Synopsis Flopsis

This was the first question from a Snarkling, posted in the comments section:

I have a question that relates to both this post and the previous one about following directions. Sometimes an agent requests a synopsis to accompany the chapters, but rarely do they specify how long it should be. When I was querying, I cheated my way around this by repeating the one-paragraph summary from my query in the cover letter, and letting that suffice as a synopsis. But for snarklings more interested in following the rules, how long should a synopsis be, if the agent doesn't specify?

In response to that comment was this from a second Snarkling:

Short synopsis - 2-3 pages
Long synopsis - I think its 3-5 pages for every 10-15K words?
Or some ratio like that. There are websites dedicated to what should be in the short and long synopsis. I can't think of any off the top of my head, but I know I've seen them. Google is your friend.

if you ever send me five page synopsis for every 15K words I'll toss it unread.

3-5 is the MAX no matter how long your novel is. And no cheating by using 5pt fonts and .25 inch margins.

Synopsis are not a blow for blow recitation of the plot. It's major points, turning points, character description and development and it's SHORT.

I hate them. I've yet to see one that's any good; I've seen about three that don't suck, and those were from writers who have a string of publiciations and thus lots of practice.

A synopsis is just a totally weird form. It's like haiku on steroids. Everything that makes you a good writer works against you for writing a good synopsis. I've just thrown in the towel on reading them until after I've signed a project. Then I tinker with them myself in case an editor wants to see it...and much to my dismay they sometimes do.

Anyway...3-5 pages max.

Now, off to find the peacock feathers, body paint and green stiletto slides for my Halloween costume.


Cornelia Read said...

Could we please GOD find someone to invent synopis-generator software? They are so blood-suckingly difficult to write, it makes my brain hurt just having a flashback about it.

FEH. Feh feh feh. I would seriously rather gargle with hairballs while getting Rolfed by pissed-off Samoans.

The only thing more excruciating than writing one would have to be reading a bunch of them.

Another way agents more than earn their keep. Editors too.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I totally agree! I just sent one out (only 2 pages-I quit while I was ahead...or it was. I haven't figured out which!) and I spent the week repeatedly throwing myself on the floor screaming. I used to laugh when people called it, "The Dreaded Synopsis!" Can I identify now!

atriskintervention.org said...

Like most things, it's just a matter of doing enough of them. I find that if I've done the gruntwork of thinking out the story and working out a log line and outlining, the synopsis comes fairly easily.

Can't always be fun, you know. If it were, everybody'd be making a living at it. Writing good synopses is just part of being a professional.

For most novelists, shorter is harder, at least at first. Just keep doing them until you get good at it.

Simon Haynes said...

I wrote myself some synopsis generating software, but I still have to plug a brief sentence into each scene.
If you want a good laugh, try the auto-summarise feature in Word 97. I think they dropped it from later versions, but it's a hoot. It reduced my 90,000 word novel to two paragraphs of 'Hal frowned' 'Hal grinned' and 'Aaarrgh!'
Well, I thought it was funny. It led to yet another draft, so perhaps it was both funny AND useful.

Brady Westwater said...

How short can a synopsis be and still be... a synopsis? I getting ready to submit at the end of the year - and dread having do write one. I can not write anything intelligent that is more than a couple paragraphs.

As a screenwriter, my solution to a step deal was to do first draft and hand that in. Never had any complaints, but I know I can't get away with that in a novel.

So... how short? And should I say anything about it being... short... or just let the length speak for itself.

Christine said...

Well, I'm sorry. So you like short synopsis. I think most do, and like most writers, I hate writing them. How do you cram all the story you worked so hard to write into a mere 5 pages??

But, in my defense, I have seen a 'long synopsis' defined as, well, long. 15 pages for a 150K novel for example.

As for who asks for them, I just don't know. I've always had to write the short one.

UnlurkedKathy said...

I think those long synopses are used for romance writers selling proposals, generally straight to editors.

I've seen advice on how to write them too, Christine.


Bernita said...

What is most annoying is the editor/agent who asks for a DETAILED synopsis - of not more than 2 pages, double spaced.

harridan said...

Amen, Miss Snark.

I swear sometimes that the synopsis was created to torture everyone involved (yeah, yeah, I know better, but still ...)

I think I've got the query blurb down, an evil thing in and of itself. But to have to write a syn? It makes me break out in hives.

One publisher I know of requires a detailed chap by chap syn of no more than 10 pages. Now you think that would be easy, but try it sometime. Especially if you happen to write fiction. Pull my fingernails out already and get it over with!

As odd as it may sound, you can hone your query blurb and synopsis skills by signing on as a reviewer at some online review site.

You are forced to describe a book in, usually, 250 words or less. And have it make sense. And make it entertaining.

The only thing that is different is that you want to steer clear of revealing the entire plot mysteries. Whereas, in your own synopsis you MUST put that in.

Anyhoo, it's a good excercise if you're willing to try it.

Sal said...

Some of the links stashed here deal with "the dreaded synopsis."

(Should anyone have any others they think I should include, let me know. ...)

Ric said...

I once had an agent request a chapter by chapter outline/synopsis. Nothing fancy, she said, just a line or two.

Since my chapters were very short, it was, at the very least, instructive. Was that theme strong enough to be a chapter of its own? Interesting stuff.

atriskintervention.org said...

The important thing about a synopsis is that after the first couple of books, you'll start selling and getting paid on 'em. Getting paid before you write the book is a good thing.

Denise McDonald said...

When asked of the hubby why I don’t write short stories he replied, “Have you ever heard her speak?”

This translates to my writing, too. I spend 4 – 6 months writing the dern book and then I am supposed to condense it to 3-5 pages?!?!?

I will say though, that with practice it becomes less traumatic each time!

Anonymous said...

It's weirdly comforting to know that you never see good synopses, and only rarely see ones that "don't suck". Takes a little of the pressure off, somehow. I've heard many agents/editors who do read the synopses do so after reading the first chapters included and, if they're interested, then they read the synopsis, so it's really your writing that sells them on the voice, and the synopsis just says if you can carry through on a good story. Don't know if it's true or not, but I've chosen to believe it.

Now I'm off to write my own synopsis.

atriskintervention.org said...

FYI, I've never had an editor compare the synopsis to the eventually-delivered novel ms. Nonfiction -- a bit different. But fiction -- nobody remembers what the synopsis said. Usually required in a "four pay" (and listen VERY carefully if you think your agent is committing you to a life of sin, as some accents can result in -- oh, never mind.)

Bella Stander said...

When I was a reader for movie producers I wrote hundreds of synopses. General rule of thumb was 1 page of synopsis for every 100 pages of text, whether a book or a screenplay. After 20+ years, I still shudder when I recall plowing through the 1400 typewritten pages (unbound of course) of THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, taking copious notes. All for nought, as the producer passed. (Come to think of it, not one book or screenplay was picked up by the producer I analyzed it for). I haven't been able to read John Irving since.

Remodeling Repartee said...

"like haiku on steroids."

I've never heard a synopsis described so well. May we quote you, Miss Snark?

Miss Snark said...

of course you can quote me...for a small fee.
Send the rights release form on a $20 bill to the attention of Abacus Snark my accountant.

in all seriousness: have at it!


Anonymous said...

I have been sweating over the whole syn. thing for weeks. I have put it off in hope that I find a loop hole that says I don't have to write it. Since I do (and right away since I have a personal deadline) I feel so much better that mine is going stink with the best of them.