Monday, January 23

The dreaded synopsis.


We’ve been doing some talking about synopses and proposals. Well, mumbling about them. Me, anyway. I finished my first manuscript sometime in the 80s—I don’t remember what year it was—and in retrospect, everything was wrong with it. (Except the title. I did like The Growing Season, and still do.) My point of view was all over the place, I had more people in the book than you could shake a stick at, my secondary characters were as important and more fun than the hero and heroine—you name it and I did it wrong. Including my synopsis, which would have put my own mother to sleep.

I don’t know how many stories I’ve finished since that one, but it’s been a lot more than the five that have been published. My writing has improved over the years, thanks to RWA and great critique partners and my own efforts. But—you knew there’d be one of those, didn’t you?—when I look at the synopsis for my latest book, One More Summer, I’m almost certain it would put my own mother to sleep. I can’t tell that it’s one bit better than the first one I ever wrote.

I understand what proposals are. You need a query letter that makes the editor sit up and take notice, the first three chapters (and the ability to back them up with the rest of the book, WRITTEN JUST AS WELL AS THE FIRST THREE), and…yes, a synopsis. But what is the difference between a great one and one that…well, just sucks?

I wish I knew.

12 comments:

  1. Me too...wish I had the magic formula. I did learn one tidbit about synopses--that it has to be written just as interestingly as the novel. Especially the first sentence.

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  2. I think that's right, Em--it's supposed to be some of your best writing. Well, if my synopses are some of my best, I need to start selling vacuum cleaners. I'm pretty sure I could be convincing about Dyson! Thanks for coming by!

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  3. Synopsis' are evil for a lot of us, Liz. Me, included. No magic pill for me...just hard, hard, hard work.

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  4. Liz, you are so right! Synopses are the bane of almost every novel writer's existence. I think maybe for me, the trick has been to just sit down and tell the story of my story and not worry at all about how long it is the first go-round. Then I pare it down and read through it again. Then I pare it down some more, taking out anything at all that isn't necessary to understanding the story.

    By their very nature, synopses are not highly entertaining, but they do have to draw in an editor and make them want to read the book, so use your own voice. It's a chance to let the editor see who you are, how you write. I think that how well you write a synopsis tells them something about how well you write a novel. Can you tell the story of your book in a clear, interesting way?

    One thing I do is let my husband read it and then tell me if he gets the story. If the engineer can figure it out from what I've written, then surely an editor can! Liz, if you write a synopsis even half as well as you write your novels, you have nothing to worry about!

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  5. Hi, Kristi!

    Nan, thank you so much. I've just never been able to get one to flow, but I think you're right--I need to try to just tell the story.

    Thanks for coming by!

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  6. Oh, Liz! No! I was counting on you to lead the way, to show me how to make my synopsees sing!

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  7. LOL, D'Ann--it would be so out-of-tune!

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  8. No magic formula???? Bummer, dudette. I was counting on it. Why do you think I threw this out to the WW masses?

    :)

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  9. Synopsis? ACK!!!! that's all I have to say ;)

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  10. Watch Word Wranglers the rest of the week! My CPs will have the answers.

    Hey, girls, where are you going? I didn't mean it...come back. Please?

    See you all next time!

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  11. If you're not confident about your synopsis-writing ability, the one rule is this: Keep it clear. Most editors or agents asking for a synopsis want to see the GMC laid out, and a rough idea of the plot (this means we don't need every little detail of the story, just the biggies). We want to see that the characters' motivations will be believable, and they act in a manner consistent with the things going on around them. (and to make sure no untoward/objectionable content like underage sex or glorified rape takes place in the story)

    Most editors are writers, and so are many agents. We understand the synopsis (sucknopsis in my CP group) isn't fun. But it's important it's clear, above all else. When I review a submission, I don't want the synop to be confusing. So just keep it simple.

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