Monday Advice from Editors and Agents – Writing the Synopsis

Help in Crafting a Synopsis

A favorite site of many new writers is This free website offers even multi-pubbed authors a treasure chest of resources. Today when I checked the site, I found:

  • A preview of the October issue of Writer’s Digest magazine
  • Free articles
    • 3 Steps to Successful  Book Marketing— by a promotional expert
    • Crafting Fiction and Memoir That Sells—an agent’s point of view
    • Interview with author Jill Hathaway (YA novel SLIDE) plus giveaway
    • plus access to past articles
    • FREE download of 101 Best Websites for Writer
    • Editor blogs
    • Contests and competitionsA “featured website” for writers
    • Craft education, including
      • List of upcoming Boot Camps, Live Webinars and Tutorials
      • List of FREE writing downloads
      • September workshops

And lots more…. See what I mean?

A Downloadable Webinar

One of the On-Demand Webinars offered by WD is The Dreaded Synopsis ($79). The download includes samples of good and bad synopses. If that cost is too high, you can find the highlights at Learn How to Write a Synopsis Like a Pro. There’s a lot of good information there, from Jane Friedman,  WD’s publisher and editorial director.

Ms. Friedman recommends that one to two pages, single spaced, should be sufficient. She also recommends a three-paragraph format:

  • Identification of protagonist(s), problem or conflict, and setting
  • Major plot turns or conflicts
  • Resolution of major conflicts

Notice there is no mention of backstory, small subplots, and subsidiary-but-interesting characters. Nor is there a suggestion to start/end with a hook.

Friedman also DID NOT SAY IT HAD TO BE IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER. More on that in a minute.

Secrets to Making It Short

Of course the second part, about major plot turns/conflicts, might need to be divided into more than one paragraph to accommodate complex plots or multiple character arcs, etc. But even so, you may look at your 400-page masterpiece and wonder how in the world you can get it down to two pages, even single-spaced. And you may be very fond of that backstory and the humorous sidekick.

What to do? The key is in making every sentence work as hard as it can.

In 1891, as Queen Victoria approaches her 75th year, a plot is hatched by Harry Bacon to gain control of her heir, the not-very-bright Prince Albert Victor. When Harry steals the prince’s bastard child through powerful dark magic, the child’s mother, Deborah Kettle, seeks someone even more powerful to get him back—the London sorcerer Jeremy Trumbull.

In this very short paragraph (54 words) we have established the main characters, the time and setting, and the central conflict of the story. In mentioning magic and sorcery, we’ve also established the genre of the novel.

The first sentence of the synopsis gives us needed background for the following account of story action. That one sentence is all the backstory we need. It doesn’t matter that this information isn’t revealed until many chapters into the book. The second sentence puts us into the action of the plot, spells out the problem, names the major protagonists and establishes their relationship to each other. That’s a lot of work for 54 words to do.

And since you’ve been so economical thus far, you can splurge a little on the next paragraph or two—the ones that describe the entire middle of the book. After all, two pages, single-spaced, is around 1,000 words. You’ve still got 950 words left!

What about that humorous sidekick? Deal with him quickly (one sentence or less) and you can probably get away with mentioning him. In fact, deal with every part of your story as tightly as that first paragraph and you may even be able to whittle your synopsis down to contest-entry length—one page.

Oh, and don’t forget to tell how it all ends. No editor/agent wants to be left hanging.

About Donna Maloy, Author

Captivating romantic suspense. History, mystery, and sometimes... a little touch of fantasy.
This entry was posted in Resources, Synopsis, Synopsis, Writers Digest. Bookmark the permalink.

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