Writing the Novel Synopsis in 5 Steps

Since I finished Poppy Swings, I have been querying my ass off. That’s not to say I’m sending out a ton of query letters all at once, but I have been nitpicking my query letter and my sample chapters. In addition to those two documents, I am also immersed in the novel synopsis.

Barf.

I don’t know why this request is daunting to me, but it is! The query letter felt easy. It’s an elevator pitch of your book. When people ask me what my book is about, I can tell them. It’s essentially the one concise paragraph in my query letter. But the novel synopsis? It’s like a play by play that should inform the agent of what your manuscript is, but still remain an interesting pitch.

I’m not going to lie to you. My first go around with this was UGLY. With the query letter, I felt confident and I really enjoyed the resources I found online to steer me in the right direction. Not so much this time around. Maybe it’s because this document is just a down and dirty for the agent who wants to get what you’re about in one page instead of suffering through a sample chapter. Maybe it’s because there isn’t really a magic formula to help liven up this document. Whatever it is, the novel synopsis sucks. Sorry.

Before I share what I did in my synopsis, I will share one resource I liked when browsing the internet. I appreciated CJ Redwine’s “How to Write a Synopsis Without Losing Your Mind. Redwine doesn’t offer a formula, but instead offers a break down of what a novel synopsis is and what it is not. So check it out.

For my own synopsis, I used the following five steps: Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 1.59.20 PM

  1. Just get it on paper. 
    Trying to sum up 60,000ish words in one page is intimidating. But once I got out of my own way, I allowed myself the space to write what I thought I needed to write regardless of the space the agent wanted. Get out of your own way and just write what you feel is the important aspects of your novel. You have to do that first and foremost. You will have to go back and trim it down. And trim it down again. Then, trim it down once more until you hit your agent’s requirement (usually one or two pages) and there are no gaps in the progression of your plot’s description. But at first, just write it down.
  2. Break the synopsis into thirds.
    Thirds made sense to me: beginning, middle, and end. Even though my novel covers five seasons, five paragraphs seemed like the worst way to pitch to an agent. I hated five paragraphs in school and in teaching so I didn’t want to do that here. My synopsis is one page with three equal paragraphs. Paragraph one should set up of events and characters while continuing to build upon the hook you’ve established in your query letter. Paragraph two is leads up to the main conflict and climax of the story. This paragraph will probably be your most detailed and leaves little wiggle room, so make sure it’s concise and clear. Paragraph three is heads toward the resolution and details where you wrap up the characters’ place within the story, leaving nothing to surprise the agent. This isn’t a book jacket. They need to know how it ends.
  3. Edit. Be ruthless. 
    For me, this meant I had to cut who narrated the event I was describing. Even though multiple narrators is important to my story, I cover that in the query letter. At this stage and for this document, the agent doesn’t need me to outline that for her. I also cut details that seemed important when I was writing the initial draft, but weren’t absolutely pertinent to understanding the story’s progression. If it doesn’t help the agent understand how a character got from Event A to Event B, cut it.
  4. Vary sentence length,
    Use the power of the sentence to your advantage. You can use sentence structure and sentence length to set and break a rhythm for your reader. If I wanted the agent to come to a stop and pay more attention to a specific action within my explanation, I used short sentences because it jolts the reader. If I wanted to focus on details or a progression of events, I used longer sentences. The synopsis can feel make you feel like you’re droning on and on, but varying your sentence length allows you more control over the document and style.
  5. Proof it. Then proof it again. And once more just to be sure. 
    Don’t mess up your chance with an agent because you got impatient (or excited) about the submission process. Don’t close the door on yourself with careless mistakes, typos, or a plot hole. The query letter and the novel synopsis may be the only thing an agent sees of yours. If they aren’t impressed by the query and the synopsis, they won’t ask to see the manuscript. Take your time. Leave it. Come back to it. Then do that once more.
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