The One Thing to Remember when Writing a Synopsis

So, you’ve read my post on first drafts and now you’re feeling confident about starting the submission process. This is major, and before you start, you should take a moment to realise – and congratulate yourself on – that. And then you need to do research. In that research, you’ll learn that agents and publishers will want to see a synopsis of your book. Which, regardless of whether you’ve done it before or not, sounds intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. At least not if you remember this when writing a synopsis:

It’s all about the Conflict.

Writing a synopsis is essentially a ‘photograph’ of the external and internal conflict of your story. In romance, the external conflict generally refers to the external factors that bring your characters together. It can also be linked to your tropes. For example: perhaps your characters are colleagues (trope: office romance), and are forced to work together to save their company (trope: forced proximity). This is what brings them together. What’s more important though, is what keeps them apart.

That’s the internal conflict.

It’s the emotional baggage that makes it so darn annoying to fall in love. Maybe it’s because your hero doesn’t trust women after his mother abandoned him when he was younger. Or the fact that your heroine steers clear of arrogant men after a string of relationships which ended poorly because of that arrogance.

The key then is to unravel the conflict throughout the synopsis.

The good news is that you’ve already done this in your novel. Now you just have to condense it to 2-5 pages i.e. according to the submission guidelines for the agent or publisher you’re querying to. One of the tricks I’ve learnt over the two years I’ve been doing this is to summarise both the external and internal conflict in one paragraph. Not only does this immediately clarify the conflict for the agent/editor, it’ll also help guide you through your synopsis. Here’s an example:

When Hero McHero discovers the Cape Town branch of his company is in trouble, he’s forced to turn to Heroine McHeroine to help him save it. And if Heroine wants to keep the job she loves, she has no choice but to help. But he’s exactly the kind of man she’s vowed to stay away from after a string of bad relationships: arrogant and sexy. And she’s exactly the kind of woman Hero despises: someone who tests his resolve not to trust women. As they work together, Hero and Heroine discover that not only are their jobs at risk, but also their hearts.

(Loosely based on The Tycoon’s Reluctant Cinderella.)

Now you just have to get from point A to point Z. In the example, that would be the company going from being in trouble to not being in trouble (the external conflict); and the hero going from being unable to trust women to trusting the heroine, and the heroine from believing the hero is like the other men she’s dated to realising he’s not (the internal conflict).

And that’s really the whole point of the synopsis.

Next week, I’ll share more of the tricks I’ve learnt when writing a synopsis. Until then, if you have any questions, ask them in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.

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