for writers and readers….

10 rules for writing a synopsis

Carole BlakeI’m away for a few days so here is something from a year ago which I think is still interesting – synopsis training.
The agent Carole Blake, author of From Pitch to Publication says that any story can be boiled down to:

What does the main character want, and what’s stopping them from getting it?

If there’s no conflict, there’s no story.
Here’s a couple of examples she gives:

What does Macbeth want? To be King of Scotland.
What’s stopping him? There’s already a king, with two sons as his heirs.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy:
What does Gabriel Oak want? To marry Bathsheba Everdene. What’s stopping him? She becomes a woman of property, and falls in love with the wrong man.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually enjoys writing a synopsis but it is an essential writing tool – especially if your aim is to be published.

It’s not easy so here are 10 guidelines to follow:

1) Research

Look at the backs of books, especially the ones on your own bookshelf, the ones you love. You will be able to tell whether it is a good blurb – there are plenty of rubbish ones. A well-written blurb is a good model for the opening paragraph

2) Research some more. Look at books in your genre. Study the product description and the reviews then go to the publisher’s website and see what they have to say.

 3) Remember what a synopsis is not…

  • It is not an introduction

  • It is not an overview. You do not have to include a summary of every scene

  • It is not a chapter by chapter break down

4) Remember what a synopsis is…

  • Proof that you can write

  • AND that you have a compelling story to tell – somewhere between a job application and a seduction.

5) Follow the conventions. Write in the present tense and keep it consistent. That means: Jane falls in love with Mr Rochester and not Jane fell in love

 6) Only name the main Characters. If you have to mention minor characters you can use labels – a corrupt judge, a fortune teller.

7) Remember whose story it is. I was chilled to the bone when I read that a writer had boiled the plot of Jane Eyre down to:

             a rich man with issues falls for innocent young lass.

Ahem! There’s a reason that the classic is not called Mr Rochester.

8) Reveal the high points of the story in the order you’ve written it. Reveal the CRISIS and RESOLUTION.  Don’t keep the editor/agent guessing by refusing to give away the ending.  You are trying to sell them something. They have a right to be reassured that your last line is not….and it was all a dream.

 9) Rewrite, using strong adjectives and verbs.

10) Polish. Revise by cutting any word that can be cut. Polish again.

 Practice with this exercise.

Write a synopsis of a fairy tale in one sentence.
It doesn’t matter how clunky it sounds as long as you answer Carole Blake’s essential questions: what’s stopping the main character getting what s/he wants?

 Once you’ve distilled it into one sentence you can expand it to 250 words.
This time style is important. The synopsis is a showcase of your story telling talent so you want to prove that you’ve not only got a story worth telling, but also that you are the only person who could tell it.

10 comments on “10 rules for writing a synopsis

  1. The Story Reading Ape
    February 28, 2014

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's New (to me) Authors Blog and commented:
    Hope these tips help you explain and sell your book/story better folks 🙂

  2. Luanne
    February 28, 2014

    This is all good advice.

  3. angelabooth
    February 28, 2014

    Reblogged this on Angela's Hub On WordPress and commented:
    Wonderful advice if you hate writing synopses. (They’re fun, if you approach them in the right way.) Tip — try writing your synopsis before you start plotting. It’s a great way to kick off your novel.

  4. bridget whelan
    March 4, 2014

    Thank you so much for reblogging Angela

  5. Pingback: Rules for writing a synopsis | The Proof Angel

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This entry was posted on February 28, 2014 by in Muse and tagged , , , .


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