Above all, make certain your synopsis is complete and strong. The synopsis should tell the ending, it should include all key plot points, and it should read in the tone of your book. In other words, if you’re writing suspense, I should feel tension while reading your synopsis. If you’re writing erotic romance, I should get emotionally involved in your words.
Start with a hook. The goal is to grab the editor enough to read the samples and see the market potential.
You need to convey a clear sense of what your book is about, the characters we’ll care about and those we won’t, what’s at stake for the main character and how the conflict comes out.
So the key elements are:
• the opening hook
• quick plot sketches of the main characters
• plot highlights
• core conflict
• conclusion—no cliff hangers, spell it out in simple and active words so the editor can admire your craft
Along with that, you need to weave in some of the background, place & time and the structure of your manuscript.
Characters. A good synopsis will only introduce one character in an intimate way. Your book may have more than one main character, but because the short synopsis is limited in length, there’s usually not enough room to introduce more than one person. Pick the character who is most sympathetic and focus your attention there. Let any other characters be introduced via the experience (and perspective) of your one main character—always keeping the focus on the “MC.” That way, the reader can develop a bond with (and root for) your character. The most common mistake we see in synopses is naming too many characters.
Focus on specific conflict. Rather than talk about how your main character wishes to “get right with her family,” go into detail about her efforts to achieve her goal. What specific steps does she take? What specific obstacles stand in her way?
Skip the thematic descriptions. Some synopses are so burdened with theme descriptions that there seems to be no story. Toss out vague sentences like “This book is about peace and love.” Or “This story will warm your heart as the main character learns to stand on her own and make the best of things. She sees how important family is and tries hard to reconnect with those from her past.” Both of these are too fluffy and have little bite. If your theme is strong, you shouldn’t have to point it out. It will already be there, inherent in the story itself.
Appeal to the human element. To create a good synopsis (sometimes you may hear us call it a blurb), be sure that your story appeals to universal human emotions and desires—elements that everyone can relate to. Show specifically what your characters want, then go for the kill. Ask the reader (in fewer or no specific words at all), “Don’t you want to find out if she will make it in showbiz/save her family from danger/repair her relationship with her aunt?”
Length. A book blurb (yet another name for a Short Synopsis) should be no more than one or two paragraphs. You want to focus on the highlights, not the details, of your story.
Flashiness. This is not the best place to show off your billion-dollar vocabulary or your ability to construct sentences the length of football fields. Keep it simple. Agents will be skimming your efforts to start with, so make it easy for them. If your story looks promising, they’ll give it a more thorough read.
Subplots. A synopsis should focus on the main plot of your book. Although you (rightly) love your subplots, your synopsis must be short. Use the two paragraphs you have to drive the main focus of your story home, and leave out the extra.
Endings. A synopsis must tell the ending of your story--at least how the plot plays out. These are professional readers with firm objectives--not the casual voyeur who will buy the book and be entranced by plot twists and un-thought-of endings. They are more interested in your craft than in your art.
Precision. Because a synopsis can’t go into detail, you’ve got to find precise, gripping language to convey your plot. Choose strong words over weak ones. Pick exact verbs instead of spineless ones like “seem” or “being.” Also, go for language and phrasing that reflect the tone and style of your book.
You will probably never finish this writing assignment. Between you and your editor and the comments from the editors who read it, you will be constantly refining both your short and your long synopses. And speaking of that on the next page we will see how the short and long synopses differ.
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