5 Ideas for writing the synopsis for your short story collection

Ealier we shared tips on how to write an effective Synopsis for your novel. In this post we bring to you possible ways to write an effective synopsis for your collection of short stories.

It has often been said that a short story is like a roller-coaster while the novel is like a theme park. So, while the reader experiences (with good writing) the same levels of thrills and excitement in both forms, the short story form requires lower reader engagement in terms of reading time. In that sense a short story is tricky; it has to deliver the same core commitment of good story-telling in lesser time and space.

If you thought writing the synopsis of a novel is tricky (because of its vastness), the synopsis of a short-story collection is trickier still. This is because of, what I’d like to call, the diversity of the collection. Related themes may play out in all your stories, like the leitmotif of a musical phrase but each story is inherently different from the other, right?

As always, there is no one magic formula that will help you whip up the perfect synopsis. You know your stories, you know you why you wrote them, you know what they mean to you and you know why they are special. Your synopsis should bring those out.

5 ideas to write an effective synopsis for your short-story collection

1. Summarize each story in your collection into a single sentence

Salman Rushdie refers to Sadat Hasan Manto as the “undisputed master of the Indian short story.” In a translation of Hasan’s certain stories (translated by Aatish Taseer), the collection is summarized as follows:

“The gentle dhobi who transforms into a killer, a prostitute who is more child than woman, the cocky young coachman who falls in love at first sight…”

As is evident, the synopsis in the above example brings out the key essence of an entire story in a single sentence. Often these are references to a character. You can do it that way and by extension use your character’s name too in the summary.

For instance, you could say:  Kishan undertakes a trip to Benares to immerse his father’s ashes in the Holy Ganges but <insert key dramatic action>. The next sentence to be about the next story and so on.

Keep it short. Say you have 8-story collection, you don’t have to have a sentence for each of your stories. Do this for 4 or 5 of your strongest stories that according to you will evoke maximum intrigue. The concluding line can be a summary of the collection.

I was able to come up with two examples to make my point:

  • …this collection of stories humorously explores the dark and ironic side of human behavior
  • or  these stories allow a peek into the lives of eight extraordinary individuals who <insert your theme>

2. Identify the recurring theme if any and highlight it

Here are some questions for you to consider: Are all your stories about love? Or family ties? Or separation? What is the recurring motif in all your stories? Are all your stories set in big cities (or small towns) for example? How are they similar?

Or are they all different? Do you explore different themes?

Here’s a task: make a list of the various themes you explore in your collection and summarize the entire collection in about three or four sentences only based on the themes.

In The Red Carpet, Lavanya Sankaran’s debut short story collection, most stories are set in Bangalore and the synopsis stresses on the themes that include family ties, cultural identity, the clash between old-fashioned parents and their “Americanized” children and love.

This is an example of a synopsis where themes are highlighted.

3. Is it a city-specific story?

Murzban. F. Shroff’s short story collection titled Breathless in Bombay is a compilation of fourteen stories set in Bombay. As the title suggests the stories are about life in Bombay. He has written about everything from the dabbawallahs to Bollywood to the Victorias (highly ornate horse-drawn carriages that ply in South Mumbai) to water shortage problems.

In the Introduction of Breathless in Bombay, the author writes, “…that got me thinking. About the enormous divide of classes, so latent and yet so real. About the deterioration which was too glaring and too rampant to deny. About my own relationship with the city which was one of love and one of hate.”

So if all your stories are set in a particular city, you could write your synopsis as though it were a tribute to the city, a salute to the city while exploring its problems, its idiosyncrasies, the daily lives of its citizens etc.

4. Highlight the mood, context, setting of the entire collection

Questions to consider:

When are the stories set? Are you exploring current contemporary life or are the stories set in a past time? What sort of mood do they convey? For instance, are they all horror stories or are they all heavy on mythology? The mood in this instance would be dark or mystical. Write three to four lines on the setting and context of the stories.

If each story has a different setting, then write about the settings of your strongest ones.

For example, if one of your stories is set in the slums of Kolkata and the other one is set in a the IT hub in Pune you could write, “from the harrowing slums of Kolkata to the sophisticated offices of Pune this collection of stories investigates the complexities in human relationships.”

5. If it is a linked story collection with recurring characters, highlight key dramatic events that change their life

Do you write about the same characters in every story? Is there some form of overlap? Then highlight character traits and write about how you have placed your character in different conflicting situations.

In linked story collections although the characters may recur, each story must be a stand-alone story.

Note: Use the ideas mentioned above for guidance. Mix them up. For instance you can use Idea 1 and Idea 3 together while writing your synopsis.

Remember to keep the synopsis short.

Do you have other ideas to write an effective short story synopsis? Please share them with us by way of comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

About Lavanya

Lavanya Shanbhogue-Arvind | MBA | Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Special Prize (2011) | MFA in Creative Writing programme (City University of Hong Kong) | Her literary fiction novel will be published soon by Roli Books.

7 thoughts on “5 Ideas for writing the synopsis for your short story collection”

  1. SS Kuruganti

    Lavanya, thanks for these tips! It’s funny, as a reader I spend so much time on back blurbs and synopses, but when it comes to writing one for my own book, I’m blank. Thanks for getting my brain in gear again! 😉

    SSK

  2. Larry Bone

    These tips are awesome because you informally though closely observe short story structure as it applies not only to writing a synopsis. But also for helping one keep on track if working off a detailed story by story outline or helping one pull together what one has after writing in loose fragments off a title, an idea or a piece of dialog or a mental picture. They can help lead one out of a snag or towards a valid story fix if a story just doesn’t quite seem to work. Aatish Taseer’s translation of Manto short stories is such a great suggestion for looking at form and focus. Thanks so much for this post.

  3. Larry Bone

    Just a suggestion for a possible post. Some authors favor entering short story contests to get at least one of their stories published before trying to get an agent (although winning a contest can be difficult). But are there better contests to enter when one is writing about India or people born in India living in the United States? Some say if a short story is excellent it won’t matter what it is about. Contests for authors born in Commonwealth countries are probably better bets. But are there any American contests that might welcome India themed short stories or would give them at least equivalent consideration? If there is anything about this that someone has discovered, it would be helpful. Otherwise if an India themed short story were to do well in a traditional American short story competition, what might it need to have? This is only if such a post would be helpful.

  4. Deepika Srivastava

    Hi Lavanya
    This post is very helpful. It also throws some hint on the order of stories. I am working on a short story collection myself. I would like to know if, as a first-time author I should go ahead with a short story collection, or start work on a novel, as many publishers see that as more viable. Please give me your insights.

  5. Kelli

    Dear Lavanya,

    Thank you for all your tips and helpful hints. I have written 4 short stories I am hoping to collate into one book, so would really appreciate some advice on how to write a synopsis on 4 different stories?

    Many thanks

    Kelli

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>