12th October

The Beastly Beast that is… the synopsis!

Yes, I am currently at that point.  The novel is finished.  Oh yes!!!  So, what do I do with it now? Obviously, I had to write the synopsis.  I didn’t especially want to, so put it off for a bit.  Then I started and immediately it began to plait my brain.  So I had a kind of splurge, spewing out what I thought I needed to say about it.  Then I stopped and read a very interesting blogpost from Nathan Bransford, ‘How to Write a Synopsis’, which you can read here, which helped no end and gave me a few more ideas.  I then thought it might be useful to blog about the process too.  Well someone has to write about The Beastly Beast don’t they?  Which is exactly how the writer of the above blog post felt!  Oh, and by the way, other people, I am sure, will tackle their synopses differently to me with different results, just as we tackle writing about the same subject in a different way.

The synopsis is a bit like the word ‘Voldemort’.  No-one really wants to say it or talk about it.  We write thousands upon thousands of words, then become jibbering wrecks at the thought of summarising, explaining and promoting the manuscript we have written.  So, here is my contribution, and, hopefully, some useful tips on how to tackle The Beastly Beast.  There don’t appear to be any hard and fast rules for writing a synopsis, and I think this is what flumoxes us.  But there are things you can do that will help.

For starters, how long should it be?  It’s easy to get in a tizzy about this.  If you’re writing a children’s picture book, make it short.  I stick to two paragraphs, one which is written in a very similar way to the blurb which appears on the back of a book, and another paragraph about the qualities I think the manuscript has and if it has been sent to other publishers or agents.  Here’s an example of a synopsis for one of my stories which ‘nearly but not quite’ got published

Ben’s Blankie (966 words) (Ages 3-6)

Little bear Ben lives with his Mama and Papa in a hole at the foot of an old oak tree.  Ben won’t go anywhere or do anything without his blankie.  It keeps him safe wherever he is.  Then, one day, when little bear Ben is helping Mama and Papa collect berries, Ben’s blankie gets carried away by the wind and caught in a small tree.  With Mama and Papa’s help, Ben rescues his blankie and shows what a brave little bear he can be!

An animated tale about bears, blankets, berries and being brave!  This has not been sent out to any other publishers or agents.

For an older children’s novel, the synopsis will need to be longer because the book itself is longer and you need make sure you cover the characters and main plot points.  Here’s an example of the synopsis I sent to publishers for Buttercup House: A Mystery for Megan (published by Piccadilly Press, April 2012)

Buttercup House: A Mystery for Megan


Nine year old Megan is used to an ordinary life in an ordinary house, but all that changes when she and her parents move to Buttercup House.

It isn’t long before Megan meets the little girl, Freya, who lives next door and finds out that there are mice who can tell the time at Buttercup House, and a black cat called Dorothy, who is at least sixty years old, and who can communicate with the girls.

Megan also discovers that when she writes a story about Dorothy, in her special notebook, the story comes true.  But why is Dorothy waiting by the stream and who is she waiting for?  Megan and Freya escape to Megan’s treehouse, their secret place, where they can talk about the strange and exciting events as they unfold.

Freya’s Granny knows some of the answers to the mysteries of Buttercup House, but there are some questions even she can’t answer.  When, one morning, Megan sees her garden covered in Buttercups, she and Freya have their first sighting of Buttercup, the big golden dog.  They discover that Buttercup returned to help Granny’s brother when he was lost as a little boy.  The girls, in their search for answers to their questions, seek out The Book of Strange Tales to find out more about Buttercup.  There they read the story surrounding the big golden dog who wandered off many years before.

Before long, the girls get the chance to meet Buttercup as they find themselves lost in the fog, and Buttercup, having never forgotten his ordeal, comes to their rescue

A further meeting with Buttercup then answers some of their questions and they come to learn about a whole new world – the world of the Protectors – animals who move from another world to Megan and Freya’s world to help children and keep them safe, and Buttercup reveals that Dorothy is a Protector too, a mediator between the two worlds.  Life for Megan has never been so exciting!

This manuscript is intended to introduce a series of Buttercup House books, each leading to more adventures and mysteries for the girls, as they find themselves more involved in the world of the Protectors.

The manuscript is just over 16,000 words long and is aimed predominantly at girls 6+ years of age.

There have been one or two changes to the manuscript since this synopsis was written, but you can see how it aims to cover the main plot areas, the relationship between the characters and convey the feel of the book.  Length wise, this came out at a page in single line spacing, so would be about a page and a half in double.

Writing an adult novel synopsis (which is where I am now at) necessitates an even longer synopsis.  Generally 2-3 sides double line spaced is good, but you do need to check publishers’ submission details on their websites as they do vary and some will ask for a brief synopsis, while others want a more detailed plot breakdown.   I had only written one adult novel synopsis before and remember getting bogged down with all the things I thought I needed to do.  So this time I tackled it a bit differently.  I splurged for a page.  I then read through my splurge and edited it, in the same way I edit my manuscripts and with the same loving care.  I then read the blog post I mentioned above, and compiled my own brief checklist:

– Introduce all major characters and their relationships
– Cover the main plot points
– Make it clear what the hook is and how the novel begins
– Convey the feel of the manuscript
– Include the climaxes and especially the big climax towards the end
– Convey the areas of conflict
and last but not least, and one of the most important points, I think:
– Make your manuscript come alive

As a list this sounds a little disjointed, which is why I think it’s a good idea to splurge first, because by doing this you will find that you weave a lot of these points together without consciously thinking about them.  Later, you can read through and look to see which elements are missing, or which haven’t been given enough attention, and add them in.

Then proofread.  Edit.  Your manuscript should be the best you can possibly do.  So should your synopsis!  And now, I really must finish mine.

Do you have any tips for writing a synopsis?

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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21 Responses to 12th October

  1. Jo Carroll says:

    Synopses need heavy-duty coffee and a promise of reward when they’re done (wine for me). And I turn to Nicola Morgan’s Write a Great Synopsis – she makes the whole thing much less scary!

  2. I am beginning the same dreaded process, myself. Funny how it’s so hard for us to write so FEW words, after writing so MANY. But then, writing short is always harder than writing long (as we say in journalism). Great points. Thanks, Abi. I like the idea of just getting it all out on paper first, then editing/paring down.

  3. All I have to say about synopses is . . . grrrrrrr.

  4. Emma Pass says:

    This is such a great post! I’m currently struggling with an outline/synopsis-y thing for my next WIP (and agreeing heartily with Dan!)… very helpful to have the examples here. Hopefully I can get the darn thing written!

  5. Aw! I feel your pain, Em! Going back to mine tomoz to *hopefully* finish the darned thing! We can be Grrrrrrr-ing together! ;o)

  6. Hee hee! That would go very nicely with my whisky 😉

  7. *grabs crumbs and shoves in open mouth* *pours whisky through screen* *stands back while screen combusts*

  8. Emma Pass says:

    *Tries to build Abi a new laptop out of cake*

  9. *tries not to eat new laptop which looks just a tad delicious*

  10. Emma Pass says:

    Oh, go on. You know you want to.

  11. *nom nom nom nom* I may be gone some t….

  12. Martin Shone says:

    The synopsis is the bare-boned skeletal spine, the book is the creation that lives and breathes 🙂

  13. That’s a very good way of looking at it, Martin 🙂

  14. Great guidelines and suggestions from you and Nathan, too. I’m going to be going through this process again very soon, too, and I will be back here referring to this again — thank you!

    • You’re welcome, Julia, and thank you! I don’t envy you. At least I have mine finished now and those ideas from Nathan’s post really helped. Hopefully, the next one will be a little easier – not holding my breath though. Good luck with yours!

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