One Window, Two Views { What Makes a Good Synopsis?}

Posted June 20, 2014 by ariannebookblogger in Discussion, One Window / 1 Comment


One Window, Two Views is an original Reading with ABC  feature where we  discuss a topic from two different points of view. Feel free to join the discussion in comments!

Arianne:  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a discussion on what makes a great synopsis before, but when you think about it, the synopsis plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll read a book. As bloggers, our time is even more valuable because we have so many books to get through, and blurbs are there to help us make good reading choices. They don’t just illustrate the premise of the book, they raise questions and they get you hooked. Let’s say there are two books you want to read, but only one you can buy; what are the chances that the one with the better blurb – the one that appeals to you, the one that’s filled with plot and sparkle – will win out over the one that’s vague and boring? We may try to avoid judging books by their covers, but there’s nothing to stop you judging a book by its synopsis.

Liza: Ha!  I do judge books by its covers, but maybe that’s a topic for another discussion 🙂  I agree with you that the synopsis should grab the readers attention, after all it is also a marketing tool, right?  In my opinion, a great synopsis should accomplish two things: grab my attention while being honest and tell me what the book is about.  Let’s talk about the first goal. Have you ever read a book and then thought “hmm, that was not what I thought the book was about.”   It happens to me all the time and quite frankly, I don’t like it. It makes me feel like I’ve been tricked; like somewhere the book gods are laughing at me.  For example, take the beginning of the synopsis for Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge: “Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl’s journey to fulfil her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.”  Well, it drew me in for sure, but I don’t think it truly reflects what this book was about and it left me feeling confused. Thus it didn’t accomplish the second goal, as it was not honest either!

Arianne:  For me, I want a synopsis that showcases the very best of what the book has to offer. If has to stand out. I’ve noticed that if a blurb – and this typically happens with hardcovers or re-releases – has just some dialogue or a few short lines of introduction, I’ll be less likely to read the book. Bringing character to the synopsis is essential. Characters are the reader’s anchor, and without them, there’d be no story – so if I don’t like what I hear about them in the blurb, I probably won’t give a book the time of day. I need a synopsis with substance! Not too much that it gives away the entire story, but enough to say “This is book for you. It’s exactly what you’re looking for. Come on, you know you want to.”

Liza: I know what you mean! I tend to put those books back on the shelf too because a quote from the book is usually not enough to pull me in.  Two other thoughts that come to mind while selecting a book are comparison with other books and blurbs from other authors.  Take again the synopsis for Cruel Beauty; “Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast” is quite a boast!  You can insert  any number of successful books in this its place, TFiOS, Hunger Games, Twilight…. It creates certain expectations for me as a reader, and really, I don’t want to read a book that is very similar to one I already read.  Not only that, but it feels to me like lazy advertising, like the book is not original or good enough to stand on its own.

Very often authors are given the opportunity to read other authors’ books before they are published in order to blurb (or the authors are already critique partners). This can sometimes backfire if I don’t care for the author cited.  For example, it the endorsing author is one that I don’t particularly like, the fact that she/he liked it is off-putting to me.  However, blurbs by bloggers are awesome!

Arianne:  I know, right? Every time I get a new release now, I check to see if someone I know has been quoted on the back or the inside page. It’s particlarly awesome if the book becomes one of my favourites – though choosing a favourite synopsis is almost as difficult as choosing a favourite book! Two that immediately spring to mind are the descriptions provided for Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. These are two very different books, but their synopses are perfectly suited to their stories, and most importantly, they’re accurate. Misleading blurbs often work well for publishers in getting people to buy the book, but like you said, there’s nothing worse than being let down by a novel that promised so much yet delivered so little. With Throne of Glass, the focus is on Celaena: “Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness.” She’s an eighteen-year-old assassin, serving a life sentence in a brutal slave mine – but if she can enter and win a dangerous tournament on behalf of a prince and the captain of his guard, she may just earn her freedom.” Intrigued? So was I – and Throne of Glass does not disappoint!

In contrast, with contemporary YA there’s less action to pull the reader in – but there’s still got to be a story. With Lola and the Boy Next Door, it’s little snippets of the plot that catch your eye: “Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion, she believes in costume… when talented inventor Cricket steps out from behind his twin sister’s shadow… she must finally face up to a lifetime of feelings…” Already we have personalities, conflict and romance, and the first page hasn’t even been turned. What more could a girl want from a book than that?! Do you have a favourite synopsis, Liza?

 Liza: You’ve put me in the spot!  I’m not sure I have a favorite, but there are some that are memorable.  Better off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg is a book that I read earlier this year and loved For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends.”  Doesn’t that just grab you right there?  Another is the synopsis for Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi: “Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild–a savage–and her only hope of staying alive. A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile–everything he would expect from a Dweller.”  This one gives you a pretty good idea of the characters and their personality and most importantly what the book is about. 

What do you look for in a synopsis?  What’s off-putting to you?  What do you love?  Do you rely on them  when choosing a book? Do you have a favorite or a good example? 


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