top of page

Synopsis tips part deux

Sorry it's taken me so long to compose this post. If you've been patiently waiting-I appreciate you!

To close out my Synopsis Tips, it's time to do the thing we all dread the most: compose the synopsis.

*cue dramatic music* *thunder* *lightening* *screams of horror*

I wish I was exaggerating, but I've seen many writers post they'd rather write a dozen query letters then write one synopsis. And I can't blame them. It's freakin hard work! You've already had to strip your story down to the bones for your pitch, then you have to common-sensically redress the pitch for your query, and now we have to remove extraneous details AND convey the tone of the story in 1, 2, or 4+ pages?

Well, yes you must, and yes it's possible. Sure it's difficult to squeeze in voice amidst the nitty gritty but not impossible. This is your opportunity to tell the agent why your story is special. Show them the twists and turns the MC(s) must traverse to get to the Happily Ever After. Tell them every secret, every story point you couldn't manage in the query. Oh, and don't forget to tell them what that HEA/HFN is. That is a must.

Let's go back real quick to the story points I mentioned way back on May 31, essentially the foundation of your synopsis. If you're like me-and why wouldn't you want to be :D-you've written out your story points in excel. I take it a step further and often include snippets of my subplots-the "beats" of the piece. Color coded, naturally. Why do I get to this level of detail? I will explain in a bit.

Synopsis Format

Let's get housekeeping outta the way. There is almost NO easy place to find synopsis formatting rules. Trust me, I looked. So rather than make you scour below is the format I've used myself.

  • Can be

  • EITHER single spaced with one line break between paragraphs, no indents

  • OR double-spaced, with a 5pt intend at the beginning of each paragraph

  • 12pt Times New Roman font

  • One inch margins all around

  • Last Name/Title/SYNOPSIS in upper left hand corner

  • Page number in upper right hand corner

  • The word Synopsis centered at top of the first page

  • Third person present tense

The many types of synopsis'

Bet you didn't know there were options.

Well, unfortunately there are. And if an agent requests one make sure you adhere their instructions. If an agent states "as many pages as it takes to convey your story", well, that's the holy grail. But if they say they want a "short synopsis" you're looking at a two-pager. Don't panic yet! Let's walk through them to get a better handle on what to expect.

The long synopsis

With the long synopsis, your dreams come true. There's technically no limit to the number of pages, but try to keep your synopsis between 4-5 pages long. Use these pages wisely. This is still not an appropriate place to expound on all your motivations for writing your masterpiece. This can be the place where you expose not just the main story points of your piece but also the subplots. Yay!

Don't know how to start? Well, make a paragraph for each of your Story Points. The Story Points, if executed correctly, are already showing the trajectory of our MC's growth. That's eight paragraphs right there!

I like to begin with the Inciting Incident because of the inherent tension at that point. I shape the II into a sentence that shows the drama of that moment, throw in a pinch of the MC's reaction to it. Then, I make an II sandwich by surrounding it with any subplots that support that Story Point.

Let me use the example as Larry Brooks applies it to the Inciting Incident of The Hunger Games. The setup:

Katniss rolls over on what she’s been fighting off: the strategy of them being a couple. She’s suspicious of it, and she’s suspicious of Peeta. That he’s playing her, making her vulnerable to an opening where he can put a knife in her heart. She doesn’t know what to do with this, it conflicts her.

When she buys in, accepts it and begins to engage with it, at least from outward appearances. When she declares to us (through her actions) that she’ll play Peeta’s dark game, and beat him at it.

When she kisses his cheek as his partner, she does so on an existing bruise. From that action, from the way it’s set up and written, the story changes right there. It begins her journey. It defines her core quest: survive not only the Games, but the deception of her closest ally and supposed partner. It does so in context to those two things: stakes, and the opposition.

So how does *all of this* turn into a paragraph of our synopsis? Well, Brooks sums it up well on the Hunger Games Beat Sheet he created and I think it would basically work as a structural paragraph in the synopsis as well:

...Katniss finally returns the gesture of affection and buy-in to the strategy. She kisses him on the cheek, “Right on his bruise.” It’s on....She’s now strategizing. She’s in survival mode. For her, the Games have finally begun.

Awesome right? Do this seven more times and you'll have the basic structure of your short synopsis (more on that later).

Because we're talking the long synopsis, you have some freedom for filling the rest of those pages. You can expound on that sub-plot you love so much OR interject the bad guy's machinations happening off the page OR EVEN mention how the fantastical landscape fits into your tome. However, because it is the long synopsis, there's no excuse for losing your voice or detailing every twist that turns your MC(s) in circles to the very end.

The Short Synopsis

As mentioned waaaaaay above, the short synopsis will be 1-2 pages outlining the Story Points of your novel baby. Again, try to make sandwichs out of all your story points. Make sure you're focusing on the MC's goal, motivations, and conflict.

But now you're wondering "how this is different from the long synopsis?" Well, let me tell you from my own experience.

  • In the short, I worried I lost my "voice"

  • In the short, I eliminated extraneous details, subplots, and anything not directly related to the MC

  • In the short, I often kept a thesaurus open in order to tighten my language

  • In the short, and because I wrote an Urban Fantasy, I used shorter, punchier sentences

  • In the short, I had room for one sub-plot reference, and chose the one that pertained to MCs worst fear

Where the long synopsis was a deep red wine that quenched our thirst for curiosity, the short synopsis will be drier red, possibly leaving us thirsty for more details. Unfortunately, that is the cost and we might as well accept it as fact.

The One-Page Synopsis

This one will make you cry. I guarantee it will. Remember how you already stripped away the extra flares, all but one sub-plot, from your long synopsis? Well, now's the time to remove those too. There is no room for sub-plots, possibly no room for your voice, definitely no room for flowery details. This will be the bones of your story picked clean by scavenger birds leaving the Story Points on display.

The One-Pager is like that pink boxed wine on sale at your local grocer. Great on the wallet, but kinda tastes like fruit punch with hardly any of the *happy buzz* side effect.

Because this post has already run so long, I'll leave you with: Go forth and WRITE/WRECK/REPEAT my pretties!

And let me know if there's something specific you'd like me to talk about in future posts. I'm happy to share what [little] knowledge I've gained during the course of my writing journey. ;)

bottom of page