A Synopsis on Synopses

A synopsis is a critical component of your submission package to agents and publishers. You thought writing the manuscript for your novel was tough! Well, the effort to conjure a synopsis to sell that masterpiece can leave you feeling as lost as a goat on the ocean. It’s got to be a brief summary, often no more than a page. But the urge to tell your whole story is strong. And ‘synopsis speak’, that monotonous progression of sentences with boring phrases like “and then she…,” lurks like quicksand in a dismal swamp. Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful to stay on target.

  • The objective of a synopsis is to convey the essence of your book. Introduce the primary characters and the core issues and struggles they face. Convey a sense of conflict, external and internal. Stick to this goal and you can create a marketing instrument that engages an agent or editor, compelling him or her to read sample chapters.
  • Start with an opening hook. The first few sentences should be as dramatic and involving as the opening scene in your novel. Get right to that murder, monster, or torrid affair.
  • Include sketches of the main characters. Motivations are vital, especially those that bring characters into conflict with one another. Don’t get bogged down with physical descriptions.
  • Reveal a few scenes that indicate the type of action in the book. Touch on the emotional intensity too. If the story includes violence or sex, it should be apparent from the synopsis. Focus on the type of trouble your protagonist will get into.
  • Make the core conflict clear in a single sentence. It’s best to include this in the hook. If you can’t come up with a core conflict to describe your novel, the problem may lie in the story.
  • Don’t close with a cliffhanger. Agents and editors need the whole story to evaluate whether it has market potential. And revealing the ending of your book shows that you can conclude a rational plot.

These guidelines kept me on track when I created my synopsis for E-Force. You may want more detail than I’ve included in this post. A great reference book is, Your Novel Proposal: from Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook. Additional resources can be found at writersdigest.com.

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James D. Kellogg

James D. Kellogg is a water resource engineer in Glenwood Springs, Colorado and the author of Radical Action: A Colt Kelley Thriller. His Right Angles opinion column appears monthly in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent newspaper.

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