Oct 01 2009

More Tips on Writing Two-Sentence Synopses

Published by at 10:28 am under Getting Published,Synopsis,Writing Articles

Synopses that are just a sentence or two long are intensely useful because 1) they’re often required as part of the query process and 2) they convey a lot of information in very little time.  The editor or agent reading your manuscript has a thousand other manuscripts in his pile and you have maybe a minute or two to impress him before he tosses you.  The synopsis is your best opportunity to do so.

Here are a few tips about how to write an extremely short synopsis.

1. It’s usually more effective to refer to characters by their profession and/or key traits rather than by name. Calling him a “neurotic detective” tells us more about the character than calling him Adrian Monk. Unless the name adds something critical, I’d recommend leaving it out. (For example, if you’re writing about a real person, you obviously need to name him).

2. Don’t dilute your synopsis. If there are too many character traits or too many characters or too many conflicts, it will probably feel cluttered and distracted. As a rule of thumb, I’d recommend no more than 2 traits for a character, 3 characters and 2 conflicts. If you feel a strong need to bring in more characters (because you’re doing a book about a team of superheroes, for example), you can talk about the team collectively in the first sentence and spend the second sentence developing a few key members.

3. Boiling your book down to 1-2 sentences can be emotionally difficult. Sometimes it feels like you’re somehow admitting that the cut material isn’t good enough or whatever. Don’t look at this like you’re losing something (the details that aren’t important enough to make the two sentences). You’re gaining something: clarity and focus.  Ultimately, making the cuts will help your pitch.

4. If you’re having trouble cutting down material, try coming up with a synopsis for a stranger’s work. It’s usually easier to figure out the big picture when you’re not emotionally attached to every detail. After you’ve done that, bring the same mindset to work on your story. If a stranger had to describe your book in a sentence, what would he say?

5.  The most important elements of the synopsis are the protagonist, conflict/antagonist, and premise. Many first-time authors get tangled up by side-plots and side-characters that aren’t essential to understanding what’s going on.

6.  If we understand the conflict, we will probably understand the story. For example, if I told you I was writing a version of Aladdin where the main antagonist was Jasmine’s father instead of Jafar, you instantly know that the book is about Aladdin overcoming social obstacles to true love rather than a black-and-white villain. You’d also be able to surmise that the climax of my book is either the sultan allowing the two to be married or a tragic ending.

If you liked this article, I would recommend Sharpening Your Story with a Two-Sentence Synopsis and How to Write a Novel Synopsis.

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “More Tips on Writing Two-Sentence Synopses”

  1. Marissaon 01 Oct 2009 at 10:34 pm

    That’s three, in number five. Not two. 😉

  2. B. Macon 03 Oct 2009 at 8:35 am

    Thanks– good call.

  3. Ragged Boyon 05 Oct 2009 at 4:25 am

    Good morning, everybody!

    I like this. I still struggle to write my own synopses because I constantly forget what amount of information to include. Thanks!

  4. Sean Higginson 01 Dec 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I thought maybe boiling my plot down to two sentences might help me finish the novel. Care to rate what I came up with – “A wild and carefree space pirate offers to help a nervous pilot escape the fury of a greedy CEO. During their travels, the unlikely duo uncover a villainous plot shrouded in war and capitalism.”

  5. B. Macon 01 Dec 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Nicely done, Sean! Here are some more detailed points…

    It’s a very functional summary of the plot, but I think it’d stand out more if it had more style. This is a comedy, right? Could you work some wacky detail into the description?

    “a villainous plot shrouded in war and capitalism” is better than something really generic like just “a villainous plot,” but it may help to say more about what’s at stake.

    Is it necessary to describe the space pirate as wild? (That strikes me as sort of implied by him being a pirate).

    Is it necessary to describe the CEO as greedy? (I can’t remember the last time I encountered a businessman villain that wasn’t greedy).

    Lastly, I think there are some places you could maybe shave a few words.
    “offers to help” could probably be “helps.” I think it’s more active and a bit shorter.

    “the unlikely duo” could probably be shortened to “they.” Based on their description, I think we can infer they’re an unlikely duo.

    “escape the fury of a greedy CEO” could be “escape a furious CEO,” but I suspect that replacing furious with something more unexpected would help.

  6. Kenny K. Royalon 10 Jul 2013 at 11:40 am

    Just made a synopsis for my comic after reading the articles about it here. Could you please rate it?

    “An assassin sales his soul to Satan in the face of death and Satan in turn grants him mystical abilities, making him his personal slayer, but soon after is betrayed by the vain assailant. The wrathful king of deceit seeks his revenge, sending his hellspawn to capture the nightmare he created.”

  7. Anonymouson 10 Jul 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Mmm. Seems to bare a large resemblance to Ghost Rider. Could we hear more about this character that would differentiate him?

  8. only under the rafterson 12 Jul 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Lets see…
    “A clever farm boy from a theocratic fantasy world is drawn into the middle of political turmoil when his sister runs away to join the communist revolution. ”

    I could add a second sentace but i think it would distract from the overall plot if i started talking about other characters and love triangles and stuff.

  9. Tomason 15 Apr 2016 at 6:02 am

    Oh man, I’m gonna suffer a lot when I get to do this. I hate summaries. Since always. Thank the Goddess I have this awesome articles to help me. They are great advice.

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