Monday, October 11, 2010

How do you write a synopsis?

Of the 15 agents that wanted to see more from my pitch at Thrillerfest this summer, nearly all of them wanted a synopsis to go with the first few chapters. In the past I have sort of "winged it". I flipped pages like a speedreader, waiting for interesting points to reach out and grab me.

That sort of worked, but I thought I would try to be a little more organized this time.

There are a couple of reasons for the change. First, the length of the synopsis the agents wanted, varies from agent to agent. Some agents wanted 1 page, another 3 pages, and another wanted 5 pages. Clearly one size wasn't going to fit all.

Secondly, using my unorganized approach, I tended to forget important points, or include points that weren't necessarily relevant to the main plot. They were points that just happened to reach out from the page and grab me on a read-through.

This time around, I've taken a different approach. I am reading each chapter, and writing down the salient actions that happened in that chapter in a notebook organized by chapter. For each chapter I classify whether it is character development, moving the plot forward, or backstory, and then write down notes about what happened.

I am writing these notes out by hand for the moment, but when I get even more organized, I will use the corkboard feature of Scrivener. (FYI, this has the added benefit that I am giving the manuscript yet another read, and finding little things that need to be corrected).

Once I have all of the notes, I will pick and choose interesting actions, or summarize a set of actions, to create the synopsis length that I want.

Sounds easy, but it's not.

I once tweeted that writing a synopsis is like trying to crush a car into a shoebox, and I don't think it's that far off. It takes a significant amount of time to get it right, but in the big picture, it can be very important.

How about you? How do you write your synopsis?


  1. I have a chapter-run outline for my books which essentially does what you're talking about - hits the salient plot points. So I typically use that as the basis since it's already there.


    5-page synopsis? Holy schlamoley.

    That's more of a treatment than a synopsis.

  2. Writing a synopsis is my LEAST EVER favorite thing to do. I've written one and it was 3 pages. It turned out okay, but was still pretty dry in my opinion. It definitely tells what happens, I guess. That's the idea. The hook is the query. The synopsis is to tell what happens in a short space.


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