Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Writing the synopsis

I debated quite a while before deciding to go ahead and post this workshop. At one point, the synopsis was a necessary step to selling your novel. If the purpose of the cover letter was to get the editor/agent to read the synopsis, then the purpose of the synopsis was to get the editor/agent to request the full manuscript. With more authors not going the agent route or opting to self-publish, however, the synopsis is needed less often for that purpose.

Then again, there are many authors who start with the synopsis. They flesh out their entire story before sitting down to write it out. Those writers are "plotters" and I discussed that approach here. For those, the synopsis is an important writing tool whose importance is vital. I did this only once and only because there were three of us writing intertwining stories so we all had to be sure our plot lines and characters meshed (for the record, I hated it and haven't done it since). Remember, I'm a pantser, so, with only the one exception, I always write my synopses after I've written the novel.

The guidelines below are written with selling in mind. although there are lots of reasons to write one even if you're not using it to snag that agent or editor. Is it for you to work out a plot complication or character arc? Will you be using any of it in the description boxes of some of the self-publishing sites? Who, besides you, is going to see it?

The answers to those questions will go a long way toward quelling any nervousness you might feel at condensing your story. With any luck, the "rules" below will take away the rest of the stress. :)

Rules of thumb for writing a synopsis:

1. If you're writing a synopsis because you're sending your manuscript to a publisher and it's required, first find out what the editor/publisher wants! Some want only 2 pages, others want more. Check their websites; many publishers put their requirements right out there. The current trend is to shorter a shorter synopsis.

2. Length – when all else fails, 1-2 pages of synopsis for every 100 pages of manuscript. Another alternative is to give one paragraph to each chapter.

3. Write it in present tense, and in 3rd person.

4. Tell the ENTIRE story, including the ending. Fill it with spoilers!

5. That said, stick to the MAIN plot. Unless the subplot eventually weaves into the main one, it’s best to leave it out.

6. Write spare. Don’t fill it up with adjectives and adverbs.

See? Nothing to be afraid of. It really isn't that bad. The biggest thing to remember is that you're telling, not showing your story.

There are TONS of websites that will give you lots of conflicting advice. My guidelines come from my own experience and from Absolute Write (the site uses The Lady and the Tramp as a model. Language is simplistic, but certainly easy to follow!). And if you're still nervous, have others read it over for you, preferably people who haven't read your novel. They'll tell you if they're confused or if you're saying too much.

I've been offering these writing workshops for several months now. You can view the entire list of them here. If you've found any of them useful, please consider a donation. Thanks!   Diana


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