Crested Butte Writers Conference Day 3: The Dreaded Synopsis – led by Joanne Stampfel-Volpe

Many thanks to Joanne Stampfel-Volpe of the Nancy Coffey Literary agency, who made this mind-numbing topic interesting and fun.

First off, she suggests focusing on making your query and sample writing sparkle. The synopsis tells editors and agents where the story’s going and helps them prioritize their reading list, but out of everything writers send out, the synopsis is likely the last thing read. She said don’t sweat it, because “The synopsis doesn’t draw in anyone.”

Basic rules:

1. Title and author’s name need to be in the header. Genre and word count are nice additions.

2. Two pages max, one page preferred.

3. Single spaced, double spaced between paragraphs.

4. Times Roman 12 pt.

5. Number your pages.

6. Present tense – regardless of story tense.

7. Beginning, middle, end.

Rules of thumb:

All capping characters names is a film industry convention, but is acceptable. Characters must be in the beginning, middle and end to be included in the synopsis.

She had us give the characters and plot for Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Voldemort, Dumbledore, Quirrel, etc. Then what happens? Harry discovers he has powers, goes to school, makes friends and enemies, learns magic and defeats the bad guy. That laundry list is a synopsis for J.K. Rowling’s first book. Joanne pointed out, we don’t even have to know Harry’s friends’ names, we just need to know he has them.

Do you have two main characters? Try revolving your main characters paragraph by paragraph. Have you had a chapter by chapter synopsis requested? Stick with your synopsis outline and use two sentences to describe each chapter.

I won’t say it’s a piece of cake, but even Hagrid’s fudge was edible. Anyone want to try it in the comments?




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12 Responses to “Crested Butte Writers Conference Day 3: The Dreaded Synopsis – led by Joanne Stampfel-Volpe”

  1. Janet Johnson says:

    Great information! Totally starring this blog for future reference. 🙂

  2. Rachna Chhabria says:

    Hi Victoria…. this post will help me as I am writing the synopsis of my two books. Thanks for sharing the information.

  3. Lisa_Gibson says:

    Great info. Thanks for sharing. I've way over the hills in Littleton. Can you see me waving?

  4. Victoria Dixon says:

    I'm always thrilled if this stuff helps someone. 😀

    Hey, Lisa. Where is Littleton? Despite my state's reputation for flatness, we have lots of hills. LOL

  5. Natalie Aguirre says:

    Great post. I've always wondered about the double space vs. single space issue in synopsis. Wow, it sounds like you went to an awesome conference.

  6. Victoria Dixon says:

    It was an AWESOME conference and I hope I can return someday. I'd recommend it to anyone, regardless of their skill/experience level because the conference directors made sure there were classes suitable for everyone. I've been to conferences where that wasn't the case, which made this that much more exciting and beneficial.

  7. Medeia Sharif says:

    Thanks for posting this. I'm going to save it. Let's say that I'm not an eager synopsis writer.

  8. Victoria Dixon says:

    You're welcome, Medeia. I don't think any of us are. ;D

  9. Donna Hole says:

    Very good to know. A synopsis is almost harder to write than the query for me because it allows so much more info, it just hard to choose. This is actually easy to follow.

    I read through your other conference posts, and find them quite helpful too. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.


  10. Victoria Dixon says:

    I agree, Donna. I kept trying to include all of the major plot lines in my synopsis until right before the contest. Someone suggested just trying to follow my major character's plot line. It was still difficult because of how everything he does effects other people, but it was more manageable.

  11. reberto.alberto says:

    Hi there! is organizing a short story writing contest.

    We do think that you too might have a marvelous story to tell, one that is your own! So if you can compose it in not more than few words, we would want to hear from you. Also, you stand a chance to get your story published on our site and win cash prize of USD 100.

    “Then what are you waiting for? …put on your thinking cap and get writing. For registration and other information check –

    Happy writing!

  12. Dara says:

    Um, no, not going to try it. Yet. 😛 I just want to get the thing done first! If that ever happens.

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