Book synopses are just as terrifying as queries. With a query letter, it’s possible to mask plot holes that still exist in your manuscript, but with synopses, you cannot get away with plot holes in your novel unless you lie. So in order to do an effective synopsis, you have to make certain there are no plot holes in your manuscript, because, more than likely, they are going to show up in your synopsis.
So what is the difference between a summary and a synopsis? A summary simply summarizes the gist of the book without spoilers. You don’t need to tell readers everything in a summary–only enough to get their attention without ruining the entire book. A synopsis, on the other hand, is for the eyes of professionals alone. You have to reveal everything, including spoilers, so that way your agent or editor knows whether or not that partial you sent is worth a read. If holes show up in your synopsis, they’ll likely exist in that partial you sent, and no agent or editor will want to read the partial knowing there are plot holes that could cost your manuscript it’s practical life. Sometimes plot holes are so bad they cause entire re-writes.
I was terrified of writing the synopsis for When Stars Die. I had never really done one. All my previous attempts at query letters failed, but that was because my books were currently failures themselves. So I came to the synopsis with trepidation. I did countless research on how to do the best one. I went to YALITCHAT to read examples of synopses that were doing it both right and wrong and internally critiqued what they could do better. Then I set out writing my own.
Depending on the length of the synopsis (mine was advised to be no more than 500 words), you only need the bare bones of the plot. No sub-plots or minor characters or anything else that deviates from the main plot. This means you really have to know your book well and that the story needs to be polished in order to have a successful synopsis. The only two characters I included in my synopsis were Amelia and Oliver, two major characters that influenced the book far more than anyone else. I mentioned her brother, but didn’t refer to him by his name. I also mentioned her best friend, but no referral to her name either.
Because Amelia and Oliver were so major, I was able to parce the book down to just their major actions and what parts they played to push the main plot along. Only thinking about Amelia and Oliver made it that much easier to tear down my book to the main plot only. Of course, because it was only 500 words, I had to strip down the plot even more. I had to dish out things as they were. I didn’t need to do long-winded explanations to explain things because, hey, it’s only 500 words and whoever is reading it will receive those answers in the book. This person only needs to know the major points of the plot that push the book to its climax and resolution.
For longer synopses, you can get more detailed. Amelia accidentally harms her best friend with fire. I mention this in the synopsis. I then mention that her best friend shows up later with a warning, but I didn’t bother with explaining what happened to her best friend or how she was able to show up. In a longer synopsis, I might have been able to detail that, but there was no room, so I had to move on.
Synopses are not easy. I still had to have my synopsis parced down, but it was only sentence-wise, not content wise. You need to make certain your sentences are as concise as possible because that will obviously help with the length of your synopsis.