Friday, September 13, 2013


My husband has been querying agents for his detective series. He is now the proud owner of enough rejections to make a full sized shower curtain. Both sides. Despite all that, he has also gotten a lot of positives and some real constructive revisions, suggestions, and encouragement that he has a good idea and to continue on.

Yesterday, he told me that he has a request from an agent for a couple of chapters and…drumroll…the dreaded synopsis.

“Is this like an outline of the story?”

“Um…no. The synopsis isn’t as stark as an outline. It should give the flavor of your story enhanced by your voice to hook them.”


“Think of it like telling a friend what the story is about and you’re hitting the high points or the arc of the story (plot) and filling them on the main characters and how they fit into the plot of the story. You touch on the goal, motivations, and conflicts of the main character(s). You also want to give the black moment—when all seems lost and then the how the hero wins the day.”

“Goals, motivations, and conflicts? That sounds too complicated. I don’t think you really need that.”

“Sure do. Every good story has that. Let me put it another way. Goal - what your Hero wants (both internally which gives the character arc; and externally—plot). MotivationWhy they want it (both internal and external). Conflict —why they CAN'T HAVE IT (both internal and external)”

“In two pages? Isn't there just a formula or something?”

Are we having fun yet?  

Once I stopped laughing over that last plaintive question and wiped my eyes, we sat down and discussed whys and hows. Yeah, I tried to give him a formula.

  • What is the hook?  Another way to look at it is what’s the story in a sentence? A friend of mine, Nancy Parra, demonstrated this well with her book, Mr. Charming
A single mom with a secret past finds herself embroiled in a playboy’s murder. 
It shows the story and hints at the external and internal conflict and it gets your attention. This is a very short first paragraph.

  • What is your hero/protagonist’s Internal Goal Motivation Conflict and External GMC? What does he want, why does he want it, and why he can’t have it? Internal shows the character arc, external defines the plot. Keep it brief. For romance, of course, we give both hero and heroine's and for other genres it would be protagonist A and B, or main characters. And you'd set this as two paragraphs. If you include the GMC for the villain then there would be a third paragraph. 
  • What is the Plot? What happens in the story? Get the plot down in a clear concise manner. You want to include enough important plot points to convey the story. Once the plot path is clear in your mind then weave in why the unfolding events in the story are important. You can mention the secondary plot—as it impacts the primary—but the story is your main plot. That's what you need to focus on. This will be your biggest section of your synopsis.
  • What is the Black Moment? This is the moment when, despite the best effort (or maybe because of his efforts) of the protagonist/hero, all seems lost.

  • What is the Resolution? The protagonist/hero usually has to pull something from him/herself (character arc) to accomplish the resolution and win against the odds. Goals motivation and conflict are usually tied into the resolution. He's changed from what he/she was when the story began. The events of the story have taught him/her something.

You want to write the synopsis in PRESENT tense and be sure to give the ending. Be a professional. Make every word count. Putting your voice into the synopsis, you're giving them a taste of the story while they're reading for content. Your voice can also act as a hook.

Hubs will be working on this today. Hopefully, it will go smoothly. Once he writes it we have two guinea pigs to read it and give their feedback. We figure if it makes sense to someone unfamiliar with the story and they "get it" then we can declare it a success.

  • How do you handle writing synopsis? Any suggestions?


Michelle Wallace said...

My thoughts. I've never written one... and I've noticed that it puts the 'fear of God' into writers...
In conclusion, I see that the two words always go together - dreaded synopsis!
Writer In Transit

L. Diane Wolfe said...

A character's goals often drive the story so they should drive the synopsis, too. Hopefully your husband figures it out. Be prepared to help!

Karen Walker said...

I am very close to the point where I will need to write a synopsis for my novel. Eeek. I'm with your husband. This is very helpful but feels very daunting right now. Thanks, Sia.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's been a while since I had to write a full synopsis. The back cover blurb is tough enough. Hope your tips help your husband.

Yolanda Renee said...

Great tips, and the fun begins! Oh yes, the dreaded synopsis!

I've got a new one to write too, book 3, oh dear, will follow your tips. Even though I've done it before, always an opportunity to learn!

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Sia -

LOL on the dreaded synopsis. I think we as writers put far too much stress on ourselves over the darn thing. In truth, it is the partial - the chapters that your husband is sending - that will sell the proposal (or not). It's all about the voice on the pages. The synopsis just shows that you understand turning points and there's enough in there to make a book.

Wishing your husband luck landing the agent.

Julie Flanders said...

Why isn't there a formula?? LOL I want that too.
To me the synopsis was so much harder than writing the book I couldn't believe it. The word still gives me chills.

Great tips here - good luck to your husband!

~Sia McKye~ said...

NICHELLE--Yep. those two words seem to go together. :-)

Diane--exactly. He's still grumbling but I'll pass those wishes on. :-)

Karen--Best of luck with the synopsis. Yes, they feel overwhelming at times.

~Sia McKye~ said...

ALEX--many agents, when selling a new project, simply go armed with their cover letter, blurb, and the manuscript.

A lot of writers can write a hell of story but not always a hell of a synopsis.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Yolanda, I'm always learning and revising my methods. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

DONNA--I think you're right. writers feel a lot more angst over synopsis than we need to. Part of that might be because of reputation of them.
:-)I'll be the first to admit that breaking down a 90 thousand word MS into a 2 page synopsis made me go, WTF the first time I had to write one. But once you understand what a synopsis has to have and why, it's not as daunting. :-)

Synopsis for sure will show whether or not you have enough plot and conflict to support a book. Hubs has enough on both and a good voice. I have no doubt he'll get this together and have it ready to send out Monday. I will pass on your comment to him, though.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Julie. I'll pass that on to him. This *formula* is just a guide for him to get it done. But these are the points that need to be there to show, as Donna mentioned, if there is enough plot and conflict to support a story and show he understands the concept, lol!

He's still muttering but moving along. *Evil chuckle*

Kat Sheridan said...

Oh, no! Give your husband my best wishes as he works through the synopsis. Lucky for him, he has you, and you've spelled out the perfect formula right here. It's the same formula I use. And it really does start with goal, motivation, and conflict. In fact, a lot of times I'll write the first two or three chapters and then the outline for the synopsis. It helps me see where my story might be weak, whether or not I've got a good character arc, am lacking a big black moment, etc. The exercise of writing a synopsis is a good way to check your own work, to make sure your story hits all the right notes, even before you finish writing. Knowing the goal, motivation and conflicts can keep a writer on track.

And Alex, maybe one of these days I'll do a guest post for Sia on how to write blurbs/back cover copy. I do it for a living. And guess what? It's all based on stating the goals and conflict!

Mason Canyon said...

Sia, wishing your husband the best on the synopsis. I have read synopsis that are a bit misleading because they leave out some of these main elements.

Thoughts in Progress