Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sweltering in Synopsis Hell

By Earl Staggs

The novel is finished, and it’s time to begin the query process. That means I have to write a query letter and a synopsis. Neither is easy, but the synopsis is the hardest of the two for me. The novel is slightly more than 63,000 words, and I have to summarize the entire thing in two pages. Some agents may want a one-page synopsis, some may want a six-pager or another size, but my first goal is a two-page one.

I’ve only gone through synopsis hell once before for myself, but I’ve helped other writers with theirs. That wasn’t too difficult. I was only critiquing and making suggestions on someone else’s efforts. I do that on a regular basis with my writing group. As every writer knows, it’s much easier to see what needs to be done or undone in another writer’s work. Seeing the same needs in our own is a completely different thing. Our objectivity disappears after about the fifteenth rewrite. We know what we wanted to write and may think we’ve nailed it, but someone else sees it for the first time and the glitches stand out for them in flashing neon.

Perhaps a synopsis is so daunting because we go at it with preplanted knowledge of its importance. If it doesn’t hit the agent or editor exactly right, the entire novel is only so many words on so many pages. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the novel is if no one is attracted enough by the synopsis to want to read it.

Most synopsis gurus say we should include the actions and conflicts of the major characters in the major story lines. But what about those fascinating secondary characters and subplots? They were as hard to write as anything else. They’re our darlings, too. Doesn’t matter. To stay within the word count limit of the two-page synopsis, they have to be cut.

Don’t worry, my darlings. You’ll make it into the six-pager, I promise.

I finished the first draft and labeled it Synopsis 1. Then I began the second draft, Synopsis 2. Now, I’m up to Synopsis 5. Each one gets tighter and, I hope, better. I don’t know at this point which one will be final. Will it be Synopsis 10? 15?

Fortunately, my writing group meets this week. They’ll tell me how I’m doing.

Have a great week, everyone. If anyone needs me, I’ll be right here. In Synopsis Hell.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

Well, now I know what we are looking at later on in the week.

Sort of reminds me of the teases on the Maury show for the "Who is the Daddy" segments.

Who watches way too much daytime TV

Jean Henry Mead said...

I hear you, Earl, but the more books you write, the easier the synopses get. Hang in there and take a couple of days break before you write synopsis #20. :)

Enid Wilson said...

I hate writing synposis. If only the publishing world had one standard...

Fire and Cross

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Synopsis are a pain, that's for sure.


Mark Troy said...

Good luck with it, Earl. It's no fun, but it's gotta be done.

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks to all who commisserated with me. Yes, it's a pain, but a necessary one, and we have to get through it. I will. I just won't enjoy it.

Morgan Mandel said...

I despise anything to do with a synopsis. I'd rather write an entire book instead.

Morgan Mandel

Kevin R. Tipple said...

We came together, ate food, offered advice, killed a hornet, and went home.

And, I got through the meeting without falling once.

Heck of a time!