Yikes! They Want a Synopsis?

Thursday, April 09, 2020
Nothing strikes more terror into a writer (or at least this writer) than the notation that an agent or a publisher wants a synopsis with the query. Somehow, the query seems simpler, more clearcut. A synopsis? A synopsis goes against everything we know as writers.

image by Pixabay

For instance, as a novelist, you're supposed to build tension. You're not supposed to give up the ending until... well, not until the end. In a synopsis, you must include the way the manuscript ends. Your purpose is not to entice the reader (AKA the prospective agent/publisher, in this case), it's to inform them.

When you're writing your novel-wannabe, your lines should sing. You should paint pictures with words. In a synopsis, agents and publishers aren't looking for literary genius, and there isn't space to write poetically. Certainly, you don't want to rely on tired, lifeless word choices when condensing your manuscript. However, you have limited space--a page or two--when crafting a basic synopsis. Here, you have to get down and dirty with your lines.

Show don't tell. Show don't tell. Show don't tell. It's tattooed on every writer's wrist. You're not supposed to write, "He was mad." Instead, you're supposed to write, "His breath came in and out, as rapidly as a train rushing down the track. His face turned red, and his eyes bulged out. I glanced down, and noticed his fists were clenched. In fact, his arms and his entire chest seemed to have tightened up, ready to..." Well, you get the idea. In a synopsis, you're supposed to tell, not show. In my synopsis, I cannot show how responsible 12-year old Hnery is by creating scenes where he picks up his sister from a birthday party and walks her home... how he watches over a toddler while the toddler's mother (a neighbor) goes grocery shopping... how he keeps his sister from getting too scared by telling her stories. In a synopsis I. Don't. Have. Space. When distilling my 53,000-word down into 500 words, I need to simply say, "Henry is a responsible 12-year old boy."

When writing this post, I read Amy Stark's piece entitled "How to Write a Synopsis Without Losing Your Mind." Amy has one bit of advice that I haven't read in other articles, and this is it:

Brownies help when writing a synopsis. A brownie or a pan of 'em.

Stark boils down the sections of a novel into three parts that need to be included in a synopsis.

Precipitating Events--What got your character moving on the journey that you've crafted for them?

The Road of Trials and Tribulations--Don't include every single obstacle your character faces--just the major ones.

The Ultimate Triumph--See? I told you so. Here's where you include the ending.

When I submit 25 or 50 pages to a prospective agent, I’m hoping to wow them with my writing. However, those sample chapters don’t give the whole picture, the entirety of a manuscript. In an article by the Literary Consultancy, they summed it up. “To put it simply, the sample chapters are to show how you write, and the synopsis is to tell the reader what happens when they have finished reading them.”

Their updated article even includes a template, outlining how to write a synopsis.

I have a four-day weekend coming up. Since I can’t spend the time with my children and grandchildren as they decorate eggs, I plan on finishing up my last major push as I “spray” 155 agents and publishers with my query. I’ll also fine-tune my synopsis.

And I might even have a brownie or two to help expedite the process... (But don't worry. I’ll make sure they have walnuts in them, so they’re healthy.)

Sioux is mourning the loss of singer-songwriter John Prine, who died this week of the coronavirus. Since she heard his song, “The Great Compromise” back when she was 16 (too many decades ago), she’s loved his lyrics, his keen eye and his wry sense of humor. If you don’t know of John Prine, check out performances of “Angel from Montgomery,” “Hello in There,” “Jesus The Missing Years” or “Souvenirs. Prine (along with the iconic Bill Withers) has left a huge void. Perhaps they're singing and composing together right now...


Linda O'Connell said...

Your information is helpful. I pitched to an agent once and she begged me NOT to tell her the ending. I suppose each to their own way of doing it. You are bound to net one of those agents. Kudos to you for spraying.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Linda--I hope so, and thanks.

Margo Dill said...

Instead of brownies, I am eating Caramel Cadbury Eggs over here. I have had such a sweet tooth since sheltering in place. Not that it's surprising! Good luck with the spraying and the synopsis-ing!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--I think most of us are either stress eating or eating out of boredom. Enjoy your time with Katie and the puppy. That's a fun combination.

Cathy C. Hall said...

When I was young and twenty-something, I loved Hello in There for its beautiful message and haunting melody. But now that I am ever so much older, the poignancy of that song nearly breaks my heart. *sigh*

Pitch, query, synopsis--they're all daunting. But the good news is, the more you write 'em, the better you get at it. I'll look at queries I've written through the years for THE SAME BOOK and am amazed. I mean, yes, the manuscript may have changed, but my understanding of the story I've tried to tell changes, too. (And I get why one ms has been overlooked time and time again--and why another one is requested repeatedly. It's a process. Ugh.)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--Isn't it amazing? When we're still so close to the story, we're fond of it... but later, with some distance, we realize it's really sucky...

Pat Wahler said...

Best of luck with your queries, Sioux. I'm sure your persistence will pay off!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Pat--Thanks. I certainly hope so.

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