Friday, December 19, 2008

Writing the Short Synopsis

Synopsis writing is one of the most hair-pulling chores novel writers deal with. Whether you are sending a query letter to an agent or editor, or you are submitting a full manuscript, you need a synopsis.

When submitting a query, you'll need a short synopsis, usually about 1-2 pages in length. That's what I'll focus on today. Next week I'll talk about how to write a long synopsis for submitting a full manuscript.

I've made no secret of the fact that my favorite book on writing a synopsis is Pam McCutcheon's Writing the Fiction Synopsis, published by Gryphon Books for Writers. This is a book that is chock full of information and worksheets you can use to write a winning synopsis for your book.

The problem a lot of writers have is that they write their synopsis once the book is finished. I try very hard not to do that. When the book is done, you know so much about your characters, their journey and the little twists and turns that help get them to their happily ever after that it makes it hard to decide what to put into the book and what to leave out. It's very easy to make what should be a quick overview of your story into a mini-novella because you want to tell the reader, i.e. agent or editor, all the wonderful scenes that happen.

When writing the short synopsis, this is a mistake. The only thing the agent or editor needs to know in a short synopsis is who these characters are, what they want, what is standing in their way, what happens that either allows them to get what they want or not get what they want and how the story is resolved to bring a happy ending. It may sound like a tall order and one that can't be done in a 1 to 2 page synopsis, but I assure you, it can be done.

Approach a short synopsis as if you're sitting with a friend and trying to explain what happened in a movie. You don't want to go on for hours. You just want to hit the high points, the things that make the story move forward or in a different direction. There are two different types of scenes to identify. Developmental scenes are those that show the development of characters. They are the "getting to know you" scenes. Turning point scenes are ones where something shifts the story in a different direction, causing action by the hero or heroine. They're the scenes where the dead body is discovered or the heroine is attacked or some other thing that causes action by the main characters. The cute little scenes with a puppy dog or when the hero and heroine go water skiing don't need to be included unless something important happens as a result of the scene to change the story. And even then, the only thing that needs to be mentioned is the turning point.

For instance, if the hero and heroine go water skiing and they're having a great time and suddenly they come across the floating body of the witness who is set to testify in court, proving the heroes innocence, this is important. But the detail that is important to put in the short synopsis is not the water skiing scene. It's the floating body. That's your turning point. Whatever happened during the water skiing scene can be a transitional phrase to bring the important point into focus.

Keep it simple. Hit the high points of your story and you'll be able to write a winning synopsis in 1 - 2 pages.

Until next time, have a wonderful holiday and many blessings to you and yours. Lisa Mondello

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