Hi. Barb, here.
I cannot figure out how this happened, but somehow I’ve ended up writing five synopses in a four week period.
Actually, I know how it happened. I’m finishing up my first cozy mystery and trying to get ready to pitch it at the New England Crime Bake—and writing a synopsis. I’m gearing up to do NaNoWriMo to try to push out the first draft of my next Ruth book (which is crazy in and of itself) and I’m taking a “Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo” class through Pennwriters that has a lot of really useful exercises, but focuses on—you guessed it— writing a synopsis. And then I got approached to write a spec proposal for another series that involves writing three synopses.
The dreaded synopsis. For those non-writers among us, it is a summary of your book that includes all the key plot points but is written in a marketing tone that somehow simultaneously captures the author’s voice. There’s no particular agreement about length—a synopsis can be 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 or 30 pages. The only thing that is certain is that whatever length you have written, the agent or editor you are pitching right now wants something else.
A lot of authors think writing the synopsis is infinitely worse than writing the book. I have a friend who says it’s like expecting the Chief Technology Officer to write the marketing materials. If you’re writing it after you finish the book, you know too much. And if you’re writing it before you start the book, you know too little. I’ve sometimes thought there should be some sort of author exchange where we agree to read someone else’s manuscript and write their synopsis if they’ll write ours.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my marathon month of synopsis writing.
1) It’s really hard.
2) It’s really, really hard.
Here’s the best approach I’ve found to writing a synopsis. (Your mileage may vary.)
Pretend you’re having dinner with an old college friend. Someone you haven’t seen in years. There may be some wine involved. And later in the evening, over dessert, you end up telling your friend a story about something that happened to another friend of yours—someone the college friend doesn’t know. What are the minimum things you have to tell your college friend about the what and the who of the story in order to make it coherent and in what sequence do you need to tell them? How will you tell the story in order to make your friend laugh and be entertained? And then what do you need to include so he gets it how absolutely amazing, sad, and life-changing these events were for your other friend?
There are probably a thousand books out there about how to write a synopsis. But I have found, it you go through the exercise above, you come out the other end of it with the bare bones of your synopsis.
Now simply polish and pray.