Synopsis Writing Is Hard!

~ By Nan Reinhardt

Today, I spent the afternoon writing the synopsis for the third novel, which I finished this week. It’s out to the beta readers, and I already got back one good report. YAY! Now, logically, you’d think that if one has completed three novels and has a rip-roaring start on the fourth, then one could certainly produce a five to seven page synopsis. After all, you wrote the damn books, you’d say, surely it’s not that hard to sit down and tell what they’re about.

Well, you’d be wrong. Synopsis writing is really, truly hard! I sweat bullets over writing a decent synopsis. How much of the story do I include? It has to be enough that an editor can get the flavor of the whole story without getting bogged down in the details. But, I have to include everything that happens to my heroine.  It’s an arduous process, I’m telling you.

First, I reread the manuscript from the beginning straight through to the end all in one sitting, making notes as I go through on what I think is absolutely crucial to include in the synopsis. Then I sit and write and write until I’ve told the whole story. After I’ve gotten it all down, I go back and start taking out what feels extraneous. Then, I go back and cut some more. Then, I go back and tweak what I’ve written, making sure the story is told in a linear fashion and that scene follows scene clearly.

After three rounds, I close up the file and walk away for a while. I need space from it, so that when I reread it, I’ll see it more clearly. I take one more stab at it and then I save the file and ship it off to my critique partner. Sandy will take it apart, edit and comment and then it’ll be my turn again.

Synopses are critical–my agent will read it to see if she’s interested enough to read the whole manuscript. When she sends it to editors, I’m guessing they’ll read the synopsis before they even open the manuscript file. This is where I hook them, where I create enough interest that they want to take a look at the manuscript.

They’re also significant because they give an editor a feel for my ability as a writer. I’m not sure a synopsis is a true expression of my voice, but it probably gives an editor a taste of whether or not I can tell a story. After all, if I can’t tell the story of my own novel succinctly and clearly, why would they bother to move on the novel itself?

Synopses are important…that’s why I suffer over them. But,  as I sit waiting anxiously to get my crit partner’s comments and edits, I’m  cringing because I have to do the blurb next. Eeeek…my story hook in only 50 words? Not hardly…but I can do this. I can because…I am a great writer…I am a great writer…I am a great…

Nan (Dragonfly Betty), is a romance writer. She’s also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and grandmother to a darling golden retriever named Lily. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last fifteen years, has earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. But writing is her first and most enduring passion. Her debut novel, Rule Number One, is due out in February 2012 from Siren-Bookstrand Publishing. Two other novels are currently with her agent, Maureen Walters, of Curtis Brown Literary Agency in New York. Like Jo March, she writes at night, after the work is done and her household is asleep. Talk to her at

7 thoughts on “Synopsis Writing Is Hard!”

  1. Thanks for sharing your personal experience with the agony of writing a synopsis. I’ve been staring at a blank page for two days, completely intimidated by the entire process. I put a few paragraphs to the page yesterday and sort of froze again. Reading your post today was just what I needed.

  2. Roben, it is hard to decide what’s important, isn’t it? I’m so all about the happily ever after, I’m afraid I’m going to miss other plot points! I think Sandy needs to teach a synopsis-writing course online!

  3. Jeff, right there with you! But you know Sandy is right, they are an art form. Once you get the process, it does come easier. Thanks to Sandy, I actually got my 150-word back-of-the-book blurb done in one pass. The process really makes you focus on what the meat of your story is…it’s a good thing. Keep at it!!

  4. Yep. Hate them. They just seem so dry. With romantic suspense I always get the major plot points down, the black moment, resolution etc. and forget all about the turning points for the romance, except for the happily ever after. Duh. My crit partner has to jog my memory every time, otherwise I’d be showing these two strangers who are involved with all kinds of shoot-em-ups, car chases, things that explode, and then all of a sudden the strangers are vowing their undying love for each other. : )

  5. Synopses are necessary evils. I thought I’d gotten away with selling a book without one. Even had all the edits done. Nope. Received an email from my editor. The cover artists, blurb copy writers, and promo needed a synopsis. Had to put one together in one day.

    They’re an art form, and I was blessed to have a good author teach me how to write them. Hope I’m helping you, Nan! 🙂

  6. I HATE writing synopses (and blurbs, for that matter).
    I’ve completed seven novel manuscripts and the SHORTEST amount of time I’ve spent on each synopses is roughly a full week of my available writing time.
    Of course, I typically begin this process by whining (mostly to myself) that it is literally impossible to boil down this ms. into 1000 words.
    But after I finally do that, then (of course) I have to craft a version that’s about 750 wds … and one at about 500 wds … and then — the ultimate impossibility — a single page synopsis.
    Did I mention that I HATE writing synopses?

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