Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Synopsis or Root Canal?

With SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant applications due soon, my writing group has been preoccupied with synopsis writing. How to sum up 50,000+ words in fewer than 750? One member joked that she'd rather have a root canal than write her novel synopsis. 

Last year, I had a root canal. On my birthday. I'd rather write a synopsis. In fact, I usually begin the writing process by crafting a detailed synopsis. Things always change during the creative process of drafting a novel, but I like the security blanket my synopsis provides.

So I figured if I'm going to talk about *almost* enjoying synopsis writing, I better give you some hints to make the process less daunting:

The Basics:
  • Write in present tense.
  • Write in the 3rd person POV, even if your story is told in 1st person POV.
  • Give away the ending. 

To Begin:
  • Think of your synopsis like a sales pitch—like a book jacket blurb. Keep it short, fast & exciting.
  • Establish the hook right away (this can also be your 30 second elevator pitch, you know, to avoid those long-winded explanations: oh, and then this happens, but wait, I have to explain so-and-so, oh, and then there's this other character who, but let me back up and say... Snooze!).
  • Introduce the main character and the main conflict.
  • What’s important about the main character? Include motivation, goals, conflict, but not physical description (unless vital to the plot).

The Middle:
  • Highlight the plot points (scenes) that move the story forward. Give the reader a clear idea of what the book is about.
  • Write your synopsis in chronological order. Do NOT make lists.
  • Weave everything together like you’re telling a story. Try to capture your main character's voice, even if you're writing in a different POV.
  • Focus on the main character and the main plot. Touch on the subplots and minor characters. Do not include every character or every subplot. A short synopsis shows things that reflect on the MC’s journey.
  • Show increasing tension, increasing conflict.
  • Think: action, reaction, decision.


The Ending:
  • Tell the reader how the main plot resolves.
  • Try to make the ending of your synopsis evoke the emotional response you hope a reader will feel upon finishing your story.


The Picky Stuff:
  • Does your synopsis reflect the style, tone, and voice of your story? If it’s funny, show humor in the synopsis. Writing something literary? Your synopsis should shine with gorgeous sentences.
  • Does the reader know which characters to care about? What’s at stake? How it will turn out?
  • Have you woven together your character’s external and internal journeys?
  • Did you select the best plot points--the ones that affect your MC’s emotional arc?
  • Did you make every word count? Use strong adjectives and verbs (avoid adverbs).
  • Did you select the most telling details to use? Don’t weigh down your synopsis with extraneous or confusing details.
  • Did you format your synopsis properly? Double-spaced, 12-point font, 1" margins. 


Online resources:
http://misssnark.blogspot.com check out the “crapometer” archives
http://blog.nathanbransford.com great writing advice straight from an agent
http://kathycarmichael.com/articles-and-seminars  good advice about synopsis writing

If you're still struggling to write an effective synopsis take a critical look at your story. Are you missing some key scenes? Does your main character lack internal motivation? Could you use an intriguing subplot to increase tension? 

Really, it isn't that bad--you can still eat birthday cake after writing a synopsis. Not the case with root canals! 


2 comments:

  1. You can drink when writing a synopsis. It might not turn out to be a very good synopsis but...

    ReplyDelete
  2. You certainly may WANT to drink while writing a synopsis ;)

    ReplyDelete

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