The Dreaded Synopsis

When I first decided I wanted to be a professional author, way back when I was 14, I was horrified to learn that I was gonna need to write a synopsis of my opus.  Seriously?  I was going to have to somehow DIMINISH the fantastic?  This was in addition to the flail inducing QUERY LETTER.  These things struck terror in my little teenaged heart, so when I submitted that first book, it was to a couple of publishing houses that took unsolicited manuscripts–just so I could avoid having to SUMMARIZE the awesome that was my story.  The fact that I got some nice comments on the rejection letter from the then-editor at Harper Collins’ children’s line was nothing short of a miracle (yes, way back in 1994, they did actually take unsolicited manuscripts).

Even as a grown up and and responsible writer, I really dreaded having to synopsize.  Instead of diminishing…what we SHOULD be doing is CONCENTRATING the awesome.  I don’t know about you, but the unique voice I have in prose absolutely does not translate in a summary.  Which leaves what is otherwise a truly great (I know, you thought I was gonna say awesome again, didn’t you?) story sounding flat and bleh.  How could anybody possibly make a judgment based on THAT?

Then I went indie and the issue of synopsis was really tabled except for the blueprints of the story themselves that I used for plotting and story planning purposes.  Those didn’t have to sound GOOD to anybody…they just had to make sense to me and the Pink Hammer (Pot’s alter ego who must approve the logic before I move forward or I usually wind up having to redo vast quantities of STUFF).

Fast forward to now.  I have an agent, who loves my work, whom I acquired through nothing resembling the usual channels.  And now I have to write a synopsis. Because, you know, she needs one to show my awesome to the big boys who might want to buy it.


Don’t get me wrong.  I am not COMPLAINING.  This is a great problem to have.  I am GRATEFUL to be here.  But maybe I’m whining–just a little.

It’s not like I don’t know what the story is ABOUT, which is a common problem of synopsis haters.  Often the resistance is because you must drill down to the essence of the story and lots of writers, particularly newbies, don’t know how to DO that yet.  I have, thankfully, moved beyond that point.  I know exactly what the story is about, and I know almost exactly what’s going to happen.  The challenge is making it SOUND GOOD in 3-5 pages or whatever it was I was told (must go check email).

Granted, Laurie did not tell me it had to be perfect, and was totally cool to my sending bulleted lists to get the essence o’ Kait and my process (because she’s awesome like that).  And it’s not like she’s said she must have it RIGHT NOW.  But y’all know me.  Top of my class.  OVERACHIEVER.  Really.  My high school resume was 4 pages.  We won’t talk about the length of my professional vitae.  Which means I want to take my bulleted list (that truthfully probably only makes sense to me and to Pot because she’s worked with me for so long), and turn it into something AMAZING.  Something that will make anybody who reads it say, “HOLY CRAP, YES, I WANT TO READ THIS BOOK!!!” (and its pipe dream corollary of “And I’m willing to give you a massive 6 figure advance to do it!)

So now that I’m back to Red and moving forward at something approximating my normal pace of productivity again (should finish the FPP today!), I really need to sit down and work on this synopsis thing.  Anybody got advice on how to get from point A to point Z?  You know, other than ye classic “Just do it.”  How did YOU get over your phobia of synopsis?

9 thoughts on “The Dreaded Synopsis

  1. A synopsis is a few pages long?
    For some reason I thought it was sort of like the bit at the back of the book… (must be a French-English mix up thing…)
    I have the opposite problem, I can do short, it’s to develop it that I have to work extra hard!
    Good luck with it and thank you for sharing all your writer’s adventures with us.
    (Yes, you are a role model… )

  2. Oh gosh I will be absolutely no help. The best way for me is to “just do it.” My favorite synopses are the ones where I’ve kept the voice true to the work. I like writing a synopsis as if the main character(s) is sitting down to write the synopsis, as if they’re having to make clear to someone just what exactly they’re going through, as clearly and concisely as possible, while still conveying who they are.

    We don’t want our synopses sounding like a dry play-by-play out of a technical manual. Your writing has a lot of personality and humor in it; I would suggest keeping as much of that as possible in your synopsis. If nothing else, that’ll help it feel more natural to write, and then you can go back later and edit the voice down a bit if you need to. 🙂

  3. I’ve written synopses. Every editor I’ve talked to says one page, no more. In fact I had a couple people tell me my one page synopsis is too long. You wrote a blurb about your book to sell it on Amazon and the like, didn’t you? Just use that as a basis. Add the important plot points (not every detail, just the essential ones) and make sure to include the ending. Do it it present tense and make it sound like a mini-version of the book. You’ve had plenty of good reviews, haven’t you?I’d look at those for ideas. Book reviewers do a great job of condensing the plot into a few paragraphs.

    If you want me to shoot a couple of examples your way or to give you feedback on your attempts, just send me an email or tweet. I know how intimidating this is. My first one was a real challenge.

  4. Okay, I ain’t anywhere as awesome as you 🙂 and have never, ever, had to submit a synopsis.

    I did create one for my NaNo project after I did NaNo to hopefully make revisions etc. easier. Jury is still out on that. I used the snowflake method. Was pretty easy, and considering how organized you are, you probably already have most of those steps done in your pre-planning 🙂

    Good luck!

    1. Have used the snowflake before. Love that thing. It’s not like I don’t have a ton of preplanning, prewriting, outlining, story structure, etc. notes. It’s taking all that (13 single spaced pages of it) and whittling it down. But c’est la vie. I have a draft and it is off to Agent Lady, so I can get back to the fun part.

  5. Synopsises’s. I hate ’em. But I have lately been using Scrivener as a writing tool, and when I plot a story I create 4 folders – Setup / Orphan, Response / Wanderer, Attack / Warrior and Resolution / Martyr to reflect the four stages of story structure and four phases of character.

    Each of these four, as plotting unfolds, gets it’s own synopsis, slowly built up as I figure out what I’m actually writing about. When I’ve finished plotting – really finished plotting – the synopsis of the four sections make a pretty good first draft of a final synopsis.

    This process has taken it from ‘Oh, crap, not again’ to just another step to the end of the book writing process.

    Good luck, and congrats on the agent. I hope she makes a lot of money off of you.

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