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Last week’s article was about query letter writing and if you’ve had the chance to give that a go, consider it a warm up because now we are going to look at the dreaded synopsis. This is an important part of the submission process and almost all literary agents will ask for one, if you decide to go down that route. The purpose of a synopsis is to sum up your whole story, beginning to end, in around one to three pages, so an agent or publisher can get a taste of it and decide if it is something they would be interested in reading further. When submitting, you will normally send only the first few chapters of your actual manuscript, so your plot will have to shine through in the synopsis if you want the reader to request a full.

As I said in the introduction, your synopsis will need to tell the whole plot right through to the end. Even if you a have a super-duper killer twist, you need to reveal it. Sure, it might be more entertaining for the reader to discover those twists on their own, but it would be impossible for an agent or a publisher to read all the way through every manuscript just on the off-chance of a surprise ending.

As for the structure, you will want to start with a short paragraph that introduces the premise of the story and acts as a hook. For this, you can refer to the blurbs you might find on the back of a book. The opening paragraph should ideally be two to three sentences long and can be identical to the premise you used in your query letter, if you are having trouble thinking of a different way to put it. It should also include some basic information about the novel such as word count, genre, audience, title, readership etc. Yes, I know you’ve already put this in your query letter – it doesn’t make sense. If you are really opposed to repeating yourself, or if you find you are running out of space, you can trim these statistics down to just title, word count and genre. It could look something like this;

Tales of a Grouchy Shopkeeper is a 90,000 word horror novel which follows Eugene Grillop; an overworked sales assistant from South Croydon. Eugene believes that his life will never change until he meets a customer who pushes him over the edge.

After this snappy introduction, you will get into the bulk of your synopsis, where you will explain the main story arc at least and possibly touch on some of the side-plots of you have space. For me, the most challenging part of this was compressing my entire manuscript into such a small space. And once I’d overcome that, I found that my synopsis was far too complicated as I had tried to stuff in every twist and turn instead of trimming it down to the bare basics. But through trial and error, I’ve come up with a few rules which may help you with these problems;

  • Limit yourself to 2-3 character names. If you need to mention other characters, name them with a description like “the secretary” or “the Queen”.
  • Create two versions of your synopsis. First, a long one of 2-3 pages, then a trimmed one of 1 page – some agents will only accept single page synopses but it is easier to create one by boiling down a longer version.
  • Before you start, make a short list of the main plot points and then resist the temptation to move away from them. Even if you find you have space to add in more, it may be better to flesh out the plot points you’ve already mentioned than to add in more and more tangents.

Those are the basics. And once you have finished your draft synopsis, my final piece of advice is to have it proof-read by someone who knows nothing about your story.  Because if they don’t get it, neither will an agent.