I love writing the synopsis. Love. It. It’s the easiest part of writing a book. Three pages? That’s 750 words. I write birthday cards that are longer than that! I owe my background in advertising and journalism for this love-love relationship. Plus, I have had nary a rejection based on a synopsis. Out of the 50 or so queries w/synopsis I’ve sent out in my lifetime, I think I’ve only had one rejection.
If you’re feeling a little hatred right now, it’s perfectly normal. Work through it and read on as I tell you how my background in advertising and journalism can help you hone your own “dreaded” synopsis:
1) If Campbell’s has “Soup is Good Food,” and beef has “It’s What’s for Dinner,” then your synopsis should have it’s own memorable tagline. For me, it’s the plot question. In my synopsis for Black Tuesday, I wrote: What happens if you’re a straight-A student with Ivy League dreams and you accidentally kill another human being? It’s memorable, to the point, and shows the agent/editor you’re querying that you know what the heck your story is about. (You’d be surprised how many three-page synopses are out there that need a good dose of Adderall.)
2) As a former journalist, I ruthlessly self-edit anything that doesn’t underscore the point of my story. The synopsis should be focusing on the crux of the story, not why the grandpa likes red shoes or the cat gets sick. Now, if the grandpa liking red shoes makes your character go out and buy a pair for his 70th birthday and ends up being the store’s millionth customer and they win a billion dollars–okay, include it. Need a better analogy? Think about Pretty Woman for a second. The synopsis should be about Vivian and Edward–that’s it. The roommate with the drug habit, the women who deny service to Vivian at the dress shop, and the cute jockey who flirts with Vivian at the horse races aren’t necessary.
3) As a journalist, I wouldn’t have sold anything–nada, zilch–if I pitched an article with the lackluster enthusiasm I see in most people’s synopses. We’re writing fiction, people, and our synopses sound like a really bad textbook. Don’t lose your enthusiasm for the story just because you have to summarize it. Think about a movie you loved and telling a friend about it. Did you suddenly sound like the most boring person on earth as you told them about it? NO! You loved the movie, and it showed. Show the same love to your synopsis that you did for those 300+ pages you just wrote.
4) Let a synopsis help keep you honest when it comes to what you want to accomplish with your characters. As Robin said, it can help you see your story arc in one nice, concise, three-page summary. It can also help you see if you are making your character go through that 180-degree arc she/he needs to experience. Is the spoiled princess an empathetic humanitarian at the end? Is the serious overachiever a light-hearted plain-ol-achiever by the end?
5) I never write a synopsis last, and it seems to work for me. I can understand why people hate writing a synopsis–I would hate to have to sum up 300 pages in three pages! That’s why I write it before I even write the story. It works as my outline at the beginning. Then, after I’ve written the story, I go back and tweak the parts that didn’t play out–the broken leg or the best friend’s binge-and-purge–and there I go. Synopsis accomplished!