Thursday, August 20, 2009

Synopsis writing - your voice

Camy here! Talking about a topic most people absolutely hate, but which I absolutely love--the synopsis! Yaaaaaaaay!!!!

(Ducking Ruthy's rotten rutabagas)

Actually, there are tons of articles on the web about how to write a synopsis, and I even have a Synopsis Worksheet available on my Story Sensei website to help people write their synopsis. (Sorry, couldn't resist the blatant plug)

But I wanted to blog today about something not many synopsis-writing articles talk about--how the synopsis can really showcase a writer's unique voice.

While a synopsis is usually not your best writing, and a synopsis is all telling and no showing, you should nevertheless try to make the synopsis sound like your writer's voice and the tone of the story.

Your voice is what captures an editor or agent, so why not make that voice sound out in the synopsis as well as your manuscript? What do you have to lose? And you've got everything to gain.

You don't know what the editor/agent will read first--your manuscript pages or your synopsis. So if your voice is strong in the synopsis, it might intrigue the editor/agent enough (along with your stellar story plot) to be favorably inclined toward your manuscript.

That "favorably inclined" part is more powerful than you know. A propensity to like what they're about to read will go really far in making your stand out to that editor/agent.

What does it mean, my voice in my synopsis?

If your story is poignant, try to make the synopsis sound that way.

If your writer's voice is quirky and funny and the story is, too, try to get that into the synopsis.

IF your writer's voice is flowing and dramatic, make the synopsis writing flowing and dramatic.

If your writer's voice is dark and sexy, definitely get that in the synopsis!!!

Here's a "before" and "after" shot of the synopsis for a humorous contemporary romance I wrote that isn't published:

Risa Takayama has no social life because she's thrown all her energies into her wedding accessories shop in the mall. Unconventional, rebellious Risa hates the numerous family gatherings because her aunts tweak her about her weight and lack of a Significant Other.


Risa Takayama would rather eat rotten tofu than listen to her aunts’ tweaking her about her weight. She’s the Elephant Man next to her Barbie-doll cousins with their Ken sidekicks, so she throws herself into her wedding accessories shop in the mall, All the Trimmings. She’s becoming so savvy and self-sufficient, she hasn’t needed to bother God for any help in a while.

What about word count?

It's true, adding more of your voice to a synopsis usually adds words, and if you're trying to cut words, you might be tempted to cut out your voice.

The choice is yours, but if you can, try to cut other words and keep your writer's voice. It will make the synopsis stand out and give a taste of what your story is like, the atmosphere of the novel.

And you want a strong first impression for that synopsis and that story, right? Go for a powerful punch to make your story stand out from the dozens of other manuscripts that editor/agent has or will read that day.

What if I don't know what my voice is?

Ahhh, the internet. There are lots of good online articles about developing your writer's voice (I wrote one here: Developing Your Writer's Voice) and also great books you can order through Amazon or through your Inter Library Loan system at your local library.

I personally think it's really worth it to spend some good, quality time to develop your writer's voice. That voice is what captures an editor right away.

Let me end with a neat story. I was at Mount Hermon Writers Conference in the Career Track. There was a panel of editors, and the moderator read a paragraph or two from the beginnings of a few unpublished novels from my fellow classmates. The editors gave their on the spot impressions.

One particular story mesmerized the entire room from sentence one. The writer's voice was so unique and cool and awesome that the editors were overflowing with praise after the sample was read.

The VOICE was what captured those editors' attentions from the start. The story premise and characters came second. The writer's VOICE was the magic that made them want to read the rest of the manuscript.


Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Her novels Single Sashimi and Deadly Intent are out now. She runs the Story Sensei critique service, is a staff worker for her church youth group, and leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every week and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for monthly giveaways!


  1. Great post Camy! Your synopsis worksheet really helped me. Now to get my voice down...LOL! Tough stuff but so worth the effort.
    Thank you!

  2. Excellent post, Camy! I dislike writing the synopsis, but you've given some great tips. If I were an editor, I'd definitely pick up your story after reading your second example.

    The coffee is hot. I brought chicken quiche this morning with sliced melon. Enjoy!


  3. Camy,

    A timely post for me because I'm at the synopsis point on my WIP. I'm going to check out your worksheet.


  4. Excellent advice, Camy! Thank you!

  5. Hey Camy,

    I really like the idea of putting your Voice in the synopsis. And THANK YOU for the example! It really helps people like me see what you mean. I read all these writer's guides which go right over my head unless I can see a concrete example.

    Now to find my voice!! I think it's hiding under the piles of paper on my desk. LOL.

    Have a great day.


  6. Hey Cammy. Thanks for sharing. This was really helpful to me as I HATE writing the stinking synopsis. I'm sure that comes through to my I guess i need to work on that.

    Thanks again!


  7. Morning Camy, Great advice on the synopsis and including your voice in it. Can't wait to find out what happens to Risa so hopefully some lucky editor will pick that up.

    Thanks for the quiche Janet. The melon is really yummy on a warm summer morning.

  8. Camy, what perfect timing! I need to attack an old synopsis and bring it up to date with my story : )

    As I'm tweaking, I'll tweak a bit of VOICE into it as well.

    Thanks for the tip : )

  9. very good timing, camy! but then seekers always have impeccable timing with posts!

  10. Thanks for the post, Camy. I appreciate your before and after examples. The second sings and makes me what to read the story. You've shown us so much more about the character and how you, with your great voice, are going to bring her to life on the page.

    Chicken quiche? Yum. Thanks for my helping, Janet.

  11. I need to put my voice more in my synopses. Of course, I hadn't realized I needed to until I read Camy's post, but it all makes sense now.

    Hey, Austen-lovin' Russo! Did you read how I linked Camy to Jane Austen? I'm sure when Camy was reading my blog review of her newest release DEADLY INTENT, she was thinking, "This has to be one of the oddest book reviews."

  12. Great post, Camy! Writing a synopsis is a real pain in the you-know-what. Even worse, READING a boring synopsis! Not sure what editors and agents do, but when I judge contests, I never read the synopsis first. I want to see if the actual chapters draw me in. Afterward, I'll force myself to read the synopsis to see where the writer is headed with the story. It's so much easier if the writer has worked to make the synopsis engaging not only logically but in voice and style.

  13. Woohoo! I just ordered the Synopsis Worksheet. :)

    It took me about four novels to find my voice. And I don't know that I've ever tried to incorporate it on purpose into my synopses. I'm so gonna try this!

  14. Excellent post, Camy! And such a great example of voice in the synop!

    You know, I always liked the opening line of my synopsis for Her Unlikely Family (yes, I entertain myself! LOL) because I think it really captures my hero. Here it is:

    Michael H. Throckmorton, III, fourth generation bank owner, is all business. God put him on the earth to study, to work, to marry and procreate. All for the sake of the bank. At least that’s what he tries to tell himself each time he begins to need more.

  15. Missy, I love that first line of your synopsis. Makes me want to know more about Michael H. Throckmorton, III. Off to add Her Unlikely Family to my next eHarlequin order. :)

  16. Oh, Camy, you are SOOO right on here, girl -- excellent advice for all of us!!

    My first few synopses had my agent so hyperventilating with worry that the woman sent me a print-out on basic writing techniques and told me to hire a plotting coach!! And who did I hire? None other than Camy Tang, of course!

    Since then, I have learned (the hard way!) what you so skillfully pointed out here -- USE YOUR OWN VOICE FOR THE SYNOPSIS!!

    Now both my editor and agent LOVE my synopses and say they read just like one of my novels, which is good, I guess, since they bought 'em! :)


  17. Missy, I love that opening statement for Her Unlikely Family! Gotta love a man who thinks he know what he wants, LOL!

  18. Fantastic.
    Thanks for this, Camy.

  19. Great post, Camy.
    Missy - I liked the first lines of your synopsis too. How cute is that! Sparked my interest.

    do most synopses (plural?) use a 'tag line' or a 'hook line' as an immediate grab and as a way to 'set the tone' of the story?

  20. Hi Camy:

    ‘Voice’ is a very fuzzy concept which seems to mean the way an author expresses her personality in her writing. That is, what attributes of the writing make it uniquely that author’s work. Most great singers have a very unique voice. We can recognize them instantly. On the other hand, most singers do not have unique voices. As well as they can sing, they will never be famous. (There are too many just like them.)

    When we speak of ‘voice’ in writing aren’t we really referring to personality? And doesn’t this make ‘voice’ more like a fingerprint than something a person can change at will?

    'Voice', however, may be more like attitude. This could be changed by the author, for example, when writing with a ‘feisty’ attitude or an ‘in your face’ attitude. But even writing with an affected attitude will be molded by the author’s personality.

    Finding your voice seems so much like a 'garage band' seeking their own 'sound'. Is voice something that can be found (as if it were lost) or is it something that is embedded in the DNA which is only expressible through the handmaiden of our personality?

    If I might ask, did you ‘find’ your voice as a writer or did you ‘create’ your own voice? And do you have a different voice for your 'chick lit' books than you have for your suspense novel?

    I ask you these philosophical questions because you write very serious pieces on writing on your website. Also, I think these are important questions.

    BTW, I would be very interested in any author’s response to these questions.



    P. S. Wouldn’t you love to see if Janet Evanovich’s synopses are as wisecracking as her Stephanie Plum novels?

  21. Excellent post. Thanks for the advice, and the wonderful example.

  22. Interesting post, Camy! I really don't mind writing a synopsis, although it's not my favorite thing to do. But it's really important to do it well.

  23. Busy week. Finally getting to check in. Pass the iced java please.

    I always knew there was something twisted about Camy. She likes synopsis. Well it takes all kinds. I like anchovies. Go figure.

    For those of us who hide under our desks when a synopsis is needed, I thank you for this helpful post.

  24. Camy--A quick question. I read in Maass' book that a synopsis is basically an outline and vice versa. But don't outlines go chapter by chapter, scene by scene? Do we need to do this in our synops? What do you recommend?

    Thanks for reminding us to go for 'voice' and not just 'telling'. Hope I can do it! :)

  25. Sorry I'm late in posting, but I'm on the West Coast AND I've been sick today and yesterday!

    Jessica--voice is both hard and easy. Try that book I mention in my Voice article--it really helped me!

    Janet--thanks for the chicken quiche! Yum!

    Rose--I hope the worksheet helps you! There are also articles on writing the synopsis on my Story Sensei blog.

    Jody--You're welcome!

    Susan--you're welcome! I'm glad that example was helpful.

    Lynette--I don't think synopsis writing EVER gets better!

    Thanks, Sandra!

    Audra--definitely add voice! It'll make your synopsis really stand out!

    Jeannie--LOL The timing was all God, I'm sure!

    Aw, thanks, Keli!

    Gina--your blog posts ALWAYS make me laugh! That was the funnest review ever!

    Myra--I'm the same way, I'll usually read the synopsis last! One thing I've noticed is that a lot of times, entrants don't include crucial story elements in the synopsis (like motivation) which also makes the synopsis hard to read.

    Erica--voice can be really hard to find, but once you do, it's smooth sailing! If you haven't tried that book in my voice article, definitely check it out.

    Missy--I love that!!! That's as good as the first line to that book! I'll always remember it:
    If there was one thing Josie Miller knew, it was the smell of a rich man. And whoever had just walked into the diner smelled like Fort Knox.

    Julie--that's awesome!

    Lynn--you're welcome!

    Pepper--some synopses do, but some don't. If you have a good tag line, use it. If you don't, then don't worry about finding one.

    Vince--the problem most writers have is that their voice is very muted in their first few manuscripts. They write unconsciously trying to emulate writing they've read before, versus allowing their own unique writing style and voice to come out in their writing. Writers will often talk about how difficult it is to release inhibitions and allow their natural voice to come out in their writing. As a contest judge, I often see glimmers of the writer's voice here and there, but the majority of the entry is bland writing, without a hint of the writer's own unique voice. The writing reads like any other story, nothing unique about the voice. The example I gave in my blog post at the end is something to think about--the opening pages of that one piece weren't of any particularly exciting event, but the writer's voice stood out like the Hope Diamond. The writer was experienced and had published many novels, so he had developed his voice to give that kind of emotional whallop to the audience. Most beginning writers need to do exercises to allow their natural voice to come out in their writing. It's not so much changing a writer's voice as allowing the natural voice to come out and transform bland writing.


    Cara--Ha! I'm not the only one who doesn't mind writing a synopsis!

    Tina, I like anchovies, too! :)

    A.A.--yes, a synopsis is MOSTLY a chapter by chapter outline of the story. But a synopsis will usually start with a paragraph or two about each main character to discuss personality and pertinent backstory that the reader needs to know before starting the outline of events in the story. Like Missy's example--she started with a short paragraph about the hero, just before she has him meet the heroine.


  26. Hi Camy:

    Your ‘before and after’ example is enough to sell me on putting ‘voice’ into the synopsis. I fully intend to do it. Your reply also explains a great deal of what I am trying to figure out. I sure intend to use your services when I get my WIP first draft finished.



  27. Thanks, ladies!

    I wanted to add that Camy's worksheet on writing a synopsis is great! And Camy, what you said about showing motivation is so helpful!

    Also, Camy, I loved the way you describe voice. I think it's writing with emotion (like you said, turning off the internal editor/sensor)--it's letting our passion for the theme/message and for the characters show.

    And Vince, I think some of it is DNA (how we were born looking at life). But maybe it's more nurture over nature. :) Because I think it's also affected by where we live, how we were raised, all our life experiences. I got a real kick when my college roommate called to say she'd read my book and that she could hear me talking as she read--as if I were reading it to her. :) So in my opinion, it's not really something you can cultivate. It's more something you discover as you write.

    And now back to hunting photos for my new hero. I just can't write him until I see him. (This is a first for me!) Those of you who ever watch CBS soaps, should I use Dusty or Shane?? I can't decide!! LOL

  28. Thanks, Vince! I'm glad my answer clarified things for you.

    Missy, great point! Friends said the same thing when reading my novels, whether the chick lits OR the romantic suspense--they could hear me speaking as they read.

    That brings up another good point--your voice will shine through no matter what genre your story is. Your voice is unique enough that whether you're writing serious or funny, contemporary or historical, your voice still makes the manuscript stand out.


  29. Gee Camy, Sorry to hear you're under the weather. Sure hope that goes away soon.

  30. Excellent! I love how you showed the difference in voice.

  31. Thanks, Sandra! I'm feeling better today.

    Thanks, Tara! I'm glad you liked that!


  32. Love your synopsis tips, Camy!