The Synopsis

The synopsis is generally loathed and dreaded by most writers, and many only write it because they have to in order to sell a book. In a recent Romance Writers Report several well known authors stated that not only do they hate to prepare a synopsis, they find that if they write a detailed synopsis before writing the book, it kills the creativity for them. They may have an idea of who their characters are and what the conflicts are, but they want to discover as they write the what major plot twists and problems are going to be.

Writer Judith Duncan takes the opposite view. She believes it is far easier to amend a 20 or 30 page synopsis then to be halfway through the writing of a book with no clue as to where to go next. Even worse, she says, is to actually finish a manuscript and realize the conflict does not sustain the book.

A good synopsis must contain the following:

1. Accurate selection of the most pivotal scenes of events, and omission or generalization of the others. We don't need to know that Joan and John go out to a nice restaurant for dinner unless Joan realizes half way through the entree that she's in love with John.

2. An explanation or mention of the motivation of the main characters. If we say in the synopsis that Joan starts to cry uncontrollably while holding John's child, it may not make sense unless we have been previously told that she lost her own child.

3. The conflicts of the story must be clearly laid out. We should know within the first few paragraphs of the synopsis what the internal and external conflicts will be. Arlene Marks, in her article "Ask the Book Doctor", says to use the story theme and the major dramatic conflict to provide unity and tie everything together so that the synopsis reads like a story. For example, if the theme in the previous examples is having the courage to love again, them we must show in the synopsis how Joan overcomes her fear of losing another child in order to love a man who has a child with a serious illness.

4. The synopsis is always told in the present tense. No dialogue is included in a synopsis. Direct excerpts from the manuscript should be avoided as well. The presentation should be similar to manuscript presentation, with 8 1/2" x 11" plain white paper and a header that includes your name, the name of the book, and "Synopsis" along with the page number. Judith Duncan says it's all right to single space, but editors read so much that I would be afraid to annoy them with a tightly spaced synopsis. Start the first page a third of the way down as with chapter beginnings. Editors vary as to desired length of the synopsis. If possible find out what length your editor prefers as they can ranges from two pages to thirty, depending on the length of the manuscript.

5. Make sure your synopsis reflects the mood of the story itself. If it's a comedy, give the synopsis a humorous tone. If it's a dark gothic kind of story, have that feeling show through. But don't ever intrude, telling the editor that she's suppose to feel happy, or sad or scared at certain points. Let her decide how she feels.

6. Tell the whole story from beginning to end, even if you are including the first three chapters in your proposal. The editor wants to know that you can tell a story all the way through. Make sure you tell the editor everything she needs to know about your plot. Don't keep secret the name of the villain, thinking that she'll ask for the book in order to find out. It's more likely to annoy her.

7. Judith Duncan talks about a front end load, meaning information upfront about the hero and heroine that the editor needs to know. You still have to have a hook or an intriguing beginning to the synopsis, but unlike the manuscript itself, you have to give information about motivations, background etc. at the beginning. Limit physical descriptions of the hero and heroine to age and occupation and perhaps one or two things vitally important to the plot or the romance.

8. Don't forget that this is a romance! Include the pivotal romance events between the hero and heroine as well as the plot events. Make sure you show the romance developing in the synopsis from attraction to emotion. Sew seeds of the resolution as you build up to the black moment. Show the hero and heroine getting along at some points, in spite of their differences. If we can't see the hero and heroine together, the resolution will be unbelievable.