Know your audience – Writing a synopsis

A friend on Twitter asked me for some advice on writing a synopsis. I have to admit, I was in the middle of editing my manuscript and on a deadline, so I sent her a link to an article I thought might be helpful. Well, I really didn’t feel that was enough, so when I was finished with my editing, I went back to do a little research and see if I couldn’t give her a little more advice. I did some digging around on the internet and unearthed a lot of good “how to” articles; but there was something missing. There was one very important piece of advice that I wasn’t seeing in any of these articles – and so a new blog is born!

There is a lot of great information out there on the web. Read as much as you can and take what you feel you can use and leave the rest, but the one thing I didn’t see, which I feel is the most important part of writing a synopsis is this: know who you are writing to. I can’t stress that enough. Some publishers and agents want to know the whole story, beginning to end: who the characters are, what the conflict is, how the character will grow and change. Some really don’t want to know this. What these publishers and agents want is to be intrigued. They want the writer to draw them in and make them want to invest their time in reading the novel. If this is the kind of publisher or agent you are sending your manuscript to, you will lose them by giving away too much. If you are writing a synopsis for someone who wants to know all the details, you will lose them by not giving away enough. So how do you know how much to give away?

Research, research, research! Know your audience. Do your homework. We know who our audience is as far as our target readers; we should make sure we know who our audience is when we target possible agents and publishers.  Look at the website and find the guidelines. Ask around on Facebook, Linked In and Twitter, maybe a friend on one of the social sites has already submitted to that publisher or agent and can shed some light on what needs to be done. Have several different versions of your synopsis ready to go and tweak one to conform to the standards of the publisher or agent you are sending your manuscript to. We work so hard on our novels; it would be a shame to have it placed at the bottom of the slush pile just because the synopsis didn’t give enough information or failed to intrigue the reader.

Writing a synopsis is not an easy task. If you are anything like me, you write novels, not short stories, so paring down your lovingly crafted work is difficult at best and next to impossible at worst. How do you decide what to include? How do you know what is to be left out? How much should you give away as to the motivation of your main character? Should you include details of your sub-plot? Should minor characters even be mentioned? The list of questions could go on and on. Luckily, there are several great “how-to’s” on the internet; but how do you know which one to choose? Read them. Yes, it is that simple – read them all. Take what you can use and file the rest away as knowledge gained that you may need at a later time. I read several of them and came up with my own list of what I feel is important in writing a synopsis:

  • Breathe – yes, this is going to be difficult, but don’t panic – you CAN do this
  • Take it step by step, chapter by chapter. If you have an outline, great, you can use that to guide you; if you don’t, read each of your chapters separately and write a short summary of each; now you have a place to start (yes, I said START)
  • Now that you have a simple summary of each chapter, put some oomph into it. Don’t let it dry out your storyline just because it needs to be concise!
  • Make it match your novel. If your novel is funny, make your synopsis funny; match the mood and tone of your synopsis to your novel. Be honest and true to the tone of your novel, don’t try to be cute or promise things your novel can’t deliver.
  • Write in present tense, even if your novel is historical fiction; your synopsis should always be in present tense, third person.
  • Use a hook. Even if you are going to give everything away, your first sentence needs to grab the reader and draw him or her in…make ‘em want more.
  • Use transitions between your paragraphs; this may be a watered down version of your novel, but it is not an excuse for poor writing habits and choppy writing. Show that you know your craft!
  • Spell check! Grammar check! Punctuation check! Again, this is not an excuse for shortcuts…if you don’t edit your synopsis well; you send the message that you didn’t edit your manuscript well, either. It’s always a good idea to let someone else take a look at it, read it and check to make sure you didn’t miss anything. We are sometimes too close to our own writing to see something that another pair of eyes can catch.
  • Clearly describe your characters and what makes them tick.
  • Make sure you hit all the important points in your plot. If you are giving the storyline and ending away, include major details to support your plot; if you are not giving it away, make sure your reader will be trying to guess what is going to happen.
  • Make sure you read the publisher’s or agent’s guidelines for submitting a manuscript or synopsis and follow them to the letter – especially when it comes to formatting.

There is so much great information out there; just take a look around and do some reading. One of my favorite sites to visit for information such as this is Jerry D. Simmons’ site: He has some wonderful tips for writers which I’m sure will include some tips on writing a synopsis.

Do you have a synopsis tip to share?

2 responses to “Know your audience – Writing a synopsis

  1. Pingback: Mash-up of Magnificence #2 | Writers In The Storm Blog

  2. Snyopsis is equal to IRS to me. It scares the crap out of me. I can write all day long, but condensing that is not my forte. Thanks for the information.

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