Struggling through the Synopsis

*Reminder… I’m now accepting pages (500 words) for the January Critique Round. Click on Critique Corner tab for details!

One of my goals for this website this year is to include information on publishing—anything from grabbing the attention of a literary agent to self publishing. I’ve never written about any of these topics before, and there’s a few simple reasons for this: I do not have a literary agent; I’ve never been published by a traditional publishing house; and haven’t ventured into the world of self publishing. I never felt I was qualified enough to speak about any of these topics. I mean, really, who am I to tell any writer (beginner or not) how to make any of this happen?

But I’ve changed my tune. Not because I am an expert now, but because I do have a lot of information to share with all of you. I’ve scoured the internet for years trying to find any information that will help me write the perfect query letter. I’ve followed writing blogs since the first day I decided to write a children’s book on how to format a manuscript. I’ve researched agents. I’ve interacted with other writers on the same quest as me. I won’t profess to tell you what to do with any of the information I’ve come across, but I’m hoping that something I say will be worthwhile to even a few of you.

So here I am hoping something I say will help you in your quest to be published one day. As we know, there are no guarantees, but we all have to start somewhere. Maybe this site can be a stepping stone on your path toward getting your story in the hands of readers—whether the path you take is through a literary agent or an independent online publisher.

I considered starting at the beginning of getting published. Starting with a topic you would need to know right away, once your manuscript is complete. But let’s be honest. I’m not that organized. And if I start with topic 1, I’m certain a few weeks from now I’ll wish topic 1 would have been a different topic. So instead, I’m going to randomly write about topics that have been important to me. I guess my writer’s brain works in random ways sometime and this is one of those times!

I thought today would be a good day to start with writing a synopsis. The dreaded synopsis. Maybe because I want to get this topic over with, or maybe because I’m writing mine right now and the topic is fresh in my mind. Most likely though I want to start here because writers and agents alike seem to have differing views on their importance and I thought it would be helpful to write about a topic where writers have questions and opinions!

Here’s my two cents.,,

The research I’ve done, both on writer’s websites and literary agency websites has shown me that most (not all) people in the writing community hate them. Writers hate writing them because it’s hard to summarize their 50,000- 75,000 word story into a 1-2 page document. Plus, it’s a dry form of writing. Agents hate reading them because many (not all) like to be surprised as they read a requested manuscript. They don’t want to know the twists and turns ahead of time.

I’ve noticed that more and more agents do not even require them. They feel the query letter and first 5-10 pages is enough to know whether they want to read more. I’ve read the submission’s guidelines of so many literary agencies through the last several years, saying no synopsis is necessary, that I’ve actually gotten lazy. I’ve started my own submission process this third time around without writing one. Sure I wrote one (UGGH) for my first two middle grade novels, but not for this one.

And that is a rookie mistake. The fact is, there are literary agents who want one. There are authors, hosting contests, that ask for one. There are editors of major publishing houses who require one. And if that isn’t reason alone to force your lazy, fearful butt to write one, then this reason should be:

Writing a synopsis will help you gain a better perspective on your story.

It’s true, many writers struggle to write a decent synopsis, and submitting just an average synopsis may not make or break your chances of getting an agent if your query sparkles and your first chapter shines. But…

Why not tackle it head on and make your synopsis dazzle like the like the rest of your submission package? What are you so afraid of? Getting to know your story? Seeing obvious plot holes? Focusing on only one or two characters and the main plot, and leaving minor characters and subplots out? Giving away your ending? Adding just enough emotion to make your summary interesting?

Don’t be afraid. I’ll help you. I’ve struggled through a few over the years. Here’s what you need to know:

A synopsis is a narrative summary of your book. It should be one or two pages, but one page is best. It should be written in third person, present tense, It should be single spaced with only the title of your manuscript written at the top like this:

Synopsis of: (Title of Book) centered across the top of the page or title of book centered across the page with the word Synopsis (not in italics) centered two lines underneath the title.

If it’s longer than two pages then double space. If single space, leave a line between paragraphs.

It should include the time and place of your book, and be written in the same style as your book. If the tone is serious, your synopsis should be serious. If the tone is sarcastic, the synopsis should be sarcastic too. You should include main characters, the antagonist, and the main conflicts of the plot only. The point of the synopsis is to provide a summary, not every detail. However, the emotion of the story is important here too. In as much as the plot of your book is the external goal, the story of your book is the internal goal. Both elements must be included.

The synopsis needs to provide a clear idea of what your book is about. What characters will we care about (or pretty much hate), what do they stand to lose if they don’t reach their goal, and how does the situation resolve itself? How does it all turn out in the end? Definitely include the ending. You must show that you know how to complete a novel.

The synopsis may feel like a report of your book, and it should—with as much feeling as possible without cluttering it with details

The opening paragraph should hook your reader enough to make them keep reading. The closing paragraph should wrap things up. My best suggestion when writing yours though, is to do your own research too. Find a sample or two to get the flavor of what they read like. I considered adding some links for you, but to be honest, there are so many out there for so many different age groups and genres, it would be hard for me to find a sample that would be relevant to each of you.

Like I said before, I do not profess to know all there is to know on this subject. But I’m hopeful this information will give you a place to start, or at least get the conversation going. If you’ve come across any other tid-bits on synopsis writing that might be helpful, please feel free to comment. If there’s enough other information, I may even post again on this topic. Like I said, I’m trying to shine mine up like many of you, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you’re tackling this particular writing gem like me right now, good luck. Let the polishing begin!

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