Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Writer Wednesday: The Dreaded Synopsis

Today's topic came courtesy of Sherry Alexander again. Thank you, Sherry, for offering such great topic suggestions. Sherry wanted to know what an editor wants in a synopsis.

During Seek's open submissions last month, I requested the query, first three chapters, and a synopsis. Now, I'm going to be honest. I only read a few synopses. I know, you're probably thinking, "Then why did you ask for one if you weren't going to read it? Don't you know writers HATE having to write a synopsis?" Yes, yes I do. But here's the thing. Editors go through submissions rather quickly. I read the query and if the query interests me, I go directly to the opening pages. If you keep my interest, I turn to the synopsis to see how the rest of the story plays out.

So what am I looking for when I read your synopsis? Two things. First, I get that a synopsis is not the most fun thing to write, but keep in mind that you want to keep the editor's attention. So make sure the voice of your story comes through in the synopsis. A trick is to let your MC write the synopsis and then convert it to third person. (This is a great trick for writing your query letter blurb, too!) Also, pretend you are telling a friend about this great book you just read (or movie you just saw), only get spoilery. You have to include the ending in a synopsis, so don't forget to do that. One of the reasons why I look to a synopsis is to see how the story will carry from the conflict to some sort of resolution. If there isn't a resolution in your synopsis, I'll assume you haven't resolved the conflict in the book either. You don't want me to assume that.

Synopses don't have to be horrific things that writers should fear. Have fun with them and make them be another way you can get an editor interested in that amazing story you just had to tell.


*If you have a topic you'd like me to cover in a Writer Wednesday post, feel free to leave it in the comments.*

34 comments:

  1. That's an interest read and very helpful how to build a synopsis.
    Cheerz

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  2. Let your MC write the synopsis, then switch it to third person? That is the best advice for writing a synopsis I've ever read. Really puts it in perspective and makes it feel do-able.

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  3. I've actually done that, letting my MC tell the story and then switching to third person. It's really helpful. It's also helpful to do while writing the story, if you're originally writing in past tense. Sometimes my MC can see a flaw in the script or a new direction to travel in real time that I hadn't noticed. The most helpful advice I've ever been given about writing a synopsis is to write it before I write the manuscript. Yeah, I know that might scare some people. It did me at first. But once I tried it I realized that this method gives me a map to follow, and it's also a way to work out plot/character/setting issues before I'm drowning in a ton of manuscript wordage. Of course, as I write the manuscript I can simply adjust the synopsis to any changes I make.

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    1. I've done that too, written the synopsis before the book. It does take some tweaking later on due to changes, but it works.

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  4. Oooh, great advice, thanks! I'm totally going to try that first person thing. Because, yeah, I hate synopsis.

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  5. Ah, the synopsis. It's like the writer's version of waterboarding.

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  6. What an excellent post! Instructive as well as insightful, it has given me a new and much less worrisome perspective on the subject. I truly struggled with giving away the ending; thinking why then, would you continue reading? Now I know. :-) Thanks, Kelly!

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    1. Good. I'm glad it makes sense to you now. :)

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  7. Getting that voice into the synopsis is essential and challenging!

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    1. It is. I really find that this technique helps.

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  8. What I hate about partials is that I generally don't get the direction of a story until I'm in the middle of it--and a synopsis makes you plan the whole thing out. Then I have to try to stay true to it when it's time to write the rest of the book!

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    1. Yes, the synopsis can feel restricting in that way.

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  9. I dread synopsis writing, although I write them faster than I used to. I'm glad they are read. Sometimes I feel as if they're not. I've also struggled with writing the ending, wondering if the agent or editor really wants it.

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  10. Thank you for spelling this all out. Very informative. I've printed it for future reference.

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  11. As always, great advice. Thanks for sharing your views from both sides of the desk.

    A question for, "a topic you'd like me to cover in a Writer Wednesday post." When an agent/editor sends a rejection, is it too much clutter for their inbox to send a thank you? Would you treat it differently if they personalized the rejection with comments? I'm tossed. Don't want to clutter, but don't want to come of as non appreciative.

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    1. Great topic suggestion, Rick. I'm adding it to my list. Thanks!

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  12. I just found your blog and I'm so glad I did. You're not kidding when you call it the "Dreaded Synopsis." There's nothing I dread more. I just can't seem to write a synopsis that is short enough, entertaining and that tells the story. I feel like you've given me the permission I needed to stop trying to perfect it.

    Letting the MC write it and then changing it, that's probably the best advice I've come across for writing a synopsis. I can't explain how much I dread the synopsis. I've spent far too long on it and it's still nothing to brag about. I know you don't speak for everyone in the industry, but I feel such a huge sense of relief knowing that you don't read it immediately. Hopefully an agent or editor will like my query and sample chapters enough to forgive minor synopsis issues. I will concentrate more on showing how the plot moves along and how it is resolved than on trying to make my synopsis stand out for the writing.

    This was a very helpful article and I will be back for more tips, advice and suggestions.

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    1. I'm glad you've found it helpful. :) Good luck with that synopsis, and don't stress too much over it.

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  13. What a timely read for me. I'm struggling with this very thing in my novel and outline/synopsis. Great advice.

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  14. Thanks for the tips, Kelly. I like your advice of writing queries and synopses through our MC first then changing it to the third-person.

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  15. So helpful to hear this advice. It is always intriguing to hear from someone who knows what it is like on the other side of things. :) Thanks so much!
    ~Jess

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  16. I'm one who dreads and then finds the synopsis wholey do-able. But, in truth, they do justice to plots with strong hooks and not to the literary voices of quieter stories.

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    1. I agree. Quieter stories can be difficult to create synopses for.

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  17. Great information! It is interesting to know that those sample chapters have to grab your interest first -- and the synopsis serves the purpose of letting you know whether the rest of the story does justice to the opening that intrigued you. Good to know!

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    1. I'm sure there are editors who do this differently, but this is my process.

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