The Agony and Ecstacy of Synopsis Writing

Remember my new idea? The one that came to me so perfectly formed that I knew the book would write itself? Well, it may be true that the book will write itself, but the synopsis is another matter altogether.

A good synopsis is incredibly important. Even if you’ve already written your book, you will still need to write a synopsis.  It’s the first thing an editor will see to help her decide if she wants to read that story you’ve worked so hard on. In the case of a multi-published author like myself, a great synopsis can get me the go-ahead to write a particular novel and/or land me a new contract. Either way, writing a synopsis is difficult and not too many novelists relish the task.

A synopsis runs anywhere between five and twenty pages and essentially tells the story you plan to write. It should include a pithy one or two sentence “tagline” that will draw the editor in and inspire her to keep reading. That’s followed by  a description of the central characters and their motivations, goals, and conflicts, as well as the action of the story: what happens in the beginning, the middle and the end? Finally, what’s the theme or ‘take-away message’ of the book?

I’ve written the entire first draft of the synopsis for this new, still untitled, book. It’s twenty pages long. That’s twenty dry-as-dust pages. Yes, I’ve told the story, but that’s not enough. Now I need to find a way to infuse that story with emotion, suspense and excitement—without adding pages.  My goal is for my agent and editor to absolutely need to read the (as yet unwritten) book after seeing the synopsis.

This afternoon, I finally came up with my tagline. Taglines are a huge challenge.  Try boiling down your favorite book or movie to a single sentence that gets across the main gist of the story.  Not easy! But I think I have it (can’t share it yet!) and the exercise of coming up with that line really helped me sharpen the focus of the story. It only took me a few hours and one nap!

Tomorrow, I’ll reread the synopsis, thinking of ways to make it juicier. I’m in love with my two main characters—two young women with an amazing story to tell. I know they’ll tell it beautifully in the book. Now it’s up to me to write the synopsis that will give them that chance.



  1. Fiona Slee on July 6, 2011 at 1:05 am

    Hi Diane

    I love the picture. Having read a good number of your books I know this one will be brilliant. I can imagine writing a synopsis must be like trying to write a book review (something which I have never excelled) so I am sending good vibes your way.



  2. Margo on July 6, 2011 at 8:06 am

    John must have given you a thumbs up, Diane! You have me so excited about this book and as I kept reading about synopsis, I thought ‘oh good, now she’s going to tell us what this new book is about’…then I read ‘can’t share it yet’…oh well…I will be waiting patiently till you know its a definite. My fingers & toes are crossed on this one! (-O:

  3. Sheree Gillcrist on July 6, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Diane still after all the wonderful books you’ve written, you ponder your choices and live with expectation and hope. How to express your new book in a condensed version without losing any of the plot and emotions is a tall order indeed but there is no better woman for the job.:}

  4. Sher Laughlin on July 6, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    How fun to get a little glimpse into your process, Diane. It makes me appreciate your wonderful end products just that much more. Wow! The work that goes into them.

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