A synopsis is very different and is required by many agents and editors. Why? Because it tells them what the entire book is about, including the ending, and sets up characters and what drives them, world-building, clear conflicts both externally and internally, resolutions, the entire arc of your novel. Why is it so dreaded? Because you must compact an entire manuscript into a few pages! Some agents, for example, are specific in wanting 1 page, 2 page, 3 page, 5 page, 7 page, 10 page…you get the idea. My suggestion is writing a concise 1 page, single space synopsis and expand if an agent is particular for a longer version. Read carefully, because most agents will say “up to…” certain amount of pages. So don’t waste your time if you have a terrific 1 pager.
But what does a synopsis do? It tells the prospective agent/editor the entire story and therefore, any major plot holes, let downs, lack of characterization/world building/tension, depth, structure, etc. It will tell them if the story stands out, if it’s something they can work with, if it’s something they’re going to spend several hours reading to determine if they want to represent/publish you. Essentially, it keeps them from wasting too much time on a manuscript that may not work out and enables them to sort through their slush piles to get to the juicy stories they’ve been waiting for.
- DO write in third person, present tense, active voice (despite how the actual book is written).
- DO include major characters, major plot points, endings, anything that is vital and cannot be left out, but space is premium here.
- DO introduce protagonist, conflict, and setting in the first paragraph. I was once told to all caps the character’s names the first time I mention them, not sure about that, but I do it anyway to let the agent/editor know this is a new character being introduced.
- DO mention emotions, reactions, outcomes. Make them feel as if they’ve read the book without actually having read it yet.
- DO edit.
- DO proofread.
- DO send it to critique partners, beta readers, or anyone who reads books to not only catch errors but spot odd sentences, boring parts, rambling areas, etc. You should be accustomed to having a second, third, fourth, or even fifth pair of eyes reading everything from query to manuscript by now.
- DON’T be mechanical with he did this, she did that, then this happened, and that occurred…use active voice!
- DON’T go into every detail/character/event. Premium space, remember?
- DON’T include dialogue, or if it’s absolutely pertinent to the story arc, make it brief.
- DON’T ask rhetorical questions or try to get the agent/editor wondering. There’s no time for that.
- DON’T try to get fancy with frilly things or sections or anything other than straight from beginning to finish paragraph form. Seriously, don’t. Now’s not the time to elaborate on how beautiful and artistic your writing can be. Be simple but effective.
See? It’s not so bad. In fact, I now plot out my entire manuscript in synopsis form, roughly one paragraph per chapter, to send to my agent so that she can see the entire picture and let me know if it’s something we can work with or not. It honestly helps me to wipe out insignificant aspects that doesn’t push the story forward and fix plot holes. It helps me, as the author, to see the entire book on a few pages. So get into the habit of writing synopses. Even when you land an agent or editor, you’ll still need them!