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Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Selling Synopsis



A lot of authors postpone writing the synopsis until, well, they can no longer avoid it. Many agents and editors require a synopsis with a query or submission, so alas, it can’t be postponed forever.
For myself, I’ve learned a little trick that helps. You may want to try it. Before you begin your story, write the synopsis. Impossible, you say. I’m a pantser. Well, I am too—a crossover, really, because I plot and it gets changed so much that it’s unrecognizable. However, the real advantage in writing a synopsis first is that it allows you to spot any weakness in the plot, before an agent sees it and sends a form letter your way.
A synopsis is not meant to be a chronicle of events, but rather a distillation of the novel. Forget anything but the main characters. The agent/editor only wants to know about them and the event that changed their lives. It’s like a book blurb without the hype, if you will. And always tell the ending.
For those of you who resist writing the synopsis first, an easy way to distill your novel is to make an outline of the finished book in Word. That will remind you, if you don’t have a detailed plot, what happens when. From there, you can strike what’s essential, and whittle it down that way. Sometimes I think I write better synopses than novels, because I get requests followed by a form letter, but again, that’s part of the business.
I’d love to know when you usually write a synopsis, so leave me a comment. I’m guessing most wait until the story is complete, but you may find writing it earlier serves as a guide and eliminates a sagging middle—which is another blog subject entirely.

14 comments:

Drue Allen said...

Joyce, I find the "outline in MSWord" idea fascinating. The most recent synopsis I wrote was AFTER I'd sold but before I received the advance money. : ) So yes, I was highly motivated. To tell the truth (hope no one high up is reading), I tend to make it up as I go, and know that I can change it later. But I like your idea to write in outline form, then delete the minor plot points. THAT I think I could do.

C.C. Harrison said...

I write my synopsis, or at least begin to write it, THE INSTANT an opening pitch line comes to me. That could be any time during the writing process, usually in the middle, rarely at the beginning. If I don't drop everything and begin my synopsis right then, the idea cools and eventually slips away. I never wait until the book is done to write the synopsis anymore. But then I'm a confirmed plotter, so always know where the story is going.

Joyce Moore said...

Drue: Now that's pushing it--after the contract! My synopses always get changed because, well, stuff happens, but it gives me a guideline--sorta like a malfunctioning GPS.

Joyce Moore said...

C.C. Good way to go, with the pitch line! Interesting. Preference may depend a bit on genre too. When I write about real historical figures, I do plot ahead, because there's a timeline to work with. And I can see where mysteries need a plot or it could be a tangled set of circumstances. Thanks for stopping by.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I do like your idea, Joyce, of getting a synopsis down before the novel is written. I do that with mystery novels because the plotting has to be so precise. With romances, my drafts are usually much rougher. And yes, there are always plot changes. New ideas occur as I write. I'd hate to admit how much rewriting I do before I ever submit a novel!

Joyce Moore said...

Jacqueline: I'm the queen of rewriting. Just ask my last 5 Star editor, poor thing. I'm glad to know someone else writes synopsis first. Most people have never considered it, but to me it's like a mini-plot. If it doesn't look like it would excite an agent/editor, I'd better do some more thinking before I write. That's why it helps me.

Mary Ricksen said...

It's an interesting Idea, feels like the cart before the horse. But you only know if you try!
Great blog Joyce!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

My initial synopsis is more of a working outline. It gets rewritten after the novel finally comes together the way I want it too (that's probably never but I keep trying!).

Joyce Moore said...

Hi Mary: Yes, most people think of the synopsis as something to be written after you've finished, but it really helps me get going, and jells the plot in my mind. But everyone works differently, so whatever works, I say!

Joyce Moore said...

Jacqueline: That's exactly how I use mine, and it really helps me keep focused. Like you said, it always needs to be changed, but at least you have the skeleton there so it's not something new you have to tackle.

Leigh D'Ansey said...

I tend to write mine about a third of the way through. I need to because by then, being a total panster, I've lost my way and need some structure.

Joyce Moore said...

Leigh: thanks for stopping. I went to your website. Sounds like you live in a beautiful spot. My son wants to go to New Zealand above all other places. Maybe I'll get there someday too.

Rebbie Macintrye said...

I write my synopsis after the first draft. That's when I finally know the story. Then I end up writing another at the end, when all the wrinkles have been written out of the plot. But of course, there's no "right" way to use the process. Whatever gets the story down is the best way to go. :)

Joyce Moore said...

Rebbie: That's a good time too. From the comments, seems that no matter when we write the first synopsis, it gets changed, so I guess there's a bit of the pantser in all of us.