Ask any author which bit they most hate writing and the chances are they will say it’s the synopsis. Tied firmly in with plotting, it is some sort of commitment to the storyline. Many people I know actually write the synopsis at the end but if you want to pitch a novel with a partial, (a few chapters only) this can often be impossible without a synopsis. We have discussed before how some people always finish a story before sending in even the partial. I like to know that what I’m writing is likely to be accepted before spending too much time on it, so I send a partial, three chapters or so, before I finish a book. Even though the partial may be approved, there are still no guarantees the final product will be accepted. However many books are behind you, the current work is only as good as it an editor considers!
So, what is the function of the synopsis? It should clarify the story’s drive, give an outline of the main characters and show the potential publisher how it all hangs together. Even three chapters may not be enough to show how the characters are going to turn out. Looking at a publisher’s guidelines, it become obvious that there are many different ways of producing the synopsis. Some require multiple pages with chapter outlines and huge amounts of detail. Others want an A4 page with the outline of the plot. Clearly, it is important to know exactly what is required before sending out material. Sadly, not all publishers or agents make it clear, so approaching a new publisher could be doomed at the outset if you get it wrong.
Writing the synopsis at the beginning of the work is really a form of plotting. If ever I do start with the synopsis, I rarely seem able to follow it all the way through. My characters develop their own lives, their own characters and often find them doing something quite unexpected. This can take the plot into a different route entirely. I may have the idea of what is to happen eventually and even begin to write that bit, far too early. The synopsis then has to change to accommodate this. I suppose I am saying that I don’t really like to plot in too much detail as this doesn’t leave the scope for developing characters to drive the story themselves.
My most recent People’s Friend Pocket Novel was the fourth in what started as a one off and turned into a series of five. My editor was enthusiastic about the series and didn’t want to see a synopsis at all. This was great and things kept happening unexpectedly (for me too) and made it a fast moving story to write and I hope, a good pace to read. Of course, this depends on an editor knowing a writer and both having a mutual trust. And dare I say it, on having reasonable experience.
Unlike the ‘blurb’ on the back of a book that is designed to draw in the reader, the synopsis must present the whole story and characters and is a key selling point for the book.
Dreaded or not, the synopsis exists to sell your work.