July 2010 Archives

The best writing is rewriting.

The best writing is rewriting.
E.B. White

The Synopsis Shrink

dread.jpgNo, it's not a new band or dance or even a psychologist for novel writers--it's what many of us do when we're faced with writing a synopsis. In articles on the topic, the word "dreaded" and "synopsis" are often connected, but shrinking from the task won't help. Therefore, in this entry I've attempted to shrink the synopsis into manageable bits. Hope you find it helpful.

Purpose of a Synopsis
• Provides the editor with detailed overview of story - many of us write this after the story is written, but some people do so ahead of time and it is a map for their story (a map that changes).
• Editor sees in sample chapter(s) how you expand what is in your synopsis.
• Editor knows you have an ending.
• To sell your manuscript.

• Written in present tense.
• Written in third person.
• May be a one page overview of the story.
• Can be several pages of what happens in the book.
• Can be longer with what happens in each chapter.
• Publishers want different formats - which is why conferences are invaluable.

What It Is
• A narrative summary of your story, written with feeling.
• Written in the same style as your book. i.e. If your story is humorous, the synopsis should be also.
• An introduction to main character(s) and main conflict(s). What the characters want. What is at stake if they don't get what they want. The obstacles they experience and how it all turns out.

Kathleen Duey, prolific author, recommends a writer pick the thing, the reason, that drove them to write the book. Character? Plot? Theme? Whatever it is, lead with it in the synopsis. Know what the book is about; keep this "kernel" alive through the synopsis. Track the trajectory of the protagonist. Aim everything toward that. Resolve the protagonist's story at the end.

What It's Not
• Complete character or scene list
• Boring

Tools for the Task
• Start with a one sentence summary of your book. This is useful to have for cover letters, or when talking about your book anyway.
• Write the back of the book "blurb." Read others to see how it's done.
• Tell someone else about your novel. Can he follow your plotline? What questions does he ask that an editor might want to know as well?
• Write down the major scenes in your book that tell the story. If you've created an outline or use a story ladder, those can help at this point.
• Does your main character get what she wants? Does she change? Be prepared to tell those things.
• Use the above to write an active summary of your story. Keep it spare. Present ideas in as short a form as possible. i.e. "Raised by her uncle after her parents were killed, 12 year old Connie" could become "orphaned 12 year old Connie."
• Edit carefully.

• Writing out the basics of your story can help you see holes in your manuscript before you start submitting.

COMMON SYNOPSIS ERRORS from December 1994 Writer's Digest Tip Sheet

The Synopsis that won't die
6-10 pages can tell a story of up to 100,000 words, longer might merit 12 pages

Top-Heavy Synopsis
half the length or more covers only first few chapters
half the synopsis should cover half the book

Laundry List Synopsis
First this happens, then that happens, now another thing happens
DO use strong verbs, intensify the narrative and make it as expressive as possible

The No-Persons-Land Synopsis
No description is given of the characters
DO a sentence or 2 for major characters and a phrase for secondaries

The To-Be-Continued Synopsis
intriguing the editor by not revealing the end

Resources on Synopses

From Dear Editor
I know its synopsis time, but do I have to?

From Nathan Bransford, Agent
How to write a synopsis

From Chuck Sambuchino
How To Write a Novel Synopsis

From Writer's Digest
Your guide to an effective novel synopsis

motorcycles sushi.jpg

I love the opening line in Motorcycles, Sushi and One Strange Book (Zondervan, 2010) by Nancy Rue: "I guess my life was crazy even before the day it really lost its mind." The book lived up to the opening, too.

15-year-old Jessie Hatcher's life is spent dealing with her ADHD and her mother's In Bed mode, which is better than her rare Out of Bed mode. Then the father she thought was dead shows up. She can't deny he's her father as she'd look just like him if she was a boy. Then mom goes into crisis and she has to go to Florida to live with this man she's just met. Along the way she gets involved, as the title says, with motorcycles, sushi, and one strange book, along with a cute guy who isn't turned off by her ADHD.

Nancy has written books for mini-women and adult women and is now writing for teens. See her blog for teens here.


I did in this book. I wanted to tell Sarah, "Can't you see what Brianna is doing to you?" (I guess I got connected to her...)

The Unwritten Rule: "You don't like your best friend's boy friend." Yet Sarah liked Ryan first. She can't let Brianna get hurt--things are so bad for Brianna at home--so she tries to stifle her feelings. But it's not working too well. Read the book if you want to find out what happens. I think you'll find it's worth the time.

The Unwritten Rule (Simon Pulse, 2010) was written by Elizabeth Scott. On her website you can read more about this book and her others, check out her blog that has contests, and read her bio.

Writing a novel is like

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
E. L. Doctorow

Writing is an exploration.

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.
E. L. Doctorow

I’m usually not inspired as much as

I’m usually not inspired as much as driven to write. It’s something I feel compelled to do.
Dotti Enderle