I promised last week to cover the dreaded synopsis challenge every writer is forced to endure once they’ve completed their novel. As far as I’m concerned, writing a synopsis is a hell of a lot harder than writing the damn book. Seriously, you’re expected to squish 350 pages into 5….3 5 0 down to 5. Do you see the problem here? Besides the fact that 350 has three placeholders and 5, a lonely one? Yeah, it’s enough to make you want to spike your coffee with cynanide.
As much as I highly dislike this part of the querying process, there is no escaping it. Really. Just go out and look at any submission policies from any publishing house or agency. I guarentee somewhere in that long list of how to send in your stuff will be the word “synopsis”.
It sounds simple enough. Tell us what your book is about in 2-5 pages. Ummm, can’t you just read it? Please? (The whine factor here is off the charts, by the way.) The honest answer is–no. Agents and acquiring editors are inundated with queries every hour of every day. I think the synopsis is a test of sorts. How well do you know your story? Do you know the most important, intriquing parts of the story? Enough to hook someone into joining your fictional world in 2-5 pages? If you do, you’re ahead of the game. If you don’t, you’re about to find out.
Granted queries are suppose to be the first step to snagging someone’s attention, but once you have it, you want to keep it on you. We’re not greedy, but we do want them to read what we’ve written. They’re not going to want to come on the journey unless you have a clear path laid out with lovely cakes and pasteries (versus Hansel & Gretel’s breadcrumbs), so that before they realize it, they have completed the journey with you. This is why your synopsis is so huge.
How do you get it down? You have to mill down your story to the bones. If you use Scrivner, it’s a bit easier. Just use the corkboard layout and if you’ve done it right you have a one to two sentence outline for each chapter. If you’re Scrivner-less, you get to do the same thing. Remember, high points here. You don’t need to go into the fact your hero/heroine ate a blueberry muffin, spilled her coffe that made her late for work if what really happened was that by being late for work your hero/heroine walks into a robbery in progress.
Remember, you’ve already written the story, now, you want to tell the major points. Adjectives are not necessary, long descriptions are best kept in your manuscript, but you’re a writer so make sure your voice comes through. Not every little event needs to be detailed, the big ones that impact the ending, those need to be shared. Here’s the thing, a query doesn’t answer all the questions because you want them to go read your book. A synopsis will set up the world, your characters, your overall plot and answer all the questions. And it does it, in a logical fashion–no jumping from scene to scene like a hyper Mexican jumping bean.
The best advice I can share: just sit down, write out your book as if someone asked you, “So what’s your book about.” Don’t work about formatting, etc., just answer that question. When you’re done, it won’t be pretty by all the necessary points should be there. Then you can go back and polish it up.
Those who’ve survived the synopsis trials, please, please share how you managed to survive!