Decoding the Novel Synopsis


After finally completing a rough draft of a synopsis for my novel, I’ve emerged from the haze of confusion (hopefully) a little wiser to the process.  While I’m still a few drafts away from a polished agent-ready synopsis, I can’t help but reflect on everything I learned from just sitting down and writing the first draft.

1) My biggest roadblock was figuring out how to condense 80,000 words down to one page.  I went into panic mode – How am I supposed to do that?!  This is where blogging most likely saved me from total failure.  I started writing book reviews about some of my favorite books with the logic that if I can learn to write snapshot overviews of other novels, I’ll eventually be able to do it for my own.  It worked like a charm.  When I started writing my synopsis, I put away all my notes, outlines, and the novel draft itself.  I simply asked myself, “Okay, what is this book about?” and started writing a summary just like I’d done a dozen times before.

2) The layout of a synopsis is essentially that of a basic 5-paragraph essay, which is the same format I use to teach my students how to write.  I have a teaching tool called the Essay Hamburger and I realized all the parts of my novel could be filed into the various parts of the hamburger.  All I did was modify it to match the requirements of a synopsis. This is by no means a perfect format, but it does provide a nice place to start.

Each layer of the burger represents a paragraph and can easily be modified for any genre or special requirements.

3) There are a number of outlets with information about writing a synopsis, but it’s crucial to find resources that relate to the genre of the novel in question.  My novel falls into the mainstream/literary category, which means synopsis formats that work for sci-fi, mystery, or romance will not totally jive with my character driven story.  This little epiphany came courtesy of Writer Unboxed.  Click on the link for a great article that offers common sense advice about writing the perfect synopsis for your book.

4) If I had it to do all over again, I would write the synopsis first and the query letter second.  The query letter requires an even shorter summary of the novel and it has to pack a  punch to get an agent’s attention.  Why I decided to start with the more difficult query, I will never know.  Shortly after starting my synopsis, I ended up re-writing my entire query letter.  Something clicked and I finally understood what goes in a synopsis and what goes in a query.

5) It’s not as hard as I thought.  Fear, apprehension and panic made this waaaaay more difficult than it needed to be.  The most important part of the process was learning to relax and trust my abilities.

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p.s. I feel compelled to note that I finished the rough draft 11 days before the deadline I set in my February Status Report.  So, I can also say I learned the value of setting a deadline!

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c.b. 2012