A synopsis is one of the hardest documents for a fiction writer to produce. The many misconceptions can be confusing to new writers. Here are some tips of what not to do.
A synopsis is not a piece of creative writing, so don’t treat it as one. This means, don’t focus on your writing style, voice, or individual quips or turn of phrase. Just whittle the manuscript down to the bare bones. Pinpoint the main structure of the manuscript and leave the rest for the book itself.
Short Story Version of the Manuscript:
Contrary to popular belief, a synopsis is not a short-story version of the manuscript. Thus it should not contain dialogue, minute details, description of location or character appearances unless integral to the plot or character arc. For example, if you spend a chapter of your book increasing tension by having the villain stalk the hero, in the synopsis you would just say ‘villain stalks the hero to an abandoned warehouse’.
A synopsis should not be a teaser. The manuscript itself will show the rising stakes, the and build the tension in the reader’s mind so that s/he will not be able to put it down until the final resolution. This building of tension is what makes a successful writer, not what makes a successful synopsis. Just tell the editor or agent what the stakes are, what happens to increase them and how the protagonist responds. Be blunt. Not fancy.
Back of the Book Blurb:
The back of the book blurb is typically written by the staff of the publishing house. Not by the writer. This blurb is a hook, a marketing tool, a lure meant to capture a few of the reader’s dollars. Its job is to outline the protagonist’s goal, the stakes involved and any obstacles he will face. This writing style is sexy, seductive and meant to entice the potential book-buyer to have to know what happens. It does not delve into detail about the individual moments of the struggle and does not show resolution to any problems or issues. If you have written a blurb you think will be brilliant on the back of your book, use it in the query letter. Not in the synopsis.
The synopsis is not even a piece of creative writing. It is a piece of business writing. Thus its tone and structure is never meant to be shown to anyone other than the editor or agent. It’s a spoiler about your manuscript. Save the play-by-play for the actual book. Having said that, if you can cover the basic structure of the manuscript’s plot and character development and still do it in the same voice and tone of the manuscript, all that much better. But the exposition of the elements should be the primary goal of the synopsis.
Why is a Synopsis so Hard for Writers?
Synopsis writing goes against everything writers have been taught to do in the manuscript. The tone of a synopsis is not showing as writers are always told, but rather the contrary writing style of telling. As with everything, practice makes this process easier over time. This blunt style of writing might not be as much fun, might not highlight your writing voice and talents, but it will get the manuscript sold. And that’s the whole point.