Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Not-So-Dreaded Synopsis

In case you read yesterday's post before I corrected it, the season premiere of Warehouse 13 is April 29, not the 19th. I taught myself to touch type and never got around to learning how to do the numbers, so it inevitably fails when I attempt to touch type numbers. Sorry!

I should have the current book done and off to my agent today. Hooray! I only have about 20 pages to go, and I could have probably done it yesterday, but that's the section with the most intense rewriting and I was starting to zone out and get distracted, so I figured it was better to save the final stretch for today.

Now, for a writing post! When I read blogs on writing and publishing, I've noticed that the standard adjective used when writers talk about the synopsis is "dreaded." There's something about the synopsis that strikes fear and dread into the hearts of many a writer, and this is a problem because the synopsis is one of the main selling tools for your book, and if you write it with a sense of dread, that's bound to come through in the synopsis, so it's not likely to make anyone get very excited about your book. The synopsis is an advertisement for your book. Editors and agents read it to decide if it's worth reading the whole manuscript. Editors may use it to drum up enthusiasm among the editorial committee to encourage them to okay buying the book. Even after a book sells, the synopsis is often what's used by the art department to come up with a cover, the marketing department to position the book and develop the cover text, and the sales department to inform the sales team about the book. No pressure! No wonder we stress over writing this. As I often say, it took me 100,000 words to write the story. And now you want me to tell the story in five pages?

In the submission process, the synopsis helps an editor or agent know if the plot works. The query letter tells whether or not the premise is interesting and the first few pages of the book tell whether the writing is competent and engaging. The synopsis gives a sense of how the story unfolds, if the plot moves logically and leads to a satisfying conclusion. It doesn't need to contain every detail, but it does need to describe the major events and what their consequences are that lead to more events.

To change your mindset about writing a synopsis, think about a time when you read a book, saw a movie or watched a TV show that got you really jazzed, so that you were dying to talk about it with someone, but no one you knew had read or seen it, so in order to explain why you were so excited, you had to find a captive audience and describe the whole thing. Or, if you didn't yet have a captive audience, you may have rehearsed in your head what you'd say when you got a chance to tell someone about it. That's essentially a synopsis. What would you tell your captive audience about this amazing story you'd just read or seen? You'd talk about the main characters and what you found so fascinating. You'd talk about the major steps along the way, and you might highlight a couple of the big scenes. If you weren't worried about spoiling it, you'd describe the big plot twists with great relish.

I'd hope that you're as excited about your own book as you would be about something else you've read or seen, so put yourself in that mindset and recap it that way. I did have something of an advantage in this area because I worked in marketing communications, so my job was writing marketing brochures and sales material, but I think where writing a synopsis really clicked for me was when I had an Internet friend in England before the days when home broadband was a thing and before there were ways to access TV shows online. After each X-Files episode, I'd write a recap for her so she could follow the story without waiting for the series to get to England. I realized that I was essentially writing a synopsis -- I was making sure all the plot developments made sense while highlighting the most cool things about each episode. I tried to keep the same mindset when writing about my own books.

It does become more challenging when you reach the point in your career where you're writing a synopsis for a book you haven't written yet, but then that's a plotting issue, not a synopsis issue. Editors realize that things are bound to change when the book gets written. I find that my proposal synopses tend to be heavy on up-front detail and more vague as I get to the end. On the other hand, you may have a lot more enthusiasm for a book that still exists mostly in the idea phase and that you haven't spent months slogging through, and that should reflect in your synopsis.

So, start thinking "advertisement" instead of "dreaded synopsis" and see if that makes a difference.

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