Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Dreaded Synopsis

Let me begin by being honest...even after writing 36 novels, I stink at writing synopsis. When I googled "dreaded synopsis" I got 1,430,000 hits. I think I can conclude that there are a lot of writers out there who hate writing synopsis.
In fact, if you want to make a lot of money-figure out how to write a good synopsis and then freelance out the service. A mere classified ad would do: "Need help with your synopsis? Synopsis guru will write it for you for $x..." It's money in the bank. LOL
I think the problem is that there really aren't any guidelines for synopsis-hints and tips, yes-but no guidelines. One agent only wants a back blurb like paragraph. An editor wants a one page synopsis. Another editor wants "no more than five pages." Wait- two pages are standard. No... rule of thumb is one page per every ten thousand words... Then there's a publisher-one I haven't ever been able to break into- who demands a "detailed" synopsis of indeterminate length as long as every emotion, subplot and turning point is in there...(they don't bulk at a 20 page synopsis and in fact would like more detail please...)
These many different vague demands of what the synopsis "should" be have spanned all kinds of classes and workshops on how to write a synopsis. Seriously- google it. The sad part is every single person will tell you theirs is "the correct way."
So- what is a writer to do?
I wish I had the answer. What I do is write several synopsis of varying lengths...then send them out with a wing and a prayer. Yes, so much for my "important selling tool."
That said here are some tips that I use in writing various size synopsis:
1) Start with the annotation or tag line-a fifteen word sentence that tells your story. Think NYT Bestseller blurb.
2) Write a back blurb copy for your story-three paragraphs that sell the story. (A good way to practice this is to go to Amazon or BN and copy some of your favorite author's back blurbs into a word file and then use them as a template for your own story. It's not cheating-it's called practicing.)
3) Write the goal/motivation/conflict for your main character. Then add in your story's turning points and the resolution.
4) keep everything in present tense.
5) Go online and read your targeted agent/editor/publisher's synopsis guidelines. FOLLOW THEM.
Keep in mind that no one really knows what a "good" synopsis looks like. It is as subjective as writing a "good" story. The best thing to do is relax. Give yourself a break and simply write it.
Good luck!


Marsha Moore said...

UGH! SYNOPSIS! Strikes fear in my heart. Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone!

Nancy J. Parra said...

LOL- yes, my face has the same expression as the monster's when faced with synopsis...I think a lot of people feel that way. Cheers!

Marin Thomas said...


Count me in on hating synopsis writing!

A Cowboy Christmas (Dec 09)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Hey, toss in that some want an outline which is different from a synopsis, and one is really stressed!

You're right, everyone wants something a little different, so there's no one size fits all synopsis.

And I hate the back cover synopsis. Those frustrate me. My books are high on character development & relationships, low on action and mystery - how on earth do I make them sound 'exciting?'

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Marin! I know you have to write detailed synopsis, too. Bless you!

L. Diane, I agree. It is really tough to show character development and relationships in a back blurb and still be exciting. Good thing you're good at what you do!

Linda Kage said...

Here's me raising a glass of cranberry cocktail juice (since that's about all I'm allowed right now) to you in cheers, cause I agree. Synopsis writing is no fun.

Thank you for the tips though. Any advice in that area is always welcome. Seems like every time I send a synopsis off, a publisher will read something into my story that's not there, and I'll have to go back and re-word the synopsis. Bluck.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

So I’m not the only one pulling out my hair when someone says that dreaded ‘s’ word. I did try the Google approach to try to find the ideal synopsis a few months ago and had no luck either.

I like your idea of practicing by using blurbs from other books. I am going to give that a try.