© Hannah Quinn (2011)
Of all the writing projects writers undertake, none is more universally dreaded, even hated, than the synopsis. Why is this? I think many of the negative feelings and views come from what it stands for rather than the synopsis itself. Once, when you’d finished your manuscript, you sent it off, sat back and waited for publication day. Ah, the good old days. Nowadays, you send only samples of your manuscript, chapters, sections, etc., a cover letter, a list of writing credentials if you have one, and the nightmare from writing Hell: the synopsis.
Don’t despair: there are methods you can use to take the dread out of synopsis writing. Here are just a few to get you started:
1. The synopsis is a tool.
2. Be creative.
3. See it as an extension of your book.
A synopsis is a must write, not a want to write. All writers must do it, so it pays to find ways to deal with the dread and awkwardness to arrive at a more breathe easy place. We might never come to love writing the synopsis, although some do, but we don’t want to live in fear of it and do it only reluctantly. Let’s face it, how good will it be if we are reluctant and terrified?
It is a piece of paper which has a job to do. Not many writers I know like self-promotion; despite the way writers are portrayed in fiction, film especially, most are shy, retiring, wanting to communicate with written words, desiring anonymity for all but their writing. Some, such as J.D. Salinger, even like to keep their writing in the shadows. Let’s assume you at least want it out in the limelight.
The first way around (or through) the scary side of the synopsis is to view it from a different place. This piece of paper will do a very important job for you, which you might otherwise have to do in person. Let’s face it, no matter how good you are at writing the greatest novel or book, it might not get read by many of the commissioning editors you send it to. They are too few and too busy to read every word that lands in their slush pile. First, they need to read a synopsis good enough to make them then want to start looking more closely at your precious manuscript.
What is so difficult about the actual writing of a synopsis? Well, for a start, you’ve just spent many months creating anywhere up to 300,000 words (or more) and now you have to condense it to just 300 words and make it tantalising.
Fewer words are always harder to write. I’d rather write a 5000 word article to a 500 word one, but… tight writing is good for our writing soul, believe me.
Our manuscript is precious. We all understand that, editors understand that, but their time, resources and abilities are finite.
So, the first step in learning to love your synopsis, is to change your point of view. Recognise it as a great resource with a vital job to do. It is, literally, your foot in the door.
I’ll add the next step (2) in a few days.