Is there anything that causes more angst or grumpiness for a writer (querying, agented, published, whatever) than having to write a synopsis for a novel? The questions and self-doubt are endless. How long are they supposed to be? Single spaced or double spaced? What do you put in? Leave out? How do you make it sound interesting? Make it make sense? Make it feel relevant?
|human who has to write a synopsis|
My first few tries were a mess. Just rambling “and then this happens, and this happens and then other stuff THE END” and I quickly realized I needed some outside help. Personally, I learn best from past experience, but barring that, I also learn from watching someone else model whatever it is I want to do. So, in the midst my synopsis-writing struggle, I decide to track down some successful synopses to read and deconstruct.
My goal was to find summaries of books that were in the same vein as what I write (dark, messy, psychological, and rather sad), but I had a hard time finding anything that helped. So I decided to expand my search to films. In my mind, no one does cinematic psychological suspense like Alfred Hitchcock and in hunting some of his stuff down, I stumbled upon the SparkNotes plot summary of Vertigo.
This was my lightbulb moment. As I read the summary, I already knew what was going to happen, but yet, gah, the ending still got me! (You can read the SparkNotes overview here…but don’t if you haven’t seen Vertigo! Watch the film first.) The way it's written isn't voicey or clever or peppered with beautiful prose: it's very matter-of-fact. What works is the story.
What I took away from this is that if you can write a summary of your novel in such plain, simple terms and still have a reader breathlessly follow and completely understand the emotional arc of your characters, then that is a successful synopsis. A synopsis isn’t about stringing scenes together: it’s about showing off your conflict, structure, pacing, rising tension, and character motivations in a way that feels wholly organic and inevitable.
What about you? Do you have any secrets or tips for writing a synopsis?