Monday, July 7, 2014

Whipping Your Synopsis Into Shape

Last month we started working on writing the synopsis for our current manuscripts. After our meeting, we agreed to KEEP working on them for next month, applying the suggestions we received from each other and working on proper formatting. (We had four authors and four synopses with totally different formatting... no wonder editors and agents get frustrated sometimes!)

the best part of whipped cream from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 Gail, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

In the interest of preparing for our July 26 meeting, here are some guidelines to help us manipulate those messy synopses (OK, mine was messy...) into shape!

1. Consider your audience/purpose. 

According to The Editor's Blog, there are two points of view regarding the purpose of a synopsis. One side considers a synopsis to be a sort of "teaser," designed to entice a contest judge, an agent, or an editor to read the rest of the story. Synopses written from this point of view are written to entertain, more than to inform. (Think: back cover copy, Amazon description, or "one-sheet" promo material.) This style of synopsis is probably best applied to contests, writer's conferences where you'll have a brief session to pitch your story, or when you're submitting to a new agent or publisher who isn't familiar with your writing style/ability.

The other side looks at a synopsis as a "just the facts, ma'am" report on what happens, and to whom, in your story. For writers who are submitting stories that are part of a series, if you've had a synopsis requested by an editor or agent in response to a query, or if you are a frequently pubbed author submitting a new idea to your current agent or publisher, this style is probably your best bet. 

2. How long?

There is no finite answer to this question. The one-page, two-page, and three-page synopses appear to be the most commonly requested/suggested, so having one of each isn't a bad idea. And always, always, check the website of the publisher or agent for their recommendations. If they want a five page synopsis, you'd better come up with a five-page synopsis!

3. Format, format, format.

Formatting, I've decided, is like Spanx for our writing, whether we're writing a synopsis or a saga. Again, when it comes to formatting, check with your publisher or agent for their particular guidelines. BUT, in general, there are some standards you can apply, at least to start with.

  • Margins: One-inch margins are most commonly recommended.
  • Font: Times New Roman, 12-point font.
  • Spacing: For a one-page synopsis, single-spaced with breaks between paragraphs. For two or more pages, double-spaced. 
  • First page: (this varies) Contact information, genre, word count. 
  • Header: Last name and book title in upper left-hand corner, page numbers in upper right-hand corner.
  • Tone: Third-person, present tense. Even if your story is written in first person, past tense.

4. "You should only name three characters in a short synopsis – usually, the protagonist, antagonist, and possible love interest/side-kick/contagonist. All other characters should be referred to by their roles (e.g. the waitress, the mother, the basketball player)." (From Publishing Crawl...this post also gives a terrific example for breaking down your story into pieces and putting them back together for a one-page synopsis.)

5. "You must tell the ending! The purpose of a synopsis is to show an editor/agent you can tell a story from beginning to end. You will not entice them into reading your whole MS if you don’t share the ending – you’ll just tick them off!" (Also from Publishing Crawl.)

6. "Do not include subplots unless you have extra space at the end!!!!!  Stick to the MAIN PLOT EVENTS." (Also from Publishing Crawl.)

7. "Feel free to be dry, but don’t step out of the narrative. When you write your prose (and even the pitch in your query letter), there is importance in using style and voice in the writing. A synopsis, thankfully, not only can be dry, but probably should be dry. The synopsis has to explain everything that happens in a very small amount of space. So if you find yourself using short, dry sentences like 'John shoots Bill and then sits down to contemplate suicide,' don’t worry. This is normal. Lean, clean language is great. And lastly, do not step out of the narrative. Agents do not want to read things such as 'And at the climax of the story,' 'In a rousing scene,' or 'In a flashback.'" (From Writer Unboxed.)

7. "Capitalize character names when characters are introduced. Whenever a new character is introduced, make sure to CAPITALIZE them in the first mention and then use normal text throughout. This helps a literary agent immediately recognize each important name. On this subject, avoid naming too many characters (confusing) and try to set a limit of five, with no more than six total. I know this may sound tough, but it’s doable. It forces you to excise smaller characters and subplots from your summary — actually strengthening your novel synopsis along the way."  (From Writer Unboxed.)

I hope you find the above information helpful! All of the synopses shared at our June meeting were already amazing and enticing. I'm looking forward to seeing them all cleaned up, sharp, and ready to roll!

And in other news... Templa Melnick's debut novel, Season of Forgiveness, releases July 13, 2014. Be sure to watch for our special virtual release party here at Western Slope ACFW Prologue Chapter! 

We'll have tasty old-fashioned treats, a peek at Templa's character inspirations, and a wonderful opportunity to congratulate one of our own on her new book!

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