Synopsis Hell

Want a laugh? Mention the word synopsis to a writer and watch them break into a sweat. Or hives.

Isn’t it funny how writing a 100,000 word story doesn’t create the same sense of panic as a 2-5 page summary of it creates? I mean, really, what’s the big deal. We’ve gotten to know our characters on the most intimate level. We’ve watched them struggle over increasingly mounting obstacles. We’ve seen their wit, their courage, their weaknesses, strengths, failures and triumphs. And yet, when it comes down to telling our story in the most basic terms, we freeze.

For me, I suppose, it’s wanting to insert all those precious details. The sights and scents, the mood. Balancing ‘tell’ with passion is a tough thing to do. No melodrama in a synopsis. No ‘show’. Just the facts, ma’am.

Of course, we want a bit of our voice to shine through. I mean, if the story is humor and your synopsis is full of droning prose, then it’s little more than a poor example of bait and switch. Yet, you can’t really ‘show’ your voice since this is about ‘telling’ your story.

What’s your story about? Quick! Answer that in 500 words or less. Easy-peasy, right?

Yeah. Right.

As you can tell, I’m in the thick of it right now… attempting my own balancing act. No one said synopsis writing was easy, but we all know how vital it is. And one thing is for certain – the manuscript took months to complete. The planning hit several brick walls and climbing those walls became more and more difficult… and more and more exciting as the story took shape. All that effort is forgotten when The End is reached. It’s only when we (I) sit with a synopsis waiting to be written that I think I’m first struggling to tell this story.

So… the synopsis is no different than the story itself. Both are a challenge. Both are part of you. Both will help determine the future for your characters and for you as their creator. A synopsis, therefore, deserves the same amount of attention, patience and enthusiasm as the story itself.

And on that note… I’m going to make myself another pot of coffee and have at it. Again.

11 Responses to Synopsis Hell

  • Debbie, I usually write the synopsis first now. That’s cause I want to show the acquiring (or non-acquiring editor, ha ha) the crux of the romance. “She wants this, and he wants that” has to be in a selling synopsis. These days, a page is all a publisher wants to read. That ‘s good for an author as well.

  • Kathleen,

    I like keeping my synopses as short as possible too. Less stuff to create questions in the editor’s mind. However, how matter how or what it’s just plain hard work.


  • Hey Linda, I couldn’t agree more. A synopsis is harder to write than the book.

  • Linda and Kathleen…

    Tell me about it. “A synopsis is harder to write than the book”. Ain’t that the truth.

    I’m more of a pantser than a plotter. I did use plotting tools for this story and that worked very well for me this time. BUT… the story I thought I was going to write didn’t make it to the page. Not exactly, anyway. And so, my plotting notes aren’t helping me with the synopsis.

    I read somewhere that a short synopsis is only two pages and a long synopsis equals one page for every 10,000 words. That would mean a long synopsis for this story would be 9 pages. Jeepers! I’m not sure which is harder – writing that much or that little.

    Um… judging by this reply… I’m guessing, for me, harder is writing ‘less’. :-/


  • Debbie, lately I have asked published authors that question. Times have changed now that there are fewer acquiring editors since the downturn and staff reductions. An editor only wants to read one page. They won’t get to the long synopsis. With my work-in-progress, I am writing the one-page synopsis. My submission package will be complete with the first three chapters.

  • Oh, Debbie, I forgot to say that (after I finish the book which won’t be for months, I am going to submit the first chapter to an agent. She, Kelly Mortimer, happens to to belong to our Orange County Chapter and last year had invited me to submit my next book. She says she only wants the chapter, nothing more.

  • I love hearing that! I can never write a synopsis logner then 5 pages so writing one should be easier…. maybe. I can’t write my synopsis until the book is done. That’s just me. And yeah, they are HARD. Good luck with it. Muchas congrats on typing THE END!! Way to go!

  • Kathleen,
    One page, huh? So it’s like a quick in-person ‘pitch’, right? I think that might actually help. Forced succinction. lol. I must say, though, I love the idea of a one chapter submission. Now that’s a proposal package I can handle without needing my inhaler! lol.

  • Beth,
    Thanks for the congrats! I’m still happy dancing about that. And as for the luck, thank you! I’ll take as much of it as I can get.

  • Debbie, writing a good synopsis is difficult whether you do it before or after finishing the book. Try for a short one. Maybe it’ll help to start with a back cover blurb and then expand it a little to show the ending. Good luck!

  • Linda,
    Starting with the back cover blurb is a good idea. In fact, it reminds me of the “Snowflake Workshop”. Ever hear of it? It’s for novel writing, not synopsis writing, but it can be used for both. Start with one sentence about the plot, then add a sentence for each main character. After that, flesh out each sentence into one paragraph. There’s your short synopsis. To take it further, expand each paragraph to a page and there’s your long synopsis. Cool, yes? If only it were as easy to DO as to read. lol.


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