A Writerís Main Selling Tool Ė The Synopsis
By Marcella Kampman © 2003
Synopsis writing is the single most important "selling"
tool of the writerís trade. You may have written the next bestseller,
but if you canít get your synopsis past the editor then no one will
ever find out.
You have to learn to write the best synopsis you can in order to
impress the editor enough to ask for your manuscript so that she will
buy it enabling you to become that best selling author. Itís that
simple. See, Iíve just given you your own goal, motivation and
conflict. Now all you have to do is find that of your story.
Start with a hook. Itís that basic little sentence that tells all
in a nutshell. You must be able to sum up your story in just a couple of
lines, preferably under thirty-five words. If you donít know what your
story is about, then how will you hope to convince others that itís
worth their time and effort? Take your storyís premise and turn it
into an interesting hook designed to grab the editorís attention. For
example, weíll use the basic premise from "The Wizard of
Oz" by L. Frank Baum. An angs-ridden teenage girl gets blown
far away from home in a tornado to a strange new land where she must
overcome several obstacles before she learns the true value of family in
order to return home.
The first and foremost question you must answer in order to find your
story premise is not what but who is this story about?
Remember, people enjoy reading about people. Yes, the plot details are
important as they are what drive the story onward, but place more
emphasis on the protagonistís reactions to what's going on in the
plot, as it is her actions that ultimately becomes the fuel powering the
way the plot turns.
After your hook give a brief description of your main characters.
This description should include each of their goals, motivations, and
conflicts or barriers that will keep them from achieving their
respective goals. There is no need to go into such depth of detail on
any secondary characters unless they bear a direct impact on the main
protagonist, such as the villain. Remember, conflict will arise from all
of your characters wanting something different.
Now, just by enhancing the initial premise even more, we get the
makings of an actual short synopsis Ė Dorothy, an angs-
ridden teenager who feels out-of-place in her ordinary world and is
contemplating running away from home, gets blown far away from her aunt
and uncleís farm in a tornado to a magical, strange new land. In order
to find her way back home she must seek aid from a wizard. On her way to
the wizardís castle she saves three strange beings, who are all in
some peril or other, and she convinces them to join her and seek help
for their troubles from the same wizard. The wizard sends them on a
quest first, to bring him the wicked witchís broomstick. Only then
will be grant what each desires. The witch, meanwhile, has her own
agenda, to get from Dorothy her ruby slippers, which will in turn give
her the power to become the strongest witch in all the land. Together,
Dorothy and her three friends successfully complete their quest, but not
before undergoing several exciting and harrowing adventures. They
vanquish the witch and return victorious to the wizard, only to find
that he never had the power to grant their wishes. After he deserts her
in the strange and magical land, Dorothy realizes that with the aid of
the ruby slippers and her own heartís desire she has the power to
finally get home. Dorothy learns that "Thereís no place like
As you can see here in our example, The Wizard of Oz has all
the elements of great fiction: a sympathetic heroine, a great cast of
supporting characters, exciting events, a menacing adversary, a
particularly dark moment, clear character growth, and a satisfactory
resolution to an unexpected ending (which, by the way, are all the
elements for a great plot).
How can I build my own synopsis to that level of great fiction, you
may very well ask? By asking yourself these questions:
Who is the story about? What does she want? Why does she want it?
And what's keeping her from getting it?
What is the inciting moment? When exactly does the story take off?
What actions does the main character take that drive the plot
forward? What are some of the key plot turning points?
What is the black moment? How does this affect the main character?
What does it make her do?
Donít forget to include the resolution. How does the story end?
What has the main character learned or achieved?
In a romance novel you must also show the development of the romance.
The inciting moment should show when the hero and heroine first meet.
Woven throughout your synopsis you should include how they react to
their first kiss, as well as showing their reactions when they first
sleep together. This should lead to how the hero and heroine will
finally commit. You should show their barriers breaking down and show
the choices they must face before true love conquers all.
Take your short synopsis and build it up. Question yourself as you
write your new and improved synopsis in order to give the enhanced
version more detail. In a longer synopsis include such information as
theme, tone, setting, and time period. Add more action points and
barriers and the reactions to these barriers, but do not add bits of Ďfillerí
description. Even in a longer synopsis you need give only the things
that are really necessary. Leave out all the fluffy descriptive phrases
describing the sunset and your main characterís hair and eye colours.
A few technical pointers to keep in mind when writing your synopsis:
The synopsis should be written in narrative form and in the
Use strong verbs to describe the plot and precise adjectives to
describe the main character.
Donít ever leave the editor hanging; give her everything
upfront including fascinating plot twists.
Unless otherwise specified, double-space your synopsis in Courier
New 12, and make sure your name appears at the top of the page along
with an address or email address. You donít want the editor to
love it only to find thereís no record of who wrote it.
KISS Ė Keep It Short & Simple
Writing a synopsis may sound a little like making magic, but it isnít.
Know who and what your story is about, tell it in as engaging and
concise a manner as possible, and the editor will be sure to ask to see
your manuscript in full. Then the real magic begins.
Marcella Kampman has been writing for several years. She has had
several articles and a short, non-fiction story published. She is a
member of ORWA (The Ottawa Romance Writers Association) and RWA (Romance
Writers of America). Her first romance novel, PROMISE ME, was written
under the penname Vanessa deHart and is available from www.LTDBooks.com
To find out more about Marcella (aka Vanessa) check out her web page at www.geocities.com/marcella_kampman