making nice with the colonoscopy of the literary world


Photo & Collage by  Vicky Lorencen

Photo & Collage by
Vicky Lorencen

Be look-me-straight-in-the-eye honest . . .

If Synopsis sent you a Friend Request on Facebook, would you reply?
If you were mandated by law to have dinner with either Synopsis or a bagpipe-playing bulimic zombie, which one would you choose?
If Synopsis offered you an all expenses paid vacation to a secluded island paradise, would you go, if he had to share your bungalow?

If you answered:
No. Automatic decline.
Zombie. No doubt.
No way!
You are in the majority.

Poor Synopsis. He’s the colonoscopy of the literary world–you know you need to do it and it’s important, but you want to avoid it for as long as humanly possible. Just thinking about it makes you tense up.

The only one who actually likes Synopsis is Query Letter, because compared to Synopsis, he seems fun to be with.

So, seeing as we are all grown-ups here and knowing we will all have to face down Synopsis sooner or later–at a party, in an elevator or even in our office–let’s find a way to make nice, shall we?

Here are the bare bones basics for getting along with Synopsis (at least as I understand them). Think of it as Synopsis Etiquette 101.

Some authors like to create a chapter by chapter synopsis, but I prefer the kind that simply follows the high points, main characters and natural plot arc of the story. It’s really up to you. (Whenever possible, check to see what the recipient of your synopsis would prefer. A lot times you can find this info in a publisher’s or agent’s submission guidelines.)

Unlike jacket flap copy that teases the reader, a synopsis has to the spill the beans. Yes, you have to tell how your story ends, and how any of the major plot points you mention resolve themselves. Editors want to know you can bring a story to a satisfying conclusion. Sure, it seems counterintuitive to give away the ending when you want to lure someone into reading your work, but editors aren’t interested in being tempted. They want to be told. Not only does a complete synopsis tell the ending, it tells the editor you’ve completed a fully realized plot.

A synopsis is written in present tense. (Be sure to read your completed synopsis out loud to help you catch any tense lapses.)

Regarding formatting:

A synopsis is typically single-spaced, with double lines between the paragraphs.

Always use one-inch margins.

I would put the title in all caps, and then add the word Synopsis centered beneath it.

Depending on the desires of the editor or agent, you may need a one or two page synopsis. If you can do it justice with one page, then I think that’s fine.

There now. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Getting along with Synopsis takes practice and patience (and sometimes pharmaceuticals, as directed), but I have faith you two will find a way to make peace before you file for a restraining order.

Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest. ― Stephen King

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