09 July 2023

Synopsis and Poisons

No conversation about submissions to literary agents is complete without a discussion about writing a synopsis. There are many professional and calm articles about this topic but this article is neither for one very important reason: I’m married and have children.

The many excellent articles explain how to write a synopsis in simple terms. Summarize the novel’s plot (status quo, inciting incident, rising action, crisis and resolution) main subplots, characters and none of this should read like a dry summary. It should include characters’ emotions and reactions to what’s happening. All of this should be done in 500 - 800 words (preferably 500).

Most of these articles are written in a way that encourages writers to tackle this task with confidence. They explain how this is a doable task and would even help identify any plot holes. I appreciated all this help and encouragement.

So, armed with the criteria, I started writing a synopsis. I ended up with a synopsis of a couple thousand words that barely touched the surface of my over 80K word book. So, I needed to cut the word count and make it more thorough at the same time.

No problem, I thought. I can do this. So, working hard I got rid of about 1,000 words and still had too many words and now also had a very dry synopsis.

I went from being delighted with all the advice, to resenting the encouragement about a task that’s clearly impossible. Increasingly, my mood became foul and my language became fouler. This is where my marital status and family enters the story.

My husband, trying to be helpful, told me that I’m a good writer, he’s sure I can do this and would do a great job. He sounded like the encouraging articles. There are moments in a marriage where your partner says all the wrong things. This was that moment. Sometimes I can shrug it off, mostly because the children are very fond of my husband and would miss him if anything happened to him. However, determined to fulfil his role as my support, my husband went on. And on. When he stopped to catch his breath, before he launched into more encouraging statements, I asked him if he could please help. He was delighted to be asked. I requested that he find my book of poisons - I hadn’t seen it in years - while I get a shovel. He said he’d look later because he needed to take the dogs for a walk first.

I went back to work with no more encouraging interruptions.

The upshot is that my synopsis is now down to 500 words. It needs work but it’s mostly there. Better than that, writing it did help me identify a plot hole and helped me be much more focused on plot when editing my manuscript for the trillionth time. I do think writing a synopsis is actually useful.

At this point, you probably don’t care about the synopsis at all and are asking different questions. Did my husband ever locate the book of poisons? Is that really gardening I’m doing in the backyard? When was my husband last seen? How are the children?

I actually did buy a book for writers on poisons many years ago. I cheerfully showed it to my husband who was uncharacteristically quiet. Oddly, I must have misplaced it because I have not seen it since. I didn’t even get to read it. My husband has looked for it diligently and cannot find it.

My husband is walking the dogs right now. All the neighbours can see him. The children are fine. My garden remains woefully untended but I have some herbs, thanks for asking.

I highly recommend writing a synopsis. Don’t be fooled by the encouraging articles. I doubt I’m the only one who was frustrated with the task and baffled why I was the only one incapable of doing it. It’s not an easy task. It’s very hard. It’s also worth it if you get someone wise to hide the book of poisons before you begin. Think about the children.


  1. Brilliant, Mary. I love it. But I'll have salad without herbs, thank you for offering.

  2. Mary Fernando09 July, 2023 08:40

    Thank you, Leigh. Also, have you seen my book of poisons? Someone must have it...

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Barb. Please tell my husband.

  4. Mary, I have a book about poisons on my shelf; maybe your husband loaned it to me and didn't tell you?

    As for a synopsis, Lisa Gardner used to have a workshop about writing one on her website. It was very helpful...AND much longer than a synopsis should be. It's also not there anymore.

    When people ask me why I self-published my later novels, I usually tell them it's because I didn't want to have to write another %*#%@ synopsis.

    1. Thank you, Steve. Odd my husband didn't mention lending the book...Also, thank you for your comment on writing a synopsis. The articles suggesting it was simple were meant to be encouraging but I'm not used to encouraging articles in medicine. No one - and I mean no one - has written an article about removing brain tumours by stating that tumour craniotomies can be done simply by drilling burr holes and connecting them with your handy surgical saw, so keep your chin up and don't be discouraged. Encouragement is all Greek to me...

  5. Sorry, Steve. If I don't change the setting, I'm identified as 'anonymous' Not a bad thing when talking about poisons..

  6. I firmly believe that writing a synopsis is one of the first tasks assigned when you're sent to hell. And every time you write a sentence, the devil erases it.
    Meanwhile, doesn't every mystery writer have a book on poisons? Not to mention a few informational articles on helpful topics from waste disposal to deep home cleansing?

    1. Now, that is a chilling description of hell. Thank you, Eve, I should make sure I have all my writing supplies handy for the next marital moment.


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