Saturday, 26 March 2011

The dreaded synopsis

Apologies for not updating this blog for some time now... My excuse? I’ve been busy preparing my synopsis and query letter for submission to an agent – I think that’s a pretty good one for an aspiring writer’s blog though so I'm sticking to it!

Anyway, the whole point of this blog was to share tips and really get a discussion going about writing, so I thought I ought to pull my finger out and start making my contribution… And, considering what I’ve been working on of late, I thought a post about the dreaded synopsis would be just the thing.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I’ve probably got around twenty versions of both the aforementioned items sitting on my computer. I know the general consensus amongst authors – and debut authors – is that putting together the synopsis is more difficult than writing the novel itself, but I’m starting to view it as a very useful tool for a writer.

When I first started putting together my synopsis – which was sometime last year, I found myself really struggling. It didn’t take me long to realise that there was a very good reason for this: the indecision, which was apparent in my synopsis and query, was reflected in the manuscript itself. Every glaring hole in the plot or characterisation was there in black and white. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling, I can tell you – and it certainly wasn’t welcome. After wrestling with it for a little longer, I realised that drastic action was required.

So, I ending up doing a major revision of the book – during which I tightened up the plot and really took the time to examine why I really wanted to tell this story so much, for me to arrive at a place where I think the synopsis is truly representative of the novel it is selling. And not simply in terms of summarising the story either: to my mind, it conveys the same tone – and is going to give an agent a pretty good idea of what kind of book I’ve put together.

I began working on presenting it as both a detailed two-page synopsis and also a one-pager for those agents who insist on that length. Condensing all the things I wished to convey into a single page that did not simply resemble book blurb was tricky, but I found honing the two-pager to be the way to go. Once I was completely happy with that, I just took the red pen to any superfluous information that I could detect. Again, I found that being really confident about the story you’re telling and all its composite parts and themes made this a relatively easy process.

Once I was at the stage where I thought I had it, I sent it out to a couple of writer friends who came back with some really positive feedback. There were two main issues that were pointed out, however. It may well be obvious to anyone reading this, but it wasn’t to me – so I’m including them below in case you find them of use.
  • Stay active: Don’t say a character ‘may’ be able to help or is fairly sure about something. As far as the synopsis is concerned, if that’s what happens in the book – then they can and they are!

  • Your main protagonist:  Keep your synopsis focused on them – and don’t introduce them through secondary characters… eg, "When secondary character meets main protagonist he realises that she"

I hope my experience (albeit coming from an unpublished author!) proves useful, but I’d love to hear any of your tips, as well…


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