A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called How To Get A Literary Agent. Unsurprisingly, it was one of my most popular blogs to date, (because, well, who doesn't want a literary agent?) Part of the process of getting representation is writing a synopsis so this week, I thought I would go a little deeper into how to do that.
To recap, a synopsis is a factual statement of the key information of your novel and shouldn’t be confused with the sales copy. Neither should it be a detailed account of each chapter and scene - limit your synopsis to one page (or two pages at the most) and edit ruthlessly - the aim is to create a summary of your book.
Writing a synopsis for your novel has multiple benefits beyond simply attracting a literary agent, including:
It can be a great planning tool, allowing you to simply focus on the narrative of your story without having to worry about writing style.
Writing a synopsis forces you to condense your narrative down to the most important elements giving you the opportunity to analyse the big picture.
It allows you to ‘test’ your story before you write the whole novel.
In theory, writing a synopsis should be fairly straight-forward yet many writers struggle so I have broken it down as simply as possible:
What to include:
1. You main characters
Protagonist, your antagonist, and any major supporting characters. Make sure to include the characters' feelings and emotions and use these elements to advance your plot and story.
2. Major plot points
Your major plot points including the major conflict or turning point. This is where your premise will come in useful.
The time period and place your book is set in.
4. The narrative arc
An explanation of the problem or plot, the characters, and how the novel ends. It ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense. It summarises what happens and who changes from beginning to end of the story.
5. Genre and POV
The genre or style as well as the point of view – whether your book is in first, second, or third person and the perspective (which character is telling the story.)
6. Your unique take
Remember that agents are reading hundreds, if not thousands of synopses so make sure it’s clear how your book idea is different. What unique elements does it have? How is it a fresh idea from the norm? Make sure your plot isn’t cliché or predictable.
What NOT to include:
1. Too many details
Make sure you write clearly and avoid lengthy descriptions. Focus on clarity.
2. Every minor character
You don’t need to mention all the characters – and the same goes for every plot – just the main ones. Remember, you don't want to tell the entire story – that’s what your book will do. What you want to do is write a book summary with enough detail about the plot to intrigue the reader or agent. Don’t editorialise your book by referring to flashbacks – try and keep it as straightforward as possible to avoid confusion.
3. Back cover blurb
Sometimes a synopsis gets confused with the blurb on the back cover of a book. You’re not trying to hook a reader with marketing copy, instead focus more on summarising.
If you’re uncertain as to whether to include something or not, a good rule of thumb is to follow this rule buy Jane Friedman which states:
“If the ending wouldn’t make sense without the character or plot point being mentioned, then it belongs in the synopsis.”
It always helps to have an example so you can see my synopsis I wrote for my award-winning debut, The Good Mother, here which I used to enter and win the Emirates Airline Novel Writing Prize.
Finally, here are a few other tips to help:
1. Write in third person, present tense (regardless of what POV or tense your book is written).
2. Check out some of the top book reviewers on Amazon. Many of them do a great job of summarising to give context to their book review.
3. Research the agent or publisher first before submitting your synopsis in case there are any specific guidelines you need to follow.
4. Only send your synopsis to literary agents once you have finished your manuscript.
Don’t forget to download my synopsis for The Good Mother to give you an idea and if you know of any writers who would find this information useful, then please feel free to share using the icons below.
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