What is a Synopsis?

who-2985525_640This article was originally intended to consider variances between synopsis and blurb. However, it quickly became evident, if the topic is to be dealt with adequately, the eventual length would be unwelcome. The decision has therefore been taken to consider each aspect separately. This article will consider what a synopsis is and its purpose. A subsequent article will deal with the subject of blurbs.

In modern language usage it is often found words or phrases which in the past were clearly understood and comprehended are now frequently interchanged. Naturally this has lead to miscomprehension and some confusion. To assist the reader of this article, the following is a minimalistic explanation of the two aspects.

Synopsis: Brief summary of major points.
Blurb: Short description.

Definition

As already stated this discussion is restricted to the subject of synopsis’.

‘Brief Summary.’ (Oxford English Dictionary)

‘A brief summary of the plot of a novel, motion picture, etc.’ (Dictionary.com)

‘A condensed statement or outline (as of a narrative or treatise).’ (Merriam-Webster.com)

Target

Agents and Publishers.

Before an agent or publisher can realistically consider whether to take on a project, they need to have a clear idea of: what it is about; what is involved; whether it has appeal; if the quality is up to standard; etc. They will be making a financial commitment and need to assess if their investment will be recoverable and would also result in some degree of profit. After all it is a business they are running not a charity.

It is the synopsis, if properly drafted, that provides them with the necessary information. Unlike general marketing material (including blurbs) a synopsis should:

  • Convey a story from beginning to end.
  • Provide the whole narrative arc.
  • Show what happens.
  • Outlines who changes.
  • Must reveal ending.

Agents, publishers and editors consider a synopsis important because it is from them they are able to assess whether characters’ actions and driving forces are realistic and sensible. They may also reveal faults in the story and/or plot.

Content

Bearing in mind a synopsis is only intended to be a summary but is also required to convey the whole story, if can be difficult knowing what to include or omit.

Include:
  • Tell story of character(s) the reader will primarily engage with, especially the protagonist but only characters who are pivotal to the story.
  • Talk from protagonist’s point of view.
  • Outline conflict and how the protagonist succeeds or fails.
  • Characters who have direct impact either by generating conflict or by helping the protagonist.
  • Show how conflict resolved.
  • Convey how the protagonists situation (internal and external, as appropriate) has/have changed.

It may be difficult deciding which characters to include and which to omit. A good ‘Rule of thumb’: if the ending would not make sense without them then include but be circumspect.

With specific genre e.g. science fiction; fantasy; etc. it may be necessary to include some brief details of the ‘world’ within which the story takes place. This should be kept to a minimum (100 – 200 words at most).

Omit:
  • Dialogue unless it forms an important plot point.
  • Backstories unless essential for the synopsis reader’s understanding.
  • Detailed explanations. Keep to basics.
  • Mention of secondary characters unless relevant to comprehension of plot point.

In addition to the above, authors should not:

  • explain themes and structure;
  • pose questions;
  • try and impress with prose. This is not the place for that.
Length

There are no hard and fast rules regarding the length of a synopsis. Nevertheless, it is sensible to remember agents and publishers are busy people who are constantly inundated with requests. General advice it to keep it short; between 500 – 600 hundred words, single spaced. Two pages at most. However, as stated, there are no rules and some agents and publishers are happy to accept lengthier versions.

Important: Always read the agent’s/publisher’s submission guidance and comply with it.

Except in very rare circumstances, a synopsis should not be broken into sections. Individual paragraphs are of course appropriate as long as they carry the story through in a sensible and understandable format.

Conclusion

As with all things there are varied opinions upon how a synopsis should be presented. In the above discussion it is implied it should form a continuous flow whereas there are those who suggest commencing with a brief summary of 30 – 75 words and then a more detailed overview of between 350 – 500 words. The best guide if for authors to comply with agent’s/publisher’s stated submission requirements.

What has been shared above is intended to provide some general guidance upon synopsis presentation nonetheless, as pointed out in a couple of places, there are varied opinions and ideas and no doubt others may be able to add (or subtract) from the above. It is simply hoped readers will find the above helpful.

Considering this website is primarily directed toward assisting independent (indie) authors who are usually either unable, or do not have the means, to engage an agent or publisher, discussion of this topic here may appear irrelevant. However, some indie authors do find unexpected success and are approached by agents etc. It is therefore helpful for them to have some idea of what is required in a synopsis. In addition it may assist authors, though they have no agent or publisher, to write their own synopsis through which they may identify anomalies they may have otherwise missed.


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