The Delicate Art of the Synopsis

I wanna talk about synopses. Well, not really, you understand, because synopses SUCK.  But I wanna talk about them because I was complaining about them on Twitter and someone mentioned they’d looked at my blog and asked me if I’d done a post about them. And I realised it’s been a year since I’ve done something about synopsis writing. So I thought I’d do an updated post after having sold and ‘apparently’ knowing what I’m doing.

Which is a total lie of course. I have a better idea about what I’m doing but I’m still learning.

That’s the tedious reason behind this post. I know some people love writing synopses (yes, there are people who do. Strange, strange people) but I am not one of them. I kind of wish I was because it would make life easier.

Alrighty, I don’t usually write a synopsis before starting the book because I’m a pantser. But I do after 3 chapters, depending on the editors. It’s actually quite a good time to write one for me because after 3 chapters I’ve figured out my characters and have a general idea about the direction of the book. In fact, I often find it harder to write a synopsis once I’ve finished because I have a more difficult time working out what to include in the synopsis and what to leave out because EVERYTHING seems very important! Groan.

Anyhoo, I think the major thing I’ve learned is that different editors require different things from a synopsis. Some want a quick and dirty glance to see if you’ve got a story there. Some want to know more than that. This you won’t know beforehand but the length they require is a giveaway. If you can’t ask the editor straight out, follow the guidelines on the submission page.  In some ways, a one page synopsis is EASIER because you simply can’t put exterraneous detail in. You have to keep it short and very basic.

The tricky thing is always figuring out what to put in and what to leave out. For me, since I’m writing romance (obviously), that’s what I concentrate on when I write the synopsis. How the romance starts. How it develops. How it nearly comes to grief. And how it ends.  That’s all. Because the romance is the backbone of the book. Not how the heroine gets from one place to another. Or the sassy conversation she has with her sassy best friend. Or how the hero has a fight or plays with his kid or whatever. Your main story happens when the hero and heroine interact with each other and that’s the story your synopsis should follow (in my humble opinion naturally).

The way I do it is I basically write an emotional synopsis, concentrating only on the feelings of the hero and heroine. How they feel when they meet each other. What makes this feeling change. What makes it grow. What brings this feeling to crisis point. And what makes this feeling too strong to deny. The external plot comes into my synopsis only when it changes the feelings of the characters.  The turning points of your story (in a romance) are the instances where the feelings of your characters change towards each other. Okay, so maybe I told a lie and the fight the hero has with someone IS important. Maybe the fight changes the feelings the heroine had toward him some way. Maybe it causes her to change her opinion of him (either good or bad). If it does, include it. If it doesn’t, don’t put it in. Don’t put anything in that doesn’t cause major change in the character’s emotions in other words.

It sounds kind of easy now I’ve written it down but it’s not. I always have to write a very long synopsis (3 pages single spaced – long for me) first before I can distill it down. Somehow once you’ve got it down you can see what’s needed and what isn’t. And of course there’s nothing like a synopsis for making you realise your conflict is missing something (but we won’t go there).

What I try and make sure I have in each synopsis is this:

1. Hero/heroine – one paragraph each on who they are, plot set up and conflict.   

2. How they meet. Their attraction and why they’re attaracted.

3. A few more paragraphs on how their attraction builds and the the first time they kiss/make love

4. Why their feelings for each other deepen.

5. Why their deepening feelings are bad and what they do in response (black moment).

6. What makes them decide to change and embrace love (HEA)

Now, this is just what I do so it’s not a ‘this is the way you MUST do it’ guide. I’ve done it this way with two books and two different editors, and one editor sent me back the synopsis with screes of questions. The other bought the book off the partial and synopsis. So, y’know…it’s a delicate art depending on the editor and the publisher.

What really helps though, when it comes to the synopsis, is knowing your characters well. And knowing your conflict, and how the character and the conflict connect. For me the easiest synopses to write have been the books where I know those things very well. 

So…uh….there you go. Synopses. Anyone got any other tips??