Monday, January 30, 2012

How NOT to Write a Synopsis

This is an exercise in how well you can follow directions. Read the entire list before you start. Ready?

Let's write a synopsis!
  1. Read online articles about how to write a synopsis and realize that the very best synopses are less than a page long. Resolve to write a synopsis that is less than a page long. It's less painful for you, less painful for the agent who has to read it, all-around less painful for everyone.
  2. Open a new document in your word processing program. Single spaced is usually fine for a synopsis, unless the agent says otherwise. You can always change the spacing later, but single spaced is easier to fit on one page.
  3. Without referring to your manuscript (hey, you just wrote it, right?) start typing the story as you remember it. The less you remember, the better, since, again, we want it short. Don't be like that kid who has to describe EVERY DETAIL of the movie plot.
  4. As quickly as possible, describe the major events. Use long, complicated sentences, since they really pack in the information well.
  5. Ditto with long paragraphs. You don't have room for paragraph breaks. Three paragraphs ought to do it: one for the beginning, one for the middle, one for the end. Brilliant.
  6. Halfway down the page, realize that describing all the major events will take longer than a page. Cut all subplots and stop referring to them AT ALL. Even when they impact the main plot. No room.
  7. Don't worry about describing complicated main-plot elements. It's much too hard to condense your brilliance to a simple sentence, and agents know it. They'll just be impressed that there are complicated plot elements IN there. If they're confused, they'll be that much more anxious to read the full so they can get the explanation.
  8. Don't waste time describing how your characters feel about the horrible things you're quickly describing. Agents aren't dumb: they can figure out how your characters feel without you having to spell it out. All they have to do is see what your characters do next.
  9. Got some fun details that add color but don't advance the plot? Leave 'em out. JUST THE PLOT, folks.
  10. You have to describe the climax and ending and stuff, so make sure you mention how it all turned out, right at the bottom of the page. A simple "and the hero conquers the bad guy in an epic battle involving muskrats" should do it. Though, really, you can probably leave the muskrats out.
  11. Have one of your beta readers skim through the synopsis, looking for typos and sentences that could be tightened up. You can't ask someone to read it who hasn't read the whole book since - come on! - major spoilers! If you trust someone enough to read the synopsis, don't you like them enough to let them have the complete experience of reading the whole book?
  12. Quickly fix what needs to be fixed and look for a few more sentences to remove. Then send it off to agents! It's not like they expect it to be perfect, anyway.
  13. Realize that every bit of advice above is complete bunk, with the possible exception of #2, and the links in #1. 
  14. Use this helpful stress-relief device:


Any questions? Can you tell me why each one is bad? What's your favorite bad synopsis advice?

I'll pontificate on Wednesday. If I have time, I'll even take a popular book (meaning one that everyone knows the ending to already) and write a dreadfully bad synopsis that follows all of the rules above. Anyone have a preference on which book I should destroy this time? I'm leaning toward Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, since I want to see if I can write a synopsis that calls Quiddich a "sports team."

16 comments:

  1. The sad thing about this list is I'd pretty much done everything on it when I wrote the first draft of my synopsis, LOL. Now I know better. :D

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    1. Where do you think I got the list? :)

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    2. AHA! It all comes clear now. ;)

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  2. Indeed. I think you must have gone through this process a time or two. Great post.

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  3. My best synopsis tip is--when you are done have someone read it who hasn't read your book. Do they understand what you have written? This was eyeopening for me.

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    1. What? #11 is wrong? ;) Yeah, I really need to do that...

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  4. Oh boy...the synopsis is dreadful. Thanks for reminding me that I need to write one.

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  5. Couple things; 1) This was an awesome post, it definitely made me laugh. 2) I found your blog from My Write Bug, your comment about conferences and hiding business cards in the name tag is/was genius, I thought you should know :)

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    1. 1) Thanks!
      2) Chantel is awesome, isn't she? And that's just where they GO! I'm constantly surprised when people don't know that. :D

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  6. Synopsis writing is SOOOO hard!! I really like the way you've broken it all down and tried to simplify it. Good stuff :)

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    1. LOL--oh this isn't the breakdown (that's Wednesday). And I don't think anything can simplify the synopsis. :P Thanks. :D

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  7. This was so cute. Here I was reading it without reading the title and I'm thinking, "Wow this is different."
    I do love the bang your head pic! I posted one with my synopsis post too:)

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    1. Yeah, that's why the "read the whole thing" instruction. :) I sucked at that in elementary school....

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  8. Yeah, I hate writing synopses. How many are you writing anyway? I have 4 total: One 1-page, one 2-page, one 3-page, and one 4-page. I found it easiest to start with a longer (4-page) synopsis and just delete info as I went along for the other 3. Now I'm prepared for any agent's request with synopses of various lengths. But I never know what they mean when they say "brief." Does that mean a 1-page or a 4-page? This is when I need that head-banging target!

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