Monday, 10 October 2011

Your synopsis made short, sweet and stress-free

I am writing a book about how to write a great synopsis. I know this will make you fall at my feet in gratitude and that you are already almost literally drooling with anticipation. Possibly even literally, but I prefer not to think about that too closely. Calm yourselves and go and take a cold shower or something.

Because I know it will be hard for some of you to wait for a book of such enormous necessity, I have a plan. I will now have a series of Synopsis Spotlights on the blog, via which YOU will be able to pitch your synopsis to your fellow writers (and anyone else who reads this blog) and get their constructive criticism and help to improve it. In the past I have had Submission Spotlights, which have been hugely useful to those writers brave enough to expose their work to public viewing.

I've just remembered that I did also start to do this with synopses some time ago. Here was Dan Holloway's synopsis spotlight.

Here are all my posts giving advice on synopses. Please read at least some of them before posting your own. My forthcoming book has much more to say, much more succinctly.

OK, ready? Here's what to do:
  1. Your synopsis should be no more than two sides of A4 ("normal" font and size etc, single-line-spaced).
  2. Send it as a Word (not pdf) attachment to
  3. In the body of your email, tell me a) genre and age-range and b) something (just a short sentence) about any problems you are having with the synopsis - eg is this a non-linear novel? What do you think is wrong with it? What made it difficult?
Please read these important notes. They form Terms and Conditions and if you send me your synopsis you are agreeing to these conditions.
  1. I cannot guarantee to feature your synopsis on the blog. I will be looking for a range of different issues, and I may simply have too many to use, or yours may be too similar to another.
  2. If I do use it, I take no responsibility for any consequences. No one has ever been treated harshly in these spotlights and I would not use a piece which I thought might come in for highly negatively critical responses. I will remove any comments I consider unfair.
  3. If I feature your synopsis, I reserve the right to reproduce it (and possibly some comments) in the book I'm writing on synopses. I undertake to do this in a positive and respectful way and will give you the opportunity to read the relevant section in advance and to object to any comment that makes you feel uncomfortable. You will not be remunerated for the insertion - sorry! - but you will be thanked in the credits and will receive a free pdf of the book, with certain restrictions. Please do not send your synopsis in if you are not willing in principle for it to be featured in the book.
So, submit succinct synopses snappily. Seriously.


Stu Ayris said...

Hi Nicola! This sounds like a fantastic idea! Once I get my synopsis down from six sides to two, I will post it as outlined! I hope Wordstock went well for you! (I must start limiting my use of exclaimation marks...)


JO said...

This is a great offer, Nicola. I'm assuming there's a time limit for this (given that you have a book to work on). But, if I can find time (there's a lot of Life about at the moment) I might have a look a the synopsis that's still lurking in the bottom drawer.

Dan Holloway said...

The book sounds excellent. I have to say I found Stella Whitelaw's book very good for understanding how to make a synopsis flow (the section in Carole Blake's book I found in equal parts very helpful and frustrating) but a thorough book that tackles head-on the most confusing aspects such as when rules are rules and how strictly to adhere to submission guidelines, and the difference between an outline and a synopsis - the things that leave our heads spinning - is hugely needed.

What would be really good is if it included interviews with agents.

And I see you're coming to Blackwell's - yay!!!!

Neal... said...

This sounds a great idea, and I'd love to have a go. As Jo wondered, is there a deadline on possible entries?

Nicola Morgan said...

No deadline - ongoing. Good luck!

Nicola Morgan said...

Well, actually, I suppose for inclusion in the book there will be a deadline - erm, Oct 31st. But you can keep sending them after that for inclusion on the blog.

Em-Musing said...

Your books sounds fab! And such a generous offer! So why am I scared? Obviously, because I think my synopsis is sucky. Let's see if I have the guts to send it.

Laura Mary said...

I have yet to tackle the synopsis... Been hiding from it if truth be told! So this sounds like just the push I need to have a crack at at.

Laura Mary said...

at *it* even!

M Louise Kelly said...

I've just sent you a submission and as i was doing so i realised i had a question which might be of general interest.

In my synopsis I didn't make much explicit mention of themes
or any other high-falutin stuff like that. Need I? I think i 'showed' what the themes were e.g. "discovering self" but didn't state them explicitly.
I really just told the story.

I'm sure i've heard discussion of it somewhere - possibly in terms of it not being useful to talk vaguely about themes "love and loss" but if you do, be specific. It would be great to get your opinion on the rationale for including it or not, and if so how! I guess including 'themes' in the synopsis doesn't help you know what the story is, but might help you know how deep the story might go???

Anyway, another great opportunity. Thanks

Laura Mary said...

Ok, had a stab at this on my lunchbreak, and never mind that my bullet point version form is already one side of A4…

I also have a question.

You say a synopsis should re-tell the story including the ending.
But what if your ending contains a twist that will pretty much ruin the entire book if you know it from the off!
I find I can re-tell up to two-thirds easily before I have to start getting very cagey and vague...Not because I don't know what's going on, but because I don't want anyone else to know!

E.Maree said...

This sounds like a great opportunity. I'll have to see if I can overcome my it's-not-good-enough worries and submit...

Stu Ayris said...

Well I have finally bit the bullet and submitted my synopsis!

Cheers for the opportunity to have it looked at Nicola!

Top site you have here!


Lesley said...

Laura Mary - I don't know if it's a hard and fast rule, but I've been told before that you should always include the ending, twist or no twist, in a synopsis that you're sending to agents/publishers etc. In fact, they apparently really don't like it if you're vague about the ending.

Nicola Morgan said...

Stu - !!

Dan - I do have some quotes from agents, yes. Not full interviews, though.

Em-Musing - courage!

Louise - there would be no compulsion to mention themes. Especially if it's a genre novel, where character and plot come first. In my view, any themes should be revealed implicitly, not stated. But yes, they should be specific: "jack learns that..." eg, rather than "a novel of..."

Laura Mary - Lesley is right. You really do have to say what happens in the end. The agent/publisher needs to know you made it work. Besides, if you write it well enough, there will still be the "ahhhh" of revelation when the agent reads the twist in the synopsis. BUT, if what you are worried about is people reading the twist on this blog, I understand and I wouldn't want you to do anything you're uncomfortable with. But certainly you have to tell the agent the whole story.

Nicola Morgan said...

Stu - have you submitted it? It's not there...

David Griffin said...

Like Dan H, I'm also confused about the difference between an outline and a synopsis. (I've got the idea that my synopsis is more like an outline, now that I've read your other posts about submissions; still not sure though).

And like Stu A, I boiled down my synopsis from 6 pages to 2 (double line spaced, in my case) a couple of months ago; tweaked since then. What a painful process...

It's a generous offer of yours, Nicola, thank you. I'll be sending my synopsis to you some time tomorrow to see if it might be suitable for inclusion in book or blog; or both or "begone!".


Stu Ayris said...

Hi Nicola

Yes, I did submit the synopsis. I sent it to your writingtutor email address. Should I send it again?

Nicola Morgan said...

Stu - I do have it now, thanks. Not had time to read any of them yet, though!

Stu Ayris said...

Hi Nicola. Phew!

Nicola Morgan said...

David and Dan - outlines and synopses:
1. If your novel is straightforward and linear, the outline and synopsis could be virtually identical. BUT the outline will include subplots and secondary (if not tertiary) characters. Think of an outline as going chapter by chapter, outlinging what happens, in the order it happens.
2. For most novels, however, a simple outline won't work; it contains far too much detail and does not fully identify the most important aspects of the story/character.
3. A synopsis is crafted with one aim: express this story powerfully, clearly and informatively, but mostly powerfully, giving the reader confidence that the story works as a whole. An outline is crafted with one aim: tell what happens in the story, in the order it happens.
4. An outline is a) easier to write but b) more boring.

Dan - when are rules not rules? When breaking them is the best way to convey the power of your story.

Dan - when to break submission guidelines? a) never! Except... b) if there is no other way to tell your story properly. c) You have the confidence to take a major risk and you know exactly what you're doing = both of which may apply to you. But I question b)

Laura Mary said...

Hi Nicola - yes it struck me that having EVERYTHING about my novel exposed on the internet wouldn't do me much good. Still, it got me working last night and I at least have my first attempt at a synopsis.

Am still contemplating sending you an 'alternate' version, which may get wishy-washy two thirds through.
Will make sure to bare all when it comes to writing the real thing though.

All great advice as always folks! Thanks!

Dan Holloway said...

Nicola, I would question b) as well - but it's one of the most paralysing things when you read through advice columns (as I've said several times, one of the most infuriating things about author interviews is they all have an anecdote about how they broke the rules - Mark Billingham's "I wrote 100 pages and bunged them in an envelope" comes to mind. This gives writers the impression it's a good thing to do - and ignores the fact Mark Billingham would've got a contract if he *had* followed the rules, but many of us who may end up with contracts wouldn't get them if we broke the rules), so I hope it's a question you'll tackle head-on in the book (the quirkiness of her idea of a synopsis is one of the frustrations of Carole Blake's otherwise essential book).

On outlines and synopses, what it was I was hoping you'd tackle in the book is what it means when you see publishers/agents say "I want an outline not a synopsis", for example (to lift a quotation direct from To Hell With Publishing's submission guidelines) - it's the diversity of guidleines that causes most confusion, so a way to steer writers through the maze of whether they need one synopsis or many seems and what that means in step by step terms seems to be the real gap in the market approaching from a newbie writer's point of view.

Margaret Morton Kirk said...

I'm tempted, but also too mortally embarrassed to send mine. The book is better, honestly, but the synopsis sucks like a roomful of Dysons :(

Nicola Morgan said...

Margaret - your synopsis does *not* suck at all, actually, and I'm planning to use it on the blog at some point, and possibly in the book, too. OK? I promise you, it far from sucks!

Stu Ayris said...

Good stuff Margaret!! If the synopsis is as good as your Dyson analogy (which you need to copywrite by the way because it's great!) then in must be a hell of a synopsis!

Keep on keeping on!