Writing Tips

Welcome to Synopsis Camp!

IMG_2493What is more painful than writing a synopsis? Writing a blog post about writing synopses. Just kidding not really. While on an editor panel, I promised to write this post and I’m glad I did. From the bottom of my heart, I feel that banging out that synopsis is essential–and easy.

Let’s just get it out of the way, that every writer tells me, “I can’t write a synopsis.” And I can’t eat pickled beets unless you give me money, which is what my mother and brother did once. Seriously, you can write a synopsis. If you can write a book, you can write a synopsis. Remember high school, college? It’s a matter of getting into the right head space and practicing. I don’t blame you for complaining. I have to write synopses, too, and I do plenty of whining about it. Then I realize what a skill it is: being able to summarize your work.

One thing to note: Editors need that synopsis. They have to pitch your story to higher ups. We might even require a refresher if we haven’t looked at your book in a few weeks. There are so many books that we read between your submission and that second or third read. A synopsis turns out to be a handy guide to your story. It introduces everyone to the basics.

But how do you write a dry synopsis on a story you are so passionate about? It can be done, I swear. If we can survive the elements, reality television, and the presidential campaign, we can tackle this onerous task.

Because I hate writing synopses myself, I’ve devised a handy way to get through the pain. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

  1. Choose two days where your goal is to write the synopsis. No other writing, no other big projects. Just the synopsis.
  2. Write a logline, a one-sentence summary of your story, two sentences tops. Encapsulating your premise into one neat sentence is a talent and one you can show off when you pitch your story. You will use that logline over and over again.
  3. Prepare yourself psychologically for the longer synopsis. Editors have different requirements, but I like to ask for a five-page synopsis, double spaced. If you can do this, you’re in great shape. Line up your pencils, hydrate, and say, “I can do this.”
  4. Break down your synopsis into three parts. Act I, Act II, and Act III–but don’t label them as such in your synopsis. It’s easier to write a synopsis when you think of it in smaller segments. Never write a chapter by chapter breakdown. These are hard to follow.
  5. Write Act I in the morning. You have that surge of energy, you’ve had your coffee, so get out those first 500 words. You’ll be shocked at how little time this takes.
  6. Take a few hours off. Let Act II percolate in your head. Eat lunch. Have another coffee and then go at it. Get the middle of the story down in lovely prose. No need for gimmicks, just the story as if you were telling someone about it. Think generalities. Think that annoying paper that you’re writing for school. Readable, engaging writing that will inform the editor.
  7. Reward yourself. Watch an episode of your favorite show. Eat a Snickers and/or Cheese Puffs (see picture).
  8. It’s late afternoon, when you’re almost ready to call it a day. Maybe you want to take a nap, but you have one last item on your to do list: Act III. Make it dramatic and exciting! You’re on the home stretch!
  9. You did it. Was that so hard? Maybe, if you think mowing the lawn is hard. It’s just not something you want to do, but you did it because it needed doing. If you didn’t have a Snickers before, you deserve one now.
  10. Forget about your synopsis for the rest of the night. Sweet dreams! They will be sweet because you accomplished this one little yet crucial part of the writing process.
  11. Wakey, wakey! Don’t you hate it when people say that? I do, too, but not so much since I finished a synopsis. After breakfast or whenever the neurons start firing, go over your synopsis, revise it, edit it, then look over it five more times throughout the day. Remind yourself how awesome you are for writing a synopsis, which all of us hate to do.
  12. You are now done–and a new graduate of Synopsis Camp. For good measure and because this is a heinous chore, reward yourself often.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to go over your work, but the hardest part is often getting the words down. As a writer, though, you’re used to that, right? In conclusion, I’ll let you in on a secret. The synopsis is important, though many of editors don’t love reading them. It is truly a guide. The most important part is your voice, your story. But we still want the synopsis. 🙂

13 thoughts on “Welcome to Synopsis Camp!”

  1. You had me with the cheetoh puffs! I LOVE cheetoh puffs. I buy the little snack bags and carry them everywhere with me. Luckily, I don’t need to write a synopsis! I’ll just eat cheetoh puffs instead.

      1. When you come to the Detroit area for work, we shall congregate at Campus Martius Park downtown and while our toes are deep in the sand, we shall sip favorite beverages while eating cheeto puffs. FYI-Campus Martius is a little park in the midst of all the tall buildings that has a little sandy beach with beach chairs and umbrellas.

  2. Wow… perfect timing. After pitching at RWA then reading this post, I know I need to write a kick-ass synopsis. Thank you!

  3. My computer won’t allow me to “respond to this post by replying above this [that] line,” dear, but anything from you is always welcome. I appreciate your writing advice and will keep this on file, especially a hard copy.

    We have so many power outages and thunderstorms here on the “Redneck Riviera,” my poor computer hiccups and loses messages. sigh. So I don’t know if you’ll receive my message of deathless prose, or not. But I do hope you’ll know what delight I take in making your acquaintance in print and on the Internet.

  4. Hi Patience!

    I’ve just discovered your blog and love it! It is also why I am leaving comment and question about 3 years late, but maybe you still see comments on old posts. So, what the heck? Figured I’d try : )

    First, as I said, I love this blog. I stayed up until 1 a.m. last night devouring all I could. And being I am a girl who loves her sleep and an alarm that would be ringing at 5 a.m…. wow. I know it’s love if I stay up that late!

    Second, my question. I am working up the bravery to enter a blitz over at the Harlequin website. I have been doing a bit of research on writing a synopsis and have found some extremely helpful information on the SYTYCW blog, as well as here and a few other sites. What I have not been able to find is writing a synopsis before you’ve written the book. I know it’s doable, but on a scale of 1 – 10, what is your opinion of how difficult it is to do so for an aspiring author who has only a bare bones idea of her story? This is what has me on the fence regarding entering or not.

    I will continue to research this on the off chance you are unable to respond. Either way, I really enjoy your blog!

    Thank you for your time,


    1. Theresa! Welcome to my blog! My answer to your question is that you can absolutely write a synopsis before you write a book. That’s a good idea, actually, because it gives you a nice guide and can get you revved up to write the story. At my day job, I have had to write synopses for stories before they were written and it made me more excited to read the finished product. You are in charge of your book so you can write your synopsis at any point, but always better before you give your book to an editor. As for the Harlequin blitzes, you should definitely enter them. It’s good practice at the very least and you never know. We find some great writers that way. Good luck and keep writing. 😀

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