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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis by M.D. Waters

Hey, everyone! I’m here to talk to you about the dreaded synopsis. To this very day, the synopsis gives me a headache, but I would say it’s gotten a lot easier. I think a lot of the fear I had in the beginning was over formatting, of all things. You see a lot of different “right” ways to do it, and as far as I’m concerned, they’ll all work.

For ARCHETYPE, I single-spaced with a double-space between paragraphs. I didn’t capitalize the character names, but you can. Maybe the first time they’re mentioned would be helpful. 

In the Heading (left or center justified), put TITLE / Your Name / Synopsis. You should have all your contact information on a cover page in the manuscript itself, but I’m not so sure it’s necessary here unless it’s the only thing you’re sending.

So that’s formatting. Now let’s talk about the information going into the synopsis. Everyone wants to throw in every single storyline and character involved… RESIST. Stick with the main storyline and heroine/hero/antagonist. You should have that one main Goal/Motivation/Conflict in your story, and that’s the one you need to tell. 

Because we’re so full of storylines in the end, it may help to do the following; one each for your heroine/hero:

THEN jot down your Plot Points. It doesn’t have to be much. One sentence will do. I mean, who’s going to see it but you, right? I use Cathy Yardley’s Rock Your Plot, which is a great tool for plotting, but also, in my opinion, perfect for when it comes time to narrowing down exactly what needs to go into the synopsis. 
  • PLOT POINT 1: 
  • PLOT POINT 3: 
These points are all about your heroine/hero and their main storyline, right? I promise, once you do this or something similar, your entire focus will become laser-fine. None of the other storylines will matter.

Now for the hard part. The best piece of advice I’ve received came from a synopsis workshop I took at Savvy Authors. Tell your story at a campfire. Campfire stories are always told differently, yes? They’re told with a certain amount of drama and flare. Just remember to tell it in third person, present tense. And tell it ALL. Beginning to end. This isn’t a query. The agent/editor want to know the ending. This is a campfire story, after all. You wouldn’t leave your listeners hanging after the Hook Man scratches up the car…show the bodies, too!

First time out, just write. Don’t worry about the page count. Personally, with my focus on the main storyline, I can turn that into three pages on the first run. Typical requests are three to five pages, so that’s perfect. Run your cleaned up version through your crit partners. Make sure there aren’t any lingering questions. You want the motivations behind the goals crystal clear, because you’re giving this synopsis to someone who’s never met your character before. 

Once that’s done, trim it down to a single page, because you’ll get more requests for this version than the other. And that’s easy. Cut out the Pinch Points. Maybe you can combine the Inciting Incident with Plot Point 1. Same for Plot Point 3 and the Black Moment. They’re close enough—or should be—in the structure that they nearly run together. 

If you get that rare request for a longer draft, then you’ll add your minor characters in. You’ll add your subplots. Keep in mind that this request is SO rare, you could probably go without actually writing it. I’ve never, in all my years of writing, had to do one that long.

That’s it! I’ll pop in throughout the day to answer any questions you have, so hit me with what you’ve got! 
Leave your email if you want the Word Document I’ve set up with the GMC boxes and Plot Points. I’d be happy to send it to you.

M.D. WATERS lives with her family in Maryland. Archetype (2/6/14 from Dutton Books) is her first novel. Its sequel, Prototype, will be published in July 2014. She is represented by Jennifer Weltz at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.

From Goodreads:
Emma wakes in a hospital, with no memory of what came before. Her husband, Declan, a powerful, seductive man, provides her with new memories, but her dreams contradict his stories, showing her a past life she can’t believe possible: memories of war, of a camp where girls are trained to be wives, of love for another man. Something inside her tells her not to speak of this, but she does not know why. She only knows she is at war with herself.

Suppressing those dreams during daylight hours, Emma lets Declan mold her into a happily married woman and begins to fall in love with him. But the day Noah stands before her, the line between her reality and dreams shatters.

In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which. . . .


Charity Bradford said...

Awesome! Thanks MD for such a great step by step.

Huntress, aka CD Coffelt said...

I wish I'd had this four years ago when I was saying, "what's a synopsis?"

Absolute, vital knowledge here for every writer in every stage of their career.

Thx MD!!

M. D. Waters said...

Thanks for having me, guys!

nwharrisbooks said...

Wow! So much useful information being shared this year. I may not be commenting on every post, but I'm reading them all and learning lots! Query Con Rules!!!