Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Synopsis secrets

You may have guessed from my last post that I find conjuring a good synopsis out of blank paper rather tricky. But, now the painful part is over and I have finished howling at the moon, I thought I’d share some secrets that worked for me.

(When I say worked, only time will tell of course.)

  1. Make a list of yucky things that seem preferable to writing a synopsis. Decide that writing a synopsis is infinitely better than, say, licking cat vomit.
  2. Read each chapter of your novel and write one paragraph describing the main events. I did this in long-hand and came up with three or four pages of scribble. (Scribble being my default best handwriting.)
  3. Type this up and edit where necessary.
  4. Read it over. Does your synopsis mention:
    - Main characters (only the protagonists that move the story forward are needed)
    - Setting, including year
    - Main plot and sub-plot
    - The ending (very important. Don’t be coy!)
  5. Take out anything superfluous  - think plot; think the simplest terms for someone else to understand that plot
  6. Make sure the synopsis tone of voice reflects the novel tone of voice
  7. Edit, edit, edit! Edit until you’re sick! Edit some more!
  8. Read it aloud. Tweak if needed.
  9. And breathe...
As for practicalities – unless the agency / publisher you are submitting to have specific guidelines (and most do), I use Times New Roman, point size 11, single-spaced typing. I might increase the font size to 12 when actually sending it out - cheers Giles! (see comments). I wouldn’t go over two pages, perhaps three at a push. Think of it as a CV – everyone has a CV but most companies don’t want you to send it in as they have their own forms. So say some agencies want a one-page synopsis - if you have something you are happy with you'll be able to prune it to what's needed.

And the best thing about writing a synopsis?

It really, really helps your novel. At least, it did for me. I started working on my synopsis earlier this year, and it identified a problem with my novel. Each time I began the synopsis I started it at a certain point - but this wasn't the point where my novel started. This discrepancy revealed a lurking fear that I'd started my novel in the wrong place - buried the poor thing in back story - and finally this set me on the path of the gigantic rewrite.

So, if things work out, I'll have to shake that synopsis by the hand and buy it a drink. It probably won't stop me writing lists about awful things I'd rather do than write one, but at least now I understand. A synopsis is your novel's best friend.


mshatch said...

great way to go about it! I usually already have a chapter by chapter outline which helps, but I like your list.

Old Kitty said...

Thank goodness there are things better than licking cat vomit! LOL!
GOOD LUCK with your synopsis writing and ms in general!

I think the best thing that my synopsis did for me was to give me an ending to my first draft! LOL!

Take care

Giles Hash said...

Great advice! I'm always on the lookout for ways to write a synopsis. The only amendment I would make is the font size. From what I hear, size 12 is the only acceptable size for any submission of any kind to any and all agents, editors, and publishers. But I could be wrong on that...

Jayne said...

Giles - thank you, have included your amendment re font size. :)

mise said...

Dear Jayne, would I be correct in surmising that a synopsis of your guide to writing a synopsis is to be methodical and persevere?

Carole Anne Carr said...

Have you done Nanowrimo, a fastastic way to beat writers block. Did it a couple of times and always ended up with an editable book.

Melissa Sugar said...

Thanks for the tips. I can think of little that I would like less than licking cat vomit. BTW, when I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be a dog. Funny how we both now want to be writers. See cats & dogs are not that different.

I appreciate your advice. I have not tackled the synopsis yet. I am working on my query now.

Out on the prairie said...

Lots of time and effort to get it right it sounds. Good luck with your submission

Christine Rains said...

Great list. Writing a synopsis is always the hardest part for me. I find it difficult to squish down a whole book into a few pages or into a paragraph.

Debbie said...

Great advice. I need to work on one for NaNo.

The Golden Eagle said...

Thanks for the advice!

I've never tried writing a synopsis for one of my novels; just outlines and short for-fun blurbs. I'll have to bookmark this post . . .

Shirley Wells said...

Writing a synopsis really does help the novel. I used to write the book and then start on the synopsis. These days, I have to submit a very detailed synopsis with the opening chapters before I get a contract. It's much, much easier doing it first as it highlights problems in the story.

Having said that, licking cat vomit comes a close second. :)

Maggie May said...

Sounds like sheer murder...... especially if you'd sooner lick cat vomit!
You sound as though you're getting there.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Fran said...

It's funny how each agent/publisher seems to want different things from a synopsis - in my experience, anyway. But whatever they want, writing one would always be preferable to licking cat vomit - I think that's a given.

Dolly said...

Fascinating and I am glad you are doing so well with your synopsis & rewrites :)

Really look forward to meeting up with Froggy & you this Thursday, and hearing more.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Nice post, Jayne. Really helpful. I'll be needing to write a synopsis in a few months, and this makes me think I might need to start writing it now while I'm doing the rewrite. I'll keep your points in mind. Good luck with your novel when you submit it with the synopsis.

D.J. Kirkby said...

I dislike writing syniopsis but this post did make me laugh, and gave me a different perspective on the whole process. I shall return to your post when it comes time to write one for My Dream of You.