Whoa, lots of questions today! Thanks to everyone who posted comments. First, let me define what I mean by a synopsis and tell you a LITTLE about it. Then I’ll answer some of the questions. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about how I recommend writing a synopsis:
When editors talk about a synopsis, they are referring to a short (2 pages or so) summary of the plot that goes in your proposal. The synopsis should be single-spaced with one inch margins on all four sides, and it should be written in third person present tense. That is the kind of synopsis I’m talking about here.
OK, let me deal with your questions first:
Is this the one line synopsis or longer? And what’s the difference between a synopsis and a summary? (Sorry, just got home from work and need sleep. My brain is mushing it all together.)
Randy sez: No, the one-sentence summary is a different animal altogether.
I’ve read about three kinds of synopses (which would seem to make the work three times as difficult, or perhaps even exponentially harder).
1) One paragraph, 2) one page, and 3) as many as 15-20 pages. I suppose the one sentence is a form of synopsis as well.
In practicing these forms it would seem that starting with the longer, and working to the shorter would help
distill the essence of the story.
Randy sez: I find it easier to start with the shorter forms and work up to the longer forms. The reason is that it’s easier to polish and edit a short piece than a long one. This is the heart of my Snowflake method.
Oops! I just sent off my 24 page single spaced synopsis to Camy Tang for critique (Yes 24, she requested the longer the better!) I’m pretty sure I got inside the characters’ heads, just a bit. I’ll be sure to remember this when I cut it down.
Randy sez: No need to panic! Camy is not an acquisition editor, she’s a freelance editor/critiquer. You can send her whatever she wants and whatever you feel like. Her job is to help you figure out your story structure. An acquisition editor is not paid by the word, however, they are paid to find gems and they are overwhelmed with thousands of manuscripts. Therefore, the quicker they can work through the stack and find the good stuff, the better. That’s why they want a short synopsis.
When talking of synops now, are we talking about something you plan to submit to agent or editor, not the one you the writer are using to write your story? Generally speaking, don’t pubbers prefer shorter?
As Randy said, they hate reading them too. I’ve heard it said that they’d rather skip the synop, pick a random spot in the writing, look for red flags in your dialogue, then if that doesn’t gag them, look at the writing, also hunting for red flags. If nothing turns their stomach, then they go back to the synop.
Randy sez: Correct. The one you show to the editor or agent should be a couple of pages. I shoot for 2 pages. The synopsis you use to write your story can be as long or short as you like; it’s for you only and so just use whatever works for you.
Most editors I’ve asked about synopses tell me that the first thing they do when opening a proposal is to look at the sample chapters. If those don’t sing, then it’s bye-bye baby to that proposal, because editors buy great writing, not great synopses. If the writing is good, then they read the proposal, looking for a reason to say no. Is the genre clearly defined and saleable? Is the concept strong? Is the story structure sound (in the synopsis)? You need a yes on all those (and probably a bunch more) in order to get a yes from that editor. I often review manuscripts at writing conferences, and the above is pretty much the order I use to approach the manuscript.
Randy, would the progressively more detailed summaries from the snowflake be adequate for a summary sent to a publisher, or would it need tweaking? If so, what needs to be included? And didn’t you say in Fiction 101 somewhere that editors love to get all the background character stuff, writing the plot summary from each POV?
Randy sez: The one-sentence summary from the Snowflake works great on the first page of your proposal, but it is not a synopsis. It’s the “story premise”.
The one-paragraph summary from the Snowflake also works great on the first page of your proposal, but it is also not a synopsis. It’s just a one-paragraph summary.
The Snowflake calls for writing a one-page synopsis of your storyline. This is for your convenience while developing your story, but it is too short to show to an editor or agent. Expand this one-page synopsis to a couple of pages and show THAT to the editor/agent.
In Fiction 101 and/or Fiction 201, I talked about putting in what I call “character synopses” in my proposal. These are NOT the regular plot synopsis that all editors require. A “character synopsis” is a summary of the backstory and frontstory for a single character. I usually put in 5 to 7 of these in a proposal. Each of them is a third of a page up to a full page, so I shoot for about 3 pages total. “Character synopses” are not conventional; you will not find these mentioned in the usual sources on how to write a proposal. I don’t know if anyone else in the world writes “character synopses,” but I assume some people do. I like them because they tell the editor that this will be a good strong character-driven novel. Editors like that.
I must be crazy, because I enjoy writing synopses! In fact, I’m so busy that I seldom have time to do more than a one-page synopsis of a story. I have several journals full of novel ideas, just waiting to be crafted into full-length books. I like the idea of plotting and structuring stories, and often dream of selling my ideas to someone who would craft them into amazing books. But I also enjoy writing, so I could never bring myself to do such a thing.
Randy sez: A few people love writing synopses. Lucky you, Rachel! My buddy John Olson also loves writing them, which was one reason I enjoyed teaming up with him for two novels. The synopses we wrote together really sang. I’ll talk more about that process tomorrow.
This is such good timing for me. Thanks Randy! I’ve restructured my novel so that the first few chapters zip along as fast as the rest of the book and now I’m just about ready to send them out to a whole lot of new publishers.
After synopsis can we discuss query letters?
Judith Robl says
Good Timing! Yes!!
I just recommended this blog to a young writer who asked me to help with a synopsis. Nothing I could add would improve on what she’ll get right here.
Pam Halter says
I write chapter synopses for my middle grade fiction. It gives me a road to follow. Sometimes I have to change the order, and sometimes I have to delete or add details, but it works well for me. I just don’t know if I should send the chapter synopsis along with a regular synopsis. I have the feeling it would be too much information, and no one asks for a chapter by chapter break down for fiction.
Andra M. says
I echo Yeggi as well! A prospective agent requested my proposal yesterday, and your entries on synopses will help me polish mine to (I hope) a blinding sheen.
Then again, do I really want to blind an agent? Hmmm.
Hello Randy and Fellow Writers, I find all this information very useful. One question: At what point in the writing process is it time to contact an agent or publisher? I’m sure I could drag the whole thing out for (more)years and never feel ready.
Andrea, go ahead and blind that agent. Talk about a powerful emotional experience!
I’m also curious about the query letter. I haven’t really found any good tutorials on doing one (or good examples). But…after I get this synopsis thing down. 🙂
Karla Akins says
I’ve had stage fright and now I think I’m experiencing synopsis fright.