Anatomy of a Synopsis

Lately, it seems like I’m being bombarded by authors and writer friends who want feedback on their synopses. Is there something going on that I’m not aware of? Have the Gods of publishing and agenting flung open the gates to our paradise and are actually committing to read our queries and synopses in search of that new voice, that next bestseller? If it’s true, then I’m screwed because I didn’t get that memo! I also haven’t written the synopsis for my latest manuscript because I hate writing synopses! That’s why I suggest writing the synopsis of your book when you finish the outline and before writing the book. Then, when you finish your manuscript, all you have to do is edit any major plot changes in your synopsis and you’re done. By the way, I made up the word agenting because it just sounds cool, unlike conversating.

Okay, so what is a synopsis? Or better yet, what isn’t a synopsis? As we know all too well, it’s always much easier to point out what something isn’t rather than what something should be. It’s almost like giving advice. Hey, stop putting your finger in your nose, it’s not nice. Why? I don’t know, it just isn’t.

A synopsis isn’t:

  • a book blurb; that short, enticing, audience captivating, bestseller ensuring, read my book and I’ll walk your dog and clean your house plea written in a paragraph or two behind the book cover right beside your authorly looking picture. Guess what, I made up ensuring and authorly. Nah, I didn’t, but it sounds like I did, right? Isn’t this great?
  • an outline of your manuscript. Look, if you didn’t prepare an outline before writing your book, now isn’t the time to start. Good job, by the way, for writing a manuscript without an outline. If it ever becomes a bestseller, your brain belongs in the Smithsonian.
  • a scene by scene or chapter by chapter summary. Well, I guess you can do it this way if you want to produce a “synopsis” that’s so boring and mechanical that even the processor in your PC will stop mid-cycle, go on a coffee break, come back without giving you a second thought, and shut down without saving your document. Good, now restart your PC and write something that will hook the agent or publisher by the nose, lead them right through your fascinating synopsis, punch them in the gut with the ending, and cause your PC to overclock.
  • a show don’t tell situation. What? I’ve tattooed that on my chest and inner thigh! Can you imagine tattooing something on your inner thigh? Freak! It hurt like a mother freaker; you know what I mean. Anyway, that golden rule that’s been pounded into you and that you’ve been trying to follow all your career has no space here. In your synopsis, all you want to do is tell, tell, tell. Did I say you should tell? Well, you should tell. And by the way, don’t forget to tell… the ending. How’d you like my new word freaker? Cool, huh?
  • textbook boring. Look, the synopsis is your book’s résumé. It has to be exciting, captivating, action-oriented and written in the first person. Its ultimate goal is make the agent want to read your book. Period! So don’t freak around trying to be literary and long-winded. To the contrary, be concise, dynamic, and make sure you write using the active voice.
  • about the subplots or minor arcs of the story. It’s all about the main character, the conflict, plot, and resolution. Make the agent want to grab the book because the synopsis got them hooked and now they want to know all the untold details. Um, just make sure that your manuscript is as polished and well written as your synopsis. Capisce?
  • twenty pages long. The synopsis is a brief, compelling, and complete summary of the plot of your novel told as if you’re running from the devil. Well, maybe not that, but it has to be polished and brief. Make sure you make every word count. Think elevator pitch and you’ll get it right. Okay, okay, I’ll venture a guess and suggest that your synopsis shouldn’t be more than 2000 words.
  • a secret for you alone! The purpose of a synopsis is to be heard, so read it out loud. If you hear anything that sounds boring, convoluted, or fluffy… ditch it. And no, I don’t have a cat named Fluffy.

Well, that’s it. Now go and rewrite your synopsis. I know I will… start the one I’ve been postponing for weeks. I freaking hate writing synopses. Some say it’s an art.

P.S.: My wife said I should capitalize the start of each bullet. I said I don’t want to because it completes the phrase A synopsis isn’t… But she insisted it will look better, and I said it’s a freaking blog, I can do anything I want.

2 Replies to “Anatomy of a Synopsis”

  1. This is a funny essay about how writers write a synopsis of their document, or don’t write a synopsis , or write one that superficially appears to be like all the others, but only in trivial ways.

    A. A. offers a list of things that don’t belong in a synopsis, like the outline, like the book blurb, and other flaws.

    But what is a synopsis supposed to contain? Let us see whether the topics can be similar or the same. That intrigues me, A.A. Kindly lead the way!

    -PaL

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