Much Ado About Synopsis – No, Not Nano Week 4… Well Maybe a Little

By now, you all have probably heard that I finished my 50,000 word novel a week ago Monday.  It was with an intense sigh of relief that I “Officially” was declared a winner on the 25th.  I’ve now got the certificate and everything to prove it.  You’ve also heard that my first submission was not the success I had hoped for.  So what have I done in the intervening days?

Well… I actually spent some time with my family, which was great.  They put up with me disappearing for hours on end (well, minutes, anyway) to write on the Nano project.  I still spent time with them, but not as much some days as I would have liked.  A re-evaluated my goals and ambitions.  Happily, they haven’t changed at all.  I wasn’t sure how I would react to being rejected.  And, I started looking forward.  Forward as in, what do I need to do next to get this story out to the publishers?

In a word, “Synopsis”.

It doesn’t look all that menacing, sitting there all by itself, does it?  Still, it caused me much doubt and concern.  “Why is this?” you might ask.  “Surely, after writing a 92,000 word Fantasy epic (yes, I called it an epic), a little thing like a synopsis should be child’s play.”

Indeed, at first glance, I would agree with you.  Except… well… I’ve never written a synopsis before and due to my perfectionist nature, I want to do a professional job of it.  So I delayed and thought, then delayed some more.  Finally, I had to say “Enough!” so I did.  I did a bit of research into the writing of said beast and sat down for two hours and wrote my first ever synopsis.  It even seemed to sumarize the story.

The first sign of trouble didn’t come until the next day.  I asked my good friend Aaron Kite to take a look at it and provide his comments.  The early beating was gentle, thankfully, but it really highlighted some major shortcomings in what I was trying to do.  Happily, Mr. Kite had stumbled across a fantastic article on, written by Marg Gilks.

The article not only gave me some excellent tips on how to write the synopsis, but it also reminded me of why I was doing it.  In a nutshell, the sole purpose of a synopsis is NOT to give an editor a summary of your novel.  Let me repeat that for effect:  Do Not write a synopsis to provide a summary of your story to an editor!  Period.  Dead stop.

Remember that, cause it’s EXTREMELY important!  But if that’s not the purpose, then what is?  Simply this (and believe me, it is simple).  The synopsis is intended to get an editor… EXCITED about your story.  It’s meant to cause the person who reads it to say, “I’ve GOT to see more of this book!”  Remember, you’ve only got one chance to make an impression with an editor.  You want it to be a GREAT one.

That seems like a pretty obvious thing, don’t you think?  Well, obvious or not, it escaped me.  At least for a little while.  Now keep in mind, you are writing a summary of your story, but in such a way that it grabs the reader.  So what should it contain?

  1. All the major plot points – this shouldn’t come as any surprise.  You want to mention all those things that drive the book forward;
  2. All the major characters – they are the ones who make the story interesting after all; and
  3. Changes in relationships, how characters feel about things and any symbolism that might creep in (including themes) – this is the stuff that engages the reader.

It doesn’t seem like much, does it?  Also, consider this… a synopsis should be in the 2 – 10 page range.  That’s a lot of condensing for a 500 page novel, wouldn’t you say?  And still keep the flavour of the story and make it exciting?  A pretty tall order.

But, as Marg Gilks says:

“The synopsis is the most important part of your submission package and, as such, it has to be developed and sweated over and polished with the same attention you devoted to the novel itself.” Marg Gilks, “How to Write a Synopsis”

And here I thought my work on my first book was done.  Hah!  How silly of me.  What a rookie mistake.  How good to know.  Because, while I survived my first rejection, I still didn’t like it.  I want to give myself the best chance I have to avoid any further ones.

So the order of the day is to create that compelling synopsis.  So, with that in mind, here are a few more tips I’ve picked up:

  1. Typically 2 – 10 pages (I know, I already mentioned that);
  2. Only mention characters and events that move the story along;
  3. Reveal motivations and emotions;
  4. Provide necessary background information;
  5. Remove any unnecessary adjectives and adverbs;
  6. The first time you see a character’s name, type it in CAPITAL letters (and only the first time);
  7. Identify point-of-view with POV after character’s name if important; and
  8. Always use present tense.

With these things in mind, I will be crafting my synopsis.  I had originally hoped to have it ready by month-end, but now that I understand how important it is, I think I’ll give myself a bit more time than that.  After all, I really want it to shine.

And Nanowrimo?  Done, and done, but not forgotten.  I’ve met many people who I hope to keep in contact with.  They were important players in my enjoyment of the month.  And next year?  I’ll probably hunker down and do it all over again.


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