Friday, July 22, 2011

Synopsis Writing Tips

McRae_Cricket pic

I’m happy to welcome my writing pal Cricket McRae to the blog with some terrific tips for completing that most terrifying of creatures—the synopsis. In addition to being a successful novelist and fellow arugula lover, Cricket has a very interesting blog, Hearth Cricket, where she provides lots of crafty home and garden lessons, stories, and tasty tidbits.

Take it away, Cricket!

Thanks for inviting me to guest on A Million Blogging Monkeys, Alan!

As a result of my fifth contemporary cozy Home Crafting Mystery, Wined and Died, hitting the shelves, I’m on this merry little blog tour and poking my head up here and there letting people know about the book release. Kind of like a literary whack-a-mole. At the same time, I just finished another manuscript for a second series, and most recently I wrote a detailed synopsis for the next book in that series. Now I’m back at work on Home Crafting Mystery #6.

The very word synopsis used to send terror arrowing through my solar plexus. Know why? Because they’re hard. At least they are for me. After all, I’ve never managed to start a short story that didn’t turn into a novel. Or at least an idea for a full-blown novel. Keeping it short is a challenge.

But over time I’ve completed several novel synopses, and have picked up a few basic tips:

Really basic: The format is double-spaced, with one-inch margins, and twelve-point Times Roman font. Pretty much just like a manuscript, but for some reason there seems to be a notion that it needs to be different. It doesn’t. Make sure your contact information is in the header. And some people say that the first time you introduce a character’s name it should be in all caps. No matter what tense your novel is in, the synopsis needs to be present tense.

Know how long your synopsis needs to be. If you don’t know, then write more than one. When I was sending them out to agents I had a one-page, a three-page, and a five-page synopsis, because different agents want different things. On the other hand, book proposals for editors typically have more detailed synopses, sometimes fifteen pages or more.

Map out your major plot points. Then identify crises, turning points, the motivation(s) of your main character(s), and the character arc of the protagonist over the course of the novel. Use this vital information as the skeleton for the rest of the synopsis.

Use the same voice and tone of your novel. It helps to convey a feel for the story if the synopsis reflects the way you’ve written it (or plan to write it). If your character is casual, keep the tone casual. If you tend to use brief, declarative sentences, do that in your synopsis. If you’re funny, let some of that humor come through.

Keep the important stuff. If there’s a character who is key late in the book, bring them up as early in the synopsis as you would, relatively, in the novel. Deciding what is important and what isn’t can be surprisingly difficult. So ask yourself whether a particular piece of information adds to or detracts from the clarity you are trying to convey in your brief rundown of your story.

Lose the unimportant stuff. That clever subplot? A brief mention is enough, and then a quick line to say how it turned out at the end. Sometimes you have to drop whole subplots or relationship details, especially in one-page or three-page synopses.

Leave out dialog and description. Mostly. A single line of dialog can convey a lot, and add to that voice/tone thing I mentioned earlier.

The synopsis doesn’t have to precisely reflect the timeline in the book. If you write with a lot of flashbacks, you may want to include some of those time leaps in the synopsis, but it might be easier to tell the story in shorthand if you present it chronologically.

Have other people read it. Preferably folks who haven’t read your novel. You know too much about your own book to have perspective. Does it make sense to them? Pay close attention to what questions they ask or where they want clarification.

I’d love to hear about any tricks you use when writing a synopsis!

---------------------------------------Wined and Died_1

In honor of the recent release of Wined and Died, you can enter to win a free Author Website ($900 value!) plus two years of free hosting from the creative folks at Bizango Websites for Writers until July 29, 2011. For more details and information on how to enter, please visit Cricket’s blog at

A former resident of the Pacific Northwest where her novels are set, Cricket McRae has always dabbled in the kind of practical home crafts that were once necessary to everyday life. The magical chemistry of making soap, the satisfaction of canning garden produce, and the sensuous side of fiber arts like spinning and knitting are just of few of the reasons these activities have fascinated her since childhood. As a girl she was as much a fan of Nancy Drew as of Laura Ingalls Wilder, so it's no surprise that her contemporary cozy series features a soap maker with a nose for investigation. For more information about Cricket or the Home Crafting Mystery Series, check out



Stephen Parrish said...

A single line of dialog can convey a lot, and add to that voice/tone thing I mentioned earlier.

Wonderful advice, all of it, thanks.

Wendy said...

Great advice, clearly written. Wonderful post, Heather. And Alan, thanks for having her as a guest!

Cricket McRae said...

Stephen, using dialog in a synopsis can be tricky but is sometimes worth it.

Thanks for stopping by, Wendy!

And Alan, thanks again for hosting me!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great tips! Will be tweeting. :)

Cricket McRae said...

Thanks, Elizabeth!