Mistake 51: Writing a Bad Synopsis

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70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer, from The Writer's Digest Writing Kit

Why this is a mistake: A synopsis is a short summary of a novel, the key word being short. There is some argument whether you even need a synopsis. Agents and editors state in their guidelines whether they require one. Many writers have a difficult time writing a strong synopsis. They end up submitting one that goes on for too long or uses too many adjectives. One that’s too vague or too unfocused.

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The solution: The best synopses of my books that I have read were my reviews in Publishers Weekly. In those, the reviewer gets the story down to one paragraph. Peruse PW and see how a book similar to your own is summarized. Another method is to go to your local bookstore and get some old publishers’ catalogues and see how they pitched their books. Don’t you think it would be very worthwhile to pitch your book to that publishing house in the same manner?

To get down to one page, write a really long synopsis and keep cutting. Remember, a synopsis is an overview. Psychologists say our short-term memory can hold seven facts. Therefore I think you shouldn’t have more than three names—protagonist, antagonist, and one major supporting character—in your synopsis. Add in the original idea, the hook, the main storyline, and the climax, and you fill up the reader’s brain. I’ve read synopses with so many names in them that I got so confused I couldn’t keep track of anything.