03 May, 2009

The Dreaded Synopsis!

After stringing 170,000 words together into a coherent document and calling it a novel which, believe me, was no easy task, I found myself in the unenviable position of having to create - OH NO!!!! - The Dreaded Synopsis!

Of course, I’m no expert. I can only speak from my own experience. But I’d be willing to bet that if you ask any author who’s ever had to write one, particularly their first one, the reactions you get will all be pretty similar: something akin to a shudder.

But I think I figured it out. At least, I figured out what worked for me. So I thought I’d share it.

After struggling with it for what felt like ages, it turned out that the best way to tackle it was to shorten it to just one sentence and work from there. Believe it or not. I’ll tell you how it came about:

My agent had instructed me to come up with an elevator pitch - a one-sentence, 20 or 30 second description of my book. I freaked out! 750 pages boiled down to one sentence? I thought, you’re nuts!

Of course, I didn’t say that - I just said, “Yes, Yoda, you teach, I will follow”

I was going to a premiere screening of a friend’s movie at a film festival and media types were expected to be there and Pamela (my agent is also Pamela - makes for very interesting conference calls) told me I needed to be able to pitch the book to them for future interviews - and I’d only have 20 seconds to do so.

So I agonized and scribbled and typed and edited and swore (Tsk, Tsk - New York City girl that I am!) and typed some more but eventually - in about 2 days - came up with one perfect sentence. From there the rest was a piece of cake.

What I learned from that exercise is that it’s so much easier to start with something tiny and expand on it, then to start with something huge (like my outrageously long novel) and shrink it.

Once I had the one sentence, Pamela said, “OK, now you need a 100 word synopsis. You’ll need that for newspaper announcements as we get closer to the launch date.”

That only took about an hour to write and perfect, though I admit I tweaked it a few times over the next few days.

Then she said, “OK, now you’ll need one with 200 words, 500 words and 750 words - to send to the media when they want to interview you, to post on your website, to start requesting endorsements, and so on.”

Which was fine with me because once I had the 100 words, the rest came VERY easily.

Copyright © 2009, All Rights Reserved


  1. Pamela, you are so right about how to get the dreaded synopsis done. I used to struggle too until I had to do a one liner about the book for an agent and then she wanted one paragraph 75 to 150 words, which helped me get it down. From there it became a little easier because the hard work was in getting rid of the need to tell the whole story.

    Now I start the synopsis before I start the manuscript as it helps me focus on what it is I want to tell a story about.

    Great post


  2. Thank you so much for stating it that way. You hit the nail right on the head. Glad you enjoyed what I wrote.


  3. I just started my book today and am hashing it out first draft style. A hideous, ugly mess but also the most exciting time when I write. Thanks for the heads up about the synopsis. I will let you know if I ever get there.

  4. Hey, I can't figure out how to contact you! please email me at elise@conversify.net
    Thanks Elise

  5. Great post. The one sentence is very crucial because sometimes that's all you can get in. Funny how that first time through something like this is so hard, but after that it starts to become second nature.