Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Dreaded Synopsis

Jennifer tackles the dreaded synopsis

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that authors hate writing synopses. Now, if you’re one of the few who don’t, I won’t call you weird—there are plenty of things that I like that no one else does—but you’re definitely out of the ordinary. Regardless of anyone else’s opinion, I hate them.

My daughter asked me why and I had to think for a moment to formulate my answer. She was sitting on the sofa doing her homework, homework that quite often requires summary writing. And when you think about it, a synopsis is really just a summary. I’ve often told her they’re not that bad, so why is my opinion about a synopsis different from my opinion about a summary?

As I explained it to her, I realized there is a key difference, at least in my mind. Editors and agents use synopses to find out what the story is about, but they also use it to see how you write. Sure, they say they won’t judge your writing style solely on the synopsis, but it’s still something they evaluate. And I find it almost impossible to get my voice and my writing style across in the synopsis. That’s why I hate them.

I can have the most interesting story ever; after writing the synopsis, it sounds about as fascinating as dry toast. One of my critique partners and I were discussing this very topic the other day and we both wished that we could submit outlines instead. They would show we could plot from A to B, come up with an ending, and get the story across just as well.

I attended an RWA workshop several years ago on how to write the dreaded synopsis (that might have even been the title). I keep the tutorial on my computer and pull it out whenever I finish a manuscript. It’s helpful and I’d be lost without it, but it doesn’t make the process any easier.

So last week, I pulled the file out and began following the tutorial—identify your characters. Come up with a one-sentence beginning, a one-sentence ending, a one sentence summary, etc. I was just about to start writing the actual synopsis when I realized I didn’t know how long to make it. Every editor and agent is different, and I’m submitting my current manuscript to my current editor. I searched the submissions guidelines on their website and it said nothing about a synopsis.

Now, I hate being a pest. I avoid almost all conversations on author loops because I don’t want to get pulled into conversations that may inadvertently get inappropriate. I want to be known as easy. And when I have a question, I go either to my editor or to my very good author friend who knows almost everything. In this case, I emailed my editor. Being me, of course I apologized in case I missed it on the website.

Turns out, I didn’t. It also turns out, that as a current author with my publisher, I DON’T HAVE TO WRITE ONE!!! After declaring my undying love for my editor (sure, that’s professional) and doing at least one happy dance, I closed my file and went back to editing my manuscript.

Sure, I’ll put together a small summary, and my plan for the rest of the series, but I can’t begin to describe how happy I am not to have to write the synopsis.


Do you hate it as much as I do? Or is there something else you hate more?

11 comments:

  1. I can't believe it--you don't have to write a synopsis??? How fantastic is that? Absolutely agree with you on how a synopsis makes a story as boring as dry toast--that I think is exactly the problem. We want to make our stories exciting, interesting, thrilling and you can't with a synopsis. It's like forcing an artist to stop at the cartoon and not finish the painting. M. S.

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    1. I know, I'm still shocked (and happy).

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  2. I agree that the majority of writers hate writing a synopsis. I know I do. I always hating doing précis work at school, and having to summarise your own story is a hundred times as bad as that! Fortunately I've not had to do this for my last two books. As in your case, my publisher doesn't require synopses from her current authors
    P.S. I don't really like writing blurbs either!

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    1. Oh, I love writing blurbs! They're a lot more fun because you can be creative.

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  3. I actually don't mind writing a synopsis. I have a great outline from one of my chapter mates and it works like a charm. My problem is I can only write the synopsis after I write the story. If I ever have to sell on a synopsis, I'd be in big trouble.

    Interesting that your editor doesn't require a synopsis. When I query, I always have to include one and that's how I get the request. How does your editor know she wants to take a look at the story if she doesn't know what it's about? Just curious.

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    1. My editor requires the full submission of the manuscript, plus a brief summary (similar to a back cover blurb) for us.

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  4. Synopsis after the story would be much easier, I think. Synopsis after story outline would definitely be possible. So I think I could send synopsis before writing the story. That's my guess.
    I'm always happy when someone I care about can get out of some routine work. Go have more fun, Jen!

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    1. I could never EVER write the synopsis before writing the story. Yes, I might have a fluid (very fluid!) outline of how I think the story might go, but once I start writing it, the characters take over and tell me their story -and this can be wildly (and I really do mean wildly!) different from my original outline.

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    2. If you sold a story on synopsis and your story really changed during the actual writing, do you think the publisher would accept it?

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  5. I agree with Paula. I could write a proposal beforehand, with the understanding that it might change. And you'd have to talk to you editor if you made significant changes, Ana.

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