Saturday, December 11, 2010

Story Synopsis

Over the past week, I've found that my motivation to work on my original story has fallen off now that NaNoWriMo is done. To give myself a push, I made a trailer for my book a couple of days ago (lol, someday I might actually post it, too). It gave me the boost I needed, and I've been working on my story ever since. Today though, I took a break to work on my query letter.

This has my stomach twisted into a ball of knots. I'm excited/nervous about the idea of actually trying to get published, but no one wants to get rejected or fail, and even Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling got rejected before they had success. I don't want to sit back and do nothing with this story though, so I'm slowly getting my submission package ready (that usually includes the query letter, synopsis (which I'll get to), and the first chapter to three chapters of your book).

There is one particular agency that I want to sign with. It has a dream team of clientele, including several authors I grew up reading. I had a particular agent in mind that I wanted to work with, but tonight I read another agent's profile, and now I'm thinking I might submit my information to her. From what I read on her bio, we both love musicals and Glee, we're vegetarians, and we're from the Midwest. I'm taking all that as a good sign that she's the one I should send my information to. But this agent requires that I send her something as equally daunting as a query letter...and that is the synopsis.

Which brings me to the reason I'm babbling...what the frick do you put in a synopsis? I know you include the beginning, middle, and end of your story (as someone who hates giving away spoilers, I'm going to struggle with that last bit). I know it's supposed to be written in present tense. But what else?

I've been doing some research and I came across an article on I'm going to post some snippets of what the author wrote. If you want to read the full article, please click the link above.

How to Write a Synopsis by Marg Gilks

You're going to have to write a synopsis -- if you intend to market your novel, that is. The best time to realize this is just before you sit down with your manuscript for the final reading preparatory to declaring the thing completed.

Sit down to that final reading with a pen and paper beside you. As you finish reading each chapter, write down a one- or two-paragraph summary of what happened where, and to which character, in that chapter.

Notice any themes running through your chapters as you're reading? Symbolism you didn't realize you'd woven through the story while you were slogging away at the computer for all those months? (The subconscious mind is a wonderful thing.) Take note of themes, too. You may just discover your one-line story summary that agents and editors like so much, if you didn't know what it was before. Or even if you thought you knew what it was, before (surprise, says the Muse, you were wrong).

What you will have when you are done is a chapter-by-chapter novel outline, what I call my author's outline. This is pretty dry reading, and since chapter-by-chapter outlines seem to have fallen out of favor with editors and agents, this will likely remain one of your most valuable writing tools, and that's about it. Don't throw this away when you've done your synopsis, either. You may know the story intimately now, but you do forget details over time. You may decide to revise the novel in the future, and this outline will help you. I've used mine to make sure I'm not duplicating character names from one project to the next. (The subconscious mind can also booby-trap you.) Reading an outline is much easier than leafing through or rereading an entire novel.

Anyway. There is an immediate use for that outline. What you are doing, basically, is distilling the story down into smaller and more manageable packages, step by step. So, you pinpoint the most important plot points in that outline, and you put them into a synopsis.

How can you make your synopsis unique, exciting? Start with the main character and his or her crisis. Include snippets of dialogue or quote briefly from the novel itself. Don't neglect to reveal the character's emotions and motivations, those points that explain why a character does something, but keep it brief. If the setting is exotic, inject a taste of it into the synopsis with a brief paragraph. This includes any background information that is absolutely necessary for the reader to understand the story. Build excitement as you near the conclusion of the story summary by using shorter sentences and paragraphs. The synopsis is a sample of your writing; it is a taste of what reading the actual novel will be like, so give it your all.

(Something she doesn't say in the article that I've discovered on my own is that most agents prefer a maximum three-page synopsis.)

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