How to write a synopsis

Following on from When to submit to literary agents? and How to write a cover letter, here’s my experience of writing a successful synopsis.

At the start, I’d assumed a synopsis is essentially the flashy blurb on the backs of book covers. It is not. The blurb, though exciting, provides a mere gist about the novel, whereas a synopsis, equally enticing, outlines the whole story including the ending. That is not to say every twist and turn has to be declared. The key characters and major plot points are sufficient to give the agent/commissioning editor an idea of what to expect, and compel them to read the manuscript.

The length and level of detail required varies by agency. Between one to three pages is common. There in lies the challenge, condensing a ninety thousand word book into a single page. By the way, these are at least 1.5 line spaced pages with size 12 point text, which further limits the amount of information one can squeeze in.

On learning this, my initial reaction was horror, thinking I would never be able to shrink all the twists and turns of the story into three pages, let alone one. However, forced to do so, I deployed a simple technique. I pulled out the most salient points from each chapter and summarised them into a maximum to two sentences. Those formed the basis of my detailed synopsis.

The next step involved reducing the document down to a single pager, which turned out to be fairly painless as I picked the main sentences which best conveyed the storyline.

The reduction exercise yielded additional, unforeseen benefits:

1. As I re-read the chapters, editing requirements which hadn’t been addressed came to light.

2. Listing the main points of the book in the order they occur, highlighted the structure and flow of the story and where they could be improved.






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