Marcella Kampman

Author of Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths and Legends from Sumer

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The Main Selling Tool - The Synopsis

Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:15 PM

Synopsis writing is the single most important “selling” tool of the writer’s trade. You may have written the next bestseller, but if you can’t get your synopsis past the editor then no one will ever find out.


You have to learn to write the best synopsis you can in order to impress the editor enough to ask for your manuscript so that she will buy it enabling you to become that best selling author. It’s that simple. See, I’ve just given you your own goal, motivation and conflict. Now all you have to do is find that of your story.


Start with a hook. It’s that basic little sentence that tells all in a nutshell. You must be able to sum up your story in just a couple of lines, preferably under thirty-five words. If you don’t know what your story is about, then how will you hope to convince others that it’s worth their time and effort? Take your story’s premise and turn it into an interesting hook designed to grab the editor’s attention. For example, we’ll use the basic premise from“The Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum. An angst ridden teenage girl gets blown far away from home in a tornado to a strange new land where she must overcome several obstacles before she learns the true value of family in order to return home.


The first and foremost question you must answer in order to find your story premise is not what but who is this story about? Remember, people enjoy reading about people. Yes, the plot details are important as they are what drive the story onward, but place more emphasis on the protagonist’s reactions to what's going on in the plot, as it is her actions that ultimately becomes the fuel powering the way the plot turns.


After your hook give a brief description of your main characters. This description should include each of their goals, motivations, and conflicts or barriers that will keep them from achieving their respective goals. There is no need to go into such depth of detail on any secondary characters unless they bear a direct impact on the main protagonist, such as the villain. Remember, conflict will arise from all of your characters wanting something different.


Now, just by enhancing the initial premise even more, we get the makings of an actual short synopsis – Dorothy, an angst ridden teenager who feels out-of-place in her ordinary world and is contemplating running away from home, gets blown far away from her aunt and uncle’s farm in a tornado to a magical, strange new land. In order to find her way back home she must seek aid from a wizard. On her way to the wizard’s castle she saves three strange beings, who are all in some peril or other, and she convinces them to join her and seek help for their troubles from the same wizard. The wizard sends them on a quest first, to bring him the wicked witch’s broomstick. Only then will be grant what each desires. The witch, meanwhile, has her own agenda, to get from Dorothy her ruby slippers, which will in turn give her the power to become the strongest witch in all the land. Together, Dorothy and her three friends successfully complete their quest, but not before undergoing several exciting and harrowing adventures. They vanquish the witch and return victorious to the wizard, only to find that he never had the power to grant their wishes. After he deserts her in the strange and magical land, Dorothy realizes that with the aid of the ruby slippers and her own heart’s desire she has the power to finally get home. Dorothy learns that “There’s no place like home.”


As you can see here in our example, The Wizard of Oz has all the elements of great fiction: a sympathetic heroine, a great cast of supporting characters, exciting events, a menacing adversary, a particularly dark moment, clear character growth, and a satisfactory resolution to an unexpected ending (which, by the way, are all the elements for a great plot).


How can I build my own synopsis to that level of great fiction, you may very well ask? By asking yourself these questions:


1) Who is the story about? What does she want? Why does she want it? And what's keeping her from getting it?


2) What is the inciting moment? When exactly does the story take off?


3) What actions does the main character take that drive the plot forward? What are some of the key plot turning points?


4) What is the black moment? How does this affect the main character? What does it make her do?


5) Don’t forget to include the resolution. How does the story end? What has the main character learned or achieved?


In a romance novel you must also show the development of the romance. The inciting moment should show when the hero and heroine first meet. Woven throughout your synopsis you should include how they react to their first kiss, as well as showing their reactions when they first sleep together. This should lead to how the hero and heroine will finally commit. You should show their barriers breaking down and show the choices they must face before true love conquers all.


Take your short synopsis and build it up. Question yourself as you write your new and improved synopsis in order to give the enhanced version more detail. In a longer synopsis include such information as theme, tone, setting, and time period. Add more action points and barriers and the reactions to these barriers, but do not add bits of ‘filler’ description. Even in a longer synopsis you need give only the things that are really necessary. Leave out all the fluffy descriptive phrases describing the sunset and your main character’s hair and eye colours.


A few technical pointers to keep in mind when writing your synopsis:


1. The synopsis should be written in narrative form and in the present tense.


2. Use strong verbs to describe the plot and precise adjectives to describe the main character.


3. Don’t ever leave the editor hanging; give her everything upfront including fascinating plot twists.


4. Unless otherwise specified, double-space your synopsis in Courier New 12, and make sure your name appears at the top of the page along with an address or email address. You don’t want the editor to love it only to find there’s no record of who wrote it.


5. KISS – Keep It Short & Simple


Writing a synopsis may sound a little like making magic, but it isn’t. Know who and what your story is about, tell it in as engaging and concise a manner as possible, and the editor will be sure to ask to see your manuscript in full. Then the real magic begins.

 

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