Do I really need a synopsis?
With self-publishing so widespread, you may think you can do without a synopsis. But to my mind, a good synopsis is like that perfect little, black dress you want in your wardrobe. It’s long enough to cover the basics, sufficiently short to make anyone want to see more, and keeps you out of trouble because it can help you go anywhere.
A synopsis is one of the most useful tools you can have. When you are writing, it keeps you from getting stuck. It starts you thinking about blurb and marketing copy even before the book is finished. It helps you find flaws you might have in your plot—as in maybe the conflict isn’t quite strong enough. And it keeps you from having to throw out large chunks of the story in revision.
Why is it that everyone hates writing a tool that so clearly helps you finish your work? Simple, it’s unfamiliar and requires that you see your story through a different lens. It also can be daunting to think about condensing your 50,000+ word story into a short 1,000 words or less. So what do you truly need in a synopsis?
The 12-point Perfect Synopsis
Here’s what you want in any sexy synopsis—all in under three pages, preferably in about 1 page, but we’ll cover how to get your synopsis that short in the workshop:
- Does it make clear who is the protagonist, and cover the character traits and goals in a fresh way?
- Does it tell all the scenes with the most conflicts—internal and external—for the protagonist, and the love interest if it’s a romance, with an emphasis on the main character’s main conflict?
- Does it offer specific dramatic scenes for the main turning points, detailing what happens, where it happens, escalating the risk to the main character’s goal, and offering harder and harder choices for the main character in each of these scenes?
- In a romance, does it have scenes that show a developing relationship, and mention the level of heat, including attraction and hero and heroine compatibility, with mention of the feelings of the characters, and also telling what is keeping a relationship from working between these two?
- Does it mention every character’s motivations—including for any villain or antagonist?
- Are the characters fresh? Are they developed by looking past cliché to what is core and specific to the characters?
- Do the characters make choices that come from within the character, rather than from the writer manipulating the story? Can you say, “Yes, if I were this person, I would make this choice?”
- Does it raise questions to keep interest going—and then provide answers to all questions raised?
- Does it include a scene that is the climax or black moment, and makes clear the resolution of the story with an ending that wraps up all story elements?
- Does it include a strong theme woven into the scenes and character choices? And is this used in the climax of the book and the character’s ultimate choice?
- Are there cliché phrases or plot points that need to be rethought?
- Is the voice active, with all extra words cut, and with the best possible word choices with the clearest, most concise writing possible in a tone that matches the tone of the book?
Always remember your synopsis must have the beginning, middle, and end. Never put in “and you have to read the manuscript to find out how this ends.” That’s an instant rejection from any agent or editor submission. And if you’re self-publishing, you want better blurb copy than that (and you better know how your own book ends).