If you are a serious writer who one day wants to be traditionally published, you will most likely have to write a synopsis at some point in your career, either for an agent or for an editor. A query letter, for example, contains a synopsis of your book, albeit a very brief synopsis. A book proposal for an editor contains a synopsis - a long synopsis. If you're writing a series, and you sell the first book with interest in the others, a publisher will most likely want synopses of the other books.
So, you need to know how to write a synopsis at some point.
I'm sure many of you already know how to write a synopsis, but for those of you who still find it frightening or a mystery, here's a few pointers. This isn't a post on how to write a synopsis because I don't believe there is any 100% right way to do it. I do believe the only way to learn is to just sit down and write it. Experiment. Let others read it. The more you practice, the better you'll get. Yes, imagine that.
Some of this information I learned from a writing conference I recently attended. Nephele Tempest from the Knight Agency taught the synopsis class.
Every synopsis, no matter the length, will need to focus on the following:
See, simple. Keep it simple.
How much detail you give on each of these points depends on the length you're going for. Remember, you most likely don't need to mention your entire cast of characters and every scene.
Structure & Length
Your synopsis should probably be told in chronological order, even if your story isn't told in chronological order.
If an agent requests a brief synopsis and doesn't say what that means, go with 1 - 3 pages or a large paragraph (single or double spaced). If an agent doesn't specify, well, anything goes, I suppose.
Don't summarize every chapter and/or scene unless that's what the publisher or editor wants (sometimes this is needed, but not for a brief synopsis).
Don't put characters names in ALL CAPS unless specified. That's usually for a script, not a synopsis.
Don't write your synopsis in first person. Please. Synopses should almost always be written in third person past tense.
Don't show. A synopsis is the exception to the "show, don't tell" saying (I refuse to call it a rule).
Don't start your synopsis at Chapter 4 if the agent requested the first three chapters and a brief synopsis. Include the entire story. Yes, I've heard of people doing this, and it's not a bright idea. The agent may read the synopsis first. Imagine that. They might not even read your chapters at all.
Don't leave off your amazing mind-blowing conclusion to the story because you want the agent to request your full to see what happens. Bad idea.
Do use your writerly skills to create the same sort of feel in your synopsis that exists in your book. For example, if you're writing a light-hearted YA story, don't make the synopsis heavy-handed and dramatic. This does not mean, however, that if you're writing a thriller/horror that you should try and scare the pants off the reader in the synopsis. I like to think of it as trying to capture the voice you've created for the main character - if your thriller/horror MC is dry and sarcastic, it might be fun to weave that into your synopsis.
Do treat the synopsis like a business document. Don't put it in French Script MJ italicized font because it looks cool. Be clear and concise and please have someone proofread it before you hit send.
Do take a book off your shelf, or a well-known movie, and practice writing a synopsis of it. It's much easier to practice on something you haven't written yourself.
To conclude, I'd just like to say that when I wrote my first synopsis, it took me a solid week to get it right, and that was only because I was rushed and had a deadline. When I write another one, I'll take a lot longer. I had several people read it - including people who had read the book, and people who hadn't. I received a lot of different feedback, and in the end, it's you who decides what will work for your writing.
Remember, the synopsis represents your book. It is not a summary (unless it's a very detailed synopsis pretty much outlining the book). Treat your synopsis as a thorough hook that represents the essence of your story and the characters you've created.
Do you have anything you'd like to add as pointers for synopsis writing? How important do you feel it is to know how to write a synopsis, and does writing one frighten you (or did it if you've written one in the past)?
Also, since I have closed my personal blog, The Innocent Flower, I'd like to put a reminder here that I am still running my short story contest. You can find the details here: Glam's Short Story Contest. I'd love to see your work! The deadline is June 1st.