It happens to all of us. You’re having lunch with colleagues, or having dinner with family, and they ask you what you’re writing about. Even though you know that this question is bound to come up, because you’ve made yourself known as a writer, you still stumble through your answer. You’re not sure which details of your story you should include and which you should leave out. You’re not sure exactly how to explain what you spend so much of your time working on. Your family and friends will likely understand your flustered response, but wouldn’t you like to give a well-condensed, well-formed description of your latest writing project? That’s where the synopsis comes in.
A synopsis is a brief summary or outline of a book or short story. When you pick up a book at the bookstore, you will generally see a synopsis printed on the back cover. Synopses can also be used in sales pitches and book catalogs. You, personally, can use a synopsis to convey to someone else the essence of the story that you’re working on right now. You may have to eventually explain your story to someone like an editor or literary agent. That’s when the ability to create a synopsis will really pay off. But it wouldn’t hurt to have a synopsis in those friends-and-family situations either.
So how do you go about constructing a good synopsis? Recently, author Jael McHenry wrote a post about synopsis-writing tips over at Writer Unboxed. I would recommend reading the entire post, but I want to focus on two steps that she recommends. Firstly, Jael says not to limit yourself when writing your synopsis. Just sit down at your keyboard or with a notepad and write down everything you think she be included to encapsulate your story. This may turn out to be 10 pages, or it may be just half a page. You can boil it down or expand it later on. Either way, just keep writing until you think you have a synopsis that you like.
Another one of Jael’s recommendations is to write the synopsis before you write your story. Even if you aren’t doing an outline or any other kind of plotting beforehand, write out your synopsis before you get started. Aside from giving you a synopsis, this might help to streamline your focus as you begin the full story. You might even discover something you hadn’t otherwise been thinking about. Putting the story into the format of a synopsis might unlock a new key to the plot, or a new character you can include.
Synopses are, of course, most important when you’re pitching a story to someone who could potentially publish it. But if you’re not at that point in your writing career, you can use this advice to construct a synopsis that explains to your family and friends what you’re working on.
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan