A How-To Guide For Writing The Perfect Book Synopsis
Start With Knowing Your Book In A Sentence
You've just finished writing your novel, and you've edited it so many times your eyes are crossing. You've done hours of research, and you've made your characters so flawed it makes you cry just to think of them. What now? Well, you're either planning on doing a spot of indie publishing, or you're going to send it off to agents to (hopefully) get published.
A synopsis can be useful in either case. For indie publishing, it can be a helpful document for keeping track of events for books in a series, or if you need some snappy lines for a blog interview. For putting it forward to an agent or small publisher, it can do the same, plus you will most likely need one in order for them to give your manuscript a look.
So where do you start? It's going to be a long process, but hang in there! To start, you need to consider how you would express what your novel is about in one or two sentences - the infamous 'elevator pitch'. Why is your book different to, or better than, other books in the same field? Does your book offer an insight to something that will capture people's attention? Does it deal with hard-hitting issues; does it focus on women's history; does it help deal with grief? Whatever the main focus of your book is, pick it out. Add your genre, and who the book is aimed at. Here's an example, to give you an idea:
Focus: The heroine deals with a new love after a difficult divorce.
How is it unique from similar books: It's set in the regency period, when divorce was considered immoral.
Genre: Historical Romance (you may have noticed that this should be explained neatly in your focus and 'why it is unique' structure).
Target audience: Women aged 25 - 45
So have a go, and try to sum your novel up as a starting point. This is harder than it looks, so don't worry if you have to try a few times! But this is helpful for starting a synopsis, where paring down the details is important. It aids you in thinking about just the essential components of your book.
Fill Out The (Important) Details
So now you have your one or two sentences, it's time to start building them up again. Take a look at your 'focus' sentence again. How does the situation come about? You need to plot out the series of events that both lead up to and from the focus.
What you also need to think about at this point is how the book is structured. Ideally, you need to start the book by diving into the action. Your synopsis is no different. Then you lead onto the first problem the characters come across. Towards the middle, the problem has to be half-resolved. Then the characters face another problem and conflict, before the final solution comes up, and the book ends. Let's use our example again:
Focus: Regency woman, recently divorced, has to deal with a new love.
Events leading to the focus:
- The heroine is unhappy in her marriage
- Her husband suspects her incorrectly of cheating, and divorces her
- The heroine is forced to become a kitchen maid in order to have money, and changes her name
- She meets the man who owns the manor house, and he seems to be kinder to her than she would expect
- They fall in love
Events leading from the focus:
- The heroine tries to keep her divorce a secret, but a visitor to the house recognises her
- The heroine is blackmailed over her divorce
- The man she loves finds out
- She runs away
- The hero realises what has happened, and goes after her, just as she's about to end her life
- The heroine is rescued, and they live happily ever after
This would easily be a novel of 80,000 words or more, and yet it can be broken down into a few sentences that cover the whole story. Consider what you wrote as your focus sentence. What creates that conflict? How did your characters get there, and how do they fix it?
Thinking back on the structure of the synopsis, how can the example sentences be structured to fit? Let's take a look:
- Beginning (into the action): Heroine is unhappy in her marriage.
- Problem: Husband incorrectly suspects her of cheating, divorces her. She has to become a kitchen maid, and changes her name.
- Half-solution, middle of novel: Heroine falls in love with the master of the manor house
- Second problem: Heroine chooses to keep her divorce a secret, but is blackmailed by someone from her previous life.
- Conflict: Hero finds out, and the heroine runs away, intent on ending her life.
- Solution: Hero finds the heroine, and they live happily ever after.
This structure is very important. This is how the bare bones of your synopsis will be laid out. Go over the sentences you've made from your focus, and put them into the sections shown above.
*Note: It is possible to have three problems/conflicts. Simply place these before or after your middle point. If you feel you need more than three, it may be a good idea to go over your novel again and be sure it has a clear storyline that doesn't deviate too much from the focus.
Beginning (remember; action!)
Heroine is unhappy in her marriage.
Husband incorrectly suspects her of cheating, divorces her. She has to become a kitchen maid, and changes her name.
Half-resolved solution (middle)
Heroine falls in love with the master of the manor house.
Heroine chooses to keep her divorce a secret, but is blackmailed by someone from her previous life.
Hero finds out, and the heroine runs away, intent on ending her life.
Hero finds the heroine, and they live happily ever after.
Some More Great Advice On Writing A Synopsis
Start Plotting It Out
Nearly there! Now that you have your basic structure - and you may find it helpful to make a table for yourself, like the one above - it's time to actually put the full synopsis on paper. Remember how that structure is split into different sections? Each one of those sections will become no more than two or three paragraphs.
Take your first section, the beginning. This is where you introduce your characters, as well as their setting. Don't spill everything at once. Think of your synopsis as a filtered down version of your manuscript. Same as in your novel, don't give every detail about the characters at once, let it evolve naturally. Use the first paragraph to go straight into the action, and set the scene. Keep it brief! Use the same technique for paring down your whole novel into the sections. You should aim to get your first two chapters into the first 1-2 paragraphs of the synopsis, no more than about 300-400 words.
Move through each section, allowing yourself an extra paragraph for each section, keeping it brief and cutting down on unnecessary details. For example, you don't need to put in every conversation, only the main ones that move the story along. You don't need to include every minor character if they only appear once, but you do need to think about main and secondary characters. Think about how you can cut down two or three chapters into a paragraph each. This can even help with writing your novel! If you find a large number of chapters with lots of unnecessary detail, consider cutting them out.
- Characters: Give simple physical details, but let them evolve naturally as you write the synopsis, same as your manuscript. Don't mention characters who aren't secondary or primary.
- Events: Give the framework of what happens, and make it exciting! Remember, this is your selling pitch to an agent or publisher. Don't keep twists secret: the point of the synopsis is to let the agent know exactly what happens in the novel.
- Conflicts/Problems: Just like the events, make it interesting, and don't hold back any secrets of what happens.
- Paragraphs: Short and sweet is the key here, and make sure each part flows smoothly into the next. If it seems jarring, trying taking away or adding a link between two sections with a well-chosen sentence - or consider if the story itself needs more work.
Tying Up The Loose Ends
You should now have a cohesive run-down of your whole novel that covers about 2-4 pages. What's left? Well, give your synopsis a thorough editing, just as you did with your manuscript. Make sure that facts are correct, there's no spelling or grammar issues, and that everything flows well together.
- Are all characters, events and conflicts detailed cohesively?
- Are all sections necessary to the story?
- Have you introduced characters naturally?
- Have you started by jumping straight into the action?
If you answered 'yes' to all these questions, then you should be set! Use your synopsis for sending your manuscript to agents or publishers, snappy descriptions for blogs or interviews, and to help refine your 'elevator pitch'. Congratulations on a great synopsis!
© 2015 Miranda Stork