Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Sin and Sepsis of SYNOPSES

{All right, that title^ is cleverish by half, and lame to boot. But I had to take my angst out somewhere.}
Agents and editors may ask for a synopsis. Synopses are most writers’ least favorite things. Rejections hurt less, some will tell you. Synopses feel like whacking a seven-layer cake into a pancake. It’s all still there, but the air is out.
Now that’s done, let’s sympathize with a writer who has just reduced her fifty-thousand-word lusciously layered lyrical story to five hundred words, while retaining some of the voice, all of the major plot points, all the major characters, and giving away the surprise end.
It was painful.
The best part about this beast is that even if editors or agents don’t ask for it, it will help a writer notice major plot holes or weakness in the full manuscript. Summarizing delineates the arteries of a story.
But otherwise, they are evil.
There are a lot of superb sites that give helpful advice about tackling the synopsis. Here are a few I found helpful:
Here’s a bit I found helpful that I didn’t see anywhere else. I found that I write an effective synopsis if I had not re-read or looked at the story for a few weeks.
Yup, this helps me extract the essence and not be tempted to include many of my favorite parts. I can see the arc more clearly. It feels less like homework, and has a clarifying effect.
 It works for me, anyhow.
Now back to work, revising the synopsis. Not funny, Yea. But a necessity.



  1. My sympathy! Good luck with the rewrite. Thanks for the list of sites.

  2. They certainly can be tricky. I like your tip about not looking at any of the manuscript for a few weeks before writing the synopsis. I usually do a brief synopsis (1 page--250 words)and have found it useful to have it done ahead of time.

  3. My sympathies on this one, dear Mirka. (Fortunately, for me, picture books and puzzle books don't require synopses.)

  4. Synopses are my least favorite part of writing.

  5. I find it easiest to pretend I'm telling a friend about a movie I just saw. Of course the "movie" is actually my book. Another trick is to let your MC write the synopsis and then switch it to third person when you're finished.

    1. Amen to that, Kelly. That's exactly what I did. I let the MC tell, and then switched to third person present tense, as is the convention for synopses.

  6. Great tip! I'll file this one for future reference! Thanks, Mirka.

  7. A technique I used as a university writing tutor was to have students summarize each paragraph of their essays in one sentence. If the sentences made sense and were in a logical order, then the essay was on the right track. Perhaps with a book one could summarize each chapter in one sentence.


  8. Agree with everything having just done this for the first time myself. I was simultaneously swearing at it and thanking it for making me realize what was missing from my story. Love Jane Friedman's post too. An excellent blog Mirka. So nice to know you're not alone.

  9. Writing the synopsis is my least favorite thing to do. I actually enjoy writing the query letter and book blurb, but the synopsis is evil. Pure evil. haha

    I found an easy method that helped me:

    - Inciting Incident
    - Plot Point 1
    - Pinch Point 1
    - Plot Point 2 (middle)
    - Pinch Point 2
    - Plot Point 3
    - Black Moment
    - Resolution

  10. Not fun for me either, but it does help me 'visualize' what a potential reader might read and if it intrigues them to pick up the book or not. Best of luck, Mirka!

  11. Good for you for being at this stage, Mirka. I find that writing a synopsis, though painful can be the best tool to see whether the story flows naturally. Good luck with your revisions.