The Synopsis: A tool of drafting, revising, and querying

The Synopsis is like winning on several lines of slot play. Are you shaking your head at me, wondering how I could ever claim that the dreadworthy synopsis is, gulp, a good thing multiple times over?


Because I used to hate writing them too.

I waited until the book was finished to try to distill it to a 2 page synopsis and a 1-2 paragraph query hook. I would throw myself on the floor bemoaning the impossibility.

Scraped-skin-across-tar painful? Yup.

And much easier to do if you start it in the drafting phase, when you don’t know where the novel will end, but you need a roadmap. I give myself some leeway and let the drafting synopsis reach five, gasp, pages.

That’s what the drafting version of the synopsis does. It lets you know what comes next. Helps you over the hump of Writer’s Block.

It tells you when you’ve veered off on a tangent.

Not that tangents are bad. Sometimes they become the story. But the synopsis is your map. It reminds you  that you’re changing your book as you go and that changes have ripple effects.

Writing a synopsis during the drafting phase forces you to plot out your book. And also draws attention to gaps in the plot before the book is done.

Plus the practice of writing one helps.

When you get to revision, you know what you thought was important in drafting. And now might not be. You get to hack away at the  drafting synopsis, sculpting it to a lean, soon-to-be-querying machine.

Revision is a time when the story changes so the synopsis must conform to all plot shifts. The synopsis’ brevity forces you to isolate your one main plot.

The synopsis is an essential querying tool (read agent-requested material for evaluating a book). It helps sell your book at the querying stage.

It also helps crystallize in your mind what the central plot is and how to succinctly describe it. The synopsis will help you determine genre and impact your pitch too.

For me, having a synopsis during each of these three phases streamlined my work time and created a better manuscript.

Do you still hate synopses?


But do you see their inherent value?

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4 Responses to The Synopsis: A tool of drafting, revising, and querying

  1. berry says:

    Love the slot machine. Writing is so complex. So much to consider and do. Keep working on it. Perfection can be reached. Don’t rush the process.

    • Thanks. 🙂 It was a 1/2 cent machine. They say you never finish a manuscript, you abandon it. 🙂

      • Cynthia says:

        I do see the inherent values in writing a synopsis, just to keep us on track as writers. A good synopsis will address the bare premise of the story: what is the central problem and why is it important for the character to fix this? And, why should we as readers care? Sometimes it can be tough to nail all that down in just a few sentences, but once you got it, it’s totally worth the effort.

        • For me, it really helped to work out where the story was going and how to make it work. And by the time I get to querying, it’s so much nicer to have a synopsis drafted and a clear die of what my name plot thrust is. Also helps with classifying genre. 🙂

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