On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Getting Your Material Ready for Submission, Part 5: The Fiction Synopsis, Continued

The fiction synopsis boils down an entire story into a few pages. You are never going to capture your story perfectly, but you can certainly give a good approximation.

Here are a few thoughts I have on synopses, in no particular order:

* No weird fonts, weird formating, or weird paper.

* Ragged right edge, header and page numbers at the top etc.

* Write in third person present tense.

* Yes, put in the ending! Include the whole plot, spoilers and all.

* You're writing what the story is about, not how it happens. Don't spend lots of time explaining a scene; just give the final point or twist to the story. For example, you would write "Jody and Steve fight, and Jody decides to leave" rather than explaining that the fight occurs during Steve's parents' 50th wedding anniversary and she walks out after dumping a glass of champagne on his head.

* Focus on only the major twists of the story. You can skip the smaller events.

* Similarly, name only the major two or possibly three characters -- more are confusing.

* Don't tell the editor what he's going to think about the story: "This is a heart-rending story of the loss of a love..." "This novel has the inventiveness of Michael Crichton and the otherworldliness of Dean Koontz..." Save that for your endorsers.

* Edit your writing as you would your novel: eliminate adverbs, passive voice, modifiers, and so forth. Get the writing tight and beautiful.

* Once you have a 3-5 page synopsis, boil it down to also make a one page synopsis.

* Always check the guidelines of the places to which you're submitting, and follow them to the letter.


OK, now for getting ready to write the durn thing. These are the steps I usually take to write a synopsis, and have been effective for me. There are other ways to write this, of course.

Figure on writing about 10, up to 15, paragraphs for this document. Before starting, you might want to list all of the scenes in your book, so that you have a shorthand of the story flow.

Open your synopsis with your trusty zinger logline highlighted at the top of the page.

Next, describe the ordinary world of the story and the change. Depending on the complexity of the backstory or the world, this may be short or long.

Next, describe your main characters in a nutshell: who they are, what they want, and why they want it.

Now figure out the main plot points through the middle of the story and any emotional changes that may occur. Stick with only the main story and names of only two characters (or maybe three). Your subplots are fabulous, but will make this sleek document distracting and hard to follow, so leave them out.

The middle section takes five paragraphs, all the way to the final conflict.

The final conflict, resolution, and ending take one paragraph.

For the last paragraph, I like to give the theme of the story. For example, you might something like, "In this book, during the DESCRIPTION OF ADVENTURE the MAIN CHARACTER grapples with X and in a larger context Y." Then in one sentence explain the central essential quandary for your story.

I have two sample synopses and step-by-step exercises in my book The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story. Pam McCutcheon's book, Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A Step by Step Approach also breaks down this process.

The only way to write the synopsis is to write it, so just go for a first draft and polish from there.

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