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Wicked Wednesday- Writing The Dreaded Synopsis

Jessie- Cheering herself with the notion that the shortest day of the year is already behind us in the Northern Hemisphere!

This month we’ve decided to all chime in on the process of writing proposals for book series. Mystery series are often sold this way, in fact all of us have sold series in this manner, some of us more than once. The format for doing this is fairly standardized in the publishing industry and each Wednesday this month we will dive into one aspect of the process. This week is the Dreaded Synopsis. For those readers who may be unfamiliar with the term, the synopsis is the part of the proposal where the writer distills the idea for an 80,000-word novel down to less than a page. So, Wickeds, how do you approach a task like that?

Edith: It ain’t easy, and I’m still learning how to write one. As a writer who mostly follows the “write into the headlights” approach – that is, I write by the seat of my pants – I have a hard time describing the main conflict, the main characters, and the resolution in advance of actually writing the book. A couple of guidelines I learned early on were: name as few characters as you can get away with. Use “the brother” or “the chef” so you don’t confuse the one-page story line with a bunch of names. Also, my editor at Kensington wants to know the beginning, middle, and end and doesn’t let me get away with turning in anything less than that for the synopsis. Luckily, if those bits change as I write the book, it’s usually fine with him, as long as I update the synopsis by the time I turn in the manuscript, or even sooner.

Liz: At first I thought writing a synopsis was a terrible punishment for something – I wasn’t quite sure what. When I wrote the first one for my editor (same as Edith’s) I did it because I had to. But as I was writing, I found it very helpful to have that roadmap, even if the pieces did change as I went along. Now, I find it helps more than it hurts, even when it feels like pulling teeth when I’m in the middle of it. As a self-proclaimed pantser, I’m teetering on the edge of liking things plotted out. It definitely helps when you’re juggling a lot of deadlines and other aspects of life.

Julie: I am a plotter, and writing with a bible, so the synopsis is a little less painful for me. For the sake of the synopsis, it is a question of boiling it down to its essence. Make it intriguing. Mention the characters. Hint at the subplots. For this purpose, you need to tell all. Don’t be coy–you are trying to convince someone that you can tell the whole story.

Sherry: Ask a published author if you can borrow their synopsis. I was very lucky to be able to read through Liz, Edith, and Barb’s synopsis before I wrote mine. The synopsis for my first book was four pages and poured out of me. The second book was much more difficult and Barb gave me some excellent advice in my blog about plotting. I return to this advice time and time again.

Jessie: I pretend I am once again in elementary or middle school and have been assigned to write a one page book report. The only catch is that the book hasn’t been written yet and I’m the author. It is sort of an out-of-body experience but I generally like that kind of thing. I also like to think of a tagline for the book or even the entire series before I work on the synopsis. Having to distill a story down to a single run-on sentence makes a whole page feel limitlessly voluptuous.

Barb: Sherry’s already given away my advice, and it’s the only advice I have. As a recap, it’s the first three steps that are important.

The key to the bar story is, you keep the details to a minimum to avoid confusing the listener, you tell the story in a compelling way designed to entertain, you tell it in your voice, and you try your best to do justice to the story so your listener understands how absolutely amazing, sad, and life-changing these events were for the person they happened to.

Readers–any synopsis writing advice? Any questions for us?

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