Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Dreaded Synopsis


I've yet to meet an author who likes the synopsis. The word seems to spark fear and hatred in the hearts of writers. Well get over it.

The synopsis is going to be part of your writing life for as long as you decide to be a writer so it's something you better learn how to do and how to do well. Most agents and editors are going to want a synopsis when they're reviewing materials. It helps them get perspective on your story, allows them to know how the story plays out before they finish reading, and allows you to, potentially, sell on proposal rather than writing the entire book.

As your publishing career grows you might have the opportunity to sell a new book, or the next book in the series, on synopsis only. If you plan on doing that you better understand what makes a good synopsis.

And if that's not enough, your synopsis goes a lot further than just selling your book. It's what will be used to write your cover copy and create your cover. It's what the office will pass around to sales reps and marketing people and possibly some version will even go out as publicity. 

In other words, you better learn how to write a synopsis.

--jhf

8 comments:

Melissa Cutler said...

Hi Jessica,

The first line of this post is an invitation for all of us authors who love writing synopses to step forward. I love them! What I enjoy is that a synopsis lets me create a "highlight reel" about my story--the characters I love, the juicy conflicts, that "oh no, they didn't!" black moment, and so forth. As soon as I loosened up and started having fun with my synopses, writing them in my signature voice and style instead of making them dry, the whole synopsis process kind of gelled for me. I look forward to writing them now, which is great because, as you said, they're a permanent component of my career.

Thanks for the thoughtful post!

~ Melissa Cutler

Kiersten said...

Melissa - I wish I could loosen up and write synopses in my "voice" but when I did, I got majorly slapped down for it. While they are definitely a necessary evil for our entire careers, when you're pre-pubbed and agents & editors (legitimately) ask for 2 or 3 page synopses, it's a lot harder (as I'm sure you remember) to concisely cram in all the relevant parts. I'd love to be free to go to town about my characters and conflicts and black moments but am too worried about getting relevant points within the page limits. Or maybe that's just my sitch. *shrug*

Melissa Cutler said...

Kiersten,

I totally hear what you're saying and I'm sorry that your synopsis written in your voice got slapped down because I love your voice! I can't help but think it was the agent/editor's quirk/personal preference and not a problem with you using your voice.

All of my synopsis learning curve had to happen before I was published, too. The first synopsis in which I really felt like I got what it was all about, I sold the book. This isn't directed at you, at all, but I think one of the biggest struggles for writers is figuring out which details to include and exclude in a synopsis. The vast majority of synopses that I've read attempt to put in WAY too many details and spend far too much time explaining secondary characters and subplots. They try to be too far too linear and accurate. Really, the synopsis is primarily a marketing tool, much like a back cover blurb or a movie trailer (except with the ending added in).

I know I'm in the minority with my opinion on synopses, so you're in excellent company with not liking them!

BookEnds, LLC said...

I agree with Melissa. I think you want your voice to come through in the synopsis. I also think writing a synopsis before you write the book, even if you're a pantser. The synopsis might change, but by writing it you might see a way to avoid holes or problems.

I also agree with Melissa on the details. That gal knows what she's talking about.

--jhf

BookEnds, LLC said...

I agree with Melissa. I think you want your voice to come through in the synopsis. I also think writing a synopsis before you write the book, even if you're a pantser. The synopsis might change, but by writing it you might see a way to avoid holes or problems.

I also agree with Melissa on the details. That gal knows what she's talking about.

--jhf

Emily said...

I am so glad for this post and the comments! Thank you! (Tomorrow's goal: write synopsis for the story I'm 6 chapters into... ;-) )

Jessica Alvarez said...

When I saw this post yesterday, my first thought was that I have at least one client who loves writing synopses. And, without me even outing her or pointing her in this direction, Melissa came forward. Melissa writes a killer synopsis for exactly the reasons she mentions--she does it in her voice and she only includes the highlights. Everything she includes in the synopsis is something that moves the story forward, and she doesn't include any extraneous details. And, even though her synopses include the endings (as a synopsis should), it leaves me wanting to read more.

Seriously, if you ever have the chance to attend a synopsis workshop given by Melissa, go!!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Thanks for the input Melissa! I am guilty of the play by play book report, though my gut always screamed- why do they want this?! Why not ask for chapter break downs?

That's what I get for over-thinking. So glad I saw this. No more thinking of it as a 7th grade homework assignment- think highlight reel.

Thanks!