Notes for Crafting a Winning
Synopsis from Industry Experts:
You’ve written your 75,000 word master piece. Now in order to present it to
industry professionals in a concise, enticing and engaging manner, you must par
down your novel to one one-hundreth of its original size; approximately 750
words or less. There are many conflicting resources on formatting a synopsis,
but the elements that are needed to compose a winning synopsis are agreed upon across
party lines. Here’s my take on how to make sure you hit the highlights and
other important facts.
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR SYNOPSIS:
Make sure your synopsis covers the beginning, middle and the ending of your
book. Don’t save your ending as a surprise. 2012
Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market a.k.a. CWIM (edited by Chuck
Sambuchino) advises to make sure your synopsis includes hook, plot, theme, characterization, setting,
conflict and resolution. The Writer’s
Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas advises a synopsis
should include “your book’s content, structure, tone and design if needed.” Furthermore
Burt-Thomas says to “start your synopsis strong immediately, then fill in the details later.”
The Fiction Writer’s
Connection website has a great checklist for your synopsis. The list
includes questions like: Does
your opening paragraph have a hook? Are your main character’s conflicts clearly
defined? Have you hit your major themes and major plot points, and did you show
how the conflict was resolved in the end?
Beck Agency also advises to start with a hook, and after you introduce your
main character, they say to unveil your main character’s CONFLICT, MOTIVATION,
and GOALS. The Body of your synopsis should include an ACTION, REACTION, and
DECISION (check for these elements to suss out if you have an active or a
passive main character). Don’t forget to
include the crisis and resolution to your story.
Bransford (a one-time agent with Curtis Brown, and now published writer)
says that a synopsis is not the time to detail every character in your story. He says, “[a synopsis] needs to make the work come alive. If your synopsis reads like
"and then this happened and then this happened" and it's confusing
and dull, well, you might want to revise that baby.”
regard to length, Nathan advises two to three pages, double spaced unless
submission guidelines ask for something different.
CONFIRM THAT YOUR MAIN CHARACTER ISN’T
A PINBALL: Read your synopsis and decide if your main
character is responding to events, bouncing around like a pinball tossed in one
precarious (perhaps exciting) direction after another, or if you’re main guy is
driving the action. If he’s a pinball, then no matter how exciting the events
may be, your guy is passive and that is not what the industry wants.
Mary Kole from the Andrea Brown
Agency often offers pitch-slam events at the conferences she attends. In a
sit-down interview I enjoyed with Mary Kole at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles,
she offered a pearl of wisdom: make sure your main character is ACTIVE vs.
PASSIVE. The advice seems obvious, yet so many writers have things happening to
their main character vs. having the protagonist drive the story forward.
FORMATTING: CWIM 2012 (Writer’s Digest Books) says to
include your genre and word count on the upper right side, and your name,
address, phone number and email address on the left side. Your title goes in
all-caps in the center
Last Historical Fiction
address 50,000 Words
MY FABULOUS BOOK TITLE HERE
formatting advice includes:
- Don’t number your first page; begin numbering
on second page;
- Double space all text ,and use 12 point Times
Roman with one-inch margins
- Second page header is formatted like so: Your
name/TITLE IN CAPS/Synopsis 2
- The first time you introduce a character in the
synopsis, have their name appear in all-caps (with normal formatting to
- And **open with a great hook and inciting incident.
- Size-I keep hearing, “the briefer the better,
but all elements must be there to sell your story.” Guide
to Query Letters by Wendy
Burt-Thomas says it’s typically one to two pages. 2012 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market a.k.a.
CWIM (edited by Chuck Sambuchino) has a glossary where synopsis is defined
as “a page to a page and a half if single spaced” (odd definition since
they also advise to double space your synopsis).
- Write your synopsis in present tense
- Use 12 point Times Roman
SYNOPSIS VS. QUERY: Make
sure you know the difference between a synopsis and a query. A query letter is
a single page, three paragraph letter that is meant to hook the reader into
asking for more. The three paragraphs include The Book, The Hook, and The Cook.
(1) Paragraph One: The book tells the title, the word count, and the genre. (2)
The hook includes your logline and a few lines about your story (similar to
what you might read on the jacketflap of a book). It does not tell your whole
story. (3) Paragraph Three: The cook is
a paragraph about you, where you went to school, and any writing credentials
you may have.
The Synopsis, unlike your query,
tells your entire story (beginning, middle, and end). The length of your
synopsis will depend on agents/editors submission guidelines. You should
practice writing a short, one page synopsis as well as a long, three to five