Monday, September 03, 2007

The Dreaded Synopsis

Check out Nathan Bransford's post for Thursday on writing a synopsis here.

Nathan always offers such practical advice, accompanied by a calming voice. For those of you who would rather write a novel than a synopsis, be sure to take some time to read both the post and the comments.

I think the biggest problem most newbie writers have with the synopsis is that they try to cram EVERY event and EVERY character into the allotted number of pages. That's a mistake even when the agent asks for a detailed synopsis. You'll just end up with a laundry list of what appear to be unconnected events and character names that mean nothing.

My favorite length synopsis is about four pages--a little more than Nathan's three but somewhere between eight hundred and one thousand words.

I don't know if my approach will work for everyone, but it's made my life easier. Because I'm a very linear thinker, I start this way: (1) hook; (2) 250-word blurb (Nathan suggests mimicking the book cover copy; that's a great idea); (3) refine the blurb to a paragraph that will go in the query letter; (4) expand the blurb into the synopsis.

Caveat: I think of my hook as the concept that grips the reader, agent or editor. Many people describe the hook as the opening line of the novel.

For Bad Girl, my hook (concept) was a woman with a secret being blackmailed by an anonymous man who was threatening to expose her.

The description I included in my query letters was:

Sandy Davis is a shy, lonely teacher who has been spying on her high-rise neighbors with a telescope for months. One night, she receives a telephone call from an anonymous male saying, "You've been a bad girl, Alexandra Davis." Sandy must decide whether to capitulate to her blackmailer's demands or risk the consequences of being exposed as a voyeur.

Note: The title of the book was originally You've Been a Bad Girl, and Sandy was originally a teacher. My publisher shortened the title, and my editor asked me to change Sandy's profession because this was an erotic romance. I needed a profession where a morals clause might put her career at risk. I opted for social worker, which had been one of my own professions.

The requested changes actually worked well because I also was expanding what had been a novella into a novel, which meant I needed to add about 25K words to the book. One of the more suspenseful moments in the novel [not an erotic one--grin] actually happened to me while I was working in the field in a somewhat dangerous neighborhood. I made some slight changes to what had occurred to me to make it fit the plotline.

I agree with Nathan's advice. When writing your synopsis, focus on the major characters and the major plot points. Since I'm writing romance, my synopses generally have a hero, heroine and villain as the main characters.

Address the GMC for each of the major characters. GMC is, of course, their goals, motivations, and conflicts. Your characters are the medium through which you tell the story, and conflict is what drives the plot.

Stick to the major events. It's not necessary to give a chronology of everything that occurs. But focus on the internal and external conflicts that impede the hero/heroine on their journey. Internal conflicts might be erroneous beliefs the heroine holds or negative messages she gives herself. External conflict might be the obstructions placed in her path by the villain.

Above all, make it interesting. I can't tell you how many synopses I've read that just made me wince. If you can't write three interesting pages, how on earth are you going to write three hundred interesting pages?

For the mechanics: I write in present tense, third person. Double space in Courier 12 pt although Times New Roman is frequently used as well. Just use a legible, not elaborate font.

Now get out there and write a synopsis. You can do it. I know you can.


Tena said...

Thanks for this terrific post, Maya.

I love hearing the background story on how a novel came to be.

PS to other readers of this blog: I'm in the middle of reading BAD GIRL and it's not only sssteamy but it's suspenseful.

Kudos, Maya!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Exactly. Not too long ago, I whipped together a synopsis to send off to a publisher, and it was hard giving the most necessary info without it coming off dry as yesterday's toast.

It was really helpful. I know I'll have to start the process all over again for another book shortly, and any help is always appreciated. Thanks for sharing your process with Bad Girl.

Maya Reynolds said...

Tena: Thanks!!!

Maya Reynolds said...

B.E. (and others): Feel free to email me at:
if you'd like some feedback.

I was very fortunate to have several published writers critique my work so I'm paying it forward.



B.E. Sanderson said...

Thanks, Maya. I'll take you up on that when I'm ready for the next go 'round. =oD

The Anti-Wife said...

Thanks for the information, Maya. Tomorrow is the day for Bad Girl. Looking forward to purchasing my copy and I'll feature it on my blog.

katemoss said...

I agree with the method you outlined in this post. Starting with a hook and expanding from there is much easier than staring at your 400 page manuscript and trying to squeeze all the characters and action into four pages. Great advice.