Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Synopsis in 12 Simple Steps

For many writers, finishing a novel is an arduous process. For those who prevail, have a novel in hand, and decide to try to get it published, perfecting the query can be a drawn-out battle, each word and phrase under constant siege until only the strong remain. And then...then comes the *$!K#@G synopsis.

For those who have not experienced it, following is a simple 12-step process for writing that most nebulous, infuriating and vilified of all marketing products.

1. Realize you need to write a synopsis
2. Denial Part I - Ignore that realization
3. Start querying agents who don't require a synopsis
4. Feel good about yourself
5. Get a partial request from an agent, including the requirement for a synopsis (!)
6. Set aside a night to write your synopsis
7. When that night comes, cry vicious crocodile tears (place hyphen in the spot of your choosing)
8. Die a little inside
9. Denial Part II, aka "Screw this. I just won't respond to this agent's request" - moments later you will deny this denial
10. Discover there are exactly one hundred specific lengths a synopsis "must be"
11a. Spend weekend hammering out ninety-nine drafts of synopsis, each a different length
11b. Die a little more
12. Respond to agent request, and begin querying agents who require synopses between one and ninety-nine pages in length

And there you have it. Easy-peasy. Go forth and synopsize, good readers.

In all seriousness, I do recommend that you complete a synopsis prior to querying a novel. It is not what I'd call a "fun" activity, but it can reveal pacing issues or help you to distill your story into a query or one-line pitch. It's also a bloody slow process, one I don't recommend saving until you've had a request for one of these buggers.


  1. I found that writing the query letter pitch before writing the novel was a great tool to help me focus the story. Would you think writing the synopsis first would also be of use?

  2. I definitely recommend outlining. And a pre-written query helps to focus on what's original and important in the story.

    I do fear that, by creating too many road maps prior to starting, a writer might feel pressured to stick to a route when better detours and more interesting side-trips present themselves. But then, I was dragged kicking and screaming (by bad manuscripts) into plotting, so my opinion might be a bit skewed.

    I like a finished story. I love the magic of the writing taking you somewhere you hadn't previously imagined.

    My sweet spot for the synopsis was about halfway through. It's a stress test for the first half, and an excellent way to focus the second half.

  3. Thanks, Hillary. Probably because I am kind of a natural outliner, I am also comfortable with rearranging the outline when I find it isn't quite working out in actuality the way it was working out in theory, so I'm not too worried I'll feel locked in. Still, I think trying it in the middle (which I hadn't thought of) sounds like an excellent idea.

  4. Agreed about getting it done before querying. It took me a few hair-pulling weeks to finish mine. And I thought the query was bad...

  5. Ah... the synopsis. :) Add in some more items ....

    13. Write synopsis
    14. Get rejections
    15. Wait 3 months
    16. Look at synopsis and go ... what in the world was I thinking with that version?
    17. Begin entire cycle again.



  6. Aimee, I didn't want to scare anyone... :) Agreed on the "what was I thinking". I think I've burned mine.

    You're right, Elena. The query's got nothing on this bad boy.

  7. Jumped over here from Nathan's forum, and this is hilarious. I am currently in stages 1-4 and am dreading the 5th. I know it will come, but, but, but...whyyyy haha. Happy holidays!

  8. KT, thanks for hopping over! You'll be so elated when the 5th happens that you'll hardly feel the pain. Promise. :)