Thursday, March 10, 2011

Synopsis Story

Tuesday morning, I sent a query email to a small publisher pitching a novel I recently finished. By 2 p.m., someone from the publishing house had emailed a response requesting electronic versions of the completed novel and a synopsis.

No problem, right? Just email everything over.

Wrong.

Synopsis? Not a jacket blurb, my Type M colleague Vicki Delaney explained. And not an outline or a chapter-by-chapter summary either. So what is a damned synopsis? I had to learn quickly.

I've had agents pitch my work in recent years, and the last time I attempted to sell a novel myself my query letter was answered by a request for the entire manuscript. Apparently, times have changed. It seems a synopsis is not as tedious as an outline or as vague as a jacket description. It should include all the major events that impact the arc of the novel, all major characters, and even themes and conflicts. It should also provide the novel’s resolution and dénouement.

Little did I know it would take me four hours to boil my 90,000-word novel down to a 700-word tension-filled (hopefully) summary.

I once heard or read that a writer should know his or her novel well enough to be able to summarize it orally in one or two sentences. I usually can do that, which is why I tend to insist on writing the catalogue copy and jacket description for my publisher. Yet when I attempted it, the synopsis proved to be a whole different beast--catchy yet clear; complete yet suspenseful; insightful yet brief; and detailed yet present tense. I didn't want to hold the process up, so I gave it my best and fired it off. I'll know how I did soon enough if the synopsis was effective.

Either way, it was a worthwhile writing experience. Every writer would rather be working on a book than spending time on business aspects of the profession. However, spending an evening (well into the late-night hours, actually) consolidating my storyline into two pages forced me to delve into my plot and see what was truly critical. I had to decide which plot points were important enough to include in the description of the novel—something we should all be honest enough and able to do.

3 comments:

Rick Blechta said...

Good points — and timely for me. I'm in the middle of writing one up for my next novel. Problem is, I haven't written the novel yet. So I'm sitting here making the damn thing up on something I'm not really clear about. I usually just write, chapter to chapter, and sort of let the story write itself. This is almost like outlining, and that's something I loathe.

Brave new world indeed!

Donis Casey said...

I heard Laurie King say once that the best thing about being as well known as she is is that she doesn't have to submit synopses of her books, because she doesn't think she could do it.
It seems to me that the synopsis usually ends up bearing very little resemblance to the finished book, anyway.

Rick Blechta said...

Exactly. It seems to me that once a writer has produced a few novels for a publisher, the synopses of new work should be waived. If they don't trust you enough to pen a viable story by that point, they probably shouldn't be publishing you in the first place. Assuming you have a finished ms, that should be enough to submit. Yes, reading a synopsis is faster, but by that point a bit of respect should kick in and the publisher should be willing to invest the extra time to actually read the work of their author.

If the novel hasn't been completed, requesting a synopsis is entirely appropriate, even from "seasoned" veterans.