Writing a novel synopsis

The two-page synopsis is one of the toughest things I have to write. Yes, even harder than the chapter outline.

I mean, if I have 20 or so pages to convey my story in a detailed way, it’s kind of like writing a short story. The old line “Sorry this response is so long, but I didn’t have time to make it short,” carries a hidden truth. In many cases, long is easier than brief.

So, yes, I do think the two-page synopsis is murder. I like to start long and gradually pare down. (There are people who can pound out a synopsis in one sitting, but these people can never be my friends.)

For basics on the synopsis, you can find  plenty of suggestions (such as here) from people who are smarter than I am. So I’ll skip right to:

My special tips for the two-pager

  • Head up the synopsis with an elevator pitch in italics. Start the elevator pitch with “What if.” Using At the Table of Wolves as an example: What if, in inter-war England, when magic has come into the world in the form of psi-abilities, a woman uses her gift for hearing the truth to uncover a Nazi plot to subdue England with a devastating power over ice and cold?
  • Then write the rest, focusing on plot and character, and aiming for 4-5 pages. That length takes the pressure off and helps you get past the fear and loathing stage. You gain confidence from having distilled the book down that far. Try not to fuss with wording on this pass. I know you want to, but it’s a waste of time if you’re going to cut half of it out.
  • Once you have this longer version, sit back and consider what’s crucial for plot, character motivation, world-building, and emotional appeal. What’s  missing? Any key people/events needed for story logic?
  • Now start to cut. Edit out the fat, the repetition, the extraneous sequences. Aim to cut a full page.
  • Another pass, and start revising for a more lively style. Try out one-liners for reversals.
  • Set aside for a day.
  • Then print out what you’ve got so far and edit with a pencil, marking it up and making a mess. Use specific, vibrant nouns and verbs.
  • Cut to 2 pages.
  • Read the pages out loud, noting ideas and final tweaks as you go. Incorporate these and print it.
  • Set aside for a few days. With these breaks, you’re letting the work marinate and your mind recover from a natural “revision blindness”
  • Finish and give to a few people to critique.
  • Make last revisions.

I have to fight my reluctance to tell the ending of the story. If you feel this as well, get over it. Agents and editors want to know that you can pull off a memorable and believable ending.


This post, and others noted in the link below, are part of a Zombies Need Brains kickstarter.

Check out more posts on creating winning pitches here.

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