Writing the Dreaded Synopsis

The other day I decided to tackle the dreaded synopsis for EFFIN’ ALBERT. One word pretty much sizes it up:

Attribution: Dysprosia

Attribution: Dysprosia


If you’ve ever tried to write a synopsis for a novel, you probably know what I’m talking about. Synopses are Hell On Earth; Evil personified. No matter. For a lot of literary agents, a synopisis is required along with the query. No synopsis, no chance they’ll ask for pages. They want to know what your story is about. They want to be assured your plot is solid, no holes. They want to know that you, the writer, can spin a good yarn, start to finish. According to the wise Ms. Snark, you have 1000 words  to do it; do it perfectly. Some agents want you do it in substantially fewer words than that. Three short paragraphs, maybe.

Ffs, are they insane?

But it has to be done, so kkellie gave it a whirl. Penned her synopsis (top-heavy at 1400 words) and posted it over at Absolute Write. Hit ‘send’, and waited for the ax to fall.

It didn’t take long. The fabulous squirrels over at Query Letter Hell gave it a go, ran it through the wringer, tore it a proverbial new one. In a nice way, of course. QLH squirrels don’t try to be mean, but they don’t mince woids. What’d they say? Oh yeah:

There’s a problem with tenses here. You can’t have Michael be eleven years in one clause, and eight years in the other and use present tense for both.


How does she know the jewelry belongs to his victims? Did he tell her? Why would he? Or does she just mention the jewelry and Mike himself makes the connection?

You need to be clearer here.

Yeah, I know.

I’m also wondering how much time has passed since the first paragraph when the boys were eleven, or eight, or three, or… something. Don’t make me do math.


see, you don’t need to tell us this, you’ve already shown it


I think you’re trying to make the mother a sympathetic, but misguided character, but there doesn’t seem to be enough space for her so she’s coming off as inconsistent, and some of the things she “believes” don’t make sense. Despite being the titular character, Albert doesn’t have much of a character arc either. Mike, who I think is your real MC, gets to do more, but, to me, ultimately he doesn’t have a strong character arc either.

Uh oh.

So I tried again, trying to address all the concerns. And got this:

Still not working–but for different reasons now.

I think I overcompensated with Version 2. The Squirrels From Hell agreed:

I’m guessing there’s more to this than “he said something and asshole crashed the car, therefore cause and effect..” because I’m just not buying it and it’s looking like a huge plot hole here. 


Use more telling. You don’t have to show everything. And if you do show it, you don’t have to tell us what it means too. Trust your readers to make the connections.

So, what are you telling me, Wise Squirrels??

the overall story arc isn’t there.

Uh oh.

It’s . . . a scrap and redo, I’m afraid.


I thought about my synopsis long and hard, then sat down this morning and wrote Version #3, which I’ve posted on QLH. It’s still long, 1300 words. I cut some stuff and reworked other stuff–I’m so damn eloquent right now :p –and I took a chance and wrote the thing in Mike’s voice, lines like:

Mike tells Mom but she don’t believe it. Jerkface is a cop, no way he’d hurt kids plus they don’t got proof, plus they need him so Mike better shut up. But Mike has to stop that guy. He gets an idea to get on the cop’s good side so he’ll trust him and maybe make a mistake.

Oh. My. God.

I don’t know what the squirrels are gonna tell me now. Screw it? Give up ’cause I SUCK at this synopsis stuff? They won’t, they’ll help me, I know it and anyway, it doesn’t matter because I need the synopsis for EFFIN’ ALBERT so I’ll write one, dammit.

I know I can. Last year I hammered out a synopsis for CHERRY. Took 92 posts to finally get it right, squirrels helping the whole way and me working it, not giving up. Comments started trickling in, stuff like:

You know, I don’t usually like gritty contemporary fiction, but I’m starting to want to read this.

That kept me going, gave me hope. I knew I was close when one squirrel wrote:

I had no trouble following the plot, the story completely intrigued me from beginning to end, and I just want to read the whole thing!

Another wrote:

Looks good, kkbe!

And then. . .

Fuck, I want to read this so bad. Get it published, ffs.

I sent the synopsis out and two days later, I had a full request. Still waiting on that agent but I’m hopeful, just like I’m hopeful now.

Writing synopses is tough for me. Based on comments I’ve read over at Absolute Write, I know I’m not the only one. But if I want Awesome Agent to read my stuff, and said agent requires a synopsis, I have to deliver the goods.

And so, I’ll keep working on my synopsis for EFFIN’ ALBERT and I’ll keep working it until I get it right.

Or die trying, ffs.



7 thoughts on “Writing the Dreaded Synopsis

  1. I read it, Jen. Simple declarative sentences, huh?

    ALBERT SPARKS is three the first time his brother MIKE sees him have an episode. He tells Mike a guy is blowing up a building with kids inside. Two days later, it happens. Mike starts thinking his little brother is weirder than he looks.

    That was easy. Kinda. Hmmm.

    Now you’ve got me thinking again, Jen. Dang it. 🙂

    xoxo kk


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