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What's An Aspiring Author To Do?

This column is based on questions Margaret gets asked by those who also want to write romance novels. The answers are based on her personal experience. Every author must and should find their own way along this path; however, sometimes it helps to know how it was for an author who's reached the goal of publication.

This column's question:
What's a synopsis and how do I write one?

Margaret answers:

A synopsis is a straightforward telling of your story in the present tense. There should be little or no dialogue.

Length: two pages to ?, depending on the type of story and specifications of the publisher.

Its Purpose: The primary goal of a synopsis is to tell your story. Only after you have a publishing record with a company will you sell on a synopsis alone, so in the beginning, your chapters are much more important.

A synopsis should include:

1. Who the main characters are and why we should care about them.
2. The conflicts, both internal and external, and how they change as the story unfolds.
3. The main events in the story, especially the situations that cause a change in the relationship between the hero and heroine. The resolution, so that the editor knows you know how the story is going to end.


1. Prove you can tell a story coherently.
2. Prove that you have a grasp of dramatic structure.
3. Show that your characters are interesting and have believable motivation.
4. Show the developing relationship.
5. Demonstrate that there's enough material for a full-length book.
6. Indicate the tone of the book. If the book is a romp, the synopsis should sound like a romp. If it's a gritty, dramatic tale, that should come across in the synopsis.
7. Reveal your voice.

Of these, the single most important is to reveal your voice. This may be the one thing that makes your work stand out above the rest, makes it seem fresh and new, and makes an editor want to see more work from you.


The general format of the synopsis should be the same as for a manuscript:

* double spaced
* header with title of book, your last name and page number. manuscript margins as per publisher specifications.
* 12 point font size
* courier font (Remember, you want to present yourself in a business-like manner, so don't get too cute with the fonts, tempting though it may be.)

There are two basic ways to present information in a synopsis, and both are acceptable to editors.

Some authors provide short character sketches of the main and major secondary characters first, then tell the story. The appeal of this method is that you don't have to explain motivation as the story progresses. It's there in the sketches.
The other method is to start where the book starts and reveal character motivation when and where it would be revealed in the book.


Write the first draft for yourself alone. Don't worry about grammar or length or anything else that editing can take care of later. Just tell the story in your words, in your own way.

Read it through. What plot problems do you see? Anything that doesn't seem believable, logical, credible? What about your characters? Is there some explanation of their motivation for their actions?

Once you've taken care of the vitals of character and plot, edit for length.

Look for repetitions, physical descriptions, unnecessary details (anything not absolutely essential to the story). Change sentences into clauses, clauses into phrases, phrases into adverbs or adjectives -- then cut them out. Try to use descriptive verbs.

But here's where it gets tricky. You don't want to edit out your voice, so if you've used a sentence, clause or phrase that you really like and sounds like the writing in your chapters, leave it alone.


Like everything else, practise makes perfect.

Write a synopsis for the last book you read.
Write synopses for your favorite movies.
Read reviews -- not just for the reviewer's opinion, but for the way they encapsulate some of the plot information.
Start a journal or diary. Write a synopsis of your day. This is also a good way to discover your writer's voice.
Write short character sketches of your friends, looking to "capture" them in the fewest possible words.
The Evolution of a Synopsis

Index of Aspiring Author Columns
This material is Margaret's intellectual property. If you would like to print it out for your personal use, feel free. If you belong to a writing group and would like to reproduce it for your fellow writers, please e-mail Margaret at maggiejmoore @ (no spaces). All other use is prohibited.

Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Wilkins. This material may not be copied without permission.