Last night our WindyCity RWA Chapter held a workshop on creating a good synopsis. The relaxed atmosphere and friendly faces made the night enjoyable even though the topic tends to send many writers in the opposite direction when the word synopsis crops up.
What did I learn? I learned that nobody does a synopsis quite the same way! The presenter, Melody Thomas, had many insightful ideas. I found it intriguing that she writes her synopsis before she finishes her book, usually only a few chapters into her work. I'd never considered that before. But as I pondered the posssibility on my way home, I liked the idea more and more. If I wrote the synopsis first, I wouldn't be bogged down with all the small details that moves the story. I could concentrate on the main topic - whatever it may be. In a romance novel, the romance is the main plot. My historicals wouldn't necessarily fall into that category, but I could still streamline the true plot of my manuscript.
That got me to thinking of you folks who like to make outlines or draft your story before you begin writing. You are actually making your synopsis! So dig those old tattered pages out of the trash or in my case out of some dusty box and look at them again. Hmmmm ... here's something so basic, so simple it's embarrassing ... but it may also be just what you and I need to develop a concise summary of our manuscripts.
The other thing I garnered from the workshop - not every event needs to be in a synopsis! I've struggled with this numerous times. The method to decide if a particular moment is needed in a synopsis is to ask: is it a pivotal point that changes the characters in some way? Think bare bones, no muscle. Be the detective of your own novel to sift out the action/reaction times that create change. It reminds me of the mazes I copy from activity books for my young friends at the library. There may be several paths to follow, but only one leads directly to the end.
I've always been told to keep a synopsis short and to TELL the story, not show it. If you have more than seven or eight pages that's okay. Just let it sit for awhile and then see if there is more you can skim off. Try to whittle it down until nothing but the plot exits. If you mention something twice, chances are you can delete one unless it relates to the character's pivotal change.
When I do a synopsis I have always included a character sketch, a brief but detailed outline of each major person in my novel. I do a brief bio, including such things as what they look like, their age, and what drives them, what scares them, and what morals they possess. I feel this gives the editor or agent a better feel for each character. Then I move into the backstory that better describes the conflicts each character is facing or has endured. So when I begin the plot, I don't have to stop and insert - oh yeah - he hated the sheriff because ....
The time you spend on a synopsis is important, but it is only a portion of your overall work. Your opening story is what an editor or agent will look at first. If those few pages don't catch their attention, your synopsis may not get read. So give all of your novel the attention it needs to look and sound professional.
Til next time ~