Writing a novel is hard work. Writing, editing, re-writing, proofreading, developmental reading, more editing, and yet more rewriting can be utterly exhausting.
The time and effort you put into writing can make producing a synopsis devastatingly difficult. How on earth do you sum up something that has taken so much of your time and effort? Also, how do you do that and still keep the ‘soul’ of the novel?
First, we need to understand what kind of synopsis you are writing. There are two types based on your audience. So, you need to identify if you are writing for agents or readers.
Writing a synopsis for agents is more structured and you will, if you do your research on the agent, get at least some guidance. Regardless, always remember:
The agent wants spoilers.
You are not trying to tempt them in the way you would readers via mystery and suspense. You are trying to tell them the story so they can identify quickly if it is something they are interested in and able to sell. This means telling them everything (to an extent), including the ending.
Always follow the agent’s guidance.
If the agent wants a synopsis in 500 words, then give them 500 words (approximately), if they want a page and a half, then give them a page and a half. This word counts restriction will also help you identify the level of detail the agent is expecting. Remember don’t shy away from spoilers.
Stay focused on what’s important, the story.
Keeping the above word count guidance in mind, don’t waste your words on non-critical stuff. A good example of things to avoid being verbose about is settings, characters, and subplots. If you want to tell your potential agent where the story is set, or the identity of all your characters major and minor (please don’t do this for minor characters) do it in as few words as possible. Conserve your word count for the important stuff, aka the story. The limitations the word count puts you under will tell you if discuss subplots. Write the key plot first then consider if you have the words left to mention subplots or if those few words are better used giving more detail to the critical story.
Look at this the way the agent will.
Remember they know nothing of your story, they don’t know the title, the plot, or the characters the way you do. Keep that in mind the entire time you write the synopsis. Don’t forget to tell them the title (sounds silly, but some people will forget). Don’t pepper them with all your character’s names, keep it restricted to the key characters. Stay focused on the plot and chronologically. A good way to check you’ve not omitted anything critical is to get someone who has not read your book to read your synopsis.
Key take always
- Give the agent all the spoilers
- Follow the agent’s guidelines, including word counts–the rules apply to everyone, even you.
- Focus on the key elements of your story–the plot
- Remember the agent is not familiar with your story keep that in mind.