Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to Write a Synopsis - Cindy Sproles

Writing a synopsis is the most difficult part of writing a novel. Why? Primarily because we try to write the novel again rather than summarize it.
What is a synopsis? A synopsis is an abbreviated summary of the story. It should contain major characters, major plot points, conflict, a hook and how the story ends. Think of it as “Cliff notes.”
Writing a synopsis should not be hard. The story is already written (or should be).  Well versed writers can whip out a synopsis on an unwritten story due to their extensive skill in plotting a story and knowing where and how they want their story to begin and end. But for the inexperienced writer, the new writer, a synopsis can be a pothole.
Start with the basics.
1)      1-2 pages in length
2)      Single spaced
3)      Written in 3rd person, narrative
4)      Primary Character’s names CAPITALIZED AND BOLDED the first time they are introduced
5)      1” margins all around
6)      Justify left
7)      Author name and contact, agent contact, word count, genre information in a HEADER
8)      Center the title, drop 4 lines (or hit enter 4 times) and begin
9)      Start with a hook
10)  Set up the conflict quickly
11)  Introduce most significant character first
12)  Highlight pivotal plot points that move the story
13)  Don’t explain the entire novel, just tell what happens.
15)  Don’t interject long strings of dialogue

1 & 2) As a general rule, and remember…rules all have exceptions so you should ALWAYS check submission guidelines, a synopsis is 2 pages in length, single spaced.  Depending on the novel or non-fiction book you are writing, this may vary.  The rule of thumb for intense, heavily plotted and sub-plotted works is one synopsis page per 25 novel pages. However, most of us aren’t writing that type of book. So remember, the shorter the better. It shows you can write concise and sum up the story.
3) Most synopses are written In 3rd person, narrative, present tense.    i.e. Mercy, the daughter of THE PASTOR and TILDA MAE ROLLER, stands on the river bank watching the Pastor baptize a crippled man. She listens as he rants the man’s sin then buries him under the water again and again, holding STANLEY FARMER beneath the icy current until he drowns. Church members try to stop the drowning but by the time they pull the Pastor off Stanley, it’s too late.
4) Main characters are capitalized and bolded at the first mention of their names. i.e. MERCY ROLLER was the daughter of a circuit riding pastor in mountains of Appalachia.  Only bold and capitalize PRIMARY Characters as they enter into the story.
5 & 6) Set your margins 1 inch on all borders. Justify left. Do not center your paragraphs. However, double space between your paragraphs.
7) HEADERS…learn to use them. Microsoft Word allows you to set a header that will run continuously from page to page. It should contain your personal contact information on the left (name, address, email and phone numbers) , agent information on the right along with word count and genre. The center should have your last name a slash (/) and the title of your piece  i.e. Stanley/Rushing Waters
John Stanley                          Stanley/Rushing Waters                  Lou Stowe, Agent
1011 Rock Road                                                                        Stowe Agency
Booster, NV   37001                                                                 100 Main Street
000-000-0000                                                                           Rochester, MN 00000                                                         
                                                                                                  Suspense/70,000 words      

8) Drop down four lines (or hit enter 4 times), center the word synopsis, double space and center your title.

9 - 12) Just like your novel, start with a hook. A synopsis is your “pitch.” Continue to think of that as you craft it. Sell your characters with their attributes, attitudes and motivations. Draw your reader into the summary and keep them there.  Move through your novel picking key plot points and showing how the character works through them, the impact they make and their conflicts.

Agents, editors and Publishers need to know the route the story is going. They will read your synopsis long before they read the first page of a chapter. If they can’t get a good plot line, strong characters and conflict out of your synopsis, then they’ll toss it over their shoulder  into the trash. It’s a hard fact, but it’s true. Writing is subjective and regardless what you write, if you cannot present a solid story that holds the reader, it won’t be published.

13) Don’t rewrite the novel. Here is where the skill comes into play. SUMMARIZE the most important parts of the story. Drop a line of dialogue in (but only if it’s valuable). SELL THE STORY.

14) Reveal the ending. This is no time to leave an editor hanging. They aren’t looking for the cliff hanger. They want to know how the story starts, how it moves and HOW IT ENDS.

15) Don’t interject long strings of dialogue. Only use dialogue if it is a changing point in the story. It must be IMPORTANT. Otherwise, remember, you’re the narrator telling the story, showing tempting bits of actions and making the reader hungry for more.

Every synopsis will vary. Every publisher and agent will require your synopsis to be tweaked to their guidelines. Before you write it be sure to do your research.