Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Synopsis

So you have an excellent query letter, including a rockin' summary. You send it out to the market of your choice and voila! You have an agent or editor asking you to send the first three chapters and a synopsis.

A what?

If your summary is your story in a nutshell, the synopsis is a sample pack of nuts. Basically, the synopsis gives an overview of what happens in your story. But where the summary is very brief, catchy, and leaves your audience wanting to know what happens, the synopsis is longer and should leave nothing to the imagination.

This is a lot harder than it sounds.

Like the summary, your synopsis needs to be interesting. You have to make your story sound good but still not leave your agent or editor in suspense. Since suspense - wanting to know how the story turns out - is a huge part of what makes any story interesting, writing a good synopsis is very difficult.

Remember that your synopsis is a tool for selling your story. It's how you market your story to the agent/editor. The end consumer will never see your synopsis.

It's traditional to write synopses (also called outlines) in third person, present tense, regardless of the tense and POV you are using in the story. It's up to you whether you follow this or not, but now may not be the time to distract the agent or editor. Distract them with your glowing prose, not the synopsis format. I submit my synopses in single-spaced block format as well. It takes up less room and is visually different from my sample pages, which are usually double-spaced with indents, unless the specific agent or editor has asked for different formatting.

If the agent/editor has asked for specific formatting, give them the formatting they asked for. Period. Double and triple check it. While most agents/editors will not reject you purely because of formatting issues, there is absolutely no reason to start off with a bad impression. Be professional and show them you can follow simple directions, because if they are waffling on your story you never know what little thing could tip you into the reject pile. Check out author and editor EM Lynley's comments on not following query instructions.

So, you've decided what format to put your synopsis in - but what to write?

Length is the hardest thing about synopses, in my opinion. There is no consensus. If you are lucky enough to have the agent/editor ask for a page range, awesome. Work with it. But most won't, leaving you to decide for yourself just how long your synopsis should be.

I've seen recommendations between two pages and thirty pages, single or double-spaced depending on who is making the recommendation.

I have a one-page synopsis for my novel right now. It highlights the main characters and the plot, but doesn't go into a lot of detail about specific action points. It does focus quite a bit on the theme, mostly through the description of the resolution. Personally I prefer to have short synopses. I'm not entirely sure why. I don't think I'd have one longer than five pages unless it was specifically asked for.

Start with a hook. It doesn't have to be exactly the same hook as in the story, but get the agent/editor's interest. Let the agent/editor know right off the bat what the central confrontation is. If you're not sure what to do, start with the first part of your summary. For example: "(Main character) is a (brief description) in/with a (status quo situation)." Then immediately move into the central conflict.

In the middle of your synopsis, touch on all the main characters and the main points of the plot. (If a character is not central to the main points of the plot, it's not a main character.) Try to get some of the feel of your novel into the synopsis. You can even use a (very) small amount of dialogue, one or two lines, if that is an effective way to convey both the style AND the plot. Avoid "Things were like this, but then this happened, so then this happened. And then this happened." That's boring. Spin your plot the exact same way you did in the summary. You can keep the tension up, as long as you remember you have to include the resolution.

Good endings are hard in stories, and they are hard in synopses too. You must include the resolution of the plot! No surprises! To show off your plotting skills you have to let them know how it ends. This is deceptively difficult, because as writers we've worked so hard to make the ending uncertain for the readers, and now you have to just spell it out. Try to convey the sense of closure that the ending of the story has.

Spend time on your synopsis. Rewrite it. Polish it. Edit it. Read it out loud to make sure the flow and the rhythm and the pacing feel right. Have people proof-read it. This is where you convince an agent/editor that it's worth their time to read your work. Make the it best you possibly can.

No comments:

Post a Comment