#TeamVenom is back with synopsis tips! If you missed out and have no idea who Team Venom is, who we are, and what is the meaning of life and queries, peep back to our last post.
This year’s Pitch Wars submission requires a synopsis, along with a query letter. Writing one for the first time can be overwhelming if you’re unsure of what to include, but they are important to both you as the author and the agent looking at it. The in-depth summary shows if a character isn’t growing, or if they’re too passive in the plot, or if the plot meanders. The very structure of synopses can reveal these things, so it’s important for you to examine it and see if it reveals anything missing in your plot.
- If you’re stuck on where to even get started (welcome to Kim one year ago), writing chapter summaries can help a lot. It’s even better if your manuscript is split into acts. You can even think of that as a “very long synopsis”. Since agents all have different preferences for synopsis length (we’ve seen as short as a paragraph and as long as 2 pages), we suggest having one longer version that can be shortened depending on requirements. A good standard length is simply one page.
- Focus on the cause and effect of your story, so “When her sister is chosen for the deadly Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place.” Think of your story as the scenes proceeding with “therefore”s and “but”s between them to show their relation, rather than “and”s (one thing happening after another). Seeing your plot events in this light can reveal to you whether your story’s threads all tie together, rather than just things happening to your character one after another.
- Focus on turning points in your plot to decide how to organize it; what makes your character switch their objective, their opinion, their desires. Stray away from showing too many subplots or extraneous details in the synopsis; only the plot-lines and details that contribute to the main action and emotional storylines should be shown.
- Should exhibit your character’s internal arc and how they change with the plot and how the plot challenges them.
- Use basic descriptions. This isn’t the place to try out new prose. If your character decides to move onto the next plot point because they’re frustrated, simply state the emotion, and keep it focused on the plot. “Frustrated her mother will not let her leave the tower, she forces Flynn Rider to escort her safely to the Festival of Lights.”
- SPOIL THE ENDING. The synopsis is where you reveal all the major things. Most importantly, the way you present the ending should reveal the protagonist’s growth.
- Don’t worry if it sounds dry when you read it. You’re summing up your entire manuscript in one or two pages, so you don’t have the space to include all those gorgeous descriptions and heart-wrenching emotions. But you should still try to convey the tone of your novel and you can fit that by being purposeful with your word choice.
- Ask a few people to read it and see if they can point out anywhere that your protagonist loses agency, or where the plot derails, or if it seems like any major plotlines are left unresolved.
Good synopsis links:
- Marissa Meyer – 6 Step Book Synopsis
- Jane Friedman – How to Write a Novel Synopsis
- Jericho Writers – Synopsis
We wrote a synopsis example for Mulan at standard length.
After a failed and dishonorable attempt with the matchmaker, FA MULAN receives even worse news–her father has been conscripted by the Chinese EMPEROR to fight against the invading Huns. Unwilling to let her elderly father go to war, she steals his old armor and disguises herself as a man to enlist instead, despite the risk that she might die in war or get caught and executed. Upon her departure, Mulan’s ancestors convene and order MUSHU, a small dragon and disgraced former guardian, to awaken the great stone dragon to protect Mulan. When he accidentally destroys it instead, he takes on the role as his own and resolves to protect Mulan himself.
As Mulan struggles in military training, Mushu attempts to teach her how to behave like a man. She gradually becomes a trained warrior under the command of LI SHANG. In an effort to see Mulan succeed and prove himself as a guardian, Mushu fakes an order from Shang’s commander father, ordering Shang to follow the main imperial army into the mountains. When they arrive, they see the camp has been burned down and learn that the troops were killed by the Huns. As they leave the mountains, they are ambushed by the Huns. Mulan, using her ingenuity and new military training knowledge, fires a cannon to cause an avalanche which buries most of the invaders. The enemy’s captain, SHAN YU, slashes her in the chest, and her deception is revealed when the wound is bandaged. She waits to be executed.
But Shang, who is grateful for her friendship and witnessed her brave fight against the invaders, spares her life and expels her from the army instead. Alone, Mulan watches the other recruits head to the imperial city to report the destruction. However, she sees that several Hun warriors, including Shan Yu, have survived and are on their way to the city to capture the emperor. When Mulan arrives with the news, Shang is angry to see her and is unconvinced that she’s telling the truth about Shan Yu’s survival. The Huns capture the emperor and seize the palace. Shang finally believes her, but they now stand alone against the Huns.
Mulan helps disguise a few soldiers as concubines to sneak into the palace. With Shang’s help, they defeat Shan Yu’s men. Shang stops Shan Yu from assassinating the Emperor. Mulan then lures Shan Yu onto the roof and engages him in combat by herself. As the fight turns dire, Mushu fires a large rocket at Shan Yu. It strikes, sending him into a fireworks launching tower, where he dies in the explosion.
The Emperor and the citizens praise Mulan. She accepts the crest of the Emperor and the sword of Shan Yu as gifts, but she declines the Emperor’s offer to be his advisor and asks to return to her family. Her father is thrilled to have her back and safe. Shang, who’s fallen in love with Mulan, comes to the house and is invited to stay for dinner. Mushu is reinstated as a Fa family guardian by the ancestors for his valiant efforts to help Mulan and protect the imperial city.
We hope our tips were helpful. Be sure to peep in for our next post where we will be revealing our mentor wishlist!