Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Dreaded Synopsis

One of the first questions my agent asked me after signing was “can you send me your synopsis?” She wanted both a full synopsis and a short one.

Thankfully, I had both. So should you.

Why you need a synopsis:
Once your agent starts pitching to editors, she needs something to pitch. In much the same way you query agents, agents are pitching to editors. Sometimes it’s done in person, but it’s often done via email. I don’t have a lot of insight into that world, but suffice it to say, your agent needs both your short synopsis and long synopsis during the pitch process.

So how do you write it?

Well, for me, my short synopsis is very similar to the three paragraphs that appeared in my query letter. Hit the high points, mention the stakes for the MC, leave them wanting more.
You’ve probably already got that, if you’re querying.
The long synopsis is a bit more challenging. More experienced writers than I have posted on this topic (see Nathan Bransford’s post from August 2007 and one from Writing World.)

It doesn’t have to be torture.

The thing with the synopsis, is that you’ve got to tell the whole story. In basically two or three pages. Everything. Including the end. No leaving anything untold.

I know I’ll probably get comments like “but aren’t you supposed to leave them wanting more, so they’ll want to read the MS?”

Nope. Not in the long synopsis. In the blurb or back cover copy, yes. But not the synopsis.

Tips for quick and dirty synopsis writing:

1.      If you’re a plotter, take your outline and turn that into your synopsis. Write a short paragraph about what happens in each chapter.
2.      If you’re a pantser and you don’t have an outline, go through your novel and write a paragraph about each chapter. Keep it to a paragraph. TELL what happens in each chapter. Here’s where you want to “tell” rather than “show” (contrary to everything we’ve been told about writing our novels).
3.      Once you have a paragraph about each chapter, you can revise the synopsis into a seamless narrative.
Believe me, it’s not easy. You’re not going to whip this out in a day or two. Consider it part of the writing process.

Try this:

For the next novel, before you write the first word of the story, write the synopsis.
1.      Write the short blurb or back cover copy.
2.      Then write a paragraph about what happens in each chapter.
3.      Then write each chapter.
4.      Voila. You have a Novel.

As I said, I’m not an expert, however, I do have two novels for which I have written synopses—so I’ve done it. I welcome any comments or other suggestions about the process.


  1. This was not an easy process for me, but now that I've done it once, it's a lot less scary. Great idea about breaking each chapter down into a few sentences.

  2. Such a wonderful post! Thanks Kris!!

  3. Thanks very much for this. I recently wrote my long synopsis using the chapter by chapter method as I'm a pantser. It's about three pages long, and I've wasted many hours trying to get it down to two as I didn't know I should have a long AND short synopsis.

    My question is: Some of the agents I've submitted to ask for a synopsis in their submission guidelines, however they don't specify length. Are they asking for the short or long synopsis? You said the short one should be similar to the pitch, but if I'm including it WITH the pitch, how do I differentiate the two?

  4. My opinion? If they don't specify length AND they ask specifically for a synopsis separate from a query, they are looking for a two or three pager that gives them ALL the details.

    The short version is really just the "back cover" blurb that you use in your query.

    Hope that helps!

  5. Thank you for the post. I haven't written a synopsis yet, and for some reason, I am very nervous about it.

  6. What a simple, yet effective, way to approach such a daunting task! Thanks for sharing!