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
You can skip all the preliminaries and jump to the
in the Wizards for Word add-in that will do all the formatting. You then
should activate the
and skip to
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.
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.
Click File | Page Setup
Click Margins tab: Enter the settings in Fig 1.
Click Paper tab: Set Paper Size to Letter 8.5 x 11
Click Layout tab:
Enter the setting shown in Fig 2
Click Save (the floppy disk icon on the standard
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.
2000: Click on Format | Styles | New. The New Style dialog
form pops up.
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
Click Format| Paragraph.
Enter the settings shown in Fig 4.
Click the Line and Page Breaks tab. Uncheck all
Click Tabs, Click Clear All
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
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
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
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
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
Click OK in the Paragraph dialog
Check All Caps box
Click OK in the Fonts dialog
Check Add to Template. Click OK in the New
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
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.
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.
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
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
Again, you can create your own synopsis template in Word,
or use the automatic approach with the
in Wizards for Word, one of over sixteen Wizards, including
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.