Monday, 1 June 2009

Shrinking your baby: the dreaded synopsis

As some of you know, I was panicking a few weeks ago about writing a synopsis. If I’d thought writing a novel was hard, trying to write a synopsis of it proved even harder. It was like trying to shrink an elephant to fit into a matchbox. Even when I realised that the reason for me needing a synopsis was an open offer, not bound by any strict time frame, I still couldn’t get it right. I had lots of wonderful people helping me, but each gave me different advice and in trying to please them all, I ended up with a too-long, too-complicated, confusing summary that really wasn’t going to please anyone, least of all a publisher.

So, on Saturday I went along to a workshop on writing synopses. I’m not going to tell you everything that was said. A lot of it is not hugely different from what you might find on the internet, though the presenter did say she’d found one site advising that you synopsis could be ten pages - she definitely advised against that. However there were two pieces of advice that I haven’t seen anywhere before.

The first was to make the synopsis look interesting to read. Too often, she said, readers (as in publisher’s readers, of which she is one) are presented with two or three pages of closely spaced, 12point print with tiny margins. They put the reader in the wrong frame of mind to start with. She didn’t suggest double spacing, but she did suggest more than single spacing and added that 14point font was much more pleasing to the eye. Furthermore she said she liked to see headings and spaces between paragraphs. I hadn’t even thought about that aspect.

Secondly, she advised never writing a synopsis when you’re not feeling enthused about your novel. She said your synopsis should put across not only what the book is about, but why you wrote it and why you think it is so great. If you can hook the publisher with your own enthusiasm, you’re in with a better chance.

I had been told that the presenter would be using my synopsis as an example (to tear apart!) at the workshop, but apparently others had sent theirs with the same hope, so she used one from an author who wasn’t there. She did, however, take time to give me some personal advice during a break (without me asking), which was very kind of her and helped a lot. Even better, as she walked away she said ‘Looks like an interesting book.’ A throw away line maybe, but I grabbed onto it like a lifeline. Now I’m re-enthused, and working on cutting my two and a half pages to one as she advised.


Julia said...

I had to revise 3 chapters and write a detailed 20 page synopsis using the additional/revised material for an editor.

Ultimately, their team did not buy the novel, but the editor was very happy with the revisions and the synopsis.

I have to say, that was ten times harder than writing and revising the book itself! You'd think that 20 pages would give you a lot of leeway with the story - not so!

Good luck with yours! Sounds like the workshop was well worth it.

Julia from Verla's

Meg Wiviott said...

Love your line about writing a synopsis is like trying to stuff an elephant into a matchbox! I couldn't agree more.

Good luck!