Monday, November 1, 2010

Synopsis: Friend or Foe?

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

Mention the word synopsis to any writer, and you'll elicit fear or an overwhelming dread at the thought of having to write one.

I think most authors agree that writing a synopsis is no fun! After we've worked months, or years, to refine and polish our novels, how can we reduce them to 10 pages, five, two or one page, and then whittle them down even further to a paragraph or even a single sentence?

We can't let the synopsis be our enemy. It has to be our friend to help us sell our work. If you're not familiar with what a synopsis is, here's a simple definition: the summary of a novel.

But in summarizing your novel, you want to show that editor, agent or publisher that you can tell a knock down, drag out, darn good story that they're gonna want!

One agent told me that she doesn't read the synopsis until after she's read some of the sample writing sent along with it. So remember, you're writing (the actual novel pages) will always speak louder than the synopsis, because all the synopsis is, is plotting. But regardless, it must be clean, tight and extraordinarily well written!

There are varying lengths for a synopsis, the longer lengths, of course, being the easiest! Sometimes an agent will ask for a "short synopsis." This usually means one to two pages. Page length may or may not be specified. If a "synopsis" is requested (with no page limit mentioned) you're pretty safe to send 5 pages. If a "detailed synopsis" is asked for (with no specifications), up to 10 pages is acceptable. 

However, just be sure to carefully read the guidelines of whomever you're submitting to. Some agencies and publishers are very specific about the page length of the synopsis.   

The formats for a single page and a multi page document do differ. A one page synopsis is written in block paragraphs with double spaces between paragraphs. More than one page requires the entire document to be double spaced.

Still thinking the task impossible, especially the one sentence synopsis, or one line hook? Read this example from Elizabeth Lyon's The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit: "As the Civil War rages, a woman's passion for the wrong man blinds her to the love of the right one."  That's a one line synopsis for Gone With the Wind!

If you're fighting with the idea of writing a synopsis, it's time to stop. As with writing a query, there are lots of great tools out there to help, such as Blythe Camenson's and Marshall J. Cook's Your Novel Proposal, and The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, mentioned earlier. Visit Charlotte Dillon's website at www.charlottedillon.com/SynopsisSamples.html for some great sample synopses. You can also find articles at http://www.ehow.com/ on how to write, as well as format, a synopsis.

Writing a synopsis can be difficult, but it can be done!

Have you written a synopsis for your latest completed work? Are there any other tools you'd like to recommend that have helped you?

Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!

19 comments:

Jules said...

Stopping by to say thank you for following me. Seems like you have some very informative articles here. Looking forward to future interactions, my dear. :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Angela Robbins said...

actually, i've found the Chuck at Writer's Digest Guide to Literary Agents http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/ site most helpful in explaining what a synopsis is, hints on how to write one, and providing examples of movie synopses. I like to look at the examples for movies I've seen and are familiar with, so I can understand how the story is pared down into a five to ten minute summary.

Melissa said...

The mere idea of a synopsis fills me with Nausea. Yuck.

Madeleine said...

I like the sound of these books. Thanks for the heads up, I'm tempted to get them myself. :O)

Christine Danek said...

Thanks for the book advice. Also, thanks for visiting my blog. I've written my synopsis, but looking for ways to make it pop.
Thanks and have a great day!

William Kendall said...

Good blog, Maria. Ah, yes, the synopsis. Makes our skin crawl, doesn't it? I've got to get the sixth or seventh draft of mine up and running....

Maria McKenzie said...

@Jules: I appreciate your comments! Will see you in the blogosphere:).

@Angela: Thanks for that helpful link!

@Melissa: I'm not fond of writing them myself!

@Madeleine: Thanks for stopping by! Those books would be a great investment:).

@Christine: Glad you find the book advice helpful!

@William: Thanks, William! Sounds like you're just about there with the sixth or seventh draft:)!

Nas Dean said...

Hi, Thanks for swinging by my blog and becoming a follower. Synopsis ah...! The necessary evil!

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Nas! And thank you:). I should have called this post "The Necessary Evil!"

Paul C said...

A synopsis reveals a plan, not a free write. Instructive post.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Paul! Thanks for following me, and thanks for your comment:).

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I enjoyed writing my synopsis...of course, it's never been critiqued by anyone or crossed a potential agent/publisher's desk. One day I may have a much different opinion of it!

Thanks for finding and following my blog! Glad to meet you, and will also look for you on Twitter. I'm @NicoleDwrites :))

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Nicole! Thanks for the follow, and thanks for the comment! Will tweet you later!

Dorraine said...

Hi Maria! Happy to have discovered your blog. Thanks for the great information. I'm in the query process as we speak. One has to be prepared, and very brave!

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Dorraine! Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your comments, and I'm glad you found the post helpful. The query process is daunting, isn't it? But what great words of advice from you, "be prepared, and very brave!"

Iris Blobel said...

Ok ... I'm about to start the task of writing a synopsis, so the above was quite helpful !

great blog, very much enjoy reading your posts!

Maria McKenzie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maria McKenzie said...

@Iris: Hi, Iris! Thanks so much for your comments! Good luck with writing your synopsis:). Glad you found the info useful!

Iris Blobel said...

Useful indeed - thank you, but i'm still getting easily distracted by other chores :-)