What makes a good synopsis?

02 Feb 2016 16:54 | Deleted user
Why did no one warn me that writing a synopsis is so difficult? I’ve written book reviews of other people’s books and blurb-like teasers under the misguided impression that this was what an editor or agent would expect from a synopsis. But, even after reading excellent advice on how to write a synopsis, my own efforts seem exceedingly bland. Would you want to read a book with the following synopsis (opening paragraph only)?

Melinda is a 40-year-old trailing spouse to a banker husband, Graham, and is finding it difficult to adapt to the expat community in Geneva. A dreamy mathematician of Romanian origin who turned accountant to accommodate the family, she does not have the right background or social skills to blend in well with the snobbish environment she encounters.

Yawn? Exactly! Too much back story and, besides, the story doesn't really start here.  starts with a death. Of course it does, it’s crime fiction after all. So my question is: when you start at a certain crisis point in the novel, then move backwards to show how they got to that point, should your synopsis follow the chronological story or the way you’re revealing things gradually on the page?

So here are some articles which helped point me in the right direction. 

  1. From The Writers' Workshop: A synopsis is not the same as a blurb for the back of a book and the text should not be 'salesy'.
  2. From Jane Friedman: Don’t make the mistake of thinking the synopsis just details the plot. That will end up reading like a very mechanical account of your story, and won’t offer any depth or texture; it will read like a story without any emotion.
  3. Caro Clark's 5 steps to writing a synopsis:
  • List your scenes (so you are following the order that you lay them out in the book)
  • Condense them into a summary (this is where you can lose a lot of the back story)
  • Enrich it to give a flavour of your style (this is a part which I found missing in most synopsis advice, which is why most examples I read sounded terribly dull)
  • Check for sense (is it an accurate and honest representation of your novel?)
  • Reflection (this is where you can test for plotholes or clichés, unrealistic motivation or other flaws)
Finally, for real-life synopses critiqued with humour and a sharp tongue, see the no-holds barred blog of a literary agent writing as Miss Snark.

So here is my second attempt at a synopsis (opening paragraph only), after reading all of the above. 

Melinda and Rob, two bored expats in Geneva, are attempting a drug-fuelled tryst with a charismatic young gigolo, Max. To their horror, Max has a seizure and dies. Desperate to conceal their affair from their respective partners and afraid that the police will accuse them of manslaughter, they decide to hide the body in nearby woodland. What they don’t know is that Max was also the protegé of Adnan, the king of cocaine in the area, and Rob’s drug supplier.

Still not perfect, but at least it won't put you to sleep, I hope...

I would love to hear your experiences with synopses, or else what articles and books on the topic would you recommend?


  • 05 Feb 2016 11:12 | Deleted user
    So it was YOU who wrote that first page about the young guy dying in the middle of a threesome? That was brilliant!
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