1. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    Synopsis Synopsis Writing

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by LostThePlot, Oct 29, 2017.

    So it's that time again that I'm getting things ready to submit and holy crap am I having a hard time writing a synopsis for this one. I've always had something of a problem in summarizing my books in a concise way but I've always managed it reasonably quickly. This time I've been struggling with this for forever and I think I need to take a step back and at least talk it out some.

    In the most basic sense; what is the conventional wisdom about what a synopsis is supposed to be? What makes a synopsis good and what makes it not? And, to follow on from that; how much is a synopsis supposed to resemble the actual book? Should there be any characterization at all? And, I suppose, what purpose does a synopsis serve to an agent; is it literally just to give them an idea of the direction the book will take after the sample? Or do they read it first and decide if they like it from that?

    I've got this one down to a thousand words (a page and a half for those working in inches) and I need to get it down to a page, or at least there are a lot of agents that I want to submit to who ask for that. And I'm finding that compressing it down into that kind of space makes it ever more terse and ever more prosaic and, to me at least, it makes it sound like a worse book. It makes it sound like the plot is a straight line with nothing important happening because I have like four words (or literally no words) to summarize this important plot point.

    If that's what a synopsis is supposed to be then I guess I'll keep going. If agents read a sample first, get a taste for my writing and then see where the plot is going to go after that then I guess it's fine. But if that's kinda not how it really works and I'm supposed to be using my synopsis to sell my book as being interesting then... Well, I'm going to have some problems.

    So, good people of this forum; what the hell is a synopsis supposed to be anyway?
     
  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    The purpose of a synopsis is that the agent/publisher can see, without having to read all 90k words, that you have a book with a completed plot and a satisfying ending.

    If you've written a spy thriller set in the real world and end it with a spaceship beaming down and abducting the antagonist, they know not to bother reading the manuscript. If you submit a romance and the couple don't end up happily together, they know not to bother reading the manuscript.

    The synopsis doesn't have to sell the story like the blurb does. The agent/publisher isn't looking for sparkling writing and an enticing blurb. They're looking for a coherent summary, straightforward, with a sensible beginning, middle, and end that fits genre expectations.

    I know from talking to agents, and reading interviews, that they all use synopses differently. Most will read your sample pages before the synopsis, but not all. Some aren't very interested in the synopsis (which makes one wonder why they ask for it, but hey ho!) There is no convention - it's up to the agent to do what she finds most useful.

    I did have one agent who asked me for an R&R based on the synopsis alone. I thought that was crazy, and still do!

    And, to follow on from that; how much is a synopsis supposed to resemble the actual book? Should there be any characterization at all?

    I'm not sure what your first question means. The tone of the synopsis should reflect the book - if you've written a comedy, the synopsis should have touches of humour. If you've written a serious book, you need a serious synopsis.

    The agent will know that you've had to leave a hell of a lot out to produce a one page synopsis. She will expect to read a summary of the main plot, not side plots. She will expect to see only three or four characters named (MC, sidekick, love interest, antagonist, for example) and some characters left out of the synopsis altogether.

    There should be some characterisation, because character motivation is an important part of any plot and therefore of the synopsis. But this can be done in a few words. "Harry Potter is a skinny, bespectacled 11-year-old forced to live in the cupboard-under-the-stairs by his aunt and uncle." "Bookworm Belle lives in France with her father, an eccentric inventor."

    It makes it sound like the plot is a straight line with nothing important happening because I have like four words (or literally no words) to summarize this important plot point.

    It should be a straight line because you're only summarising the very core plot, not all the side plots that a good novel has. I don't know what you mean by "nothing important happening" though... the core of your plot should have important things happening. If you only have four words per plot point, you're including way too many plot points.

    Maybe try to condense the core plot of your book into 4 points (inciting incident could be #1) and give them a paragraph each? Bookend that with an opening paragraph to introduce your MC and antagonist, and a closing paragraph explaining the ending.
     
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  3. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    What I really meant by "how much does it have to look like the book" is specifically things like shuffling plot points so that the primary plot still makes sense. For example; in my present book the two girls won't get together until about half way through and on the other side of an otherwise very important and harrowing passage, but one that is from a different plot thread to the romance. In the synopsis I've reshuffled these so that the girls get together first, and it's staying with each other that becomes the motivation for the aforementioned harrowing passage. This is not what the book actually looks like but without the sub-plots to give context this is the only way that the primary plot makes sense, especially as them fighting to stay together is very much the driving force of the rest of the primary plot. And, well, is that ok? Or what?

    What I mean is that writing in such a terse way makes complex plot points sound dull and uninteresting because there's just no space to emphasize anything. Think if someone said to you "Well today I went to the shops, I ran into an old friend at the bank, I had lunch at some cafe, my mum called to say dad died, and then I nipped in to work to pick up the Pearson file". When all of these are written in such a condensed way it's kinda hard to know what things are a big deal, you know? When there's space for nothing more than totally beige prose then it looses the sense that this story has ups and downs; it makes "the girls practise together" sound like it's on the same level of intensity and import as "they talk about her mother's death", you know?
     
  4. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Hmm. Hard to say without knowing the details. Part of me thinks it's fine and the agent knows the difficulties of writing a synopsis. Another part says that could be pretty confusing and make it seem like you updated the manuscript without updating the synopsis.

    Well, you wouldn't say "I went to the shops, I ran into an old friend at the bank, I had lunch at some cafe, my mum called to say dad died, and then I nipped in to work to pick up the Pearson file" in a synopsis. You don't include mundane details in a synopsis. It would be "Jane is devastated when her father dies, and seeks out Anne for comfort. In the face of Jane's grief, Anne's resolve to stay away from her is forgotten." We don't need to know that Jane was shopping when she got the news. We don't even need to know her mum made the call. All we need to know is how the event moves on the plot (bringing the two women together after Anne has decided to end the relationship) and if the event doesn't move on the plot, it doesn't belong in the synopsis.
     
  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I agree with @Tenderiser that you need to figure out what's really important and focus on that.

    Your synopsis is the place where the "show, don't tell" rule comes to die. Don't "show" anything, just "tell".

    And, yes, try to "tell" in an interesting way and try to include some voice and style, but also reconcile yourself to the fact that a synopsis is very rarely interesting reading.

    I don't think it's a good idea to shuffle the events of the story out of sequence, but you can probably get around the need by doing some short "telling" of the subplot events that make the actual sequence make sense. "Dick and Jane are temporarily distracted by the explosion at the chemical factory, so they aren't able to spend time at the pillow store right away."
     
  6. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    If it's not really supposed to be interesting then I'm not really worried; it's not interesting but the plot connects together properly and focuses clearly on the romance thread that I want to sell the book on, with a clear beginning, middle and end.

    I don't think that I can work it out another way. It means introducing so much other stuff that's peripheral to the main plot and I really don't want to lose that focus. The big set piece itself doesn't really need specific set up, all we need to know is that the MC is really very driven to win the beauty pageant so she does something awful and painful to win it. In the book her motivation is more that she (like all the girls) is terrifyingly competitive and is cheating because someone else cheated; and that runs through the whole book that these girls are kinda crazy and driven and want to win. But I don't want to start talking about that in the synopsis; I don't want to be presenting this as a book about weird girls being weird at each other; I want it presented as a romance and they'll do anything for love.
     
  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I'd be careful about making the focus of the synopsis different that the focus of the book - I can see how it'd be easier, but you don't want to waste the agent's time, or make the agent feel mislead.

    If the agent reads your synopsis and thinks, "Oh, yeah, I could sell a well-written book about some girls who'd do anything for love" and then reads the book and finds it's actually about weird girls being weird at each other, and the agent doesn't think she can sell that book... you'v e wasted the agent's time. Which maybe isn't that big of a deal, except you'll also have wasted the agent's good will... possibly an agent would say, yeah, I could maybe sell a book about weird girls being weird at each other, but screw this jerk who's already lied to me.

    You can't catch all the little details of your novel in a synopsis, but I think the big picture should be consistent.
     
  8. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    The romance is the focus of the book. It's not the only thing in the book, but it is the main plot; the two girls finding each other and the final resolution is that they'll do anything for love. That's why I'm trying desperately to put the focus on that. Yes, there is more there; there's an ensemble cast exploring the kinds of girls who enter and win beauty pageants; there's constant bitching and backstabbing and chicanery. But the main plot is the two main characters finding each other, falling for each other and desperately trying to cling on to each other so they can stay together; the MC needs to win this show to go to the next one and stay with her ladylove.
     
  9. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    You're getting good advice, so I am not going to add to anything already said. When I got ready to start querying, my editor told me to have a synopsis, my biography, and a basic query letter to be personalized to each agent. However, in the 40 or so queries I sent out, no agent listed either my bio or a synopsis in their submission guidelines. They wanted between 10 to 50 pages of the opening of the book. That said, better to have the synopsis proofed and ready, and not need it, than to create one from scratch overnight, complete with typos!
     
  10. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    This is definitely a regional thing. Everyone I've ever queried has asked for a synopsis; they don't seem to be able to make their minds up exactly what kind of synopsis they want, but definitely over here it's the norm to be synopsizing.
     
  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    This worries me. Not that I have a clue about the industry, but it sounds like you're actually changing the plot description so that it clearly contradicts the book itself?
     
  12. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Jane was determined to win. She blahed, and blahed, and shoved an opponent into a wood chipper. Then she met Susan, and found a new motivation for victory. She's going to need a bigger chipper.
     
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  13. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Chicken just reminded me of an important thing I forgot - synopses are always in present tense (not a criticism of Chicken, she was making a different point!)
     
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