Sunday, August 8, 2010

Synopsis Strategies

With the latest revision of Killing Kessler out to betas, I'm hoping it will be ready to query soon, so it's probably time to write the synopsis. Okay, it's probably well past time but getting to the point where I can't put it off any longer.

I've been looking through my writing books for synopsis tips. Here are a few of the tips I found most valuable:

Always follow the publisher's or agent's guidelines on synopsis length, but generally synopses should be one single-spaced page, or up to five double-spaced pages. Shorter is better, though some novels, like thrillers or mysteries, might require more.

Establish a hook at the beginning. Think of your synopsis as a sales pitch.

Introduce your most important character first.

Main characters should be well developed. What are their goals, motivations, obstacles? The reader needs to care about them.

Don't leave the editor/agent in suspense; tie everything up and reveal the ending.

P.S. I thought I remembered seeing something about this on Elana Johnson's blog before, and I just took a look and found it. If you're writing your own synopsis, check out her advice here.

P.P.S. Also, Catherine Winn has posted a great idea on writing synopses that I'll definitely try. Click here to read her post.

I think I remember seeing someone mention on their blog that they had taken an online seminar on writing a synopsis. Does anyone know of any good seminars, courses, books, etc. that you would recommend?

What's your best synopsis advice?


Stina Lindenblatt said...

Most agents who request a synopsis (and fortunately many don't) want only one page. Anything over one page is double spaced. So if (and this happened to me once) an agent asks for two pages, it's really the one page query double spaced.

I find the advice conflicting. During the Writer Digest writer's course I took, we had to hand in our synopsis for feedback. I was told I need to include the best friend and mention her name. I included everything the intructor told me. But when Ellen Hopkins read it at the SCBWI LA conference, she told me there was too much info (just the main plot points were included) and I shouldn't include the BFF's name and character. Say what?

Talk about subjective! ;)

Terri Tiffany said...

Good points! Camy Tang is doing an online one i think this fall--I just took a course from her and she is awesome.She also will look at one for really cheap and edit it.

Candyland said...

I agree with Stina-very subjective. Also, the synopsis is the devil.

Jen said...

I think nailed some excellent points! I hope to possibly learn even more at Write On Con!!!

BTW check out my blog today to see if you might want to join in on an awesome book club adventure!!! It's super easy!

Old Kitty said...

Gosh! The best advice I had was to keep practicing. I absolutely detested synopses writing and trying to keep it to one side of an A4 paper... aaaargh!!! But I found that for me it's practice, practice, practice and continuous re-writing. I think that's why I like writing flash fiction - or very very short fiction. It's a good way of keeping the word count down, choosing only necessary words but still able to produce a succint story.

Also I have no idea where I read this or picked it up but some kind soul suggested summarizing each chapter in one sentence then using these sentences to shape your synopsis afterwards. I've not tried this method but that may work! :-)

Good luck Susan!! Yay that you;ve finished your re-drafting!

Take care

Creepy Query Girl said...

When I was querying UK agents, they all requested a 1-3 page synopsis which worked like a summary, telling us the major plot points from beginning to end, with the ending revealed. Thank GOD most american agents don't ask for this!:)=

Patti Lacy said...

Sigh. Get Camy Tang to edit it. Her valuable advice (she also suggests articles, etc., to read at points where she sniffs out a problem) is worth PENNIES to the dollars you will spend waiting and redoing and revising.

GREAT post!!!


Jackee said...

And proud betas they are too! :o)

I suck at writing synopses so my advice doesn't count for much. But here it is anyway: keep the tension up, the shorter the better, and if ever you find yourself wanting to write "and then" it's time to go back and see where you've lost the action.

Oh--and I just saw in your blog list that Catherine @ the writing room posted synop advice!

Talli Roland said...

Synopsis and I are not the best of friends, but I have found it's helpful to focus only on the main character, leave out the subplots, and make sure to include only the main action.

Author Nicola Morgan has posted a few times about writing synopsis on her blog 'Help! I Need a Publisher.' (If you Google that, it'll come up.)

Susan Fields said...

Stina - I agree, it's totally subjective. One of my books suggested making several synopses, since different agents/editors will want different things. I guess the best thing is to read the guidelines carefully and just give it your best shot. Thanks for the tips!

Terri - I will definitely Google her. Thanks so much for letting me know about her!

Candyland - Well said!

Jen - Thanks for the invite, I'll be over to check it out!

Bish Denham said...

I think of a synopsis rather like a book report. I did a lot of those in school. Condensing each chapter into a single sentence works the best for me.

Susan Fields said...

Old Kitty - Thanks so much for the advice. And that one sentence/chapter thing sounds like a really good idea - I'll give it a try!

Creepy Query Girl - I'm glad to hear most American agents don't ask for one! I'll write it, but I'm not sure how it will turn out. :(

Patti - It definitely sounds like I need to research Camy Tang, as she's been mentioned twice already. Thanks so much for the tip!

Jackee - That "and then" advice is a great tip! The last time I wrote one, it seemed like I wanted to start every paragraph with "and then." And thanks for pointing out Catherine's post - you're so observant! I just went and read it and it's a great post - I've added the link to this post so others can read it, too.

Talli - Thanks for the advice, Talli! I'll look Nicola Morgan up.

Susan Fields said...

Bish - Old Kitty mentioned that method as well. I'll give it a try, it seems like that would make a lot of sense. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Susan, thanks for posting a link to my blog. I'm still struggling with writing synopses and I hope it gets easier with time and practice.

Melissa said...

CJ Redwine also teaches a synopsis writing workshop. I'm not sure how it is, but my CP took her query writing workshop and so far she's had several agents request her work.

Bossy Betty said...

Thanks for these great pointers!

Susan Fields said...

Catherine - I'm writing mine using your tip right now and it's going really well!

Melissa - That's good news! Thanks for letting me know, I'll check her out as well.

Betty - You're so welcome! :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I've had to write a few synposes: a five-to-seven pager for a book that was already under contract (for the senior editors!); a one page one for a professional manuscript critique; and of course the mini-synopsis otherwise known as the query letter. I think the five pager was the hardest. The best thing to know is exactly what they're looking for in terms of length, and making sure you include the ending (not in the query though).

Great post!

Theresa Milstein said...

This may seem small but I read an agent's blog, and he recommended putting a character in all capital letters when s/he is introduced for the first time. It helps the readers keep each character straight.

Susan Fields said...

Susan - That's great advice. Knowing what they're looking for is key, since (unfortunately) it probably isn't the same as what the next guy/girl is looking for. It's interesting that you say the longest one was hardest to write, since most people say it's harder to get the story condensed into fewer words, but I agree, I like the shorter ones better, too.

Theresa - Good point! I've heard that too. It makes a lot of sense.

Lydia Kang said...

Synopses is the worst part of writing that i have to do. I detest them!

Julie Musil said...

I don't have anything to add to your advice, other than it was a difficult thing for me to do! I took everyone else's advice and created one.

My fingers are crossed for you as you venture to query-land! Good luck. And maybe I'll see you at write on con.

Lynda Young said...

Great post. I like best your point about thinking of it as a sales pitch :)

Hema P. said...

Wonderful tips, Susan! I find the tips (rules, more like) from different sources about writing a good synopsis conflicting. As with most other things in this business, the list of things a good synopsis inlcudes is pretty subjective, too, I guess.

Good luck with your task!

Susan Fields said...

Lydia - It's nice to know I'm not alone. :)

Julie - Thanks for the good luck wishes!

Lynda - It seems like just about everything is a sales pitch of some sort, doesn't it? :)

Hema - I agree, the advice is very conflicting. Makes it kind of tough. :(

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Also avoid using adverbs and adjectives in your synopsis but still make it sound exciting. (Always hated that rule.)

Shelley Sly said...

I dread writing synopses, but I read Elana's post on them not long ago, and that's helped ease my mind a little. Good luck writing your synopsis!

Crimey said...

I haven't written my synopsis either. It doesn't seem to be enough time in the day. I plan to get started on it once I'm done beta reading. Should be fun (I kid!)

MT said...

Like Jackee, I can't offer any synopsis advice. I didn't even know there were online courses. Now, I do. ;) Thanks for the informative post.

Jai Joshi said...

Great tips on writing the synopsis, Karen! I hate writing the synopsis but this will help a lot.


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I wish I had some advice for you, friend...Sorry...I'd be asking some of my published friends this question. I for sure wouldn't be asking me. (wink)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Fields said...

L. Diane - Great tip! I hadn't heard that one before, but it makes sense.

Shelley - Elana's post was great - it really helped me.

Crimey - I hope that beta reading's going well for you! :)

Susan Fields said...

MT - I Googled Camy Tang, and she offers lots of different types of help, including the online synopsis courses.

Jai - I'm with you, writing the synopsis is so not fun. :(

Sharon - I guess you're just going to have to get published so you can answer my questions. :)

Kay Richardson said...

I made the mistake of threatening the agent during my synopsis. I was banging on about the story, then in brackets wrote 'if you're not reading this, i'm going to get you'.

the agent didn't offer representation.