HOW TO WRITE A SYNOPSIS
Your synopsis is a brief summary of your story. It should consist of a bird’s eye view of the plot, as if from a mile above. Imagine you wrote The Odyssey:
Odysseus is a hero from the Aegean island of Ithaca, and he sets out by sea-going ship to complete eight (8) great tasks. He encounters danger and treachery at every turn, faces strange beasts, but is successful in completing every one, over a span of several years. When he finally returns home as an old man, victorious, he finds his Ithaca in disarray, and has to fight a final time to set it right.
That’s it! Notice this synopsis is general, and leaves plenty of room for surprise and suspense. The reader gets a sense of what to expect, without reading a lot of detail. That’s all you need.
Let’s write a synopsis of an ordinary story. Suppose a man is born in Wales, becomes a popular singer first in Britain and later the entire world, loses a fortune and the woman he loves, starts his career over again, and rises to the top a second time. OK? How about this:
Hugh Hughes is born to a poor family in Swansea, but earns popularity with his dashing good looks and fine baritone. By age 19, he’s the toast of London, and he follows the Beatles to the States, recording a solid gold album and earning over$ 5 million. He marries his village sweetheart and she gives birth to triplets, but when he’s unfaithful to her, he loses her and turns to drugs. After several years of languishing, he records a novelty song that shoots to #3 on the charts. Encouraged, he cleans up his act and gradually regains his popularity.
The formula is always the same: a bird’s eye view of the story; letting the reader know what to expect; withholding enough detail to save the suspense. Practice will make perfect for you.
HOW TO WRITE A QUERY LETTER
Your query letter is equally simple, once you learn how. You need to be:
3. Fully informative.
4. Brief and concise.
5. Intriguing, but don’t go overboard.
Begin by putting your full address and phone number at the top, along with the date.
Write the sendee’s full name and address.
The salutation should be a person’s name (Dear Mr. Jones), if at all possible, or a title (Dear Editor), if not available.
Always begin: Please consider “My Story/Novel” for publication.
Next: This story/novel is about (summarize the basic idea).
Elaborate slightly: The hero is a World War Two RAF pilot named Duncan Featherstone, 19 years old, who’s left a fiance at home in Sheffield. He flies 153 missions over France and Belgium, and is injured three times.
Editorial statement (optional): Duncan returns home a changed man, cynical but not bitter.
Next paragraph: (1) State where you’ve previously published stories (e.g., Punch and Paris Review); (2) A detail or two about you (“I am a master carpenter in Exeter, with a wife and seven children”).
Final paragraph: I am available at .
Closing: Sincerely, or Cordially.
Signature/Name: Indent 4 lines for your name, and sign about your name.
Easy or not? Once you write one or two, you’re on your way. Practice is perfect here, too.
Your synopsis and query are the very least of your worries. Do your best to make your story sound fascinating and professionally-written. Keep a file of all your synopses and query letters, and refer to them to improve.