Synopses are hard. Sometimes they feel like a punishment sent by the writing gods to torment miserable authors.
I’m not talking about the “back of the book” blurb or the summary you put in a query, but instead that other beast. The dreaded “1 to 2 page synopsis” required by some agents when querying.
For those who are new to querying, the synopsis is your entire book in a page or two. From beginning to end, spoilers included.
Which is why they’re so difficult. Condensing 100,000 words into one page can seem daunting, but it’s a necessary evil.
The purpose of a synopsis is not to describe every little thing that happens in your story. It’s a bare-bones description that allows an agent to analyze the structure of the main plot.
That’s really it.
Keeping this in mind, here are the few things I did that helped me narrow things down:
Cut out all subplots and side characters.
Yes, ALL of them, with the possible exception of a romantic subplot if it’s significant. My synopsis mentions only three characters by name. The protagonist, the love interest/partner in crime, and the primary antagonist. That’s it. The main character’s BFF? Nowhere to be seen. The ragtag group of spies and thieves that help them on their quest? Not a peep about them.
Occasionally, you will have to mention another character, but keep it to a profession or relation. “Cirelle enlists guards to protect her.” The guards don’t need names, even if they are prominent secondary characters in the novel.
I focused entirely on the main goal of my novel: Infiltrate the Unseelie Court & steal the magical macguffin.
Omit any unnecessary world-building.
Limit place names as much as possible. The synopsis doesn’t need to list the complex political quagmire of all five warring kingdoms in detail. The agent just needs to know (maybe) the name of your main character’s kingdom and the fact that five kingdoms are at war. That’s it. No names, no details.
The more proper nouns you cram into two pages, the faster your reader will get overwhelmed, confused, and their eyes will start to glaze over.
Write one brief line per chapter.
Keeping the first two points in mind, I went through the story chapter by chapter and summarized each one related to the main plot with a single sentence. Only the ones that related to the primary plot. I skipped any with a focus on a side-plot.
Trim, trim, trim.
At this point, I had a synopsis that was about two or three pages. I went through and ruthlessly trimmed every single word that was unnecessary. Every “that”, “which”, “then”, and filter word was culled. I tightened passive phrasing to snappier active phrasing. I removed any repetitive sentences.
Then I gave it another pass. Which sentences weren’t related to the main plot? Was every single event necessary to explain?
Lather, rinse, repeat, until I’d cut everything down to the base plot arc and nothing else.
It is possible to condense even a sprawling fantasy epic down to a minimum of two pages, and probably even one page. Just remember: only the primary plot, and only the characters absolutely necessary.
You can do this!