Joanne Stampfel-Volpe

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?