Writing a Damn Fine Proposal #1: The Synopsis AKA Too Many Things!

I’ve been meaning to do a post on synopses and pitches for a while now, but as I was writing this post, I realized that writing a synopsis was different to writing a pitch. And then I thought it might be cool to do a post on what to do when you’re pitching a series, cos that’s what I’m doing right now and it’s been a very interesting process. Long story short, I thought I’d keep synopsis writing to one post, then do another on  pitch writing, and a third on how to put together a proposal for a series.

Alrighty, so here’s my first post on how to write a damn fine proposal – the synopsis edition!

First up, I fully admit that my synopsis writing skills may leave something to be desired. But hey, I’ve had a crap-ton of practice writing these things and since my first book was accepted, I haven’t had a rejection so I figured I must be doing something right (or it could be luck but we’re not going to go there).

So, I don’t know anyone who likes writing synopses. Okay so there may be a few weirdoes who do (apologies if you’re one of those weirdoes) but I’m not one of them. Which makes it sad because, unfortunately for us all, synopses are an inescapable part of a writer’s life (unless you’re indie published of course in which case, you’re off the hook you lucky bastards!).

I think the main thing to remember when you’re writing a synopsis is that you’re writing a romance. So what absolutely has to go into it? The romance of course! I know that sounds kind of obvious, but when I’m writing a synopsis, I tend to get bogged down by all the OTHER things in the story. Like different characters, or the hero having problems with his father, or the heroine’s ex being a dickhead, then she loses her job and has to find another place to live etc. And then it’s like I HAVE TOO MANY THINGS!

Hate to say it, but for the purposes of a synopsis, pretty much everything in your story is superfluous except the romance. What I try and do when I write mine is to ignore all the external things (the heroine losing her job, the ex being a dickhead) and concentrate on writing what I like to think of as an emotional synopsis. Which is what goes on with the characters feelings rather than what happens to them externally. This helps to keep the synopsis to the romance and you don’t get bogged down with things.

Easy eh?

Uh, not really. But anyway, mine tend to run as follows:

  1. Introduction – the setup of your story, including the conflict, i.e. the reasons your characters can’t fall in love.
  2. The developing attraction – why they’re attracted to each other. I concentrate on their emotional reasons for the attraction not the physical. This is always character dependent so if you need to figure out your characters, now would be a good time to start.
  3. The main turning point of the romance – this can be the first time they make love or when there’s a big change in their emotional state. This is usually as a consequence of some action the other character makes.
  4. The black moment – what triggers them realizing there’s no way they can be together. And why.
  5. The resolution – what makes them overcome their blocks to a relationship and why.

That’s pretty much it. I don’t tend to include anything else. This ensures the synopsis is short and deals only with the romance. It’s also heavily character dependent so you kind of need to know your characters pretty well before you start, or think about them while you’re writing it.

My synopses tend to be around one and a half pages, single spaced.  I can get them down to a page if pushed. The synopsis for my single title was one and a half pages and I’m still proud of that. 😉

Tips and tricks:  If you’re finding it hard to pin down the emotional turning points or what is superfluous and what isn’t, just write out your synopsis with everything. Ignore how long it is. I’ve done this before and ended up with a five page document. Once you’ve done that, read back over it and delete everything that doesn’t immediately deal with the romance. This technique can be useful because sometimes you have to see the whole thing written down before you can decide what’s needed and what isn’t.

When winnowing out all the superfluous stuff, phrases like ‘circumstances occur’  ‘events happen that result in…’ ‘It all comes to a head when’  ‘a series of events occur that leave…’ are your friends. 😉  Example: ‘through a series of events, Fanny ends up homeless. Luckily, Clive steps in and offers her  a place to stay.’

Feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments!

8 thoughts on “Writing a Damn Fine Proposal #1: The Synopsis AKA Too Many Things!”

  1. I concentrate on characters too. And I know the setup, but somewhere around the middle of the story, I will break it, and how it ends after that is always a surprise to me.

    So my question: how well do your synopses conform to your final product? 🙂

    And do you use a crystal ball? Tarot cards? I-ching?

    1. Actually, good question, Amalie. I’m a pantser and I really find that it’s easier to write a synopsis before I’ve written the story. I can keep things deliberately vague. THe stories used to change a lot from the synopsis but these days not so much. Sometimes the events might change a little but the character stuff tends not to.
      I toss a coin, do a raindance, and then sacrifice a small mammal. That tends to work also. 😉

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