Synopsis Writing… ugh!!!

So tonight is the night I have put aside to do something I have dreaded for a very, very, very long time. I am working on my novel’s synopsis and boy is it really hard. You would think after writing 100K or so words that a few pages should be easy but it is not.

The advice I have found from published authors or bloggers in the know, seems to be that the synopsis should include the plot, the characters, the themes etc. It should not be a blow by blow account of the novel but should share the same voice and tone of the novel. It needs to do everything the novel does but in a shorter form. It needs to flow.

The second bit of advice I found was to write it like the blurbs on the back covers of books. I tried this and found myself sounding so radio announcerish. I will have to tone that down a bit without losing the enthusiasm for the piece.

The third bit of advice said write it in the present tense and third person. Third person is easy but the novel is written in past tense as it is set in the past so writing the synopsis in past tense seems so natural. I will listen to the experts on this one so present tense it is.

One bit of advice said to write it from your outline. Oops, I use my outline as I write and the novel gobbles it as I go along. Seat of your pantsers wouldn’t have this anyway. I did go back through each chapter and make a note of what happens in each one, who is involved and the overall feel for that chapter. I am using this as a rough guide for writing the synopsis now.

The last bit of advice and the one I found the most conflicting opinions over was the correct length of a synopsis. I have seen everything from one page to fifteen pages advised. There is even a formula I came across that said one page of synopsis for every twenty five pages of novel. By my current novel’s stats that means I should have roughly a nine or ten page synopsis. I think on this one I will just have to sort the length out by how much telling I think the story needs to get the general feel and idea across in the synopsis.

So that folks is how I am spending my Friday night. I hope yours is more exciting. I will welcome any advice or anecdotes on synopsis writing if you have them.


About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three who doesn’t really know what she wants to be when she grows up.
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20 Responses to Synopsis Writing… ugh!!!

  1. E. A. Hughes says:

    Just done my synopsis. I found it helpful to summarise each chapter in two sentences, and look for the strongest character / thematic arcs that came from that. I also found it helpful NOT to refer to the actual text, as then the major details stood out with more clarity.

    Good luck. I don’t know anyone who likes doing it!

    • Thank you for your advice. I appreciate any I can get. This is new territory for me. Good luck to you too. Are you considering querying soon?

      • E. A. Hughes says:

        I been done queried two agents yesterday. Queried a few others a while back, but my synopsis and query letter were AWFUL. I don’t know if I’m being obvious in recommending you to visit Query Shark, and also the Writer’s Workshop. Both excellent sites.

      • I have been to Writer’s Workshop. I have not been to Query Shark or at least I do not think I have. My biggest issue is self doubt. I am trying to banish it because I have to if I ever am going to let any of my novels leave my computer for people to read them. I think querying is the scariest step for me. I hope you get success from the ones you have sent out.

      • E. A. Hughes says:

        You too! I hope we are slugging it out on the best seller lists two years from now!

        Oh, and self-doubt? The only way to deal with it is to kill it. You have to have the following thought process: your stories are great, and any negative criticism only helps you to see and cut the deadwood. Just get out there, inflate your ego, and let the critics be damned!

  2. Hello, thanks for the ping. I’ve been looking into synopsis writing more since my post, and have come across this useful workshop on the Mslexia site:
    I like how it breaks writing a synopsis down into easy stages, so you have an outline that you can polish. Also, the general consensus of length I’ve come up with is 500-1000 words.
    Another useful site I’ve stumbled across (which is from 2007 but still relevant I should think) is one where an agent has given feedback on 99 synopses (is that the plural of synopsis?) –
    Good luck!

    • Thank you for the mslexia link. That is very useful. I had been looking for a site with a good breakdown like that.

      I used to read Miss Snark’s blog regularly. I had forgotten about her feedback on things like the synopsis and query letters. I appreciate the reminder.

      I hope you have had success with your own work or if you have not yet, you will in the near future. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment.

  3. mqallen says:

    I hate writing a synopsis after the project but in my post you linked, I do find it handy at the start and think it helps to write the final one if you have the first one to refer to.

    As to length, it seems that many agents and publishers who request a synopsis are also very clear on the desired length which mostly seems to run in the 1-5 page range from what I’ve seen. A 1 page synopsis is very different from a 5 page one so you will likely end up with several.

    Good luck with it; it isn’t much fun 🙂

    • Most of the US agents seem to specify length from what I have seen but lately I have been researching the UK ones and most of their sites just say to include a synopsis. I think I would perhaps go on the lesser is better philosophy figuring they have a huge slush pile and are busy people. They will most likely appreciate a shorter synopsis to read through.

      Writing is such a learning process. I have written my whole life but never more than a hobby. I have a few completed novels and figure it might be worth a try so now I am learning something new. In this case it is to keep my original outline or at least a copy of it to help work from in the future.

      Thank you for your comments and good luck to you with your writing as well.

  4. Dalya Moon says:

    Is this for querying purposes? I just wrote a synopsis. I didn’t use the outline or notes, but jotted down the big plot points by memory. This is for a 90,000 word novel that’s pretty fast-paced:

    I wrote the synopsis for reviewers and/or for people who like to know the gist of the whole book before they read it. (Some people are like that.) I wasn’t trying to sell it to a fancy literary agent, so that took off all the pressure.

    • It is for querying purposes, although I tremble at the thought. Perhaps if I do something similar to what you have done it would help me not feel so inadequate at writing it. I think I may have to “pretend” I am writing it for a different audience than a potential lit agent.

      • Dalya Moon says:

        Yeah! Pretend it’s for someone who’s interested. 🙂 If you imagine them pursing their lips and scowling, that doesn’t do anyone any good. I should probably edit mine and take out a few “howevers” but it felt gooooooooood to write the synopsis, ya know?

  5. Gosh I feel the same way, Billie Jo. Why oh why is writing the synopsis so difficult compared to the novel?! When I firs sat down to begin writing one for my novel I felt things I NEVER felt while writing the book. You’d think it would be just the same. It took me days and days, and I’m still not totally sold on the one I have. I’m just letting it marinate for now, and hoping to improve it with rewrites.

    I never use an outline to write, but I found myself doing an outline from the novel to follow when writing the synopsis, so that advice may be helpful. Also, I think writing in present tense is a good idea, (but really, who knows, like pretty much everything else, it all depends on the preferences of the agent that finally asks for it, doesn’t it?) And I also tried to give some sense of voice and historical flavor to the synopsis, but found this much harder than it was for the novel, for some reason.

    Honestly, I had the worst time getting started writing the synopsis, but I told myself I simply couldn’t write a 150K historical novel, and then not be able to get it published simply because I was blocked and scared to write a mere 10 pages telling what it is about. The I just pressed on, and allowed myself to write crap, just like all my first drafts. Sometimes it’s just a matter of over-thinking it all and getting too worked up about it. But still, you have my sympathies. And I hope it goes easier for you.

  6. I’m glad you posted this – I have been thinking about getting started on this task soon. It’s helpful to see some ideas on format 🙂

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  8. Ooo, I hate synopsis-es. (I hate pluralizing it too. *scowl*) Good luck, and I hope it went well. And congrats on getting a RAOK shoutout this week too!

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