Beta readers are useful across the board – synopsis, query, novel. Use them wisely. Use them well.

And then? Put it in the envelope, attach it to the email, and send the sucker.

Then refer back to the good news.

9 thoughts on “Well Crap, Now I’ve Got To Write A Synopsis

  1. “The purpose of a synopsis is not to torture you or make you stab yourself in the eye with a carrot.”

    *suspicious eyes*


    …*puts down carrot*

  2. I was initially guilty of only querying agents that did not request the synopsis. How lazy and naughty! I finally sucked it up and wrote it. It wasn't as bad as I'd been told. More like stabbing myself in the eyes with turnips, rather than carrots. More blunt, less pointy,

  3. Great post. “Fourth” made me laugh. But you're right about the bloody chopping of darlings.

    One tip I always give: don't hold back the ending of the story because you don't want to give it away.

    I had a friend who thought she could make the agent want to read the story to find out the ending. Nope. They want to see that you can write a whole story including the ending.

  4. It seems like nobody like to write synopsises.. synopsi.. synoses.. those annoying summaries. Good advice. I read somewhere to divide your ms into 6 sections and give each a paragraph. That worked for me when writing the 1 pager. 🙂

  5. Riley – if you must gouge out your eyes with a vegetable, I recommend broccoli. The non-pointy end, that way you don't do something you'll regret later.

    Cherie – Those “that's” will cool you. Slay!

    Jenny – I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who thought, “Hey, I know, I'll circumvent the system and only query agents who don't want a damn synopsis in the first place.”

    Bethany – The first one in the thesaurus is actually a different four-letter word, but I thought I should limit my use of them here. Well, somewhat limit.

    Accidental – Absolutely. Agents see hundreds of queries in a day, who knows how many fulls in a year? They're looking for writers first, then the story.

    Melissa – Deep breath. You shall overcome. Sharpen your axe.

    Jemi – that is GREAT advice.

    Tasha – I'm glad you found my blog too! Hopefully there are salient points buried beneath the yuks 🙂

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