Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Synopsis in 12 Simple Steps

For many writers, finishing a novel is an arduous process. For those who prevail, have a novel in hand, and decide to try to get it published, perfecting the query can be a drawn-out battle, each word and phrase under constant siege until only the strong remain. And then...then comes the *$!K#@G synopsis.

For those who have not experienced it, following is a simple 12-step process for writing that most nebulous, infuriating and vilified of all marketing products.


1. Realize you need to write a synopsis
2. Denial Part I - Ignore that realization
3. Start querying agents who don't require a synopsis
4. Feel good about yourself
5. Get a partial request from an agent, including the requirement for a synopsis (!)
6. Set aside a night to write your synopsis
7. When that night comes, cry vicious crocodile tears (place hyphen in the spot of your choosing)
8. Die a little inside
9. Denial Part II, aka "Screw this. I just won't respond to this agent's request" - moments later you will deny this denial
10. Discover there are exactly one hundred specific lengths a synopsis "must be"
11a. Spend weekend hammering out ninety-nine drafts of synopsis, each a different length
11b. Die a little more
12. Respond to agent request, and begin querying agents who require synopses between one and ninety-nine pages in length

And there you have it. Easy-peasy. Go forth and synopsize, good readers.

In all seriousness, I do recommend that you complete a synopsis prior to querying a novel. It is not what I'd call a "fun" activity, but it can reveal pacing issues or help you to distill your story into a query or one-line pitch. It's also a bloody slow process, one I don't recommend saving until you've had a request for one of these buggers.

8 comments:

  1. I found that writing the query letter pitch before writing the novel was a great tool to help me focus the story. Would you think writing the synopsis first would also be of use?

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  2. I definitely recommend outlining. And a pre-written query helps to focus on what's original and important in the story.

    I do fear that, by creating too many road maps prior to starting, a writer might feel pressured to stick to a route when better detours and more interesting side-trips present themselves. But then, I was dragged kicking and screaming (by bad manuscripts) into plotting, so my opinion might be a bit skewed.

    I like a finished story. I love the magic of the writing taking you somewhere you hadn't previously imagined.

    My sweet spot for the synopsis was about halfway through. It's a stress test for the first half, and an excellent way to focus the second half.

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  3. Thanks, Hillary. Probably because I am kind of a natural outliner, I am also comfortable with rearranging the outline when I find it isn't quite working out in actuality the way it was working out in theory, so I'm not too worried I'll feel locked in. Still, I think trying it in the middle (which I hadn't thought of) sounds like an excellent idea.

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  4. Agreed about getting it done before querying. It took me a few hair-pulling weeks to finish mine. And I thought the query was bad...

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  5. Ah... the synopsis. :) Add in some more items ....

    13. Write synopsis
    14. Get rejections
    15. Wait 3 months
    16. Look at synopsis and go ... what in the world was I thinking with that version?
    17. Begin entire cycle again.

    :)

    Hehe.

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  6. Aimee, I didn't want to scare anyone... :) Agreed on the "what was I thinking". I think I've burned mine.

    You're right, Elena. The query's got nothing on this bad boy.

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  7. Jumped over here from Nathan's forum, and this is hilarious. I am currently in stages 1-4 and am dreading the 5th. I know it will come, but, but, but...whyyyy haha. Happy holidays!

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  8. KT, thanks for hopping over! You'll be so elated when the 5th happens that you'll hardly feel the pain. Promise. :)

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