What’s the Book About?

I’m doing my “Sexy Synopsis” workshop for Outreach RWA Chapter this March — link here — and the workshop always has me thinking about how most writers dread the synopsis, but it really is a great tool. The two big dreads seem to be:

1 – If I write a synopsis, I won’t want to write the book, and

2 – How can I possibly condense my great, big wonderful book into a couple of pages?

(Yes, folks, a synopsis really should be only about 2 – 3 pages — anything more and you’re talking a detailed outline, which is a different animal.)

I started calling this workshop the “sexy synopsis” since a synopsis really should be short, stylish and cover the basics — you want to sell the book. And it’s not just about selling the book to editors and agents.

You’ve got to sell your book to readers, too.

In other words, the synopsis is really just slightly longer back cover copy. It answers the basic question–what’s the book about? (And you cannot flippantly say, oh, about 200 pages.)

But how do you answer those two basic dreads?  Well, you can take the workshop, but here’s some quick easy tips.

1 – Start with the big stuff — like theme and the core conflict. Bob Mayer does a great workshop on core conflict, and he’s teaching this soon, so I recommend it highly. This will get your idea down to just a single line, meaning you’ve got a lot of the work on your synopsis done right there.

2 – Focus on only the main character and main plot.

3 – Know what’s your selling point, and make sure that’s there — as in, if the book is funny, make sure the synopsis has a light tone, too.

4 – Be sure to include the ending — this is where a synopsis is different than back cover copy. The synopsis must have the resolution so that it shows the book has a satisfactory ending.

5 – Cut extra words.

6 – Read your synopsis aloud. Preferably to a friend whose never heard this story or ideas — that will tell you if you’re telling a story that makes sense.

7 – Think of your synopsis as the “bedtime story” version of your story — hit only the ‘good parts’, but make sure you do have good parts scenes mentioned.

8 – Shorter is harder — know this is going to be work going in and you won’t be so frustrated when it takes ten drafts to get even close to anything approaching ten pages that make sense.

9 – If all else fails, tape record yourself telling the story to a friend, and make sure you set a time limit of getting the telling done in less than five minutes.

10 – Don’t take it too seriously. The book still matters more than the synopsis. But, here’s the thing, if the synopsis comes out bad or flawed or with big holes in it, time to look at your book structure. The synopsis can be an early warning that you really have not fully thought out your story — make sure you pay attention to what the synopsis tells you. It can save you lots of headaches in revisions.

Most of all, remember that a synopsis is a guide–not a bible. Leave yourself room to diverge, and leave your characters room to grow. Let the story surprise you. And if the story wants to go in a new direction, let it. You can always change the synopsis later.

Also keep in mind that if you get stuck or lost, go back to your synopsis. Sometimes those few pages can be key to guiding you out of the woods and into finishing your story.


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