How to write a synopsis without throwing a tantrum

by SJ Griffin

Yes, regular reader, I am back, having taken the bold step of just skipping last month’s official posting (and I think maybe the post before that) without even bothering to put one of those sneaky non-posts up. You are wise to that trick, I assume. Besides I have been on a great adventure.

I have been to Synopsis Land. On reading the brochure you might be forgiven for thinking it was Synop-utopia, but no. It turns out that Synopsis Land is like North Korea without the Great Leader themed amusement parks. Or the incessant marching.  But it’s not all fun and games in Synopsis Land, in fact it is no fun at all. Zero fun. Nada funola. Neit funovski.

Let me give you a tour. We’ll call it how to write a synposis for your novel.

In order to submit your book to an agent it is a universally accepted truth that you need:

  • three chapters or the first 10,000 words (of a book you have actually finished, please)
  • a submission letter
  • a synopsis

Another universally accepted truth is that if you google something there will appear such an overwhelming wealth of information that you will be saved from any further thought or inquiry. Your synopsis will write itself. This is a lie. The information at your google-tips when you are grasping for any help on how to write a synopsis can only be described as unhelpful. Unless of course you want to pay someone to write it for you, in which case you have the whole world in your lap. Also, the information that is out there is contradictory. But let us not moan and whinge about this. Let us instead bring down from the snowy mountain peaks of Synopsis Land the stone tablet of synopsis writing commandments. I will try my best to decipher it, it is covered in gouge marks and tears though so you’ll have to bear with me.

  • Your synposis should fit on one side of A4 and be in a sensible font. Not 6pt so you can get it all in. 500 – 600 words has been floated as a likely word count.
  • It should be written in the third person, even if your book is written in the first person.
  • Write it in the present tense, even if your book is written in the past tense.
  • Don’t panic and take some deep breaths.
  • The first time you mention a character write their name in capitals. It’s quite amusing to read it back out loud and shout these names – that is the modern convention after all.
  • Don’t include any subplots, even if they are the greatest subplots ever to grace Literature.
  • Include the end, even if it is the greatest twist ever to grace Literature and will totally ruin the book.
  • Don’t spend hours musing about how this is all very similar to writing essays at school and trying to quantify just how much you hated that experience as well.
  • Apparently if you can’t write a synposis it’s because you haven’t got enough plot in your book, but I can’t think about how awful that realisation must be so let’s skate over it.
  • Don’t get all flowery, just tell it straight. The sample chapters are supposed to demonstrate what a wonderful contribution you are about to make to Literature, the synopsis is supposed to show that you are prepare to torture yourself and endure unimaginable pain for the sake of your art. Also that you can tell a story, or something like that.
  • Maybe think of it like this: This is who we are talking about, and this happens to them and then because of that happening this happens and then this happens but then this happens and then because that happens they realise this and then this happens and that’s the end.

There. That is what I learnt. That, and it’s not worth getting in a state about. Honestly. Practise on your dog. My dog was very helpful. He walked off one time so I started again. If you don’t have a dog you could practise on a friend but they aren’t as useful. I suppose you don’t have to pick their poo up which is one way they’re better. Or maybe you do have to, I don’t know what kind of friends you have.

We’ve digressed. That must mean we are done.

I don’t know if it will work but I do know that it’s only one side of A4 and it gives away the ending so it can’t possibly be an epic failure. I’ll update as I learnt more, comrade.

Synposis Land is a horrible place to visit and I don’t want to live there no matter how much you want to pay me. Still, I am back now. That’s the main thing. Although at some point we will be visiting the United States of Submission Letters. I can only imagine the vaccinations I will need for that one.