I learned a valuable lesson about writing a synopsis yesterday. I’ve only written three, ever, so my efforts were seriously lacking.
I did a great job of giving a chapter by chapter rundown of events and characters. (Exactly what every editor says they don’t want.) So if you read the synopsis, you knew exactly what my plot was and how the major events occurred. You also probably knew all my cast of characters and the roles they played in the story.
What you didn’t know was why. I mean, I’m sure any seasoned editor could guess the hero and heroine’s motivations. Editors are smart like that. 😉
But it’s my job as the author to tell the story of my book in my synopsis. It is not my job to give a play-by-play of every event in the book.
So rather than saying:
Little Timmy went to the store. He bought ice cream. Then he brought it home. His mom was happy.
It should be more along the lines of:
Little Timmy’s mom is an ice cream aficionado. There’s a new parlor in town but a broken hip leaves her on mandatory bed rest. She’s unable to attend the grand opening, even though she had her heart set on it.
Careful not to rouse her suspicions, Little Timmy sneaks out of the house (with the help of his grandfather or other responsible adult, I’m sure) and heads to the parlor. While there, he purchases a scoop of her favorite flavor as well as one of the special editions. When he returns home, his mother wraps him in her arms and tells him he is the best son in the whole wide world.
Okay. My examples are kind of horrible, but I hope they illustrate the point. It’s not enough to know what happened. Your editor/agent needs to know what’s happening behind the scenes. Why it was so important for Little Timmy to go to town and why his mother was so pleased upon his return.
You want your editor/agent swept up in your story. If your synopsis is bland, they might assume your novel is too. And that’s definitely not the impression you want to give them after months of laboring over your project.
So the next time you’re synopsizing, keep motivation in mind. We don’t need to know about your secondary characters, no matter how awesome they are. We don’t need to know every single event that takes place. We need the broad strokes and a reason to care for your main characters as much as you do.
Disclaimer: There are as many ways to write a synopsis as there are subgenres in fantasy–almost infinite. I don’t think two people have ever given me the same advice. It’s like writing, you have to take a little here and there, mash it together, and use what makes sense to you. We’re all learning as we go, and that’s the most anyone can ask of you.