A couple of years ago, I was having trouble writing a synopsis to a novel (Love by Design, published last year by Avalon, under my pen name Jenny Jacobs). A friend of mine, writer Julie Mettenburg, took one look at the pathetic mess I’d sent to her for feedback and said, “I think you need to throw this out and start over.”
Then she proceeded to give me the best description of how to write a synopsis I’ve seen anywhere. She wrote this specifically for romance, but you can see that it is readily adapted to practically any kind of commercial/genre fiction. With her permission, I post her entire “how to write a synopsis” tipsheet here.
“Plot play-by-play bogs [a synopsis] down, while the key points the editors look for – character set-up, emotional turning points and resolution – are buried. If you just focus on getting across those 3 elements of the story, you will be totally fine and the blow-by-blow isn’t necessary.
Here’s my formula for a successful synopsis (a compilation of best tips I’ve found):
1. Tell who the heroine is, including what she wants (her external goal or what she will seek through the plot) and what’s standing in her way.
2. Describe her first meeting with the hero, how they react to one another and why (emotions plus thoughts – such as pushing away the visceral reaction because of whatever the internal problem is). The why is important because it’s what will change in the throughline of the story/synopsis as you give the high points, and show the editor you have an actual story that develops.
3. Tell us who the hero is, including what he wants (his external goal), why he wants it, and the reason he can’t have it/what the barrier is.
4. Now that we know who the H/H are and how they meet, give us the set-up of the story in one paragraph: how they join together with an external goal that will keep them together for a while (there needs to be clear causality of plot and/or choices that drive them together. . . i.e., because of their goals together, they have to accomplish certain tasks. . . . Voila, scenes!).
5. Because they have to be together to accomplish things, their internal goal-motivation-conflicts will start to come to the surface, and those are the key emotional turning points that need to be described in the rest of the synopsis. So, the next point to cover is: the first turning point, usually predicated by a physical touch or kiss, plus the external plot situation they are in, and describe how it emotionally changes them and their situation through the next portion.
6. Describe the middle turning point, which is probably again a physical connection. How it happens, what else is going on with the plot, and each of their emotional reactions to it, and then how it changes their actions or decisions/plot afterward.
7. Describe the third turning point, which sets up the black moment.
8. Describe the black moment, when all is lost.
9. Describe the resolution.”
Thanks, Julie! This tipsheet has saved my sanity more than once. Hope it helps a reader or two as well!