November 15, 2010

That Dreaded, Evil Synopsis--Guest Blogger Cindy K. Green

I’ve always hated the idea of the synopsis, and I know I'm not alone. To most authors it is the equivalent of a four-letter word. However, I have to admit that while investing quite a lot of time recently studying up on it that I’ve learned to like it. Shh! Don’t tell. Part of the reason is because when you take the time to write the synopsis it gives you the opportunity to evaluate your novel or story and make sure it has value and that it is indeed ready for submission.

So let’s get to it as I share with you the research I’ve put together on writing the synopsis.

What is a synopsis?

A synopsis is a summary of your book in its entirety. It’s an overview of plot, characters, and conflict. Its style is a preview of coming attractions—characters, dramatic moments, and plot.

What should be in your synopsis?

1. Theme - The theme pulls the entire book together. Sometimes you don’t even know what the theme is until you’re ready to write the synopsis. But identifying that theme really is a selling factor for your novel.
2. Set the Period - When you start off the synopsis set the scene and let the reader know the place and time period if that is relevant.
3. Hook - Start with a hook—like a back cover blurb. Grab the reader’s attention and let them know what makes your book so different.
4. Plot summary - This is the heart of the synopsis. It includes the beginning, middle and end. Don’t forget the END! Introduce the problem, the conflict and the resolution. Provide the opening incident (beginning), effort to reach the goal (middle), and climax—success or failure (the end). The plot must spring from your characters not events.
5. Character Sketches - Show that your story is character driven (Although it would be near impossible to write a romance that wasn’t character driven—wouldn’t it?) Take a paragraph to describe your main characters—his past, his motivations, what drives him and makes him unique, his flaws. Include your hero and heroine and an antagonists if a major plot in your story. The rest of your characters give role names within the summary. Things like friend, mother-in-law, policeman, clerk, etc.
6. Dialogue - Use dialogue sparingly in the synopsis if at all. It slows down pace and takes up space. In a synopsis, every word must be efficient.
7. Emotional Turning Points - It’s the small scenes which move the plot forward. You can’t include all those scenes in the synopsis. The big scenes, the emotional turning points, should be included. The climax is the final turning point along with a statement regarding how your protagonist changes by books end.

Take Note:  Open with a problem and what’s at stake—set the stage. (If there is no problem then you may have started your book too soon within the story.) Introduce your protagonist with a hint at inner problems and conflict before going into the plot summary.

More advice:
Be Clear.
Be Concise.
Be Complete.

Remember that less is better than more.

The tone of the synopsis should denote the style of your book. It should carry your ‘author voice.’

Avoid using adverbs, internal monologue, dialogue, scenic descriptions, cliches.

Give a clear ending to your story.

Use Present tense from the author’s point of view

Make your nouns concrete and your verbs vivid. Not unlike in your novel—but even more so.

Length—a paragraph or two synopsis within a query is adequate. Only one to two pages when included with the query (single spaced with double spaces between paragraphs). If a synopsis is requested with a partial or full manuscript, then the standard length is five pages (double spaced). This is the length sent by agents to acquiring editors.

There is no right way to write a synopsis. I’ve heard successful authors say—it’s just like telling a friend what your novel is about.

To get started I have a synopsis worksheet for you. It’s not a form for the perfect synopsis. It will however get you thinking and help you to start writing your ideas down which you can then use to write into your synopsis. Email me for the worksheet at

Check out the many sample synopses on the web from published authors who’ve made the big sale. Reading several of those will help as start to write your own.

Have fun! No really, try to have fun with it. Make yours stand out from the crowd and a sense of humor just might do the trick.

I’m running a great Christmas contest on my blog. All you have to do is watch the book trailer for my holiday romance, All I Want for Christmas, and send me an email. And if anyone is interested in getting a free read today, send me an email at Put FREE READ in the subject and let me know if you want the humorous contemporary, My Grand Epiphany or the historical western, Second Chances.

From All I Want for Christmas:

Blurb: Best Friends or True Love? Only Santa Knows.

Kathryn Graham hates Christmas. She hates the snow, the decorations, the whole nine yards. Nick Pringle on the other hand can’t get enough of the season. He may be her best friend and fellow writer at Redburn Weekly Magazine, but sometimes his exuberance gets on her very last nerve. Now they’ve been assigned to cover the orphan toy drive story. It’s just a puff piece not the serious journalism Kathryn hopes for, but maybe—as Nick says—there are no old stories just new angles.

Nick Pringle has been in love with Kathryn practically since the day they met. When he realizes that she’s lost her Christmas spirit, he figures he’s just the guy to help her find it again. He enacts a plan to send her anonymous gifts from Secret Santa, but will any of this really make a difference in her? Will she ever see him as anything more than her smart-aleck partner even after their passionate kisses? Then again maybe he’ll get what he wants for Christmas after all.


Halfway through the film, Nick’s fingers brushed over Kathryn’s wrist and a surge whipped through her like an electrical charge. His hand ended up on her knee, and he leaned over close to her ear. “You have any more of those Milkduds?”

“Huh?” Oh, candy. He just wanted more snacks. Well, of course, what other reason would he have for touching her like that?

“Here,” she whispered and held out the container to him.

His face remained close to hers, his warm hand still molded to the shape of her knee. She accidentally moved in too close and her forehead bumped his cheek. Looking up at him, Kathryn saw he wasn’t smiling. His eyes had grown serious and all thoughts of candy dissipated. His attention dropped to her mouth and suddenly Kathryn couldn’t swallow. Could he possibly be considering kissing her? Just then, he turned his attention back to the movie and lifted his hand from her knee.

An unexplainable inclination took over as Kathryn pushed his hand back to her knee. His face whipped back to her. Questions filled his features. His chest moved up and then down. He smoothed his hand over her pants from her knee to her thigh and back again. Her skin pebbled under the material at his touch. This was soon followed by heat tingling from her stomach to the tips of her toes.

She leaned in towards him and he met her halfway. And just like that their lips met. Giddiness spun through Kathryn’s head with sparks tingling her skin. The kiss was light and sweet yet searing all at once. Lucidity began to return to her the next moment. What was she doing? Oh, right, she was kissing Nick Pringle. She was kissing a co-worker. Worse yet, she was making out with her best friend. What was she thinking? She had to stop and yet it was the last thing she wanted to do.

The whole idea was ludicrous. An outrageous act and yet somehow her body’s sole response was that it wanted more. Whoa! Had it been that long since she’d had a date? Time to reign in those annoying hormones which threatened to take over her sanity.

She broke off the kiss and rested her hand against his chest. She could feel his heart speeding at the rate of a train. A train wreck is more like it. Ay-yi-yi! How was she going to get herself out of this one?

On sale now (for a $1 off at Champagne Books), All Romance e-books and Amazon.

Cindy K. Green is a multi-published author with degrees in History and Education. Previously a middle school English & History teacher, she now homeschools her own children and writes in several genres: Inspirational, Contemporary, YA, Suspense and Historical romance. Find out more about Cindy and her books at You can also visit her on her Blog. In addition, she has a Homeschooling Blog and a Teen Fiction Blog. She can be reached by email at She’s on Myspace Facebook Twitter and Twitter for her YA friends. And she has a Newsletter.


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Cathy. Welcome to my blog. Great post. I don't like writing a synopsis, but this is a concise why of doing it. Thanks for the tips.

Cindy K. Green said...

Hey Anna Kathryn,
I hope it's a helpful blog. I just finished writing another synopsis and it is getting easier. Practice like anything else.

Kathy Otten said...

Wow, Cindy, you've presented a great article of tips and advice. Very helpful. Thanks. Good luck with your holiday story. Looks really cute. I used to love milkduds. :)

Nan D Arnold said...

One can never have too many tips for writing a synopsis. Thanks

Celia Yeary said...

Cindy--your title is spot on! Evil. Dreaded. Nasty. Annoying. Yucky. Sorry, I got carried away adding my own adjectives.
I have learned how to write a fair synopsis, though, after reading and studying endless articles and chapters in books. Finally, I found an easy 1-2-3 on the Harlequin Website, copied it, and use that as the pattern.
Thanks for the excellent tool for doing this chore. I think the teacher in you came out! Good job. Celia

Cindy K. Green said...

Thanks Kathy and Nan! Hope it helps.

Yes, Celia, the teacher in me always pops out in the writing and promoting. LOL!

Victoria Roder said...

Thanks for the info on the synopsis. I will be checking out your site for the additional information.

LK Hunsaker said...

Nice tips, Cindy.

Writing a good synopsis is harder than writing a whole novel in one month. ;-)

Cindy K. Green said...

Hey Lorraine. LOL! I totally agree. I know most authors say they'd rather write a whole other novel than the synopsis.

Hey Vicki, thanks for coming by today. Hope the worksheet helps.

Allison Knight said...

Yep, a real love and hate relationship with the synopsis. I'm not fond of the back cover blurb either. Great post though. Thanks for the hints. You can never learn enough.

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous post!
Great ideas for a synopsis.

Pat Dale said...

Nice ideas for writing a synopsis. More arrows for our quivers. Of course, when I have to write a synopsis, I quiver with dread. LOL
Pat Dale

Maggie Toussaint said...

Very good synopsis advice, Cindy. I still get heart palpitations when I have to write one. Enjoyed your excerpt as well.

Maggie Toussaint
Muddy Waters - romance and mystery in a coastal paradise

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Cindy,
Great blog. Some interesting tips. Writing a synopsis is my Achilles heel.



Marie Higgins said...

Cindy, you make it sound so easy. I'm going to try and follow your instructions, because wouldn't you know... I just finished a story yesterday, so now it's time to write that dreaded sucknopsis. (groans) I'll let you know if I have problems.


Morgan Mandel said...

Having some guidelines while doing a synopsis is very helpful. Thanks for posting them.

Morgan Mandel

Diane Craver said...

Hi Cindy,
Great article on writing a synopsis. Thanks for sharing what you have learned. Tips are a good reminder. Also good luck on your Christmas release - hope it sells lots of copies.

Linda Swift said...

Hi Cindy. I'm glad I read this article. It has reminded me of what a good synopsis should be. I think we share a few publishers...
Champagne, Whimsical, TWRP and I see you on the same loops I'm on. I seem to remember that you did one of my very first articles on your Christmas blog a couple of years ago when all this cyberspace business was so new to me. Good luck with all your books. Linda S.

StephB said...

Cindy, Awesome ideas about the synopsis. I'm not very good at them. You've given me food for thought when I have to draft my next one.

I love the blurb for your book. It's definately on my TBR pile.


Mary Ricksen said...

Great advise Cindy! If my brain can handle it!! (grin)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Great post, Cindy. Like many others, I detest writing a synopsis so any advice is good advice!