Writing Your Mini-Synopsis (Blurb)
Like you want your back book cover to read (Remember, always in third person –present tense!).
- Set the Mood (locale, take an excerpt and describe it, dive into action, etc. – no long wind-up).
- Identify the key conflicts in concrete terms. (Like the Tagline, show us what your character stands to lose through his/her eyes, and you’ll have great emotional impact).
- Show advancing, specific action (but not too much). Once the main conflict has been identified, tell us one or two major things that stand in the character’s way of success.
- Lead the reader up to the climactic moment (the darkest moment for the MC when everything is nearly lost). Don’t give away the ending. Instead, bring the climactic elements into clear focus, then keep us guessing.
Example Mini-Synopsis from “The Pope Goes Speed Dating”:
The novel is a humorous, yet poignant, portrayal of how Summer Pennington and her close-knit group of friends are all deeply affected by the arrival of a uniquely talented, witty and principled young English butler, and of how his life is transformed by the close relationship that is forged with his new charge. Whilst the storyline’s primary theme is about the vagaries of love, it unfolds amidst a background of jealousy, betrayal, prejudice, violence, corporate abuse and a dark secret that roils within this mysterious interloper.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to own a slave? How would your closest relationship be affected if you were suddenly granted the power to make all the decisions?
This project incorporates my experiences of living in Australia for the past twenty-two years, and features the natural splendor of its landscapes, its unique flora and fauna, the quaint charms and customs of its people and their distinctive language and humor. I believe this book would also lend itself well to a screen adaptation, and would possibly appeal to those who enjoy such offbeat comedies as ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, ‘Love Actually’ and ‘As Good as It Gets’.
Writing a Killer Mini-Synopsis:
1) A good blurb will only introduce one Main Character in an intimate way. Your book may have more than one, but there’s rarely enough room to introduce them. Pick the character who is most sympathetic and focus there. Let any other ones be introduced via the experience (and perspective) of your one MC—always keeping the focus on that MC. That way, the reader can develop a bond with (and root for) your character.
2) Focus on specific conflict. Rather than talk about how your main character wishes to “get right with her family,” go into detail about specific obstacles and her efforts to achieve her goal.
3) Skip the thematic descriptions. Some blurbs are so burdened with theme descriptions that there seems to be no story. Toss out vague sentences like “This book is about peace and love.” Or “This story will warm your heart as the main character learns to stand on her own and make the best of things. She sees how important family is and tries hard to reconnect with those from her past.” Both of these are too fluffy to have any bite. If your theme is strong, you shouldn’t have to point it out. It will already be there, inherent in the story itself.
4) Appeal to the human element. Be sure that your story appeals to universal human emotions and desires—elements that everyone can relate to. Show what specifically your characters want, then go for the kill. Ask the reader (in not so many words), “Don’t you want to find out if she will make it in showbiz/save her family from danger/repair her relationship with her aunt?
Length. A blurb should be no more than one or two paragraphs. You want to focus on the story highlights, not the details.
Flashiness. A blurb is not the best place to show off your billion-dollar vocabulary or your ability to construct sentences the length of football fields. Keep it simple for ease of reading. Agents will be skimming your letter to start with, so make it easy for them. If your story looks promising, they’ll give your letter a more thorough read.
Subplots. A blurb should focus on the main plot of your book. Although you (rightly) love your subplots, your blurb must be short. Use the two paragraphs you have to drive the main focus of your story home, and leave out the extra.
Endings. A blurb should NOT necessarily tell the ending of your story. Think of your book blurb as a sales pitch: the idea is to make literary agents so eager to know what happens to the characters that they simply must request the complete manuscript to find out what happens.
Precision. Because a blurb can’t go into detail, you’ve got to find precise, gripping language to convey your plot. Choose strong words over weak ones. Pick exact verbs instead of spineless ones like “seem” or “being.” Also, go for language and phrasing that reflect the tone and style of your book.
5 Common Mini-Synopsis Mistakes:
1. Not giving away the ending.There may be no greater mark of the amateur novelist than a writer who turns in a synopsis to a literary agent or editor with a “cliffhanger ending.” The POINT of a synopsis is that the agent/editor can know with accuracy what he/she is buying or agreeing to represent. If your ending is truly great, then hiding it won’t make it better. Your synopsis should always provide the full scope of your story, beginning to end.
2. Lazy writing. You know all those rules about writing fiction? About using the five senses for evocative prose, about showing instead of telling, about establishing character, etc.? All those rules apply to synopsis writing. Many writers “quit” by the time they write a synopsis, thinking that their novel’s manuscript pages will be good enough to entice a literary agent or editor. But a new writer should strive to be the complete package—and that means writing a synopsis that engages, compels, and brings the story to life.
3. Not offering clear transitions. Yes, we know that A is followed by B. But…why? Let’s say a dying woman leaves her estate to the wrong son. The other son, who believes he should have inherited everything, leaves the country. What’s missing here? You got it: The cause part of “cause and effect.” Unless you’re writing a mystery (in which case it helps to deliberately draw attention to unsolved questions), always explain.
4. Not showing a clear plot arc. Sometimes, writers will mention what seems like an important plot point (hero resents father who misses game; child can’t find her dog), but then, the issue never appears to resolve. If you pick up the thread of one plot element or subplot, your synopsis should show that your novel offers a conclusion. Also, be sure that the pacing of your main conflict has lots of forward momentum and shape, particularly if you’re working in a traditional genre.
5. Choosing the wrong verb tense. A synopsis should be written in present tense. There are almost no exceptions to this rule for novels. Some writers choose past tense. Or worse: They vacillate between verb tenses. Start on the right foot with present-tense verbs.
Other Common Synopsis Mistakes For Novel Writers:
Switching POV, Bad, overcomplicated formatting, Focusing on too many subplots, Introducing too many minor characters and their names, Going on too long (limit your synopsis to three pages MAX, if you’re querying for the first time).