Friday, May 8, 2009

Writing the Successful Synopsis

~Sia McKye~

Most of us have heard the groans of authors when it comes to writing a synopsis. I don't think I've ever heard or read of an author saying, "Oh, that's easy. You just do this, this and that—it's done." Uh, right. That's why we hear grown people almost in tears over it. Also why some authors won’t query agents or publishers requiring a synopsis.

I've look at a lot of sources—agent websites, writing websites, books and some pointers from my writing group. None of who have said, "Oh, easy-peasy." I admit that I've allowed that negative connotation influence me. I think the problem is, we have to confine our synopsis to one, maybe two pages. That should be simple, right? Two pages max. The problem comes in when we are talking about condensing a hundred thousand word document into one or two pages. Tell the story in one or two pages? Are you nuts? At that point we're looking at a mountain we have to take down with spoons and put it into two wheelbarrows. Not so easy.

I read an interesting quote by the author of A Higher Justice with regards to writing one. He said, "The goal is not to explain the entire book. The goal is to get the editor, agent, or reader hooked enough to read the sample chapters and see the market potential." I was always under the impression that we were supposed to tell the whole book and that was my stumbling block.

To overcome that mental picture of a mountainous mass to condense, I've decided to break it into workable sections. I'm only looking at it section by section. Not quite so daunting then.

From what I understand, a synopsis should have five key elements, according to the book, Give 'Em What They Want:

The opening hook—the opening sentences should pull the reader into the synopsis.

Plot highlights—detailing major scene of the story. Incident, reaction, and decision. There were some suggestions under this point, which I found interesting and helpful, in identifying those major scenes.

Quick sketches of the main characters—their motivations and conflicts, especially with each other.

  • Do I need this scene to make the primary plot hang together?
  • Do I need this scene for the ending to make sense?

Core Conflicts—No conflict, no story. Makes sense to me. There were some traditional categories of conflict, which I'd never heard of.

  • Person vs nature
  • Person vs society
  • Person vs self

The Conclusion—tying up the loose ends without a cliffhanger. Editors and agents are not fond of guessing. You have to spell out your ending.

The argument is, if a writer can address these key elements, the synopsis shouldn't be too hard to write. I'm not convinced of this, but I'm going to try it. For sure, these points outlined here help an author to be sure all the essentials are addressed in your story, whatever the length of it is. I'll work on the elements and then when I'm comfortable with that, I'll work on the structure.

What are your thoughts on this? What have you found that works in writing a synopsis? Any good resources you’d recommend?

Any success stories?

I'm married to a spitzy Italian. We have a ranch out beyond the back 40 where I raise kids, dogs, horses, cats, and have been known to raise a bit of hell, now and then. I have a good sense of humor and am an observer of life and a bit of a philosopher. I see the nuances—they intrigue me.

I’m a Marketing Rep by profession and write fiction. I have written several mainstream Romance novels one of which I’ve out on a partial request. I’ve written and published various articles on Promotion and Publicity, Marketing, Writing, and the Publishing industry.

Aside from conducting various writing discussions and doing numerous guest blogging engagements, each week I promote and share authors’ stories, on the laughter, glitches, triumphs, and fun that writers and authors face in pursuit of their ambition to write—Over Coffee.


SueO said...

I just soooo love the similar "looking at a mountain we have to take down with spoons", especially since I just finished paying bills and seem to have taken money out of our account a little dollop at a time!

I've not submitted anywhere, and when I read the angst and pain of some of the writers on FB, it fills me with that kind of dread when listening to campfire stories about people with hooks hanging off their cardoor handles. I start looking around as though the boogie man were right behind me. I love how this article takes some of that misgiving away and arms me with a sense that 'okay, if you understand the process a little bit, it won't be as difficult as some of the drama you read on FB".

I appreciate this, Sia, and once again, I value your blog for the great advice. Thanks!


Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia,

Good post. Some people are really good at synopsis. Personally, I've found the more I know about them- the worse I do...sigh. But here's the thing- there are others who don't ahve my problem. You don't hear them say it because of the loud wailing and gnashing of teeth by those of us who aren't very good at them. ;)

Point being if you haven't written one- or submitted one- don't fear it. You might be one of the lucky ones who acutally does it well the first time.


Nancy J. Parra said...

Oh, boy, typo gremlin... that was supposed to be "have" not ahve...

Sheila Deeth said...

Think I'll pass this article on to some friends. Thank you Sia

Conda V. Douglas said...

Excellent post, very useful. And I think that writing a synopsis can be more difficult sometimes than the entire novel for me. One thing that has helped me, in my writers' group we sometimes write each other's! Gives the writer the distance to focus on what's important in the story. Weird.

Jill Lynn said...

Based on my feedback, I must write a decent synopsis. It's my queries that suck. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Queries aren't hard for me. I'm used to writing business letters and business queries for all sorts of things. Pitches are easier, thanks to help from writing friends, and practice. Synopsis are a bit more difficult. Which points to include. Letting your voice come through--which is harder for me--mine become business in tone. I'm working on it. This info helped me see it differently. Easy, no, but with practise, I think they'll be easier. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sorry not to be here and a good hostess. I had a tornado go through my property yesterday morning. People, Animals, and house is fine, barns, less so and in need of new roofing and one of the smaller hold barns have a nice oak tree sitting on it. Scary times. No electricity for 13 hours, no phone service (or internet) until about an hour ago. I've been in hurricanes, earthquakes, and now tornadoes. None are fun. Fortunately, these usually pass over us--we get straight winds--this time the funnel found the entry to our smallish valley and decided to play. I'm thinking I need stronger 'No tresspassing' signs, lolol!

Anonymous said...

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SueO said...

I just wrote my first synopsis. I don't know if this is the right way to go about it but I acted like I was trying to tell the story to an impatient friend in an email. I got in the bits I know she'd like first. Then I went back and refined it a little bit. It's sorta like the ol' "envision your audience sitting in their underwear" trick for relaxing for public speaking. It takes the pressure off if you think of the reader of the synopsis as someone who is not out to kill you. :)

Maybe I'm a little biased (ya think?), but it seems to have come out okay. I thought it was a bit long, but then I read a submittal requirement for a publisher who said 3-7 page synopsis. I'm at two and a smidgen.