Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I am a pantser. "Wait a second," you might be asking. "I thought you were a writer. Don't writers have a natural disdain for pants, and all things pant-related?"

We do, but I'm not THAT kind of pantser. I don't espouse the wearing of pants, just writing by the seat of said unworn pants.

*I will now confess to starting this post this way just so I could use the falling pants image above*

The one advantage plotters have over pantsers is that their outlines serve as a convenient jumping-off point for the eventual, inevitable Writing of the Synopsis. Just the word Synopsis is enough to send some writers screaming from the room in a garment-rending fit. Since most of those writers aren't wearing pants, this makes it a rather sad scene, indeed. Not a lot of garments to rend.


But back to the point. The point is, the synopsis should not cause feelings of terror. Nay, I am here today to remind and reassure you all of this one basic fact. That fact is:

The Dreaded Synopsis has one purpose, and one purpose only: To relate all the relevant characters and plot points to agents and editors in a quick, efficient manner.

That is all. There is no other purpose for a synopsis. It doesn't have to be written in the voice of your character. It doesn't need to read like a novel. In fact, it's not supposed to. It's a list of statements that show how the characters get from point A (the beginning of your novel) to point B (the end of your novel). Nothing more, nothing less.

"But...but... I only have 500 words to make Agent/Editor LOVE my novel. It's IMPOSSIBLE to squeeze every relevant detail into a synopsis."

OF COURSE IT IS IMPOSSIBLE! The synopsis is not intended to inspire instantaneous, rapturous passion for your novel. If you did it right, that's what the query and pages you submitted for consideration have already done. The synopsis is only there to prove to the agent/editor that your story won't fall apart after the first ten pages/three chapters/fifty pages you submitted for their consideration. All they need is a diagram showing them how your characters intend to proceed past the short snipped they had access to before deciding to read/request the rest of your novel.

"But, that means my synopsis is being used to judge the remaining 250/300/350 pages of my work! That's harsh! I'd better really make that synopsis snazzy!"

Uh, not really. First of all, a lot of agents/editors don't give a whit about a synopsis, so already you have a large group of people who will set it aside and just read the manuscript.  But for the folks who like to know what's going to happen before they commit to reading, the only requirement of the synopsis is to prove you have a coherent story. If the synopsis doesn't make sense or doesn't cover the salient turning points in your work, it's a warning sign that there might be plot issues over the horizon. That is all.

"So how do I go about tackling this Dread Beast Synopsis?" you ask so wisely?

I have a simple Three Step Plan, which I will gladly detail for you now. This plan presupposes you've already written, edited, edited, shown to CP's, edited, revised, edited, and edited your manuscript. Please don't skip any of those steps. If there are Ugly Plot Holes, you want to fix them before putting them on proud display in your synopsis. Just saying.

Step One: Read through the entire manuscript, taking notes of character introductions, plot points, and settings. Pay special attention to the last few chapters, because you will need to SPOIL THE ENDING when you write a synopsis. It sounds awful, but the synopsis should cover every detail from the first page to the last page.

**I always do Step One with a 6x9" legal pad and pen. It helps me to physically write these notes out longhand. For a 100k novel I wrote, I ended up with about 20 pages of chicken scrawl worth of notes.

Step Two: Translate the notes into a coherent document.

**I type the notes in to a Word document, and then tinker and smooth them until they read like the world's most boring and anal-retentive book report ever. If that's what you end up with after Step Two, then Congratulations, you're on the right track!

Step Three: Reduction. You will likely need several different synopses for different purposes. One will be about a thousand words long and contain 90% of the plot points and characters. It will be between 2-3 single-spaced pages, and look absolutely effing awful. You might weep. You might want to punch this document several times, because you will feel as if you murdered your perfect little word baby to distill this painful liqueur from its very soul. It is a bitter, bitter liqueur.

But it gets WORSE! You will likely be asked at some point for your SHORT SYNOPSIS, which should be less than half as long as your actual synopsis. One page, single spaced. And completely bereft of any sort of personality at all.

You'll likely need to groom your notes carefully to make them fit within the limits of this synopsis, and you'll need to be very careful which elements you choose to omit. Leave out the wrong thing, and continuity and logic go out the window. Prose is not important. Or at least, it's not the MOST important thing. I pruned every last word flower from my short synopsis, and it was STILL too long. But I did eventually get it to fit on a single page (without even tinkering with the margins or font size! Win!).

Your synopsis doesn't need to detail backstories. It doesn't need to describe each character in detail. Unless that detail is crucial to plot or character development, leave it out. If your character's blue eyes are blue because you think blue eyes are pretty, don't mention it. If they are blue because one morning she woke up and they'd turned blue overnight, and that's the mystical sign that she was born to ascend to the throne of Blueyeballia, then that might be a relevant fact you'd probably want to keep.

The most important thing to remember is that the only thing people who read it want from your synopsis is a list of factual, chronological events of your manuscript. That's it. If you remember that, you will never fear the synopsis again.

Now get busy with it!


  1. Aaaah, the dreaded synopsis! Good luck!! (And, I must say, the gifs in this post are simply the best ever...)

  2. Synopses are painful!! Sounds like you have a good plan, though. :)

  3. The throne of Blueyeballia. *snort*

    This is an excellent post with wonderful pants GIFs. I will be stealing the Sheldon one. Just so you know.


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