I'm thrilled to welcome Gina Welborn to Seekerville! Take it away, Gina....
Shiver me timbers! What’s it about synopsis that makes writers break out in hives? I cringed just typing the word.
For the budding—or experienced—contest entrant, the dreaded synopsis isn’t something that can be avoided. More and more RWA chapter contests are requiring a synopsis in addition to the manuscript pages, although they’re oft unjudged.
The ACFW’s Genesis contest states…
The entrant must submit the first 15 pages of their manuscript, double-spaced, and an OPTIONAL one-page single-spaced synopsis.
What in Elvis’s blue suede shoes is “optional” all about?
Is it like the dentist saying, “Gee, Gina, we’d like to do a root canal on that molar that’s been bothering you, but we hate to be anal about things so we’re gonna say the root canal is optional. Care for a mint?”
Dude, fix my tooth. I don’t like pain.
Neither do I like writing synopsis. But some pain can’t—and shouldn’t—be avoided. What doesn’t kill ya makes ya stronger. (Even the 3 Little Pigs whose houses kept getting blown down know what I’m talking about.) Why should you send in an optional synopsis, especially when it's unjudged?
Since April 1st of this year, I’ve judged 21 contest entries with 8 more to go. Trust me when I say, as a judge, I’d much rather see a contest allow for an optional (or not) unjudged synopsis then require and judge it. Or not require one at all. One-page synopses are nice appetizers. Two-three pagers are a healthy meal. More than four pages…well, I'll freely admit I skim 4+ page synopses. One of my Golden Heart entries this year had a 15-page synopsis. zzzzzzzzzz
As a writer, I know synopses are a pain to write so I tend to be lenient when I’m judging them. On a sorta side note, Missy Tippens did a post recently in which she talked about GMC. If you answer the questions she listed, then the structural foundation of your short synopsis pretty much writes itself. How cool is that?
Anyhoo, last year when I was judging the Genesis, all but one of my seven entries came with a synopsis. None of the synopses were well written, but they did provide information to assist me in scoring some questions.
In one particular entry, I realized what happened in the entry pages didn't seem relevant to the rest of the story. Typical opening of heroine in her ordinary world. Other than the hero’s job being the same in the entry pages and in the synopsis, the synopsis could have come from a different story.
I made a point to tell the entrant that I didn't think she began her story in the right place based on the fact nothing significant occurred during the entry pages that seemed relevant to the story plot as outlined in the synopsis. Her story really started the moment the heroine began her vacation because the entry showed something important happening on the first day she arrived in the vacation-town.
When judging this month for the VRW’s Fool for Love, I often struggled to answer the question “Is the plot strong enough to sustain word count?”
With my Genesis entries, I could answer a question like that because all the entries included a total manuscript word count in the header. Not the FFL. In a contest that asks a specific question like that, if the entrant doesn’t include word count, the judge is left with using a synopsis to answer the question. Would you believe barely half of my FFL entries included a synopsis? How the sweet tartar sauce was I suppose to score that question without anything but the first 20 pages of the manuscript?
(imagine a loud sigh here)
Back to last year’s Genesis entries…
Would you believe that of all those entries, the one I really really really wanted to read the synopsis on (because the manuscript pages were fan-freakin-tastic) was the very one that didn’t include one. Talk about torture! I was desperate to know what (in a 1-page nutshell) happened to the characters. Ended up I said something like, "You horrible author. How dare you not send a synopsis! Now I'm gonna suffer not knowing what happened until your book is published. Uggh! :-) I don't think I like you at this moment. Great job, though, on hooking me with your story alone. I'm sure you can tell by my scores and my comments that I loved your story. Best wishes!!!"
While not sending in a synopsis won’t hurt you significantly, I do think that a ho-hum one is better than one not at all. Most of the time. If the scoresheet asks about GMC being strong enough to sustain plot for entire book, then you probably ought to include a synopsis. No argument.
On a side note, I didn’t include the optional synopsis with my Duel on the Delta 2009 contest entry. Not only did my story final, but none of my judges commented on wishing I’d have included the synopsis. I’m guessing they didn’t feel they needed it to answer any questions.
Anyhoo, I still advise including an optional synopsis even if it’s poorly written. Why? Well, you may get a judge who knows a little about writing synopsis and who will give you tips on improving yours. I tend to give links to online articles or recommend Mary Buckham's workshop: SYNOPSIS: For Those Who Hate To Write Them!
Now that “horrible Genesis author” who didn’t send in a synopsis with her entry was Jenness Walker. She ended up winning first place in the Genesis romantic suspense category. I’m thrilled to say the novel is now an October 2009 Love Inspired Suspense release.
I can safely say the entries I’ve judged this month that didn’t included their optional synopsis all lost at least two points on their score because the scoresheets had questions pertaining to GMC being strong enough to sustain plot. Had they included that optional synopsis, they may not have.
Think two points aren’t that big of deal?
Last year when I coordinated the Golden Pen historical and the Touched by Love long contemporary categories, the difference between being one of the three finalists and being #4 was one point.
One. One. Do you hear me? O.N.E.
Despite me not sending in the optional synopsis with my Duel of the Delta entry and my judges not commenting on it, I still believe that you should err on the side of including the optional synopsis.
Now where’s our sexy pirate barista. I could use some coffee and hot cross buns. Or a nice cheese danish. Or….
A 2007 RWA GOLDEN HEART®inspirational finalist, Gina enjoys helping with contests both as a category coordinator and judge. No, she is not insane to any degree. Or at least the tests say she isn't. While she doesn't enter many contests, she has choice words for judges who deduct 2 points on formatting because the entry used underlining instead of italics. Today's choice words are...well, she'd prefer not to say in case her kids are reading.