Create a Synopsis using Microsoft Word

 Life is an endless struggle, full of frustrations and challenges, and then you find out the agent's submissions guidelines requires a two-page synopsis of your 400-page novel. You feel sick.

When you've recovered, you realize you don't even know the requirements of a synopsis. How do you format it? How do you condense it to two pages? No problem Recipes for Word will give you the recipe. For users of Word 2002/XP you'll get the recipe click by click. For Word 2000, Word 97, and Mac users, the navigation and dialog screen layout may differ slightly; however, you should be able to muddle through. For users of WordPerfect and typewriters, eat your heart out.

You can skip all the preliminaries and jump to the Synopsis Wizard in the Wizards for Word add-in that will do all the formatting. You then should activate the Synopsis Wizard and skip to Writing the Synopsis near the end of this piece. However, if you are too poor to buy Wizards for Word follow the instructions outlined below.

If you would like to download a copy of this article in Microsoft Word, double click here. (Note: You will get an error if you don't have MS Word installed.) You can save it, print it, but please don't distribute it. This work is copyrighted. Refer your friends to this site to get their copy.

Creating the Template

When you finish these simple steps, you'll have a synopsis template you can use repeatedly.

        Start Word

        Close any documents that are open

        Click the New Blank Document icon (dog-eared blank page) on the Standard Toolbar.


If you can't see the Standard and Formatting toolbars, please go to View | Toolbars, check both Standard and Formatting.

        Click File | Save As. In the Save As type dropdown box, select Document Template. In the File Name box, type Synopsis. Click Save.





Text Box: Note:
The cropped screen shots shown are for Word 2002, other versions will look different, but the content is the same.
        Click File | Page Setup

Figure 1


o       Click Margins tab: Enter the settings in Fig 1.

o       Click Paper tab: Set Paper Size to Letter 8.5 x 11

o       Click Layout tab:

Figure 2

o       Enter the setting shown in Fig 2

        Click Save (the floppy disk icon on the standard toolbar)

Now that the page is set up, we must create our first style. No, it's not a new hairstyle so put the scissors down. It's for the Return Address and Genre/Word Count entries. Take a sip of coffee and pay attention. You're not going to find these styles on the pages of Cosmo or GQ.

        Word 2000: Click on Format | Styles | New. The New Style dialog form pops up.

        Word 2002: Click on Format | Styles and Formatting. The Style and Formatting pane will pop up on the right. Click the New Style box. The New Style dialog form pops up. Enter the settings shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3

        Click Format| Paragraph.

        Enter the settings shown in Fig 4.

Figure 4

        Click the Line and Page Breaks tab. Uncheck all boxes.

        Click Tabs, Click Clear All

Figure 5

        Enter the settings shown in Fig 5. Click Set.

        Click OK in the Tabs dialog

        Check the Add to template box, Click OK in the New Style dialog

        Click the Save Icon (the floppy disk looking thing)

Isn't this typing and clicking exciting? Let's do some more.

Now, we'll create a style for our body text.

        Word 2000 users, repeat the steps to get to the New Style dialog, i.e., Format | Styles and so on. Word 2002 users click on New box again.

        Enter the settings in Figure 3 again, except change the name to SynBodyText in both the Name and Style for following paragraph

        Click Format | Paragraph

        Enter the settings in Figure 4 again, except enter in First Line in Special box of the Indentation section, and 0.3" in the By: box. Set the Line spacing to Double

        Click OK in the Paragraph dialog

        Check Add to Template. Click OK in the New Style Dialog

Now, let's add the Title Style.

        Again go to the New Style dialog

        Enter the settings in Figure 3 again, except change the Name to SynTitle. Change the Style for following paragraph to SynBodyText

        Click Format | Paragraph

        Enter the settings in Figure 4 again, except enter Centered in the Alignment section. Set the Spacing in Before: and After: to 40 pts

        Check the Don't add space between paragraphs of same style box

        Click OK in the Paragraph dialog

        Click Font

        Check All Caps box

        Click OK in the Fonts dialog

        Check Add to Template. Click OK in the New Style Dialog

You can take a break before we tackle the slug line. This is where I had a joke about this cousin to the snail, but thought better of it. Aren't you glad?

On the menu bar, click View | Headers and Footers

Figure 6

        In the header area, type your last name, a "/", the title of a novel in all caps (we may change it later), and "/Synopsis" as shown in the example in Figure 6.

        Hit the tab key until the cursor moves to the right side of the header box. Click the # icon (without the hand)

        Click on the icon with the # and the hand.

        Set the page numbering to Start at 1, click OK

        Click the open book icon.

        Under Headers and Footers, check the box Different first page Click OK. This will make your header disappear from page 1. Don't worry it'll be back.

        Click the Close button

        Click the Save Icon (the floppy disk thing)

Your template is complete. If you are certain you have saved the file, choose File | Close.

You're done. You now can create a perfectly formatted blank synopsis. Aren't you smart?

Choose File | New. Users of Word 2002 will see the New Document pane open on the right. Click on the General Templates about half way down the pane. From the General Tab, you should find our Synopsis templateóDouble click on it.

A blank page should appear. Click in the Style drop down box and select SynBlkAdd. Type your full legal name (it's the one on your driver's license.) Press the tab key once; type the genre of your novel, e.g., Thriller, Mystery, Romance, Horror, or whatever. Press the Enter key. Type your street address, press tab, and type the approximate word count of your novel. Press Enter. Type your City, State Postal Code, press tab, type the word "Synopsis"

On the next few lines, type your Phone Number, Fax, and Email address where applicable. See Fig 7.


Figure 7

After you have entered the last entry, e.g., email address, press Enter.

In the style, drop down box; pick SynTitle, type your novelís title in All Caps. Press Enter and begin typing your synopsis (the style box should say SynBodyText.) When you get to page two, you will notice the slug line at the top of the page. If your novel's title has changed since you saved the template, e.g., from Where Did All the Little Fish Go? to The Return of Moby Dick double-click on the header. This will bring it to the forefront so that you can edit the title (in all caps.) Remember to save this document under a new name. Hurry before the screensaver kicks in again.

Writing the Synopsis

A synopsis should be two pages, but not more than five. Your synopsis may be longer; however, they say that the likelihood of an agent or editor reading beyond five pages goes down exponentially. They have a vitamin deficiency, poor eyesight, and some of them dress funny. Many agents use the sample pages or chapters to determine the quality of your writing, and the synopsis to ensure the plot hangs together. Nevertheless, it is your writing and if it's not perfect, it gives the agent (or the intern) an excuse to put your package in the reject pile.

Your first pass of the synopsis might be ten or twenty pages. Eliminate subplots, minor characters, and all dialogue. Use only three or four named characters, e.g., the protagonist, the antagonist, and up to two others. Refer to other characters by their relationship to the named characters, e.g., "Captain Ahab's wife." Readers will become overloaded if you have more than four named characters in your synopsis.

Tell only the major plot line. Make another pass; get it to eight or nine pages. Stop crying, you're getting the manuscript wet. Keep reducing the synopsis until it shows the major plot points involving the major characters. It has a beginning, middle, and end. Yes, you must tell us the end, ugly though it may be. Don't try to tell the whole story, just the major plot points, and the ending. Now reduce it to two pages.

If you find your story wanders all over the place, you should consider revising the story itself. Many writers find a moment of truth when they attempt to create their synopsis. They find they have written a story without a beginning, middle, and end. They have written a compendium of vignettes that don't tie together, a mess. So, stop sitting in the dark crying, get out your red pencil and start revising.

Another approach is to take your log line, i.e., a single sentence that says what your story is about and expand it. Take the log/story line and expand it to include four named characters and the major plot line.

Again, you can create your own synopsis template in Word, or use the automatic approach with the Synopsis Wizard in Wizards for Word, one of over sixteen Wizards, including the Novels, Character, Plot,  Query Letter Wizards along with Book Doctor to clean up grammatical style errors, extra spaces, and more.  Finally, you can use Agent Wizard to hook that agent.


Copyright © 2003 Recipes for Word
All rights reserved.