The Synopsis



Novel synopsis
Photo by Rafaela Biazi on Unsplash

One of my October goals in preparation for NaNoWriMo is to write a synopsis for Hag’s Hollow. I’ve never written a synopsis. After sweating over it, I decided a first-try synopsis won’t be perfect. I just need to give it a try in order to learn the process.

I love Google. I found out when you write a synopsis you should:

  • Write the synopsis in present tense, third person.
  • Capitalize characters’ names when you first introduce them.
  • Put a “slug line” at the top of each page in the header: Last Name/Book Title/Synopsis.
  • Number your synopsis pages.
  • Use 12-point type, double space, and indent paragraphs.
  • Don’t show, just tell because it’s not a dynamic scene but a perfunctory synopsis.
  • Remember that a synopsis is not a blurb. Blurbs raise questions. (Will Thelma become a zombie herself?) Blurbs have cliff hangers. (Theodore decides to investigate the vampire lair and is shocked by what he finds.) Synopses tell it like it is, including spoilers like whodunit in a mystery novel.
  • As to length, that depends on each agent’s requirements, so it’s best to have short, medium, and long synopses ready to go, like 600, 2000, and 6000 word synopses.
  • And just to confuse all the newbies like myself, a standard query letter also includes a mini-synopsis in which you tweak it to read more like a blurb, and it can be single spaced.

The NaNoWriMo website has a handy-dandy window for typing in a synopsis. I entered the query-style, mini-synopsis. (I have a longer version tucked away on my computer.) This is what I entered:

CATHERINE DONOVAN is a forty-year-old woman with selective mutism and hyper-reactive senses. Because of her peculiar grunts, frantic scratching, and sensitive startle reflex, Catherine’s peers treat her like a freak. She lives with her family in Roanoke, Virginia. Catherine’s adopted daughter, nineteen-year-old HANAKO, is the only person with whom Catherine can be verbal.

Catherine’s husband, BO DONOVAN, inherits a piece of ancestral property in rural Giles County. Bo uproots the family and moves them to the property known locally as Hag’s Hollow. Hanako gives her mom a gold necklace with a cross to celebrate the move, saying a new start with quiet surroundings will be good for Catherine. But a witch’s ghost haunts the hollow, and she’s anything but quiet.

As for the witch, she is a 19th Century woman named HESTER DONOVAN. In her timeline, a rogue judge is determined to eradicate unholy practices from the county, and Hester’s rituals threaten the safety of the whole clan. Hester’s family banishes her to the hollow where she will surely starve to death.

In the current timeline, Catherine’s health fails to improve at the family’s new location. In fact, when Catherine is alone, her behavior becomes even more bizarre. She turns animalistic and prowls the night woods naked. Catherine is convinced that Hester has cast a spell on her. It must be a spell, Catherine reasons, because she is disgusted by her secret behavior but can’t stop.

Even worse, Hester kills a boy and frames Catherine. With the sheriff’s deputies out for justice, Catherine tearfully says goodbye to Hanako and flees to safety deep in Hag’s Hollow.

Back in the 19th Century, Hester is alone and on the verge of starvation. She sinks into madness. Hester’s rituals become single focused: revenge.

Hester’s spirit stalks Catherine in modern day Hag’s Hollow. Catherine must learn to embrace her beastly behavior in order to survive alone in the elements, but Hester thwarts her every move. When Catherine is caught upside down in Hester’s snare, Catherine’s cross falls off. The two women are then free to battle corporally across the passages of time, and it’s a fight to the death.

Plug your ears while I scream. WRITING A SYNOPSIS IS HARD! I can’t believe how hard it was to condense a story down to one page. But phew! all done. Still working on the outline . . ..

20 thoughts on “The Synopsis

  1. Priscilla you are doing fabulous prep work! This is a great informational post.
    I decided to go ahead with NaNoWriMo again this year. I have the inner debate each year, because I have so many draft novels waiting. So I’m compromising — I’ll do the editing version of the event this year.
    My user name there is Riordain if you want to connect in November.
    You’re off to a great start. Good luck!


    1. Thanks for the virtual handshake. Doing an editing version is a good compromise. I went to my first writer’s group today. I didn’t know any of the other writers, but they gave me suggestions in my outline/setting. I’m finding writers in general are just nice people! I’m glad you stopped by, Teagan.:-)


  2. Writing a synopsis implies you have to know the whole story before you begin. I’m afraid I’d have to write the book first and then the overview!


    1. Yes, I thought it was odd that NaNoWriMo has a place for the synopsis before November even rolls around. So I put together a skeletal outline first and then wrote the synopsis from that.


  3. Be warned: Your story will change and the synopsis you are writing now will be tossed. At the same time it’s good practice.

    One thing to keep in mind: Your characters will take over. It will be up to you to listen. If you see your story going in a different direction don’t fight it. This is where they want to go. If you do fight it your story will die.


    1. I’m laughing because as I’m tweaking the outline, the synopsis has already changed. I guess NaNo has a place for the synopsis just to . . . I dunno, get you moving/thinking/excited.

      It will be hard for me to let the characters take over because I like the idea of a rigorous outline, but I’m going to take a deep breath and try to go with the flow!

      Thanks for commenting, Bryan!


  4. Good for you! You’re so ready for Nano. I hate writing synopses (for formal submissions, anyway) otherwise my outline is my sort-of synopsis, and I’m sticking with that. Have fun with your nano adventure. I’ll see you on the other side!

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  5. The first time I wrote a synopsis for one of my stories, I did it as if it were the one on the back of a book, needless to say, no one answered me. When I figured out how to write one correctly, at least I got answers. I really liked this entry, it is very informative.

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