Writing the elevator pitch and synopsis for a sci-fi or fantasy can seem impossible at first glance. Here you have a story with otherworldly creatures and settings which all work according to the rules of their unique world and you have to, somehow, explain it clearly in one page or even three lines. How are you possibly supposed to explain the complex legal system of the ant-people in just a few sentences? The solution to this problem is
subjective and will depend entirely on the purpose of the synopsis or pitch you are writing. For the sake of this article, I will assume you are producing them for the sake of pitching to an agent or publisher, as this is their most common purpose. But keep in mind that you may need to tweak your approach if they are being used for something different.
Let me start by explaining a common method which I believe is a real pitfall, and then I will move on to a tip which I have found really work for me.
The Glossary Approach
This is something that I see used very frequently used amongst my fellow aspiring authors, but which I personally think is a bad idea in an agent/publisher pitch. “The Glossary Approach” is a method wherein the author makes a few bullet points at the start of their synopsis to explain the fantasy elements of their world. For example, “Zargle: A race of intellectually advanced, phosphorus-based life forms who are universally terrified of the colour yellow”. In theory, knowing these facts up front will allow you more freedom to make reference to them in the bulk of your synopsis.
Clearly, this is not an appropriate method for your three line elevator pitch, but I would argue that it is also no good for a longer synopsis. It would probably work if the document was aimed at someone who is committed to reading the entire thing before making a judgement, but an agent or publisher won’t be. They reserve the right to get bored after your first line and reject you, so you need to lead with something punchy and strong, not a list of facts that they need to carefully absorb before they can begin to understand the rest of your pitch.
My Top Tip
So, if you can’t explain it up front, what options do you have? My suggestion is to not get too obsessed with helping your reader to understand every nook and cranny of your fantasy world in the synopsis. Just focus on the central premise and make sure that it is clearly understood, rather than having the entire thing just vaguely understood. For example, the elevator pitch for my novel is as follows: “After an embarrassingly mundane death, fifteen-year-old Chloe demands that the Grim Reaper gives her a second chance at life. But she soon discovers that the process is far more bureaucratic than she had expected.” Now, if I’m honest, the creature in my story isn’t really, technically a Grim Reaper; they’re more like a whole race of creatures, dedicated to tidying up human deaths. But it wasn’t possible to explain this in a clear, punchy way while still keeping the pitch clear. So I compromised in the short pitch by just saying “grim reaper” because that is a concept which gives the reader the gist of it, while still being brief. In the longer synopsis, I gave a slightly longer explanation like the one I just gave to you. But I didn’t go into detail about their appearance, society or nature. There just wasn’t enough space.
Now, I should clarify that I’m not saying you have to completely eliminate mentions of fantasy/sci-fi elements from your pitch and synopsis. That would be silly. But if you are going to mention them, then I suggest focusing on the one or two elements that are essential to your premise and make your manuscript unique. We don’t need to hear about a centuries-old galactic war that you mentioned one time in the novel.
I hope this article has been helpful to you. If you enjoyed it, please click “like” and “follow”, and keep your eyes peeled for my next article, where I will be talking about personalising query letters.