Writing a synopsis of a book is very different to writing an outline. An outline is something a writer might write as an overview of their manuscript, usually for his or her own benefit. He or she might write it before beginning their manuscript as a plan, or after the first draft to delineate the story arc, to check for inconsistencies, and to ensure all the loose ends are tied up.
A synopsis is a different beast – a beast I’ve been battling with over the last few weeks. I’ve been in the process of finishing a manuscript and rewriting two other novels, which has meant writing three synopses. It has to be my least favourite part of the writing process – I’d rather clean the house top to bottom, or, given the choice, work on a short story instead. But writing a synopsis is a necessary evil and essential when submitting a manuscript to a publisher or to a literary agent. They will read, hopefully, the three sample chapters and when they finish those the synopsis will tell them what happens in the rest of the book.
So, where to start? I’ve said before that when I finish a manuscript I stick it in a drawer and try to forget about it for a while, so that when I take it out to read and edit, I’m seeing it with fresh-ish eyes. The time before you take your manuscript out of the drawer is probably the best time to write the synopsis as you’re not too close to it. The main story-line is still in your head, but not all the little ins and outs of the plot, or all the little details you might be tempted to include that will make it harder to get the synopsis down to a page or two.
A synopsis has to include the story line, the emotional or psychological journey of the main characters, the story arc, the genre, the tone, and it must also include the ending. Everything must be shown to be resolved by the end of the synopsis.
So, it’s a tricky thing to write and there are lots of things to think about when writing it. There is help at hand, though. Nicola Morgan’s book Write a Great Synopsis is excellent. There is lots of advice available online too. I read all the books and took all the advice because it’s so important that each element of the submission package is the best it can be.
I’ve finished my synopses-fest now, and turned my hand to writing a blurb, a pitch and even a tweet for each novel. It’s a very interesting exercise to do, as well as being useful. But it’s also quite a challenge – particularly the tweet, which only allows you 140 characters! If you can get the essence of your novel into 140 characters, then writing a synopsis should be a doddle.