Simply Synopsis excerpt
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THE NECESSARY EVIL
The synopsis. Why do we do it? Why waste precious time, brain power and energy over something more stressful than writing an entire novel – an entire series, even? Surely there are better ways to spend our time; more productive, like writing that next best seller; or more fun, like curling up with a favorite novel and cheap – or not so cheap – glass of wine.
So, why the wily synopsis?
Because it’s near impossible to gain a publishing contract without one. Avoidance won’t change this. Believe me, I’ve tried. So, what alternative do we have but to condense our masterpiece of 80,000-plus-words into a few pages?
Easy, right? Wrong!
How do we craft a synopsis using oh, so few words, yet still make it as engaging and captivating as our entire story without losing its essence? Where do we even start? Questions I’ll warrant aren’t unfamiliar to you, given you’ve purchased this book.
First, let’s understand why it’s important to condense our plot and pare it back to its most basic elements.
What is a synopsis?
A synopsis is a summary that breaks down your story’s central plot, introducing the central characters in a concise but interesting way. Note the words ‘central plot’, ‘central characters’ and ‘concise’. Bear these in mind as we’ll revisit them later.
Also, note that I added the words ‘interesting way’ into my definition. A synopsis is not a list of mechanical, matter-of-fact instructions like those you’d find in a manual. While a synopsis outlines the plot of your story, it shouldn’t focus on plot alone. Just as your story has nuance and texture, so should your synopsis.
The best way to achieve this is to include emotions. Yes, we need to know what happens in the story, but we also need to know how these events affect the central characters. Just as emotions add depth to your story, so too will they add depth to your synopsis. Don’t underestimate their power or their importance here. If the purpose of a synopsis is to hook your reader, what better way to do this than to make them empathize with your characters by showing how they feel?
What’s the purpose of a synopsis?
There are multiple benefits to creating a well-crafted synopsis, but I’m going to point out the six I view as most important:
1. Ensures all vital elements are present in your story.
2. Highlights deficiencies in your characterization and GMC (goal, motivation and conflict).
3. Pinpoints the central theme of your story.
4. Pinpoints pacing problems.
5. Pinpoints plot holes or inconsistencies.
6. Sells your book to an editor/agent/screen director.
Of course, most of you will recognize the last point and wonder why I haven’t made it the first. Yes, submitting and selling your work for publication is huge. And yes, these days most agents and publishers will request a synopsis as part of their submission package. The length may vary, but the essence is still the same: outline the major plot points and give a brief rundown of your main characters.
But what if, even after your book is done, dusted and ready to submit, you’re still not clear on your characters, their goals, their motivation and – heaven forbid – their conflict? What if you’re missing some of the vital plot points that make a story unputdownable? What if you have plot holes or pacing problems? Using the Simply Synopsis step-by-step process, you will identify these problems before you submit and you will gain the opportunity to ‘fix’ any holes or deficiencies before sending your baby out into the big blue yonder.
So, now that I’ve sold you on the idea of a synopsis, let’s see if we can make the process of creating it less cumbersome, less stressful and even – dare I say it? – more enjoyable.
Let’s take a look at the Simply Synopsis system, step-by-step.
SIMPLY SYNOPSIS OVERVIEW
Many ideas and strategies exist on how best to build a synopsis; mine is but one. The Simply Synopsis method has been invaluable in helping me enter, place and win in competitions. And it helped me secure a publishing contract with Penguin Random House for my debut novel, Lethal in Love. I hope it will help you gain the same success.
Simply Synopsis structure
The Simply Synopsis structure comprises of four parts:
2. Major turning points
In the following chapters, we’ll explore each of these steps in depth, focusing on how to build a rock-solid synopsis – structure, composition and formulation – as well as one of the many perplexing decisions: what information to include and what information to safely leave out. This includes a comprehensive look at how to handle backstory.
Synopsis lengths vary subject to submission guidelines. Primarily in this book, we’ll cover the longer synopses (2–5 pages) before visiting how to carve back on content to create medium (one page/600 words), mini (300 words) and mini-mini (100 words) synopses.
But first, one point we must clarify before we move on …
Spoilers and endings
Should we include spoilers and endings in a synopsis? Absolutely. This is not a blurb where unanswered questions are fundamental in creating suspense to entice readers to buy your book. You are not using your synopsis to sell your book to your readership. Your synopsis is your selling tool to let agents or editors know you understand the qualities of a riveting story and riveting storytelling.
That said, a synopsis should not finish without answering all the questions it raises.
Notice I don’t say ‘all the questions raised in the story’. This was deliberate. A synopsis is not the place to include ALL the questions or turning points in your story. You should include only the major turning points. And even then, you will be constrained by the prescribed length of your synopsis, which will in turn determine how many of these major turning points you include and how deep you delve into each one.
Don’t leave plot threads untied or the editor hanging at the end of your synopsis. This is not clever – it’s just annoying. Include spoilers and identify red herrings. In the case of a whodunnit mystery, make sure at the end we know ‘whodunnit’. Crimes should be solved. Conflicts resolved. Romances tied up satisfactorily. If something’s broken, fix it; if something’s lost, make sure it’s found. The editor or agent wants to know how you end your story – they want to know if you have the skills and ability to end a story well – and they will get frustrated if you don’t tell them. Leave the suspense and cliffhangers for your blurb and other marketing tools – things you’ll need after you’ve won that anticipated publishing contract.
So, now that misconception is out of the way, let’s get started.