Friday, June 29, 2018

Short short synopses

Just when I think I've mastered the full and the short synopsis, I'm starting to see lots of requests for one-three paragraph synopses (from publishers).

This seems more like a summary or blurb to me. How can one put in the majority of plot points and emotional arcs into one to three paragraphs? I've done a ton of searches for examples but only coming up with summaries. Am I missing something?

Sorry if you've dealt with this before. When I find examples of short synopses, it's always a page or two, not a paragraph or two!

Yikes!
Synopses are the spawn of Satan but ya gotta have 'em. Just a couple days ago an editor asked for a synopsis of a book I'd sent her. Fortunately, my client was prepared and when I slunk over to ask her for one, she had it back to me in minutes. Two pages of course, not this lunacy of a couple paragraphs.

But if someone asks for just a few paragraphs, what you include are the major plot points. Leave out almost everything else.

Think of the framework in a newspaper article: who what when where why, then add the twist in the middle, and what happens at the end.

It will make your novel look brutalized, but honestly if that's what an editor wants, that's what they want.

My guess is they want to get the highlights and make sure it doesn't turn in to science fiction in the twist and the ending (ie aliens arrive in chapter 14.)


22 comments:

AJ Blythe said...

Escape Publishing (Harper Collins) ask for a 100 word synopsis. Hardly enough time to dot point the Ws let alone write cohesive sentences.

Good luck to anyone who has to write a teeny synopsis.

CynthiaMc said...

Looks like Janet's 100 word contests are good training for this (however inadvertently). Bonus!

Ellen said...

If someone asked me for a 1-3 paragraph summary, I would assume they're looking for flap copy, and that's what I'd send them.

BrendaLynn said...

I wonder if published writers have to jump through these hoops with later manuscripts.

french sojourn said...


A 100 word Synopsis...sounds like a good contest A.V.


(After Vacation.....Carkoon party of one!)

Donnaeve said...

BrendaLynn The answer is yes.

I've been asked for one for every book I've written, although my editor calls it a summary, "no more than 2-3 paragraphs."

I hate'em.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Ugh synopses. Your advice on them, now and in the past, has been amazingly helpful. It's a little freeing to write down the basic EVERYTHING of a story without having to worry about if it sounds too stilted. And I'll have to write one in August when Fireside opens their novella submissions (provided this particular gangly, coltish short story/novelette properly becomes a novella).


There are some short story markets (the one I can think of most readily is Terraform) that want a synopsis/brief summary in your cover letter when you submit, and this is for stories that are 2000 words or fewer. They also perform don't send rejections. So. (So why do you submit to them, Jen? Well, they pay 20 cents a word)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Here's a less than 100 word lesson on writing short from someone who doesn’t know a damn thing about damn things. (These first two sentences are not included in the word count).

Get this? "Think of the framework in a newspaper article..."

I so prefer short. Almost my entire writing career has been written in 600-1200 word beginning, middle and end stories.
The term, "a picture is worth a thousand words." Love it. But one word (or a couple) can conjure up images exceeding any photo. It's not hard boys and girls.

Think Big Mac instead of burger, sundae instead of scoop, gravy instead of au jus, wine instead of grape juice. You don't have to list ingredients and explain how you combined them.

Dena Pawling said...


OT from yesterday - Thanks everyone for the nice comments!

JD[manuscript]F – Loved your sequels! My son is 22yo, six feet tall and 200 pounds. He looks like a bouncer or linebacker, but underneath he's a sweetheart. Most people do remember him later if they meet him even once. I took him to a Cal State Fullerton Titans game because (1) it's my alma mater, (2) we sat three feet from the field between home plate and third base for $12 per ticket and free parking, and (3) my son has played at the stadium several times and knows some of the players because they host a clinic every year for his disabled league [he plays baseball and basketball]. He had a great time at the game, and he took home a free pack of baseball trading cards with photos of the Titan players on the front and their stats on the back. I didn't know these were available for college players. My son loves them.

I definitely recommend college games over pro games. We had a great time, we sat close enough to see the faces of the players, I didn't have to mortgage my house to afford it, and it was a much more personal experience.

As to today's topic - I had to write a synopsis of my story for a SCBWI contest submission, limited to 250 words MAX, and it was very difficult to do. I can only imagine having to write one even shorter. Yikes!

PAH said...

Maybe Seinfeld can help:

"The young protagonist, Mike Hero, discovers he has powers beyond belief, overhears a sacred prophecy, and yada yada yada... the world was never the same."

Miles O'Neal said...

"...The aliens land in chapter 14, and eat the editor who demanded a one-three paragraph "synopsis" of books. Thus, what many feared ended up saving the planet."

Craig F said...

Sounds like a good excuse to dust off that old elevator pitch. Stretch it out with an inciting incident and add the ending. If special skills need to be learned by your protag (like magic school), sprinkle some in for seasoning.

The god in a box might be more damning than aliens in the 14th chapter

BJ Muntain said...

One of the requirements for the Malice Domestic grant for a work-in-progress is "a plot synopsis of no more than 300 words". I managed to do this, but it wasn't easy, especially since I hadn't written any synopsis for that work yet (since it was 'in progress'). I didn't get the grant, but I was told it's very competitive. No word on whether my short synopsis was any good.

Steve Stubbs said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
One Of Us Has To Go said...

Can anyone please confirm that, when we speak of "two pages" for a synopsis, we have to do two pages in A4 (like on the computer in word) and single-spaced?

Or is it double-spaced or we possibly count in book pages here (no, surely it's not the latter ... oh my god, am I that confused right now?? 😜)?

I'm asking because I remember this was talked about a few months ago, and I missed asking then when I felt that my one and a half pages in WORD on the computer were too long, given what I read back then.

Thank you so much for letting me know :)!

AJ Blythe said...

One of Us, format like this: text single spaced, left-aligned, one blank line between paragraphs (no indents for paragraphs) and A4 page.

Aphra Pell said...

I suspect the best way to write about plot is always to follow the Query Shark basics, but adapted for purpose (e.g. including the whole arc in a synopsis)

So...

- short clear sentences
- get the plot on the page (stakes, consequences, what matters) rather than just describing events.
- key characters and places only, not character soup.
- show don't tell wit, tension etc.
- Revise, sit, revise, sit, drink gin, revise, polish, sit, check, send. Drink more gin.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Thanks a lot, AJ :)!

I already got it wrong regarding left-aligned, one blank line between paragraphs and no indents for paragraphs.

Thank you so much :)!

Steve Stubbs said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BJ Muntain said...

One Of Us:

If you're querying by e-mail to American agents, then using a Word page is fine. If it's being pasted into the e-mail, it will probably go through single-spaced, anyway, even if it doesn't look like it to you.

Agents sometimes differ on double space vs single space synopses. I believe Janet says to double space everything. But I've heard advice from agents saying to single space the synopses. It's quite confusing, so I always hope the agent specifically says how to format.

My thought on the matter: If an agent doesn't say how to format a synopsis, I figure formatting is not that important. They just want to see the plot in a shortened form, and by saying 'two pages', they (hopefully) stave off the 20-page synopses.

I much prefer they tell me how long in word count.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

AJ, I totally agree, I would love it in word count, too. Because that was my point here.
Two pages, double spaced, obviously makes a difference to two pages single spaced!

(I'll be trying my query luck in the UK soon, now that I don't live in Canada anymore but the UK.)

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Oops, I meant BJ. Sorry!!!