Friday, 31 July 2009

How do I Write a Novel Synopsis?

Writing a synopsis for a novel is not easy, but is an essential inclusion in a submission package. The synopsis, or plot outline, as it is sometimes called, provides a shop window from which a potential agent can peek through before reading the novel. Getting it right can make the difference between getting the novel read and having the story rejected with a thanks but no thanks.

What Should be Included in a Synopsis?

The Dreaded Synopsis
click to buy from Amzon
Many publishers and agents will request a synopsis along with the sample chapters of the novel. How a synopsis should be formatted can be a touchy issue, so it is important to read the publisher’s submission guidelines that can be found within the Artist & Illustrator’s Yearbook (AC Black) or looking at the publisher’s website. The following will often apply:
  • The synopsis should be typed using a plain font, such as Times New Roman or Arial point 12.
  • Typos and grammatical errors are banned
  • The synopsis should be no longer than 250 words long, printed on one side of the page
  • The author’s details should be exhibited at the top
  • The story should be told in the present tense
  • No dialogue should be included
  • Some publishing houses, request that the character’s name should be in capitals the first time it is shown on the synopsis and in title case thereafter
  • The story should be told in an informal way (no slang terms or colloquialisms).
  • All key scenes and plot twists should be included and briefly described
  • No cliff-hangers allowed. The ending should be revealed to show the writer has created a white-knuckle conclusion and tied all loose ends
  • Lastly, the synopsis should compel the reader to the state of oblivion to what is going on, which is the most difficult and important part.
Story Telling the Synopsis

The synopsis should also reflect the feel of the novel, and describe accurately the novel’s events. The publisher would understandably be disgruntled if the synopsis showed promise that the novel failed to deliver. It is therefore vital that the author reads and rereads the synopsis to ensure it accurately portrays the novel.
I often imagine the reader in the publishing house to be work weary, itching to clock off and looking for a reason to reject the synopsis. Ensuring that there is nothing in the synopsis to spur the reader to sling it into the rejection pile is vital if the author hopes to get the full length novel read. Its one-page length makes every word more significant, so the thesaurus would be invaluable.

However, going over the synopsis too much could make errors invisible. In this respect, it would be worth getting another reader to go through the synopsis to ensure it reads as it should. Feedback is often invaluable.

What Else to Include in the Submission Package

If the novel contains numerous characters, it might be worth enclosing a brief rundown of characters within the novel with a brief description of each. This would help make the reading of the synopsis easier for the agent, and also come in handy if the full length novel is requested. A tagline, a one sentence summary of the novel could come in useful within the covering letter.

The Importance of the Novel Synopsis

The synopsis then, is a vital part of the submission package, and because it is limited in length, every word becomes more significant. The synopsis is often read by the publisher before the sample chapters, which makes the synopsis all the more important. Getting every word to perfection and telling an intriguing story in a compelling style is the key to getting the publisher to take notice.

Links on Preparing a Submission Package to Publishers

Books on Novel Writing
Submitting the novel to a literary agent
Writing a Synopsis to a novel
Hated modern cliches in novel writing

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