Ask Daphne! About A Non-Linear Synopsis

July 29th, 2013 • Kate

Non-linearTime for another question for Daphne! This one comes from Erin, who writes:

I’m getting to the point in my work-in-progress where I’ve started thinking about writing the synopsis, and I’m not sure where to begin. I know the basics for synopses, but the difference is that this story is told out of order. (The first comparison I can think of is Justine Larbalestier’s LIAR, though in my case, my narrator is fairly truthful, and the novel is contemporary with no fantasy elements.) Do you have any advice on how to write the synopsis when the story does not have a linear plot line? It does ultimately tell a story start to finish, but in a two or four page synopsis, when I need to give all the details in a succinct manner, I’m not sure where to start. Do I try to tell the story as if it was told in a linear fashion, giving my protagonist’s experiences in order from point A to point B, or do I write each paragraph from the different points in time, transitioning between them? What advice do you have, and what would you, as an agent, appreciate/be expecting to see?

I think you could definitely do it either way, although my inclination is to split the synopsis between the two timelines. Something like, “The story is told in two alternating timelines from the points of view of characters A and B. In the first timeline, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, character B [whatever].” That being said, for your own use, it’s probably useful to have a more straightforward synopsis to refer to that tells the story from point A to point Z, chapter by chapter.

My client Krista Van Dolzer is currently working on a manuscript with a similar structure, so I shared your question with her as well, for her opinion. She responded:

The most important element of a synopsis is clarity. Queries are for hooking readers with indelible characters and pitch-perfect voice, but synopses are much more about communicating the mechanics of the plot in a succinct, straightforward way. So if it will be clearer to the reader to explain what happens in a linear fashion, then write it that way. On the other hand, if it will be clearer to reveal the plot points in the same order you revealed them in the manuscript, then write it that way.

That’s not really an answer, is it? I guess my advice would be to try writing the synopsis both ways, then share both versions with some people who haven’t read your manuscript and see which one makes more sense to them. At the end of the day, agents are just readers, so whichever one makes more sense to your reader friends will probably make more sense to agents, too.

Hope that helps!

Photo above by Flickr user Irem Sen Gunaydin, used under a Creative Commons license.
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2 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About A Non-Linear Synopsis”

  1. Erin Says:

    Thank you for answering my question and for sharing it with Krista. Both of your answers are definitely helpful and give me a bit of direction as I start work on my synopsis. It's good to know that one way or the other could work, and I will experiment with both and see which version ends up being clearer. Thanks again!

  2. Krista Van Dolzer Says:

    Good luck, Erin! I don't know about you, but my nonlinear story has been really fun to write. It's stretched me in the best possible ways, and I feel like we've made each other better.