Saturday, May 29, 2010

Writing a synopsis - by editor Cindy Davis - Part Two

And now the conclusion of our 'Writing a synopsis' post by editor Cindy Davis.
Learn more about Cindy and her editing service from her website,

Shalts and Shalt Nots

Now for the "thou shall and shalt nots."

First—acceptable length. Usually, allow one synopsis page for every twenty-five pages of manuscript, but even that could be longer than most editors and agents want to see. Most editors and agents prefer short synopses from two to ten pages.

Always keep in mind that the synopsis must remain interesting, and supply the necessary information, then cut, cut, cut. Keep making passes deciding what you can refine or do without completely. This is the hardest part. Don't know what to cut? Lose the adjectives and adverbs; keep the motivation and "flavor" of the story.

You have to tell the entire story. Don't send the first three chapters and then start the synopsis at chapter four. Don't leave out the ending, hoping to entice the editor or agent to request the full manuscript in order to find out what happens. What they will do is decide you're an amateur.

No matter what tense your novel was written in, the synopsis is always written in present tense (Jerry goes to the bullfight as opposed to Jerry went to the bullfight.) Format: readable font, usually Times or Times New Roman, single-space your synopsis.

The first time you use a character's name in the synopsis, type it in CAPITAL letters. Do this only the first time. Avoid confusion by referring to a character the same way throughout (not "Dr. Evans" the first time, "Jerry" the next, and "the doctor" another time). It's also advisable to identify which character(s) is the point of view character by typing "(POV)" after the first instance of the character's name.

Try beginning with a paragraph describing your character. Not the physical attributes but the most compelling characteristics. Second paragraph, do the same with the antagonist or the character who plays off your main character. Third and subsequent paragraphs, describe what happens in the story—give a play by play of the plot’s highlights, the events that propel the story and characters forward. Then close with a wrap up—yes, tell the end—of the story.

Synopsis Checklist:

• Does the opening paragraph have a hook to keep the reader reading?
• Are your main characters' conflicts clearly defined?
• Are your characters sympathetic?
• Can the reader relate to them and worry about them?
• Have you avoided all grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes?
• Have you hit on the major scenes, the major plot points of your book?
• Did you resolve all important conflicts?
• Did you use present tense?
And once again, those useful sites:

Thank you for all this great advice, Cindy. Writing the synopsis can be a nightmare, it's great to have advice to help us through it!


Suzanne Ross Jones said...

Synopsis writing has never been my favouite part of the writing process, but now I've read this terrific advice I'm raring to go.

Sally Clements said...

Great, Suzanne! That's exactly the response we were hoping for :)

penandpaints said...

This is brilliant advice, thank you!
On my last synopsis I wrote the names of the main characters in capitals ALL THE WAY THROUGH. Oh dear.
I was advised to send just two pages, it's really hard to convey the feeling of a 220 page story in such a short space isn't it?
I am feeling more confident after reading this!
Will now get to work on a new improved synopsis with the wow factor!

Lacey Devlin said...

In contrast to penandpaints I've never written the names of the main characters in capitals :). You'd be surprised at the amount of literature I've read on the synopsis and never come across it, or identifying POV. I obviously have poor taste. Thanks so much Cindy & Sally!