A Road Less Traveled: The Synopsis

"A Road Less Traveled" is a series of articles by Tim Broderick detailing the path to publication of his graphic novel, "Cash & Carry" (based on his webcomic Odd Jobs, featured at Moderntales and Timbroderick.net). In this month’s article, he discusses crafting the synopis for a graphic novel.

In previous installments, Tim reviewed how he signed with a traditional publisher for his graphic novel and how he constructed his ultimately successful query letter.


Whereas writing a query letter is a creative challenge, writing a synopsis of your story is an exercise in patience.

Kind of like cleaning out your garage. Chances are you know everything that’s in the garage – you may have forgotten about a few things, but you know they’re in there. You just have to figure out what to keep and what to throw away.

I know I just made this about as appealing as … cleaning out your garage. But look, if your query letter grabs them then this is the next, vital step to convincing someone to publish or represent your novel.

The trinity we’re talking about is the query letter, the synopsis and the first three chapters (or first thirty pages) of your finished novel. The query letter is your sales pitch, the first few pages of your completed novel gives them a taste for the story.

The synopsis tells them the story. Quickly and in as few pages as possible.

If it’s difficult for a professional writer to produce one of these, let’s assume it’s twice as hard for a webcomic creator. But you CAN do this! So let’s just dive in.

Text should be a 12-point, standard font like Times, double spaced and flush-left.

Start with the name of your book at the top in bold. Next line should say what genre the story is closest to. Next line the number of pages and
finally your name. Like this:

Cash & Carry
206-page graphic novel
by Tim Broderick

Start with a description of the main characters and the main source of conflict in the novel. The first time you use a person’s name, put it in all caps, and point out the main, main character by putting "(POV)" or point of view right after the first mention of his or her name.

"DAVID DIANGELO (POV) is a quiet, unassuming young man doing work for people who either don’t have the time or the skills to do the task themselves – odd jobs. DUKE is a taller, slightly bizarre version of David. They¹re both employed to deliver a pair of cases by BENTON & HOWELL, a high-end law firm with shady dealings. "

Then, tell the story, all the way to the end, including the ending. Yes, you want to give that away. Don’t jump back and forth in the story, let things get revealed in the same way you do in your novel. That means if you have a flashback towards the end, don’t reveal that in the beginning.

You’re not only telling story here, but the telling the reader that you know HOW to tell a story.

Along the way:

  • Write in the present tense and third-person: "David meets Duke in the dark dining room…"
  • Stay away from passive language and utilize active verbs. Just like that previous sentence. Passive language would be something like: "It is good to have your verbs be active, and not use language that is passive." Ugh. Here’s where a thesaurus is a valuable tool.
  • Don’t forget to put the names of new characters in ALL CAPS. Subsequent mentions should be upper /lower. But be consistent in the way you refer to characters throughout. If you use their first name, continue that way till the end. Give the reader a glimpse of what that character is about, but not so much that it derails your narrative: "RILEY, a free-lancer with a shadowy past, allows the two couriers to continue…"
  • When you get to the end, write THE END. Just like that, in all caps.

OK, you’re done, right? Sorry.

This thing has to be short and concise. Chances are the first time through you’ve written quite a few pages worth. There are different estimates and formulas out there, but most advice I’ve seen is that you need to shoot for between two and ten pages in length.

If you write ten pages, they better be the most riveting ten pages you’ve ever written. Chance are they’re not, so go back and edit things down try for around three or four pages. I’ll reveal the reason for this shortly.

Take out anything that’s not necessary to moving the plot along. Quotes are fine, in a limited way, but don’t include whole piece of dialogue. And don’t include any personal remarks or observations – it’s plot, plot, plot. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself deleting adjectives and adverbs to get this down in size.

And here’s the reason you want to edit this down more than the average prose novelist. Prose novelists don’t include artwork in their synopsis. If you can get your synopsis down to about 3 pages, I think it’s appropriate to go into your novel and find some interesting panels or even whole pages to weave into the narrative. Not too many – at most one per page – and not too large either. The text should wrap around your images, not take up an entire page.

Remember, a lot of your story is told through the artwork. Find images that reflect the tone and character of your story, hopefully at key dramatic instances.

When you get this done, congratulations! With a finished novel, a query letter and synopsis, you’re ready to seek out a publisher or agent. But which one should you apply to?

We’ll take a look at that next month.

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.

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