This Business of Writing

Eleven Elements of a Successful Synopsis

In The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on December 9, 2009 at 9:19 am

Many writers have more difficulty writing the three hundred word synopsis than the one hundred thousand word novel. The reason for this? It’s a different type of writing. Regardless, the synopsis is something all writers who hope for publication need to master.

Not all agents will require a synopsis, but should they ask for one, it’s wise to have it ready for them. To improve your prospects for having an agent offer you a contract, insure your synopsis has the following components.

It MUST have a strong lead sentence.

This should at least hint at the core conflict of your story. Look at the following examples and, if you were an agent, decide which opening sentence would peak your interest?

“Joe is a night watchman at the local peanut factory.”

“Joe, the night watchman at a haunted peanut factory, is about to die.”

The initial amount of time an experienced agent will give an unknown writer is numbered in seconds. The secret is to engage his interest right away, you’re chances diminish with each passing moment. As his interest grows, so does the time afforded you. Grab his interest from the very start.

Insure your synopsis is logically arranged.

Organize your synopsis as you did your novel. Expect to expend as much effort editing this as you did your manuscript.

Write your synopsis with as much precision as your novel.

What does an agent need to know about your novel before he’ll consider offering representation? As you might expect, he requires a good story with well developed characters, effective dialogue and an author with sophisticated writing skills. If he does not see any one of these things by way of your synopsis, the odds of his offering a contract approached zero. Therefore, you should insure your synopsis exemplifies your writing skills at their best.

Introduce your major players. The agent does not need to know Joe’s height, weight and other vitals, but rather his motivations. Why emotions move him in your story? Is it love, revenge, fear? Make sure the agent understands who your major characters are, how they are interrelated and the conflict that interweaves among them. You should have no more than three major characters in your synopsis or your novel.

Plot your principal conflict points. Joe does not sound like much of a character unless, as mentioned in the opening sentence, the peanut factory is haunted. Suddenly what happens to Joe rises to a higher note, as do his reactions to his profession and the nocturnal guests. Make certain the agent understands all the major turning points in your novel and how your characters react to them.

Write your synopsis in the present tense. This may be difficult if your novel is set in the past, but do it anyway.

Use strong verbs. Just like with your novel, insure your synopsis is as well-crafted as is your manuscript. You may wish to review my post from yesterday about this subject. It may help.

Eliminate adverbs and adjectives. You did this with your novel, right? For the same reason, effective writing, do the same with your synopsis.

Get the punctuation right. If you miss a comma it probably won’t kill your chances of success. But then again, why give the agent a reason to say, “No?”

Include Your Story’s conclusion. No, I don’t mean to rewrite the words, “The End.” This means the agent must understand what happens to your protagonist by the end of your story. No surprises, okay?

Taking the time to craft your synopsis with as much care as you did your novel will enhance your chances for landing that all-elusive agent. And once you do, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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  1. Great post. Very helpful advice. The best part is you crystalized the facts- Nice to see someone who abides by their own device. http://www.sandysays1.wordpress.com

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