Saturday, August 21, 2010

THE DREADED Synopsis


Many literary agents and publishers in the United States require that a synopsis (usually one page) accompany a query letter. I cannot think of anything that will make a writer shudder and curse more than being required to write a synopsis. In fact, many with whom I have spoken with don’t really know what a synopsis should be and what one should not be. So with that in mind, let’s discuss the synopsis.


If requested (I recommend you never send a literary agent or an editor more than they ask for. Unless you are very, very confident in your abilities, each additional item you include with the query letter may give the agent/editor another source of information to reject you.) include a one page synopsis of your book. Unlike the query letter, whose purpose is to peak the agent/editor’s interest, the object of the synopsis is to provide a short overview of the book’s plot and major themes. Don’t make the mistake I made several years ago of trying to summarize the entire novel in two paragraphs; this is a pitch, not an outline. Therefore you should concentrate on those elements that are most likely to attract the attention of a reader/agent/editor. Some of these are: The primary characters, the basic plot, the setting, the primary source of conflict, and the theme. Let’s briefly look at each of these.

The Primary Characters. In the query you may only have room to introduce two or three major characters. The synopsis is where you should introduce all the major players (The first time I introduce a character I always type the name in CAPs).

The Basic Plot. Identify the basic what if? Keep in mind that plot is more than the sequence of events—it’s also the reason for them.

The Setting. When and where does the story take place? If the setting is crucial to the plot, say so. However, if the setting is merely background, don’t spend a lot of time describing it. There is nothing that will turn me off quicker than a travelogue that does nothing to move the plot along.

The Primary Source of Conflict. What are the key obstacles your protagonist must overcome? From where does the conflict originate? Is it external or internal or both. Is it with another character, society or nature? Focus on the conflict that is central to the plot.

The Theme. Is there an underlying message to the story? If there is what is it that is beyond the basic plot. Are any important issues revealed as a consequence of the theme? Be careful that you don’t sound as if you’re in a pulpit; you can raise questions or ideas without giving the reader a sermon.

Remember that the synopsis is supposed to illustrate that your novel is coherent, logical, carefully thought out and well written.

In the next post I will discuss synopsis format.

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