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Book Proposals: The Fiction Synopsis

Attention all novelists! Every fiction book proposal must include a synopsis. Everyone who teaches on the book proposal says you need one. But why? Those two to three single-spaced pages of agony will never be seen by anyone else but editors and agents, so why? Why, oh why, must a novelist create a synopsis? I understand how difficult it is to write a synopsis. And yet, you need to do the work.

The Purpose of a Synopsis

The synopsis is a quick overview of your whole story. It’s more than a 100 word back-cover-copy blurb. And it is less than the entire manuscript. Since you are sending the first three chapters we must have more than that to properly evaluate the story.

Consider this scenario: I’ve read the first three chapters and you’ve got me hooked. But there isn’t a synopsis. I’m left wondering if the story can be resolved, if you have plot holes, or poor story structure, or no character arc. I know nothing beyond those first pages. Sure, I could request the full manuscript, but that is a major time commitment for something which lacks an overview.

You would be amazed how often we receive three chapters from someone and nothing else. That author has given me a reason to look no further. The writing may be brilliant in the sample chapters, but the author has not completed the picture.

It would be like applying for a job but leaving your work history blank on the application. It is incomplete.

Or like asking someone to buy a car online but only showing them a picture of the front grill and the passenger side door.

We simply need to know “the rest of the story.”

Relax

Realize that the synopsis is going to be THE worst story writing you have ever done. It will have little style or craft to it. Don’t worry. We know that. We are not looking for the perfect synopsis. We expect a stark, even sterile, skeleton of your work of art.

I’m not saying it is easy. But I am saying it isn’t a measure of your writing skill or writing style.

At the same time, put some effort into making it have some energy and vitality. Sometimes a simple word choice can bring a flash of brilliance. Don’t skimp or get lazy. As mentioned earlier, don’t give the editor or agent a reason to say “no thanks.”

How Do I Write a Good Synopsis?

Below are four articles from our blog that should help you work on the craft of your synopsis:

From Tamela Hancock Murray:
Keys to a Great Synopsis

The Synopsis Tells the Tale

From Karen Ball:
Synopsis Made Easy – I Promise

Creating a Strong Hook

 

[This is a slightly revised version of a post originally published in March 2017 on this blog under a different title. I’ve left the comments from the previous posting intact.]

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