Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Writing a Synopsis or Summary – The Short Version

If you have your hook, the next part should be a breeze…not really, but don’t you feel a little better about it?

Your short summary is what you’ll use in your query. It will only be 2 -3 paragraphs, you’ll want to get across your main characters and your major plot points. I’m a big fan of putting the ending of a book in a query (for agents’ eyes only) but that’s a matter of taste. You want them to be interested in reading your manuscript. You don’t go into sub-plots or minor characters, no matter how much you like them.

Here are some tips:
1)      Simplify. Remember elementary school English? What are the most important things that happen in your book? Who is the main character? What is the major conflict? Some of you will want to mention the resolution.
2)      Refer to your main character and one other important character central to the plot by name. Three is pushing it. If you mention (by name) four or more characters, you need to reevaluate your summary.
3)      Sometimes it’s helpful to pinpoint your central plot point. Mine is the idea of safety vs. freedom. Expand on this point.
4)      Less is more. You don’t need to say: Stephen turns Mindy over to the awful Grunda monsters. Now the dastardly creatures have the device that can destroy Mindy’s home planet. You can instead say, Mindy is betrayed by a trusted friend, jeopardizing her safety and placing her home world in peril. (Oh yeah, I just made that up…impressed? J )
5)      Don’t use slang that you’ll have to explain. This is especially true for sci-fi or fantasy. Although your manuscript may be riddled with words of your invention, now is not the time to use or explain them.
6)      Don’t get bogged down in explaining details. Avoid writing things like, So and so does this because of these motivations and then this happens. Be succinct and to the point.

Just remember, this is a short summary, you will not be able to give every detail of your manuscript. You may feel at first like you’re cutting the heart and soul out of your story, but eventually you’ll be able to see a middle ground and be able to relay your story in a few paragraphs.

Any other tips on writing a short summary?

Next time – Writing a longer synopsis.

*There is a huge storm moving through the Midwest, sooooo I might be out of commission for a few days. If I don’t post tomorrow I’ll be back Thursday or Friday.*


  1. Great post! Writing the synopsis is one of the most difficult things for me so this topic is very welcome:)

  2. Thanks Lindsay...are you ready for the blizzard?

  3. Very good tips - it is definitely more difficult than it looks. Stay safe and dry during your huge storm!

  4. This is starting to sound like a lot of fun, rather than a chore; surely a sign your advice is good advice.

    All the best with the storm. I personally enjoy sitting them out, and I like Mother Nature's reminders of how illusory our standing is, at least for a short time..!

  5. These are excellent tips. Your writing makes the whole process seem so clear and simple! New personal motto: "Don't get bogged down."

  6. These are really great tips. I'm going to add this to my 'list of writing links.' :) Thanks for sharing and good luck with that storm.

  7. Are you sure you just don't want to write mine for me?

  8. This is such helpful advice! Thank you so much. Good luck dealing with the storm!

  9. I love looking at the inside of adult novels or higher w.c. YAs for info on writing great summaries. They provide all the action and mayhem, plus they include only the most important descriptions. Including the ending is the easy part!

  10. LOL I love this post. I have six of them and even though I go with new sales points each time they all end up exactly two pages. The two pager is easy, cutting it to one seems to be my mountian to climb.
    We are snowed in and so far hanging onto internet, but who knows if it will stay on. Snow is glitching the tv signal now. Burrrr!