Writing on Wednesday: A Novel Synopsis for Cherry Bomb!

It’s time. After two and a half years of drafting and revising my novel, Cherry Bomb is ready to leave the nest and find a new home. Somewhere she will be loved and sent out into the world of brick and mortar bookstores, to be snatched from shelves and tables by eager readers. And yes, I’ll be happy for folks to read her on their Kindles or iPads. But first, she needs a literary agent. A gatekeeper who can help her crash the glass ceiling of a big publishing house. Or maybe a wonderful small press.

I’ve made my short list—agents I’ve met personally or have a connection with through one of their clients. And the ones who represent books whose readers will also love Cherry Bomb. And of course the newbies promoted by Writer’s Digest and other trade publications—the ones without a slush pile yet, eager for new work. I’ve done my homework.

Just two more tasks before I start querying: a novel synopsis and a query letter. Well, more than one query letter. Each one will be personalized to the agent I’m writing. I enjoy that part. (Three years ago I got several requests for manuscripts from agents when I queried them about my memoir, which I later decided not to publish. A story for another day.) The hard part? The synopsis. So, I did some research.

I started with industry professional, Jane Friedman. In “Back to Basics: Writing a Novel Synopsis” she begins by defining the synopsis:

“The synopsis conveys the narrative arc of your novel; it shows what happens and who changes, from beginning to end.”

This is different from what you read on the inside flap of a novel. It’s more than a teaser. You actually have to include spoilers. They want to know what happens all the way through to the end. Piece of cake. You simply summarize your full-length manuscript in (preferably) one page. Two at the most. With a brilliant economy of words that will knock their socks off and make them want to read your book. Oh, and of course they want to care about your characters, so be sure and include their emotional growth, their conflicts and how they change from the beginning of the book to the end.

C. B. Wentworth has a nice post, “Decoding the Novel Synopsis,” in which he includes this fun illustration that he uses with his students—the synopsis hamburger.

I had actually written a synopsis before I wrote the novel. (And an outline.) For those us who work this way, the final synopsis is a bit easier, because we’ve already found the holes in the plot and some of the other mistakes that a synopsis throws up in your face. But I decided to write one from scratch and compare it with the one I wrote two years ago. Friedman recommended this model, “How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis” by Susan Denard. Following this pattern, on my first draft, I ended up with 804 words. By the end of the day I had it down to 610. She recommends 500.

Nathan Bransford (former literary agent-turned-author) says:

“I’d shoot for two to three pages, double-spaced. If it’s longer or shorter than that I don’t think anyone is going to be angry, but that should be enough to do what you need to do.”

My book has three protags (protagonists) instead of the usual one. This makes the narrative arc a bit more complex. Denard recommends only naming 3 of the characters in your book in the synopsis—protagonist, antagonist, and possibly one other supporting character. She suggests that you refer to minor characters generically, i.e. “the mailman” or “the librarian.” But when you’ve got 3 protags, that leaves no room to name the supporting cast, so I ended up naming 5 characters: Mare, Elaine, Neema, Lou and Sister Susannah. Want to know more about them? I sure hope an agent does!

Writing on Wednesday. Lots more fun than Mental Health Monday, right? 

2 thoughts on “Writing on Wednesday: A Novel Synopsis for Cherry Bomb!”

  1. Best of luck, Susan. You’ve certainly done your homework. I found writing a synopsis to be a valuable tool and fell into a few plot holes along the way.

    Cheers from Ireland. 🙂

    1. I think the fact that I wrote a synopsis BEFORE I wrote the novel helped with the plot holes. Although the one I wrote after is certainly different. One of the five agents I queried yesterday just asked for a full manuscript. *fingers crossed* Have fun in Ireland!

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