Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Writing a Synopsis

The Dreaded Synopsis
If you write novels, you may have to write one of these beasts for your manuscript one day, so it might be handy to know what one is. I was insanely glad I had one for my YA novel, SHAPERS, because it helped me sign with my awesome agent, Kelly Sonnack; I met her at an SCBWI retreat where she read my first chapter and synopsis.

What a Synopsis is NOT
1. A synopsis is not the same as a query. A query is used to entice agents or editors to read your manuscript. A query is a teaser, a summary that is similar to the text you read on a book jacket flap. The main conflicts are described, but not the final outcome. A query also includes word count, contact information, writing or professional credits, your age category (Young Adult/YA, Middle Grade/MG, Adult, etc.) and your genre (paranormal, memoir, dystopian, fantasy, etc.).
2. A synopsis is not the same as a blurb. And a blurb is not merely a book summary, either, contrary to popular belief. A true "blurb" is something written up by someone--usually a published author or other esteemed/well-known person--to help sell your book. It's a recommendation, those little quotes you see on the covers of debut (or other) novels saying cool things like: "I couldn't put this book down! Well-drawn characters, fascinating plot twists, and heart-pounding thrills on every single page. I read way past my bedtime." 
3. A synopsis doesn't tell every little detail of the book: it's not an outline. A synopsis is different from an outline where every scene or event is listed. Don't list that nameless random character who shows up only once on page 198.

What a Synopsis IS
1. A synopsis is a description of your book, a summary that describes all major plots, major subplots, and character arcs. It includes plot twists and reveals.
2. It includes the ENDING of your book. No surprises or teasers here: say it all! This will show how your character changes throughout, as well as the developing plot arcs.
3. It's a description of the major events that happen in each scene or chapter.
4. It's written in the same voice as your book, whether chatty, stark, comical, lyrical, serious, etc.
5. A synopsis describes the conflict and what is at stake for your characters.

General Synopsis Rules
1. A typical synopsis is usually between 1-3 pages in length.
2. Some agents or editors desire longer and more detailed synopses; check guidelines. I've written up longer synopses to use, then pared them down to a page "just in case" I need a shorter version. Then you're not scrambling to write one in a panic.
3. A synopsis is usually SINGLE SPACED rather than double. However, if it's longer than a couple of pages, it's acceptable to use double spacing for readability.
4. Write it in PRESENT TENSE, no matter what tense the novel itself is written in.
5. Write it in THIRD PERSON, no matter what point of view the novel itself is written in. Be omniscient and tell motivations and goals of everyone.
6. In the upper LEFT corner, include your title, name, genre, and word count. Include your contact information in the upper RIGHT corner.
7. INDENT the first line of each paragraph, but don't add extra spacing between paragraphs. (Note: I've read other articles that suggest an extra space; use your best judgment.)
8. In the first paragraph, introduce the main character, the world, and the conflict.
9. Set your main characters' names in bold type or all in CAPS the first time that character is introduced. They're easier to spot that way.
10. Write it with zest. Don't write dull, dry descriptions that bore even you. You may find it helpful to get all the main points written down first, then work on enlivening it.
11. Make your paragraphs and listed events flow naturally and logically throughout.
12. Don't use fancy fonts or headings; aim for readability and a professional look.

Have you written one of these "dreaded" synopses before? How'd you do?
Do you find it easy to write your synopsis in an engaging voice that matches your novel--or does it tend to sound awfully dull and plodding?
Which do you find more difficult to write: a query or a synopsis?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Are We There Yet?

Yep, I'm posting on Tuesday and not Wednesday, because I'll be busy the rest of the week.

In these days of tight and demanding publishing, it's very important to be sure to send out your VERY BEST work. Even if you are self-publishing, you owe it to yourself to make your manuscript the very best it can be before public eyes land on it. But when you're writing and revising away on a story--be it short or novel-length--how do you know when you're finished? How do you know when your baby is polished enough to send out into the cold, cruel world?

When You Are NOT Done
You are never done as soon as you type the words "The End." Never. No one creates a perfect enough rough draft that he or she can bundle it up hot off the press.

The Process
1. You need at least one revision pass, and I don't mean minor tweaks for wording or a lookover for typos! I mean tightening to notch up pacing, invigorating dull dialogue, and strengthening character arc (how your character changes from page 1 to the end).
2. You need someone else to read it, preferably more than one person and  not a spouse or other relative. Find beta readers and critique partners. They are a necessity because they will see things you would never, ever see. Their brains are different from yours.
3. If your readers find mostly positive things to say, be very suspicious. While it's an ego boost, you may need search out more demanding and knowledgeable critiquers.
4. Do your first revision. This could be pretty major. Make sure you have the big picture things in place here, because you don't want to get farther down the road and be asked by an agent or editor to fix these things! (If they even bother to take on your project--often they will just reject your manuscript and aim for one that's more market-ready.)
5. Get another round of critiquing, even after your betas have read your initial draft and you've revised to their notes. This second round could be with the same writer friends, but it's helpful if one or more are from totally different people.
6. After you work on bigger picture stuff: polish and polish and POLISH. If you're not good at grammar and sentence structure and spelling, find someone who is. Pay for it, even.
7. Consider revising again if you get requests for partials/fulls and there aren't any bites.
8. Trust your gut. You know that passage that BUGS you every time you read it but you haven't fixed it yet? Or the scene you're not sure really "works"? Chances are, it doesn't. Attack and fix that spot. Otherwise it'll come back to haunt you and you'll have to fix it later.

My Revision Procedure
I personally do a minimum of 3 revisions on my manuscripts, and then my agent adds at least 2--one for major changes and then a line-edit for polishing. For my agented novel SHAPERS, I've gone through about 8 rounds of revision. And I have at least one more (line-edit) to go! Whew.

Awesome Opportunity for Writers: WriteOnCon
I heartily encourage every writer to participate in this FREE annual online writer's conference that is being offered from August 13-14, 2013. There are forums to post queries and initial pages, and you get practice critiquing others' works. It's a great place to find critique partners, as well as get exposure to agents and editors who visit the forums. There are lectures and events just like a regular conference, but you can participate from the comfort of your own home. If you miss a live session, they are recorded and you can catch them onsite later. And there are daily contests and giveaways!! Any writer can take part in the informative lectures, but the critique forums are specifically for writers who have stories with main characters who are 18 and under.

Check it out HERE. Get your manuscripts and queries ready!

Have you ever been tempted to query or send off a manuscript as soon as it's finished?
Roughly how many revision passes do you usually make on a manuscript?
Do you have a good staple of betas and/or critique partners to help hone your work?
Do you plan to attend WriteOnCon?