What Your Synopsis Can Tell You

For first-time novelists, writing the synopsis/query/cover letter is often scary and laborious. Kind of like Cinderella’s Prince trying to shove the glass slipper onto one of the stepsister’s enormous feet. All of our creativity, loving-care and effort must be shoehorned into two-pages or less. Ouch! We all complain about how dull, time-consuming and plodding these things tend to be, but wait.
Writing Tip for Today: The synopsis, while undeniably a chore, can be an important clue in diagnosing the health (or lack of) of your novel. Problems such as the ones below point to the need, not of writing a better synopsis, but of writing a better story.

  • Symptom: Synopsis Length. You are having trouble squeezing your plot into a two-page (500 word) synopsis. You edit and edit but you just can’t seem to winnow it down. Diagnosis: One or both of two problems might be occurring:
  • One, you have a cast of thousands, making it necessary to name all these people in your synopsis. Try combining characters, and for every character you mention in your synopsis, ask, “What is this person’s role in the story?” If the answer is to add flavor or to fill out the scenery, consider killing off or combining the lesser characters.
  • Two, if you can’t describe the plot points in 500 words, your story may be so complicated that readers will be more confused than entertained.
  • Story board your plot points and see if there are ways to cut down on these common problems: 1. Character goes to too many places. This means you will automatically have LOTS of characters for each locale. 2. Too many subplots. For a first novel I recommend no more than two subplots. 3. Too ambitious. The plot will not read “clean,” that is, the reader will have trouble identifying the main conflict and goal. Simplify the story arc. Give your protagonist a main goal and a couple of subplot goals.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “What Your Synopsis Can Tell You

  1. I love your analogy of “Cinderella’s prince trying to shove the glass slipper onto one of the stepsister’s enormous feet”, lol! So true. I was scared when I first attempted a synopsis, but determined. 🙂 I’ve been able to whittle mine down to 991 words, and I think my problem is the length of the book (138,000 words). I’m thinking I should split the book in half and make them two books (would make them about 80,000 to 90,000 each, once I conclude the first book and do catch up on the second.) It will give me a shorter synopsis and shorter word count, which I’m learning is important for a first-time novelist. Thanks for your tips, I really enjoy them!

  2. Mike,
    Generally, if you can’t describe the bones of your story line in one or two pages, either you don’t grasp the story’s main conflicts and goals, the story doesn’t have good conflicts and goals or you’re being too detail-oriented and trying to tell too much. You can leave out: subplots, other narrators besides the main protagonist. Look for general words that don’t buy you much explanation; also a lot of prepositional phrases can be reworded into shorter ones. Use contractions and try not to repeat yourself! ~Linda

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