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Resources for Writers

Sally Clements: How to Write a Synopsis

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Article by Sally Clements ©.
Posted in Resources (, ).

When you submit work to a publisher or agent, it is essential to include a synopsis, and it is well worth spending a lot of time and attention to make sure that this really sparkles.

The point of the synopsis is to make the recipient want to read your book. It shows an editor what your book is about, how it develops, and what happens so they can see at a glance how the opening chapters who have sent become a whole.·

The first thing to do, is to research the agent/publisher that you’re sending your submission to. They will have detailed guidelines, and it is very important that you follow these to the letter. If they want a two page synopsis, single spaced, and you give them a four page one, it is more than likely that your submission will be passed over. You have one chance to catch their eye. And this is it. The layout, the spelling, the punctuation and the length must all be perfect.

Next is the content. The synopsis is not about you, it is solely about your story. If your book is fun and chatty, your synopsis should be to. If you write threatening thrillers, your writing style should be reflected in the synopsis. And be aware that the point of the synopsis is to make the recipient want to read your book, but you can’t leave out the climax. They need to know what happens.

Your checklist should cover:

What the book is about.

Who the book is about.

What they want – and why.

What challenges do the characters face?

How do they overcome them, how does the story develop and what happens in the end?

The synopsis is always written in present tense, and the third person.It should be clear, concise, and exciting. You want to entice the reader to read more. Look at the back of a paperback, or read a load of them to understand what it is that entices a reader to read more. The books you have bought have pulled you in – by the logline (the brief line on the front) the blurb (the text on the back) and possibly by a quick skim of the first line. The first paragraph of your synopsis needs to do the same.

To begin: Create a summary of your book, chapter by chapter. I do one scene by scene, so that I can identify the main plot points of the story. You may identify themes running through your chapters as you’re reading. There are two elements to note – the first is the external elements (plot points) and the second is the internal elements (character arc). The protagonist’s and the antagonist’s story must be woven together in the synopsis.

Print this summary out, and highlight the main plot points that move the story along, either by plot or in the character’s arc.

The first paragraph should be a teaser which outlines the story, briefly and succinctly. Use a couple of words to describe your protagonist, explain the challenge he faces at the beginning of the book (the inciting incident), his conflict, and introduce the antagonist.

If I were writing a synopsis of the movie The Proposal for example, I might start a synopsis with something like:

Driven editor, and Canadian citizen, Margaret Tate faces deportation from her prestigious New York life, unless she can persuade her resentful assistant to marry her.

Or:

With deportation from her New York life threatening, driven editor and Canadian citizen, Margaret Tate is forced to blackmail her browbeaten assistant into marriage.

I usually follow this with a paragraph describing the primary character. Not what they look like, but rather what they are like, what motivates them etc.

Then I do the same with the secondary character. If you can work in the conflicts between the two characters at a fundamental level at this stage, do.

Follow on from that with more details about both character’s emotions and motivations. Use the story summary to build a picture of what happens during the story, how each scene that you mention affects the characters and changes them. Remember, not everything needs to go in there. In the fictional synopsis of The Proposal for example, the scene where Margaret is taken off to a strip bar is amusing, but the only important element in that scene is where Margaret talks to Andrew’s ex girlfriend and realises just what he has given up to pursue his dream of a career in New York, a career she has selfishly stifled. Remember that even though your character may not seem sympathetic, the job of the synopsis is to make the recipient want to read your book. Your protagonist may be a difficult person, but by illuminating their motivations and revealing their inner scars, you can make them intriguing.

If you’re not sure which scenes to add, put more in. Read through the synopsis. Does every scene you’ve mentioned advance the story or sketch the character arc? Can you lose it? If so, cut. The synopsis needs to be tight, succinct, and gripping. Read through it and remove adjectives and extra adverbs. Check the language, is it compelling, can it be improved? Is your synopsis readable, Times New Roman, single-spaced?

Make sure that your final paragraph wraps all of the elements investigated in earlier paragraphs, and details how the conflicts are resolved.

There are a great many excellent synopsis writing websites/blogs. I suggest if you’re still struggling you check out one that specialises in your genre. Remember, writing a synopsis is hard – everyone hates writing them. But they’re a necessary part of being a writer, and can often help you to see your story’s core more clearly. Good luck!

(c) Sally Clements


Sally Clements writes fun, sexy and real contemporary romance, partnering hot heroes with heroines that know what they want, and go for it! She’s a voracious reader, and considers writing for a living the perfect job—the only downside is saying goodbye to her characters at book’s end!

She has 3 new recent releases: Mile High came out at in November 2013, Under the Hood at the end of December, and Three Minutes to Happiness was released mid-January 2014. All her books are now available at Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iTunes and Googleplay.

Here’s a little bit about Three Minutes to Happiness

Photographer Valentine Jones doesn’t believe in love, but when her romantic friend Maggie drags her along to a speed dating event, she finds herself reluctantly attracted to architect Finn Logan. Against her better instincts, she ticks yes on her scorecard to seeing him again. He never calls.

Finn shouldn’t have flirted with Val at the speed dating event. He was there to chaperone his wayward niece, not find another girlfriend – he has two already. When he meets Val again at his cousin’s wedding, he tries to explain, and ends up kissing her instead.

Finn’s company need a photographer to nail an important contract, and Val needs the job. Before long, Finn has dissolved his harem, and persuaded Val into his bed. She’s all for a quick fling, but nothing more – a ruined marriage has taught her that love is an illusion. But Finn’s ruthless pursuit is making her change her mind, until the party at his parents’ house that changes everything.

 

 

For talk about books, writing, and hero inspiration or to contact Sally, check out her blog, Love and Chocolate : www.sallyclements.blogspot.com

And for interviews with romance authors, industry gossip, book and film reviews, see her crit groups blog which is updated 3 times weekly, www.minxesofromance.blogspot.com