Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, August 30, 2007

How to Write a Synopsis

Much like my haircuts, this is a blog post that I have put off for quite a long time. How to write a synopsis. It's like my own personal kryptonite. I've been meaning to post about this for such a long time, but then I'd think, "How in the world am I supposed to give advice on how to write a synopsis? Ohh! I know! I can write about The Hills instead!!"

But I shall put it off no longer. Today's post will be about how to write a synopsis.

I'm starting now. I can do this.

I mean it. I'm going to do it.

Starting now.

Ok, really starting now.

The reason for my recalcitrance is that there's really no one way to write a synopsis. Everyone has a different idea of what a synopsis should entail, how long it should be, whether it should be single- or double-spaced, whether it should include all of the plot or just the really important stuff... I mean, how I can even begin to summarize this and offer any advice is frankly beyond me.

But here is the thing to know about synopses: A synopsis is not an opportunity to talk about every single character and every single plot point in a "and then this happened and then this happened" fashion. A synopsis needs to do two things: 1) it needs to cover all of the major characters and major plot points (including the ending) and 2) it needs to make the work come alive. If your synopsis reads like "and then this happened and then this happened" and it's confusing and dull, well, you might want to revise that baby.

A good place to start for a model on how to write a good synopsis is to mimic book cover copy, only also include in the synopsis what happens in the end. The blurbs on flap jackets and on the back of paperbacks are usually good synopses -- they're a hybrid of plot points but with a bigger sense of what makes the book unique and interesting (although discard the stuff in cover copy that talks about the author -- that doesn't go in a synopsis). You want to strike a balance in the synopsis between covering the plot and characters, but also conveying the spirit and tone of the book and smoothing over gaps between the major plot points you describe.

So in the synopsis, you definitely want to capture how the novel begins and the hook and include all of the major climaxes and the big climax at the end. Between those points introduce major characters and their relationships, and make sure you're conveying the core of the conflicts between all of these elements. But then, rather than just filling in with more and more plot and more and more characters, connect the dots between them with your own summarizing, in order to make the synopsis easy to read and compelling on its own.

Easier said than done, I know. Synopses are tough. Like mosquitoes (my war against them is going better, btw).

How long should a synopsis be? Unless the agent specifies otherwise or you have found better synopsis-writing advice elsewhere (the odds of that are pretty good, frankly), I'd shoot for two to three pages, double-spaced. If it's longer or shorter than that I don't think anyone is going to be angry, but that should be enough to do what you need to do.

So there you have it. It's done. I did it. Thank goodness. Now about that haircut I've been putting off...

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