Monday, August 4, 2014

Tips on Synopsis Writing - Basics

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Pepper here, and I just finished speed writing two synopses for a request, so when I was trying to figure out what I could share with you guys today, that was fresh in my mind.

Synopsis writing is not for the faint of heart....or the long-winded, which makes it particularly difficult for a good ole Appalachian girl like me. We're fond of being long-winded.

A synopsis is a short version of your story - basically "the narrative arc" including the main characters' arcs.

Here are  a few tips I've learned from writing a synopsis.

Basic info:

1. Typical length is 3-5 pages (with some exceptions). There is also the painful phenomenon known as the one-page synopsis. A whole story with the most interesting plot-points in one page? Whew....challenging. It seems that if you're a newer author, the publishers want to see longer rather than shorter to ensure you have a good grasp on your novel.

2. Single-spaced - usually, unless the editor or publisher requests differently.

3. Main characters - lots of times I'm tempted to add TOO many people in my synopsis, which then makes the synopsis too complex. Only include characters specifically attached to major scenes in your book. Uncle Joe who shows up two times in the story isn't a vital character (unless it's someone like the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella - she's vital to the story. No bippity boppity boo - no dress - no prince)

4. Present-tense- unless you are told otherwise by the agent or publisher, most synopses are written in present tense.

5. Conflict - The heart of a story is conflict, and in the synopsis, just like in your novel, it has to propel your story forward. Make certain the reader knows what your characters WANT and what keeps stopping him/her from getting it.

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Other info:

1. Keep the reader engaged -so use active voice. The synopsis might be the first glimpse of your story the editor/agent gets, so let it sing. It's supposed to 'sound' like your story in voice and style, not like some fact-by-fact science report. Give it the same personality your books have. If you write suspense, make the synopsis sound suspenseful. Comedy? Add some humor. Also remember, your story is filled with action and emotions - both should be present in the synopsis

2. Just like with the information about 'conflict', remember to add your character's internal and external motivation. For example, in one of my books, my character wants to move out of the small town of Ransom, Virginia (external), but his internal motivation is to be seen as 'a hero' because he's always felt like the black sheep and a loser.

3. Make sure your reader knows what will be lost if your character does not attain his/her goal - what's at stake.

4. Be clear. Don't add any extra information that isn't necessary to expressing the story arc. The dress color of your character is probably not a key component of your story, so could probably be left out :-)

5. Remember - you HAVE to leave stuff out in a synopsis. It's not the novel :-)

6. Last but not least, the ending should resolve the major conflicts of the story (unless a few are purposefully left for the next book).

These are the basics! As a treat, I'd be happy to edit one reader's synopsis to help with conference prep. If you're interested in an read-through, let me know in the comments below and I'll put your name in the drawing for an edit of your 3-5 page synopsis.

Come on, let's chat. What is your biggest struggle with writing a synopsis?

6 comments:

Ashley Clark said...

Pepper, GREAT post! It's so hard to find really solid tips on writing synopses! Excellent job! I can't wait to see where these proposals take you! :D

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Wow...these are great tips. I bet you are really good at them. :)

Pepper said...

Thanks, Ash. Hoping for good things, but we'll just have to wait and see....been waiting for a while now :-)
How are your synopses coming?

Pepper said...

HA, I'm not sure how good I am at them, Sherrinda. I'm DEFINITELY a WIP all by myself, so I'm constantly having to remind myself of these tips while writing. My agent said the synopses turned out well, though -so that's a good sign :-)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Of course, they turned out well! You are a fabulous writer!

annemariewrites said...

I'm an over-explainer. My first synopsis was 4 pages long and it went into minute detail that wasn't necessary. :(

One of my writer friends posted a link to Susan Dennard's synopsis layout. I'm trying that one out. It's still hard to whittle 78k down to 500 words, but I'm working on it.

With this post to guide the emotional journey, I should have a workable synopsis for #PitchWars. I hope. Eeee.