Thursday, September 4, 2008

Writing a Synopsis--As a Selling Tool

Writing a synopsis is tough. In fact, it can be pure torture! I've most often written them after the book is finished. But it's hard to do it then, because you tend to want to include every little plot point and end up with a 20 pager that has too much detail.

I've also written a synopsis or two just for contests, when all I had written of the book was a few chapters. I bet each and every judge could tell that, too. (I've seen it in judging contests myself.) The synopsis goes like this: Heavy detail about characters. Heavy detail about the opening scenes. Then all of a sudden, it gets vague and skips all kinds of things. It goes from describing a scene in detail to: "The next two weeks fly by.... Then everything goes wrong when blah, blah, blah.... Then he finally admits he loves her... Then they kiss and he proposes." It's almost comical because you can mark the exact place the writer stopped writing on the manuscript and started trying to guess what was going to happen. And as I said, I've been guilty of doing this!

Well, just this past weekend I finished up my first proposal. I had to write the synopsis without having the book totally fleshed out, before writing the chapters. And it was difficult! So, I thought I'd share a little of what I did to come up with a synopsis to use as a selling tool.

First, I had already spent a good bit of time on character development after I sent in my last book. (You know you can't ever rest after submitting one book!) Then I had to drop the work when the book sold and it was time to do revisions. So, when I picked it back up to do the proposal, I re-read all my character notes and made some changes. Then I filled out the Magic Conflict Chart (which I love to use to brainstorm scene ideas) that's in Carolyn Greene's Prescription for Plotting workbook. In the middle of doing that, I got stuck, so I tried (for the first time) using Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet--following his 15 beats, or plot points. You can find the sheet on his website and download it for free. I filled out that sheet for each character (using my Magic Conflict Chart for help) and finally wrote the synopsis from that Beat Sheet.

I hope I included everything that's needed in that synopsis (I already submitted it)! And I think I learned a lesson about how important it is to figure out how to write one before the book is totally plotted or written. An effective synopsis is not only for contests or for sending in with completed manuscripts. It's a skill you and I will need for selling books! So we need to practice it. We can't let it scare us to death.

Another place you might like to check is Lisa Gardner's website for info on conquering them:

And for some great overall info on writing (and an article on synopses) check out Alicia Rasely's archives:

Anything you'd like to share about what helps you write a synopsis? I'd love to hear!



  1. What helps me write a synopsis? Prayer, and lots of it. I was working on a synopsis a couple of months ago, laboring and lamenting. The shortest I'd managed was five pages. And very boring. I skimmed a couple of articles on synopsis writing, trying to glean something. I prayed. I whined. I prayed some more. I begged for God to reveal something to me. Then, I woke up one morning with a nugget of an idea. I went to my computer. In short order, I had a three page synopsis that was the best I'd ever written--fast-paced, held my attention. Yes, Lord! Thank you!

    Never underestimate the power of prayer :-)

  2. So cool, Mindy!! Thanks for sharing! :)