The Spoken Synopsis

invariably have to write a synopsis. It is true that many great writers probably never wrote one, but I can assure that agents and publishers always want to see one.

Many who have chosen the world of the pen as their journey, sometimes find it difficult to understand what a synopsis is, why it is the way it is, why it’s even needed. Other writers wouldn’t write home without it.

You could say that it’s the literary equivalent of a business plan. And it is true that the map is not the territory, the synopsis is not the book.

Here are some questions:

  1. How do you write a synopsis?
  2. How long should it be?
  3. When do you write it?
  4. What makes a good synopsis?
  5. What makes a bad one?

I say forget these questions.

Think of it like this: have you seen or read the Robin Hood story. Well, tell me the story. Go on, say it out loud, write it down. Guess what, the telling is very quick. Now when you were narrating the story, did you describe the colour of Robin Hood’s tights or the look in Maid Marion’s eyes when she was flustered by him? No, of course not, because those are the details that aren’t really the big pulsing themes of the story. And that’s what a synopsis is: it’s a gist. The easiest way for me to do a synopsis therefore is to tell someone else the story. That’s it. Tell it to yourself, your cat, your dog, your spouse, your best friend, your mum. Anyone who’ll listen and not quarrel too much with you.

And guess what: we do this sort of storytelling all the time when we’re relaying information about movies, television series, soaps. We don’t tell everything – we stick to the main points and that’s it.

So if you think you’ve got a story, get a stopwatch and time yourself and describe it in 60 seconds. Your tale might go something like this:

The story’s about a guy called Noah Jenkins and he wants to be an astronaut, but he’s claustrophobic – it’s a comedy. Anyway, he works in a dead end job in London that’s slowly been sapping his life juice away – then one day the wife he’s neglected leaves him for his boss. In a fit of helplessness and rage he signs up for a…

Is that so hard to do?

And once you’ve laid down the foundation that make up your synopsis you can edit and rewrite to your heart’s content until it sings true. Of course, it still means you have to write the book…


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