Friday, April 27, 2012

What's So Hard About Writing a Synopsis?

One of the hardest things for me to write is a novel synopsis. I find it even harder than query letter, almost harder than writing the entire novel.

When I begin, it always seems close to impossible to sum up the main points of a novel in one to two pages. The summary that I wrote up before I began writing the novel doesn't fit anymore, and the scene by scene outline I often keep as I write is too detailed. So now what?

Focus on main characters and main plot events. When I get sidetracked by subplots, there's too much information. Too many characters just makes it confusing.

Pretend to tell a friend. If I write about the story as though I'm explaining it to a friend in a letter (or even a critique buddy), it comes more naturally than if I try work from scene summaries. Once I have something down, I can go back later to make sure the events are ordered correctly.

Include a sprinkling of unique details. Not too many, because the point of a synopsis is to show the plot of the story. But a key detail here and there adds some flavour that makes it easier to read than an boring list of events.

I think that's what makes writing the synopsis so challenging. In its essence, it is a list of events. But it needs to be written to highlight and emphasize what's important about those events, using as few words as possible while still capturing the story momentum.

Do you have any good tips for writing a synopsis?

13 comments:

  1. I think the hardest part is that you have to include so much, but it's hard to fit in all the important information, especially if the synopsis is only a page long. You end up cutting things, and the story doesn't quite sound right after that. The synopsis for my wip sounds like the mc gets beat up all the time. That's not true. Fortunately that will probably change with the rewrites to my novel. :D

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    1. Yeah, I have to remember to keep updating my synopsis as I revise my novel!

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  2. I've always heard 2-3 sentences per chapter, but I think your tips are much more helpful. Especially the one about writing it like you're sending it a friend. I also totally agree about sprinkling in the flavor of your novel. As I understand it, synopsis are supposed to be more technial than your usual writing. Best of luck with it!

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    1. Thanks Shiela. It's so true that the synopsis sounds dry and technical. When you're focused on events, it's hard to include the emotion in the story.

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  3. Some writers so dread synopsis-writing that they just plain *don’t.* I find that it gets easier with experience.
    Synopsis of others’ books is a lot easier. It’s your own where you don’t want to omit your most precious moments/scenes/characters from a shortened version of the story. I pretend the book was written by someone else (I make it a specific someone to myself) and imagine I’m being paid {that helps : ) }to write a short synopsis for, say, Amazon.
    Whatever works.

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    1. Great tips, Mirka! I usually get my crit group to critique my synopsis, too. They always give such great advice!

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  4. My tip is to let your MC write it and then change it to third person. It works well for me.

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  5. Great ideas!! I had not thought of a few of them before!! The friend one is great, I have used it several times before.

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  6. I think it's hard, too. I do think keeping structure in mind helps -- the first plot point, midpoint, second plot point, climax. And motivation, so characters' reasons for doing things don't seem random.

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    1. I think getting the motivation in there is critical. I often stop to ask "why" as I'm reading the events in my synopsis, to make sure the reasons for the actions are clear.

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  7. I HATE the synopsis. Hate them. Ugh. Your tips are good.

    If you find yourself not knowing how to pull in your synopsis to the main plot and characters, it can give you a clue that maybe you need some focus in your manuscript. This has helped me tighten up.

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    1. Karen, I'm thinking it's probably useful to work on the synopsis after every revision. When I'm stuck with the story or finding a problem with the plot, working on the synopsis really does help to focus the story.

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