Sunday, August 8, 2010

Finally! A Synopsis Technique That May Work



When I first heard this word in the writing world, I was naive and totally ignorant of how important it is in the submission process. Condense my forty thousand word novel into a two page summary? Sure, no problem. Then reality reared its ugly head. The synopsis is not just a quick summary.  My first synopsis was dry, full of facts, and boring. Even I wouldn't want to read that novel but I sent it out and sure enough, no one else wanted to read it either.

I did a lot of research, looked at lots of samples, and I learned a few facts.

The synopsis should:

1. cover the entire novel
2. retain the flavor of the author's voice
3. prove that the author is a storyteller
4. be written in the present tense
5. be an excellent sales pitch
6. be short because editors and agents don't have a lot of time
7. be formatted properly

Length, formatting, and present tense is nothing to fret over, but the first three shoulds are a lot tougher. If they hit the mark then number 5 is automatically successful. I've written another synopsis for a new novel  over and over and over again. Instinctively, even though it improved with each new version, I knew that some magic little element was missing. I kept going back to my WIP for a few days to get it off my mind before trying again.

 Then early one morning last week, with coffee in hand, I sat down to try again. I took a sip holding the cup with both hands and stared at it. There it was, the magic little element, the same imagination that carried my character through all her laughter and perils. Why hadn't I thought of something like this before?

I visualized a clatch of neighborhood women in my kitchen settling in to indulge themselves in delicious coffee and juicy gossip. They had dropped everything to rush over because I had learned the real story of what happened to the old lady, the nosy little girls, and the night police cars swarmed the neighborhood with flashing lights and sirens screaming.

I began typing as if I were telling the story to them and this synopsis took on a life of its own. It was actually fun to write and because women don't have too much time to hang around another woman's kitchen, the synopsis was complete at under 2000 words. It's now resting for a few weeks before I polish it and send it out again. I'll let you know if this synopsis results in some requests.

Now, I have to put the coffee on and call those ladies again. I have the real scoop about the teenager, the accident victim, and the intruder who comes in at night while everyone is sleeping, moves objects around, and leaves without detection.

29 comments:

  1. Then try writing the blurb! Even harder for me than doing the synopsis.

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  2. The blurb is definitely tough! But, I'm a little more comfortable with that since I learned to do that first. Thanks for stopping by, Karen.

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  3. Interesting take on this. Since I'm new to your blog, I don't know if you've posted about how you write blurbs (although it doesn't seem to be in your archives). Would love to hear how you do it!

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  4. What a great idea! A synopsis can so easily become telling ABOUT the story instead of telling the story. Thanks for the great tip! :)

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  5. Kathryn, at a workshop for writers the presenter had us write our novel plot in one sentence trying to keep it under fifteen words. (I've never been able to do only 15) Once that sentence is complete then I work from there. The going length has been recommended as 250 words. I try to keep it under 200.
    Writing blurbs would be a good post. Thanks for commenting and giving me a really good idea.

    Andrea, thanks for stopping by this morning! You are so right, the ones that didn't work were all ABOUT it.

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  6. This is such a great post! I posted about writing synopses today too (more looking for help on how to write one than telling how to write one), and one of my commenters mentioned that she saw on my blog roll that you had also posted on synopses. So I came by to check it out, and I'm so glad I did! I hope you don't mind if I add a link to your post - I think this is a wonderful piece of advice you have here!

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  7. Susan, I'm tickled and flattered you want to post a link, thank you. We writers all have the same things to worry about when we are preparing to submit our work. Isn't it great that we can post about these things, requesting and offering each other help on the road to publication? I love the writing community!

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  8. This is a MOST helpful post! Thank you for that, and I can't wait to hear more about that intruder who moves things around in the night! OOoooOOO!

    You are most awesome!

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  9. Thanks, Renae, I'm glad you want to know more!

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  10. Wow! I love how you turned it into something fun instead of the dreaded synopsis (how I always think of it). You are so right! I'm going to try that next time I have to do one.

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  11. Lisa, it sure brought out my voice for the first time doing this. I'm not sure how great my voice is, but at least it's there!

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  12. Super idea. Am off to tweet your post!

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  13. Thank you for following Middle Passages. I look forward to learning a lot over here!

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  14. Laura, thanks for tweeting me! I think this is the first time.

    Liza, thank you for following me right back. I really liked Middle Passages.

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  15. Congratulations! You're my first follower on my first blog ever. I will try not to bore you! :) (Note to self: think of new entry fast. People are actually reading it!)

    This is a great entry, by the way. I'm just about to start the query-writing process, so it's very well-timed! Thanks!

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  16. That's a really interesting method! I may have to try it for the synopsis for my new WIP... The first one was SUCH torture! Thankfully I took CJ Redwine's synopsis workshop and she made it like a zillion times better =)

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  17. Amanda,you could never be boring!

    Sara, that's a workshop I would have loved to attend.

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  18. What a great way to write a synopsis! It sounds like fun, instead of torture. :) Gotta try that with my own.

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  19. This time it was fun, Margo, and not torture as so many times before.

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  20. When you said, "that magic little element was missing," light bulbs flashed behind my eyes. That's what's missing from the story I'm working on. And I know, just like you experienced, that one of these times when I sit down, the magic will show up. And I love it when that happens!

    When I get to the synopsis stage, I'll remember the list you shared here. Especially to write it in present tense. That's a new tip for me. Thanks!

    Best of luck with it!

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  21. Great post, thank you so much for sharing this! This could turn out some good stuff. Yay for your inspiration and for sharing it with us!

    ~that rebel, Olivia

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  22. Wow... Great blog and advice here! You're obvious a wonderful writer that I can learn so very, very much from! I'm new to writing, alwayed to though and finally did this year.

    Tons to learn from people like You!
    Following and will be back often!
    HUGS,
    Coreen

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  23. What a sweet thing to say! I'm so happy that you decided to write after wanting to for a long time. I know how satisfying making that decision can be. Good luck, Coreen! Thanks for becoming a follower:)

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  24. Hello! I agree with all your points about a synopsis - I would also add always reveal the end, and try to keep it on one page - tricky stuff!

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  25. Jayne, you are so right! I need to go back and add that. Thanks for becoming my 90th follower!

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  26. Present tense? Never heard that one before.

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  27. Paul, unless things have changed and it really doesn't matter anymore, writing it in present tense was one of the first things I learned. Thanks for stopping by!

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  28. This is a great post! I love your fun, creative approach to writing synopses. I plan to borrow this, if I may.

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  29. Of course you may! I hope you'll find it as much fun as I did--those imaginary women kept interrupting and asking questions so I hope your's don't:)

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