25 May 2007


Well, in yesterday's post I was talking about contradictory information and conflating that with the synopsis -- or at least I was going to. Don't know how far I got with it, which is the point really of today's post.

Surely nothing gives would-be novelists more headaches than the dreaded synopsis. I own two books that have whole chapters (and more) devoted to this. I have Writer's Digest articles on how to write them -- one memorable one says that each time you introduce a character you should put their whole name in all caps (but only with that first introduction), and all manner of other wonderful layout suggestions, and when I used this template a few years ago, the page looked like the layout had been done by some kid on LSD. There were things in bold and things in italics. And then the Goddess of All-Information That IS Publishing, Miss Snark (the literary agent), said on her blog that all caps in a synopsis drives her crazy!

Of course if you want to know how to write a good synopsis, and haven't heard of Miss Snark, who very sadly has retired from her blog a few days ago, I can do no better than direct you there (see the link under 'Blogs I love') and tell you to hunt out her Crapometers. Just be warned, there are many many hours of reading to be spent trawling this site.

What the Crapometer taught me is that the most important thing about a synopsis is to be interesting. After all, this is a tool of engagement -- or it needs to be. You need to engage the editor or agent you're sending your work to. I rewrote my synopsis at that point, culling back on the number of plot events I covered and focusing a bit more on the main characters and who they were.

But with the different advice I've heard along the way -- well, it's no wonder novelists are intimidated and confused. Do you reveal the ending, for example? Of course. The editor is looking to see that you know how to construct a story, and how can they tell if you don't include the ending? The synopsis isn't meant to be a tease. It isn't the time to be coy. However, when I was at a big workshop a few years ago, one of the well-published novelists (who also taught Creative Writing in higher ed) said that you never, never, never reveal the ending in a synopsis. Huh? When I was talking to some of my fellow compatriots at the time, and said that that advice was contrary to every other thing I'd ever read or heard about writing synopses, they said that now I'd been put straight. Hmmm.

Earlier, I'd done a course with another novelist who showed us her synopses -- just a list of characters and a few lines about what happens. I queried her about whether it wasn't one thing for published novelists and perhaps something different for aspiring novelists, and she said that the first synopsis she had ever sent out had been pretty much the same. So there you go. I guess the bottom line is that it's the writing in your manuscript that counts, but this is another opportunity to grab the editor's (or agent's) attention, and one you don't want to stuff up, because if it's really bad then they won't even get to the manuscript, and that's the last thing any of us wants.

No comments: