Why? Mainly, it rambled, containing the most ridiculous level of detail - for example, specifying the meal at which a piece of action took place, and the day of the week, and what a character was wearing during the conversation. (Trust me: it wasn't necessary.) It was an outline, not a synopsis, and I will explain the difference below.
[Also, I recently had a question from a blog-reader about how to write the synopsis for a non-linear plot. I'm going to cover that separately on Thursday.]
Anyway, here are my basic thoughts on synopses. (By the way, I have already blogged here and here.)
I was going to start by saying that I don't see the problem with the little darlings. Then I read that first post and realised that I'd either be lying or I've got a very short memory. I guess what's happened between then and now is that I've realised the truth about synopses and got to grips with them myself.
The truth? That their problems are greatly exaggerated and that writers worry far too much about them. OK, so I don't love writing them; I find them boring and I don't like how they remove the style and voice that are such an important part of what I'm trying to do in the book. But it seems to me that they are the easiest part of the package you send to agents and publishers.
- Make it short - as short as you can while giving the bones of the story. Leave out all details, including details about minor characters and minor plot strands. Even leave out mention of minor characters if they aren't necessary for the main story-line.
- Use the present tense.
- Use the third person, even if your story is written in the first person.
- Convey a sense of the style and feeling of the story - for example, if it's humorous, this needs to be obvious, not by saying, "This is a hilarious story", but through the action conveyed. If historical, we need to know period. Setting should also be included. The feeling of this story must come over in the synopsis.
- Do say what happens in the end, simply to show you've got this wrapped up.
A synopsis is also not an outline. An outline is a episode-by-episode account of the action in your book, in the order in which it happens. You would only need to do an outline either a) for your own use, so that you can keep track of the action, or b) if your editor asks for one.
In length and detail, a synopsis is in between these things. And you can do it in any way that best serves the purpose of any synopsis: to show that your story works, from beginning to end; and to show clearly what sort of story this is, what it is like.
So, why the problems? I am sympathetic because I agree that synopses are uncomfortable things that strip your story bare and make you feel exposed. But your story will not be rejected on the basis of your synopsis - it will be rejected on the basis of the idea / hook / pitch in the covering letter (because that's what has to sell the book to publisher, bookseller and reader) and / or on the actual writing.
- Indicate whose point(s) of view the story is told through; if present tense, say so.
- It may be single-spaced, even though the actual writing sample and your MS must be double-spaced.
- If you have several POVs or time-scales or settings, or a particular structure, indicate this, in whatever way seems most sensible and clear. (More on that on Thursday.)
- Unanswered / rhetorical questions are not recommended - remember that the purpose of your synopsis is to indicate that and how your story works, not to entice a future reader.
Emma Darwin: "The best tip I've ever had for writing synopses is to write it in a single sentence: your hook, if you like. Then expand that to a paragraph. Then finally expand that to a full page. That way, instead of agonising over what to leave out and feeling the book looks limp and lifeless as a result, you're starting with the core conflict, and only adding what fleshes it out most effectively."
And Gemma Noon: "Extra bit of advice, though: get someone to read through your synopsis who hasn't got a blind clue what your book is about - you've never discussed it, they've never beta read it, never seen a draft if possible. It is ridiculously easy to leave out crucial info in a synopsis because you know the info backwards; an editor / agent doesn't."
And the main advice: if you can leave it out, leave it out. The synopsis is absolutely the best place to kill darlings. When you edit your work, use a red pen; when you edit your synopsis, use a scythe.
See you on Thursday for a little bit more, to reassure you about non-linear stories.
Meanwhile: calm down! It's only a synopsis!