Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Synopsis Checklist

Graphic from College Hills
My #wipmadness goal this month is to write one of these devilish synopses. Before diving in, I did some fervent Googling and unearthed a wealth of helpful posts, from which I'll be lifting. Now to lay out my findings.

This is a checklist, not a how-to. Writers should follow-up by reading the cited articles. The two in blue are required reading, IMO. For simplicity, I'm using authors' initials. See References for details. 

Last caveat: The following relates specifically to the agent-querying package.

A Synopsis Checklist
  1. Format. 3-5 pages max; double-spaced; 1-inch margins; name, title, contact info on first page; last name, shortened title and page numbers on following pages, just like the MS. (JR) 
  2. Tense and POV. 3rd person present. As with queries, some synopses have successfully broken this rule, but in general, it's wise to play it safe. (MG)
  3. Purpose. Your synopsis should show... (JF) 
    • "That the author hasn't gone off in some weird direction that doesn't make sense or suit the targeted genre." 
    • "What makes your story different by how the plot progresses." i.e. Show key selling points.
  4. M.O. Modus Operandi. This nasty bastard  should...
    • Distill plot and conflict to major points, turning points, and characters readers care about. (JR)
    • Avoid character soup. (ST) 
    • Convey a sense of building doom and escalating trouble. (JH)
    • Keep tension alive. Use paragraph breaks as cliffhangers. (ST)
    • Mimic book jacket copy. (NB)
    • Entice. Read aloud, graf by graf, to a friend. Ask where it bores. (MG)
    • Be readable. Easy to scan? Lots of white space, no long blocks of text? (CG)
  5. Style
    • Simplicity. Plot level to sentence level, keep it easy to digest. (ST) 
    • Infuse the synopsis with your book's spirit and tone. Steal phrases indigenous to your story world. (See article by ST)
Final remarks:

On the one hand, relax. Most writers hate the synopsis, and most agents and editors do too. They'll be forgiving. On the other hand, this is a chance to show that your logic, character development, and world building is impeccable. Enjoy the chance to preen a little under the scrutiny and spotlight.

Good luck!