My mystery publisher requires a one-page double-spaced synopsis along with a manuscript submission. That’s probably harder for me to write than the book. My normal synopsis runs about fifteen pages on average. I write this guideline before starting the story, and later I attach it to my art department’s request for a full synopsis. In the meantime, how does one condense this bulk of material into a single page? Here’s my method for a traditional mystery.
First I’ll give the book title, my name, and the series title a few lines down from the top and centered. Then I’ll offer a tag line that sums up the plot. We’ll use Shear Murder as an example.
A wedding turns deadly when hairstylist Marla Shore discovers a dead body under the cake table.
This initial paragraph presents the setup for the story.
Hairstylist Marla Shore is playing bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the bride’s sister stabbed to death under the cake table. Torrie had plenty of people who might have wanted her dead, including her own sister who threatened her just before the ceremony.
The Personal Motive
Why does your sleuth get involved?
At Jill’s request, Marla agrees to help solve the case. With her own wedding four weeks away, her salon expanding into day spa services, and her relatives bickering over nuptial details, she has enough to do. When Jill is arrested for Torrie’s murder, though, Marla has no choice but to unmask the killer.
Here’s where I give a brief profile and possible motive for each of the main suspects.
Jill and Torrie owned a piece of commercial property. Their cousin Kevin, a Realtor, was trying to find them a new tenant. Meanwhile, Jill’s uncle Eddy, a shady attorney, has been urging them to sell. Now Torrie’s husband Scott has inherited his wife’s share. Scott has another motive besides greed. Torrie had announced her plan to leave him for another man, Griff Beasley. Griff was a photographer at Jill’s wedding and Torrie’s colleague. Griff implicates Hally, another coworker. Hally and Torrie were competing for a promotion. [Somebody else ends up dead here, but that’s a spoiler.]
The Big Reveal
The final paragraph, which I won’t share with you in the hopes you’ll read the book, is where the clues lead to the killer, and the protagonist has her insight about what she’s learned. This last is important for emotional resonance, not only with your readers but also with your editor.
Further Tips: Leave out character names except for your main players, and don’t include subplots. If you’re writing romance, the mid-section would include major plot twists along with the resultant emotional turning points. So now share your tips. What else would you include or not include in your one page synopsis?
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Very helpful, very helpful indeed. I’m feeling downright sinister as well, now, after reading your synopsis. Must go and try this. Thanks!
Love the new look of TKZ as well, though when I type in my authentication, the number disappears. Strange.
Good luck with your synopsis, Amanda.
As always, I learn so much from you. Someday our paths will cross in real life! Thanks for this post!
Thank you for stopping by, Sharon.
Thanks you so much for this post (and all your other practical posts). I need this information, today–since I’m struggling with my first synopsis.
Good luck with your first synopsis. Be assured every other writer struggles with this, too.
Thanks for sharing that, Nancy. I’m with you…the synopsis is harder to write than the book. But a useful exercise. Sort of forces you to focus.
Yes, it does force you to focus and hone down your story. Blurb and back cover copy writing are equally hard to get right.
Great info, as usual. Love the new look.
Glad you followed us over here, Jean.
As usual, you offer helpful information. I find boiling down an entire novel into a one page synopsis challenging as well.
It’s not an easy task, is it? I appreciate your stopping by, Jacqueline.
Thank you thank you thank you. I also loathe writing the synopsis. This will be a big help. Not with the loathing, but with the actual DOING.
Sheila, I do hope this helps you write your next synopsis.
A 1-page double-spaced2 synopsis? Good grief, I thought I was doing well with a 1-page single-spaced synopsis! Thanks for the post, Nancy–very useful info.
Allan, you can check your publisher guidelines for specifics. My publisher likes everything double-spaced so that’s how I do it.
Nancy, thanks for the post. Great guidelines and organization. Very helpful.
And you have me interested in reading SHEAR MURDER.
I would hope so, Steve. I’m glad you liked the post.
Nice summary, Nancy. Boiling down a book into a one page summary is not easy. Other than telling whodunnit, the synopsis should read like an intriguing book jacket. It’s important to write the synopsis in “the voice” of the novel too. Thanks for the breakdown.
Good advice about writing the synopsis in your writer’s voice. That’s not always easy. And writing it as an intriguing book jacket is valid, too, except that you have to tell whodunit to your editor.
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Excellent tips, Nancy! I’ll be sending my clients here for your succinct advice.
Thanks, Jodie. As an editor, do you have any further tips to add?
Finally, a post that makes the dreaded synopsis sound like I might master it this time. I’ve written many– and never liked a one! Hopefully, your sound advice will do the trick. Thanks so much for sharing your process.
Sue, I hope these tips work for you. Thanks for stopping by.
I can manage a blurb, but I’ve never even attempted a one-page synopsis. I intend to give your excellent advice a try. Thanks!
Blurbs can be even harder to write than a synopsis!
Excellent tips. Thanks!
You’re very welcome, Carole!
This was so helpful and HARD! I spent the better part of the morning working on it. Your structure and prompts really helped me focus my WIP synopsis. It was good practice. Thank you for this valuable information from a pro.
Yes, writing a synopsis is hard work, not unlike a query letter or a book blurb. It’s easier to write the story, isn’t it? Or not. 🙂