Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Synopsis Writing 101

Myra here. Let me get this off my chest right now.


Is there anything more difficult than reducing a 50-100K manuscript down to 3-6 pages or so? Even single-spaced, that’s maybe 5K or less.

But now that you’ve written like crazy during Speedbo and you’re closer than ever to typing “the end,” the time will soon arrive when you’ll start thinking about submitting the manuscript. Maybe you’ll begin with a contest, or maybe you’re ready to go for an agent or an editor.

Or, if you’re an established author, maybe you’re at the point where you can sell a novel based on a proposal with a brief synopsis or synopsis and three chapters.

Wherever you are on your writing journey, at some point you’ll need to write a solid, well-developed story synopsis. So here are my tips for making the process as painless as possible. Which, frankly, isn’t saying much.

Start early! If you’re a plotter, you will have already done the prewriting work of getting to know your characters and defining the story’s major turning points. That may be enough to write an effective short synopsis (one page or less), but for a full synopsis you need to plan out in greater detail exactly how you’ll get the characters from point A to point B, etc., all the way to the climax and conclusion. You also have to consider their emotional reactions along the way. How you do this . . . well, I’m a pantser, so I have no idea! You plotters are on your own for this part!

Pantsers, you know how it goes. Sometimes we have to get a sizable chunk of the first draft written before we have any clue where the story will take us. So my technique is to jot a quick summary of events as I draft each major scene. What happens in this scene? What is each character’s goal in this scene, and what obstacles do they face? How do the characters react, both emotionally and physically? What is the outcome, and what changes or new problems will these events lead to?

Now, with your character sketches and plot outline or scene notes at hand, you’re ready to start writing the synopsis.

Central character setup.
Use the first two or three paragraphs to briefly summarize the central characters’ backstory and suggest their main story goal. Here are the opening paragraphs of my synopsis of A Horseman’s Heart (Heartsong Presents, August 2011):

Kip Lorimer’s mother destroyed his trust some sixteen years ago when she walked out on him and his rodeo-riding father. Unknown to Kip, his mother was pregnant with his baby sister when she left. Even as an adult, he bears the bitterness of abandonment but has managed to make a decent life for himself, drawing on everything he learned as a kid growing up on the rodeo circuit. Kip has earned an enviable reputation as a skilled horse trainer, and his side business as a custom saddle maker supplements his bank account while feeding his artist’s spirit.

Sheridan Cross grew up on Cross Roads Farm, just outside Kingsley, North Carolina, a small community near Charlotte. The farm has been in her father’s family for many years, and his dream was to help other children experience the same healing and hope he found growing up with horses in his life. He and Sheridan’s mother eventually established the farm as an accredited equine therapy center, but Sheridan’s father died a year ago and now her mother keeps the center running.

With her father gone, Sheridan can’t bear the idea of her mother living at the farm by herself—not after the ordeal they both went through when Sheridan was just twelve years old. Ernie and Dell Finston, the couple her parents had hired as on-premise stable managers, turned out to be less than trustworthy. One weekend, while Sheridan’s father and her younger brother, Nathan, were away, the Finstons enticed Sheridan into their cottage, then bound her with duct tape and tied her to the bed. After subduing Sheridan’s mother in the main house, they cleaned out everything of value and took off. The trauma of that long, frightening weekend, trapped for almost two days before her father and brother came home and freed them, has never left Sheridan. Nor has her lack of trust for strangers.

Summarize your plot. Now pull out your plot outline or scene notes and look for the overarching storyline. You won’t have room to include much if anything about subplots, so focus on what happens to your main characters. Address the central conflict and 3-4 major turning points. What are your characters’ goals as the story begins, and how do these goals evolve during the course of events? What is the point of no return, the darkest moment when it appears all hope is lost? How does the story resolve?

Here’s how I described the black moment in my synopsis of A Horseman’s Heart:

Just as life seems about as good as it can get, Kip awakens one morning to find his pickup and horse trailer gone. He rushes into the barn to see if anything is missing there, and finds Grace’s favorite therapy horse is not in his stall. When he finds certain other supplies missing, he realizes Grace must have run away with the horse. He knows she won’t get far, though, because of a low-water crossing that flooded during a recent heavy rain. He saddles Jet and rides out to find Grace.

Sheridan awakens later to discover Kip, Grace, and not one but two horses missing—plus the money from both her purse and her mother’s. Heartbroken and angry, she relives the Finstons’ betrayal all over again. Was Kip’s love a lie? Did he and his sister plan this from the beginning? Though Sheridan’s mother tries to get her to think rationally, Sheridan can sense a glimmer of doubt. They call the sheriff’s department and then drive out hoping to find Kip and praying to prove their suspicions wrong.

Write the synopsis in third person, present tense. Though some writers successfully vary from this standard, you’ll be safest staying with third person, present tense. Generally, dialogue is not included, unless a specific line would best convey the emotion of the scene.

Go for dramatic impact. Think of your synopsis as a very short novel. Forget the dry recitation of plot points and strive instead for the same emotional and dramatic impact you developed in your complete manuscript.

Use action verbs.
Write in a language and tone to reflect your story’s mood (humorous, serious?) and era (contemporary, historical, fantasy?). Here’s a paragraph from the synopsis of my novel When the Clouds Roll By, a historical romance coming next September from Abingdon Press:

One autumn day, as Annmarie admires the beautifully glazed and fired vase she has worked so hard to create, her father bursts into the pottery factory workroom. Startled, she drops the vase, cringing in horror as it shatters at her feet. But when her father announces the armistice has been signed ending the Great War, resentment quickly turns to thanksgiving, and a broken vase becomes meaningless. The only cloud hanging over this otherwise joyful day is concern for Annemarie’s wounded fiancĂ©, Lieutenant Gilbert Ballard. Though he expects to be home by Christmas, his letters have grown less and less affectionate and personal. Annemarie fears the war has changed him and that his love for her has dimmed.

Review, revise, and tighten.
Once you’ve drafted your synopsis, review it to be sure you’ve clearly and compellingly conveyed the most important aspects of the story in as few words as necessary.

Synopsis checklist:
  1. Central characters’ needs, dreams, and goals--are they clear?
  2. Motivation for your characters’ actions--is it believable?
  3. Opposition--what obstacles stand in your characters’ way?
  4. Dramatic impact--strong verbs, characters’ emotional responses?
  5. Appropriate language and tone--does the synopsis reflect the finished manuscript?
  6. Tight writing--did you eliminate “weedy words” and repetition?
  7. Black moment and climax--clearly described, no important details omitted?
  8. Conclusion--does it satisfy while suggesting how the characters have grown and changed?
Here’s the final paragraph of my synopsis of Autumn Rains (Heartsong Presents, October 2009):

Ten years later finds Valerie and Healy happily married and anxiously awaiting the decision of a judge in another courtroom. Their entire family sits behind them, including their four adopted special-needs children—miraculous evidence of answered prayer and exhaustive efforts to convince adoption authorities of Healy’s complete turnaround after his criminal conviction. The judge praises Healy for the fine life he has made for his family as she finalizes the adoption of their fifth child. Healy draws everyone together and offers a prayer of thanksgiving, to which Pastor Henke adds, “Amen indeed. ‘Be glad, O people of Zion’!”

For extra help writing your synopsis, check out the following resources:

Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A step by step approach, by Pam McCutcheon

Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract, by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook

The Sell Your Novel Toolkit, by Elizabeth Lyon

Join in the discussion today, mention your interest in your choice of the above craft books on writing synopses, and one of you just might be the lucky winner!


Melissa Jagears said...

I love your new cover! And it's got a train, I have a train on mine and have a lot of comment on it making people want to buy it. Who knew trains were such a big deal? I shall put trains in everything now! ha.

I fail at the emotion part of a synopsis, I really need to work on that.

Helen Gray said...


It bears repeating.


Every time I write one, I have to get out all these wonderful guidelines, but I still HATE doing it.

The coffee pot is set.


Lyndee H said...

Love the new cover, too. Congratulations! This post is another one of those that I'll be reading over and over. I can't get enough of these tutorials. There's always something new.

Helen Gray said...

I have a binder for printouts of articles of this sort. This will be a nice addition. Thank you.

Marianne Barkman said...

So that's what a synopsis is! Can see why writers and authors don't like them. I love the cover and the blurb for your new novel. I will be anxiously waiting to find out how it continues! Thanks, Myra. Thanks for the coffee, Helen. Sticky cinnamon buns here.

Mary Connealy said...

Any rational person hates writing a synopsis. I view those who say they don't with deep suspicion.

They're probably also communists and such.

Mary Connealy said...

Uh..........don't let that influence you if you disagree with me....................

Playground Monitor said...

Synopsis help. Just what I need! Only for the contest I'm entering, it must be two paragraphs. Yes, you read that correctly. TWO. PARAGRAPHS.

I finished revisions tonight and tomorrow I start typing them all into the Word document. Eventually I'll have to tackle that synopsis. Did I mention is can only be two paragraphs? Of course they don't say how long the paragraph can be. *grin*

No sticky buns for me. :-( Tomorrow's weigh-in day for Weight Watchers. I totally blew it over the weekend and I munched on gummi bears while I finished the revisions tonight. If I have lost anything I'll be happy.

Please put my name in the cat dish for A HORSEMAN'S HEART. It takes place in a small town outside Charlotte, North Carolina. I happen to have grown up in a small town outside Charlotte, North Carolina. :-)


Tina Pinson said...

Mary, I love wtiting the synopsis. Hahaha. Pulling teeth is fun too.

I think I do okay with synopses my problem arises when I have to possibly give secrets awsy. I know editors should know the story, but I don't want to give it all awsy. Is that wrong?

Thanks for a checklist, Myra. Will have to print it out.

Cindy W. said...

Thank you for all the information you gave us today. This is DEFINITELY a keeper!

I love the cover of When the Clouds Roll By and would definitely like to be entered to win a copy. It sounds like a wonderful read.

Have a peaceful blessed day!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

Jackie said...

Myra thanks so much for this today.

Like some of you have already said, I hate writing synopses.
Maybe because I don't feel sure of what I'm doing. Your tips help.

Please add my name to the drawing. Thanks.

Jackie L.

Debby Giusti said...

Myra, great info about creating synopses! Shall I add the word "dreaded," which they always seem to be?

The excerpts you provided are lovely and read like a short story! So impressive.

Yes, Tina P., you have to reveal the secrets in your synopsis. :) But the editor will love your creativity!

Evidently Love Inspired's online submission guidelines mention a short synopsis, which would be even more difficult to write. How to capture an entire manuscript in two pages or so. A struggle for sure!

Marilyn, you mentioned a two paragraph sysnopsis. YIKES!

Debby Giusti said...

Actually, writing a synopsis helps me identify holes in my story. The "short" overview reveals areas that need to be strengthened, plot points that should to be tied together and character GMC that needs a boost. For me, the synopsis is a great tool that better prepares me to write the entire manuscript.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Marilyn, a two-paragraph synops is a back cover blurb.

Really, truly, that's all you're looking at. You want to identify the characters, hint about who they are and where they're going and the point of the book. So if you think of it that way, it suddenly becomes so much easier, right? Thinking about it as a two-paragraph synops seems impossible, but a back cover blurb???? Piece of cake!

Synopses: I've learned to do them so much more quickly than I used to. And I've tried to keep them simple, but I always start them with a couple of pages of set-up. I can't do that in a book, but I can in a synops. And that way the editor sees the backdrop of the story and my launch point. From that launch point I move forward as chronologically as possible. What I've found lately? Is that writing it for the proposal which needs approval before I write the book????

Vince will love this, SIGH!!!! I have the story outline in my head and at least the basis of the story is mentally pre-written. Then I add Ruthy turns and twists and humor, but the idea of the story arc is firm in my brain and that helps avoid hefty rewrites and revisions.

Which doesn't mean I'm a planner!!!! :) But it means if I want to get approval, I need to know who, what, when, where, why and how.

And then I've got a great head start! So I'm agreeing with Deb, that I've learned how to use the synops to help me.... and help the story.

Jill Weatherholt said...

At this point, I haven't written a synopses, but I'll take your word that it's misery. :) Thanks for the great tips, Myra. I'll be printing this for my Seekerville notebook.

Jill Weatherholt said...

At this point, I haven't written a synopses, but I'll take your word that it's misery. :) Thanks for the great tips, Myra. I'll be printing this for my Seekerville notebook.

karenk said...

a wonderful posting!!

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Jeanne T said...

Myra, what a great post. You do a great job on your synopses. :) I loved your check list, too.

As an uber-plotter, I like to write my synopsis first, like Debby mentioned, to catch holes and figure out the places in my story where I need to fill in the gaps.

MARILYN--for a contest last fall, I had 100 words for my synop. That's it. It was so hard! :) Good luck with yours.

RUTHY--Back cover copy scares me. I haven't figure out the knack for making it succinct and "hook-y" yet. Sigh.

Bridgett Henson said...

What's the best thing about Indie Publishing? No more synopsis. :)

Myra, That cover reached out and grabbed me. I love it!!!

Connie Queen said...

Yep, cool cover, Myra.

I don't like synopsis, but sometimes they do help keep the story straight. I try to jot one down when I have the opening written. If the conflict is weak or the hero lacks a goal, it shows in the synopsis. (Gee, I wonder I learned that one.)

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, Seekerville!!!

Apologies to you early birds for the typo in the title. Yikes. I'm glad Grammar Queen wasn't awake to see that!

MELISSA, really??? Trains are the next big thing in book covers? Who knew!

Myra Johnson said...

HELEN, thanks--as always!--for getting the coffee started. Anyone working on a synopsis is going to need a lot! Totally with you, girlfriend. Synopses are a pain in the you-know-what to write!

Thank you, LYNDEE! I hope you'll find these tips helpful next time you work on a synopsis.

Myra Johnson said...

MARIANNE, yummy--cinnamon buns! Thank you! Yup, synopses are like a micro-mini-version of your book manuscript. After taking nearly 100K to tell a story, squishing it down to a few pages is sheer torture.

MARY, you may be onto something. Communists, though? I'm going for a conspiracy between editors and agents and contest judges.

Myra Johnson said...

MARILYN, two paragraphs is more like a back-cover blurb. Except you will probably need to get in more of what actually happens rather than just a teaser. Think snappy and intriguing. You can do it!!!

Yes, TINA PINSON, it is wrong-wrong-wrong to hold back important information in a synopsis. Editors and agents NEED to know what happens so they can judge whether your plot can hold up. Sorry, but you have to 'fess up! ;-)

Myra Johnson said...

CINDY W, glad you found some help in today's post.

Actually, I think I need to clarify my giveaway--sorry for any confusion!!! I meant to offer one commenter a copy of her/his choice of those helpful books on writing synopses!

Myra Johnson said...

JACKIE, happy to include you in the drawing. Do you have a preference of synopsis books?

DEBBY, in the proposals I write according to my agent's template, I do a 1-page synopsis AND a full synopsis. My theory is the 1-pager gives the editors a short version they can present to their committees or other departments.

Myra Johnson said...

Okay, DEBBY, you're sounding too much like a plotter. ;-) But I agree--writing a synopsis does help you recognize holes in the story, even if it's already written.

RUTHY, you are amazing with all the story ideas you come up with. I think living inside your head must be as fascinating and crazy-creative as living inside Mary's! I think for my next book, I will email you my character ideas, setting, and general premise, and then let YOU fill in the details for me!

Janet Dean said...

Myra, wonderful tips for writing the dreaded synopsis! Thanks for the print worthy post!

I love the cover of your WW1 story, When the Clouds Roll By. Can't wait to read it!

What's for breakfast??


Myra Johnson said...

JILL, I hope I haven't terrified you too much about writing a synopsis. It's just a necessary ev-- uh, I mean, chore--that every writer eventually is faced with.

KARENK, thanks for visiting with us today!

JEANNE, thank you! Reading my excerpts as I composed this blog, I kept wanting to revise my synopses and make them even better! But . . . the books sold, so I can't complain too much. ;-)

Myra Johnson said...

Thank you, BRIDGETT! I'm glad you've found the secret to avoiding synopses.

CONNIE, you're so right. Writing the synopsis does clarify character goals (or lack thereof). If you can't spell it out in the synopsis, it's probably because it's missing in the full story.

Myra Johnson said...

JANET, thank you! I am always so pleased with the Abingdon covers. They do a great job!

Okay, breakfast. Well, we have Helen's coffee and Marianne's cinnamon buns. How about some fresh blueberries and Greek yogurt? I've been eating oatmeal all winter, so I'm ready for something fresh and spring-like to match the gorgeous day outside my window!

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Myra, the examples are incredibly helpful. Thank you for sharing them. (And the checklist... I like checklists!)

I'm trying to do better and mend my ways on pantster-ing. But I still succumb. :)

**BTW, the cover for When The Clouds Roll By is delicious. Wow.

If I'm the lucky winner... The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Ms. Lyon sounds like something any of us could use, but especially me! Very thoughtful offering today. Thank you!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Myra,

Great tips and so timely for me. I'm revising two synopses right now!

Always difficult to get the right feel and figure out what to include and what to leave out!


Myra Johnson said...

KC & MAY, nice to see you this morning! Thanks--I love my new cover, too! Hey, pantser-ing is an honorable way to write! It's like following a path through a dark forest with a flashlight that only shows you a few steps ahead. Scary, but such a fun journey of discovery!

SUE, I feel your pain. Choosing what to include and what to leave out is hard. Try to zero in on the major turning points and obstacles--the most direct path to the dramatic climax and conclusion.

Myra Johnson said...

Here's a question for y'all. Has anyone had success with a synopsis that veered from the standard?

For example, a synopsis written in first person? Why did you make that choice? What was harder or easier about it?

Sandra Leesmith said...

OOOOOH Myra. I want to read WHEN THE CLOUDS ROLL BY. Love the cover too. Sounds great. oooh I'm excited.

Great job on synopses tips. I'm like you. I hate writing them. Even as a plotster I usually wait until I've written the book before feeling good about the synopsis. Of course that is difficult to do when you want to turn in a proposal. smile

Thanks again for the tips.

Sandra Leesmith said...

TINA P. you are tooooo funny.

Missy Tippens said...

Such a great post, Myra! And thanks for sharing your examples.

Now, I'm off to read over my synopsis one more time before submitting! This was perfect timing. :)

Missy Tippens said...

By the way, I always say that writing a synopsis MAKES MY HEAD EXPLODE! It's usually a solid day or two of pure torture.

Missy Tippens said...

Melissa, I agree! I love her new cover. The train really does draw me! LOL (and now I'm thinking I need to add a railroad track through my small town in Georgia!)

Missy Tippens said...

Melissa, I agree! I love her new cover. The train really does draw me! LOL (and now I'm thinking I need to add a railroad track through my small town in Georgia!)

Missy Tippens said...

Oooh, Marilyn, two paragraphs truly is is painful!

Cindy Regnier said...

I hate writing a synopsis but I think it's mostly because I don't know how. Anyway, I like words - lots of them. Would love one of those books but for starters I am saving this article. Thanks Myra - oh love the cover of your book!

Myra Johnson said...

SANDRA, thank you! I just finished reading Current of Love. Sweet, sweet story--and it made me want to take a river cruise--only not in stormy weather!

Yep, having to write a synopsis for a proposal when you haven't written the book yet is really hard. I try to be very vague about what happens but focus on the main story goal and conflicts. Usually I have a general idea how the story will end and what the black moment might be. Hopefully it's enough to convince the editor it'll be a good story.

Myra Johnson said...

MISSY--exploding heads. That about sums up the torture of writing a synopsis!

They do have trains in Georgia, don't they? You could put your heroine's house near the tracks, and Snidely Whiplash kidnaps her and . . .

Wait, that's been done already.

Myra Johnson said...

CINDY R, learning to write a strong synopsis just takes practice. That's also one reason I included excerpts from mine. I think it always helps to see how someone else did it.

Debby Giusti said...

Myra, love your idea of writing a one-page synops as well as a longer version. You are so smart. Plus, I didn't catch your typo. Not to worry!

Debby Giusti said...

I want to write a train story too!!! Love your new cover, Myra! So fetching. (Isn't that an inviting word! Love when I can use it.)

(I can hear Ruthy chime in with "Love me some choo-choos!" LOL)

Debby Giusti said...

Sorry, I got up at 5 AM. Maybe I'm on caffeine overload.

Elaine Manders said...

I don't know why everyone is complaining. Writing a synopsis is easy. Writing a good synopsis is hard, very hard, near impossible.

Thanks for the tips lists. I'm going to print this one out. I like your examples. Guess I'm a very visual person. Examples always help.

Please put me in for Writing the Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCutchen.

BTY, a train is a symbol for a changing point, moving from one place in life to another.

Joanne Sher said...

EXCELLENT POST, Myra. I hate writing synopses too (and I'm not just saying that cuz I like to be in the majority LOL). They're icky. And hard. And stinky!

BUT, I'd love to be able to write better ones - which is why I love this post. AND why I would also love to win one of those books - probably the "Writing a Fiction Synopsis" one. Thanks!

Myra Johnson said...

DEBBY, the 1-page synopsis is part of Natasha's proposal template. I hear and I obey!

Funny, the train has only a small part in the story, when the soldiers are coming home from the war. But I guess it's very symbolic.

Myra Johnson said...

ELAINE, you are so funny! Yep, writing a GOOD synopsis is the difficult part!

Good point about the train. It definitely symbolizes a change in life circumstances for the characters in my story.

Myra Johnson said...

JOANNE, I found the McCutcheon book very helpful. Lots of instruction and clear examples. The other two selections cover the elements of a complete book proposal, but their sections on synopses are fairly thorough.

Debra E. Marvin said...

I love the new cover too. I'm really drawn by the sky and the train. I want to go where she's going!

I plot by making up a list or chart and then pull it together in a very ugly long synopsis 'type' document. That becomes the basis for what's going on in each chapter so that I know if i'm on schedule with the plot events I need (yes I'm a Michael Hauge/Chris Vogler fan).

As you said, it makes writing a synopsis so much easier and by the time I've done the rough draft I know my characters much better and can integrate the motivation and emotions much better. Still...I hate writing a synopsis!

Wait, why don't we just find out who LIKES writing them. Do I see any hands? You in the corner? no, just scratching your head...

Thanks Myra. VERY HELPFUL!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, DEBRA! Thanks for the insights from the plotter's perspective. If my characters would talk to me a little more BEFORE I write their story, maybe I'd have a better idea what's supposed to happen in their lives!

As for the girl and the train, she's in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and her sweetie is on his way home from the Great War.

Julie Lessman said...

MYRA!!! IMPORTANT blog about synopses with EXCELLENT points. This needs to be a printer-offer blog, my friend!!

BUT, OH ... it's the synopsis of When The Clouds Roll By that hooked me HARD, both the cover and the story, so I am now CHOMPING at the bit to get my mitts on that one, girlfriend!!


Debby Giusti said...

My father took a train--along with all the guys in his Army unit--from Fort Benning, GA, to the coast where they caught a ship to Europe during WWII. He was from Ohio, but his unit had been stationed in various spots across the US for about a year prior to leaving for the war. Fort Benning was the last US stop before heading overseas.

Fast forward...
When I was six years old, my mother and I took a train from Ohio to San Francisco. We were there for two weeks and then boarded a military transport ship that took us to Japan where my father was then stationed.

We rode trains in Japan, and hubby and I "trained" when we were in Germany.

Now back to work...

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, JULIE! I'm finishing edits to Clouds this week, and also writing book 3 in the series (book 2 is already in the editorial pipeline). It's been both a challenge and a thrill to write these stories and bring the characters to life on the page.

Myra Johnson said...

DEBBY, that's quite a lot of "train"-ing! When our girls were little, we took the train from San Antonio to San Francisco to visit their grandparents. It was quite an adventure--not to mention a much more relaxing way to travel.

We've also taken the train from Denver to Glenwood Springs to swim in the gigantic hot-springs-fed pool there. Crazy-weird to be swimming with snow piled all around the pool deck! Not to mention racing from the dressing room to jump into the water before we froze!

Tina Radcliffe said...

I would like to add..I hate synopsis. I am getting better at them..and they do have advantage. They force me to plot out my story.

So when I turn in my proposal-three chapters and ELEVEN to SIXTEEN page synopsis I am ready to write.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Let me clarify. When I said I am getting better (in case an editor is reading this)..I meant I don't totally suck anymore. I am just a step above lousy.

Myra Johnson said...

TINA--11 to 16 pages???? That's practically a book already! Are you talking single- or double-spaced? The very thought of writing that detailed of a synopsis BEFORE I write the book just gives me the scroochies!!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Very timely for me, Myra! Thank you!!! I'll be looking closely at these tips in the next few days!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Happy to oblige, MELANIE! Have fun (?) writing your synopsis!

Pam Hillman said...

I stink at writing synopses too, so let's just get that out of the way right at the get-go...

But what I think works for me is to sandwich the 3-4 turning points Myra mentioned between the opening and the ending.

Loosely, when writing romance with the h/hn having equal billing, I would do it this way, with each section being 1-2 short paragraphs...

Setup storyline
H/HN's GMC (para. for each)
Turning point 1
Turning point 2
Turning point 3
Wrap up

And I usually stick to the major story-line and leave out sub-plots and even secondary characters POVs.

I'm not saying this is always the case, but it's a starting point.

Maybe, but like I said, I really don't know what I'm talking about! lol

Chill N said...

Myra, that is a gorgeous cover! The colors and style bring to mind the art contemporary to that time. Impressive!

Thank you for your synopsis help. I was delighted to see this listed as 'coming up' because I need to polish a synopsis for a contest entry. Have I mentioned I hate writing a synopsis?

I'm printing off your post, putting it beside my computer -- and telling myself that Myra says I can do this :-)

Thanks again,
Nancy C

Myra Johnson said...

LOL, PAM, you know plenty! Great basic synopsis outline! Definitely no room for subplots, unless some aspect of a subplot has a vital impact on the H/H's story.

Myra Johnson said...

Thank you, NANCY! I have yet to see an Abingdon cover I didn't like. They do a great job of capturing the essence of the story without giving too much away.

Glad you found some help and inspiration here for your own adventures in synopsis writing!

Vince said...

I love writing synopses!

I think contests that proudly proclaim that they don’t require a synopsis are just pandering to pantsers! They are in effect judging a 48” x 24” oil painting by just looking at 8 square inches! They don’t even care what the full painting is going to look like! They are indeed our modern day Pharisees of Prose.

If this makes me a Communist, then all I have to say is:

It ‘s better to be read than dead.

Vince said...

Two Ways to Write a Synopsis

The Inductive Method:

1) Follow all the rules and checklists that Myra has so skillfully listed in this post. All are valid and important.
2) Keep all this guidance in mind as you compose your thoughts before writing your first sentence.
3) Believe if you leave anything out it will be discovered and your synopsis rendered fatally flawed.
4) As you write be ever mindful that you are getting each essential element into the synopsis.
5) Expect the process to be extremely difficult taking must time and requiring many rewrites.

The Deductive Method

1) Don’t think about your story for two days.
2) Understand that a synopsis does not need to cover everything and that it is judged by the quality of what is actually on the page. No one knows what was left out.
3) Without thinking about any rules or checklists, simply tell what your story is about in a way that will make the listener want to know more. Only the important and most memorable elements should come to mind after two days away and without your notes in front of you.
4) Only when you have the first draft written will you look at your checklists and see if there is anything that you should work into the synopsis.
5) If what you wrote makes sense and tells your story well, then accept ‘yes’ for an answer and don’t worry about anything that was left out.

I believe that using the deductive method is at least ten times easier than the other method. I only used the deductive method as I wrote advertising over the years. That is, I told the basic selling story first (just as I would tell a friend about the product) and only then would I work in any product points that were left out.

I think writing a synopsis is just about as hard as we want to make it. If you think it is almost impossible to do, then it will be. If you think it is just like telling a friend what your story is about and then adding a few extra points, then it won’t be much harder than having a conversation about one of your favorite topics.

Disclosure: I might be a Communist and all this could be disinformation!

Myra Johnson said...

VINCE, VINCE, VINCE!!! Okay, I am now speechless. I should have just come to you and let you write this post!

. . .

. . .

(gathering my thoughts here)

. . .

Okay, I concede, it really is a good idea to let your story settle for a few days before diving into the synopsis.

And you DO want to write it like you're telling your story to a friend.

And nobody will know what you LEFT OUT.

Speaking from the perspective of a contest judge, I can honestly say I hate reading synopses almost as much as I hate writing them! Usually it's because many synopses are not very well written and don't do the story justice. Also, I can't really get into a cut-and-dried story summary. I need to live it scene by scene to know whether it works or not.

BTW, Vince, if anyone by the name of McCarthy rings your doorbell, you might not want to answer.

Gina Welborn said...

I need to rework a synopsis so this post was utterly timely.

Myra Johnson said...

Hope it helped, GINA. ;-)

Cara Lynn James said...

Great post, Myra! Your new cover is beautiful and I can't wait to read the book.

Thanks for making all the elements of a synopsis clearer. It's not my favorite part of writing!

CatMom said...

I sure needed this post today, Myra--thank you! Writing a synopsis brings terror to my heart (well, almost, LOL). ~ Congrats on your Abingdon book (great cover). ~ When the cinnamon buns are gone, I brought Georgia Pecan Pie, and Peach shortcake. Enjoy! Hugs, Patti Jo :)

Piper Huguley said...

Love all of these hints about writing a synopsis. I like doing the two-paragraph blurbs, but anything more or less than that gives me the scroochies! (whatever Myra said).


Myra Johnson said...

CARA, thank you! Nice to know so many writers share my synopsis angst! At least we can all support and encourage each other.

PATTI JO, southern pecans and peaches--what more could we ask for--yum!!! Nothing takes the terror out of writing a synopsis better than a sweet treat!

PIPER, "scroochies" is a technical term I learned from my husband's family. I think one of them invented it as a result of getting burrs stuck inside his shirt.

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

Now I feel terrible! Everything in your post is fine and true and needed. It’s all essential. You told what to have in a synopsis and I told two ways to go about doing that. It’s like love and marriage. They go together. (At least in romances they do.)☺

Also you wrote:

“I can honestly say I hate reading synopses almost as much as I hate writing them! Usually it's because many synopses are not very well written and don't do the story justice.”

I wonder why? ☻ ☻ ☻

I think this is the best possible reason why a synopsis should be mandatory! How are we as contestants ever going to get better?

BTW: Didn’t they disband HUAC?. (Extra credit for people who know what this is.) My mother was fascinated by the McCarthy hearings on the radio. I knew it was really a big thing when she listened to the hearings instead of her two stories! She drove the carpool to pick us up from school and we all had to be quiet in the car. I think it was that experience that got me into working in political campaigns. For her birthday one year I gave her a copy to “Tail Gunner Joe”.

And like Julie, I’m hooked on “When the Clouds Roll By.” Please tell me it will be available on Kindle. (Were you influenced at all in this story by James Dean in “East of Eden”? I loved this time period as a kid. I read all of Fredrick Lewis Allen’s books. They read like novels. I know TMI. )


Myra Johnson said...

Don't feel bad, Vince! I love it when you share your erudite opinions and advice. ;-)

Nope, no James Dean influence for my novel. I can't pinpoint exactly where the inspiration came from, but much of it is based on the history I've picked up about Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we vacation almost every year.

I do expect the book to be available on Kindle not too long after the print version comes out. Abingdon is pretty good about that.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Vince, I love it! GRIN, GRIN, GRIN!!!!

I used to hate these things, but I think what Tina said resonates, and follows up on Deb's....

Once I have the opening 50 pages or so done....

and a synopsis written (mine are 14-20 pages, too, Tina, double spaced to protect Melissa's eyes because I CARE ABOUT MY EDITOR!!!) :) Then I re-read both in hard copy and it's amazing how I can then tweak both to be better.

And I don't fuss over incidentals in the synopsis, it's the general turning points and what sounds like it will work. Then, if Melissa thinks of other things, I revise the chapters and the synopsis, send it back, and wait for approval.

In the meantime I'm working on one or two other projects because I hate idle time.

But yes, a clearer definition of where I want the story to go. And then weird things happen anyway.

Myra Johnson said...

Okay, RUTHY, I feel better knowing your pages are double-spaced. My proposals are single-spaced, and the long synopsis section usually runs 3-5 pages, which would be 6-10 double-spaced.

And I totally admire you and everyone else who can develop a coherent synopsis with all the necessary details BEFORE writing the book. The less of the book I've written, the more vague the synopsis will be.

Cindy W. said...

Oh Myra, I'm so sorry. I misunderstood the giveaway. Duh! I read the wonderful post and was still half asleep with no caffeine on board when I commented. I would however, love to be entered for the giveaway for "Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract", by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook. Thank you for the opportunity.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

Myra Johnson said...

You're in, Cindy! No prob. I realized I wasn't completely clear about the giveaway. Come September, though, I may be offering CLOUDS for real. ;-)

Debby Giusti said...

Confessing that my synopses are usually 18 to 20 pages, double spaced. And I cut to get that length. But then I'm writing suspense and my sweet editor needs to know all the plot elements, foreshadowing and red herrings, which add page after page to the synops!

End of story!

Kav said...

Of all the days to arrive late to the village! This information is what I need the most too! I'm in synopsis prison right now and was well on my way to becoming bald. You're rescuing me just in time, Myra!

Love the examples they help A LOT!!! And I didn't know about giving a brief backstory about the hero and heroine. That's going to make my synopsis make more sense! Phew! I'm using this as a step-by-step guide. Wish me luck on my Speedbo synopsis -- it's due sooner then later!

Love the cover of your September release. You must be thrilled! It's gorgeous!

Myra Johnson said...

Wow, DEB! I guess you would need more detail in a suspense. But that would make me crazy. Especially if I had to figure it all out before writing the book!

KAV, glad you found some help today. Giving the backstory up front, instead of drizzling it in as you would in the actual story, lets the editor know up front why your characters are the way they are. So then everything they do makes more sense in the rest of the synopsis.

P.S.: Don't tear your hair out, Kav! You can do this!

Audra Harders said...

I think the general concensus is: no one likes writing a synopsis!

Me included : )

Thanks for tearing a synopsis apart and rebuilding the process, Myra. Yours sounds so effortless...would you please write mine?

LOL! Thanks for the tips today. I especially liked the check list. Will definitely keep that close!

Jennifer said...

Great post, Myra! I'm about to embark on the dreaded synopsis, so this was perfect! If the craft book is still available - I'd take any of them!

Myra Johnson said...

AUDRA, welcome to the club! Effortless??? You have got to be kidding! Nope, you'll have to write your own. ;-D

JENNIFER, thanks for stopping by! I'll add your name to the cat dish (although why we use a cat dish for Seekerville drawings is beyond me).

annalabno.com said...

I don't know if it's me, but I don't like to send out posts because I have to do it five times or so for it to work.

My patience is wearing me out.

But I really need to win.


Thank you!

Sarah said...

I think "When The Clouds Roll By" looks interesting!!!
Thanks for the giveaway and God Bless!!!
Sarah Richmond

Edwina said...

Myra, thanks for the excellent tips on writing the ever-dreaded, most hated synopsis.

I would love to win "Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract."

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, ANNA, SARAH, & EDWINA!