Recently I needed to update my novel’s synopsis in order to enter the manuscript in a literary contest. I hadn’t looked at my synopsis since before I revised my novel, so I knew it would need some work. What I didn’t know was how much the synopsis revealed about what was wrong with the earlier version of the book.
Ideally a synopsis summarizes the main points and conflicts of the novel, providing the same hooks that the full novel provides. The synopsis should get a prospective agent interested in finding out more about the book. General guidelines say a synopsis should be 1-3 pages, but some agents and contest officials won’t look at a synopsis that’s even a word longer than 1 double-spaced page.
Some writers bristle at the expected brevity of a synopsis. I have heard writers exclaim “my story is really complex! How am I supposed to summarize it in just a few pages?” A good agent or editor will tell you that if you can’t get it across in this brief form, you don’t really know what you’re trying to say.
I want to say … I knew this? Really, I did. And I believed it, but as it turns out, I hadn’t put my belief into practice. This became very apparent to me as I wrestled with my synopsis for the contest submission. Which, by the way, required the dreaded 1-pager.
First problem, my original synopsis was 4 pages long. The other problem: as I read through it, I was reminded of how grade-school kids tell stories – all “and then this happened, and then, this other thing happened, and then there was this guy, and he was all … , and then … some more things.” It failed to be a concise and riveting summary. It failed to make me want to read to the end of the synopsis, much less to the end of an entire book.
I could blame my synopsis writing skills, but really, it was the structure of the novel that was to blame. There were too many storylines going on, without enough connective tissue to hold them together. There was too much detail about the wrong things and not enough conflict to keep things moving forward. And, I front loaded the story with too much of the ending – thereby removing the motivation to read the whole thing.
Lesson learned, and now I know. Note to you if you are working on a manuscript for submission. Take that synopsis seriously. Have other people look it over. Especially people who haven’t read your novel. Ask them, “does this make you WANT to read my novel?” Their answer will give you some very important information.