Okay, okay. I agree that it can be a real chore to take your entire 80k word long manuscript and boil it down into one or two pages of boring description. BUT, before you begin querying, creating a well crafted synopsis may just end up being your greatest writing-nerd weapon.
Today, I'd like to briefly discuss why you should write a synopsis even if your chosen editor or agent does not ask for one, how to go about writing the darn thing, and share with you what an editor or agent may be thinking when he or she reads your synopsis (in short, why they're important). We have a lot of ground to cover today, folks. So let's just get into it.
Point One: Why Should I Bother?
When you begin searching for an agent or editor to submit your work to, you will probably notice that some editors and agents want a synopsis and some don't. So why should you bother writing one if your dream agent doesn't give a lick for synopses? Well, it's simple, really. A synopsis is a very valuable tool for you, the author. That's right. I just said that. Even if you don't have to write one for an agent, you should still write one for yourself.
You see, synopses have one magical side effect: they force the author to see the bones of the story. When all the artsy stuff is stripped away, as it should be in a synopsis, all the bits underneath become apparent. If the story does not progress, there's a problem. If there is no plot arc, there's a problem. If there is no "big question," there's a problem. And sometimes it is hard to see these problems when a writer gets caught up in their words. Take those words away, and you will be left with a story in its knickers. Use your synopsis to help yourself spot plot holes, poor or inconsistent character development, loose ends, repeated or dull scenes, excessive or unnecessary characters, point of view issues, inconsistencies in the details, odd plot twists, and many, many other things. When you're finished, you will have effectively done a substantive edit for yourself and therefore will have upped your story's chances of being accepted significantly.
Dude, just do it.
~ Single space your paragraphs.
~ Leave a blank space between the paragraphs (just like the formatting of this blog post).
~ On first mention, type each character's name in ALL CAPS.
~ Use an easy-to-read font (Times New Roman, 12 pt works swimmingly).
~ Lay it out as an exact play-by-play of events as they occur in the manuscript.
~ Include direct quotes from the manuscript.
~ Include dialogue (yes, this relates to the point above but it bears repeating).
~ Lay down scenes out of order or project ahead to something that happens later in the book.
~ Include stuff about yourself (DO put it in your query letter though if it's relevant).
~ Worry too much about your writing "voice," though if you can make your synopsis personable, do that.
And that's it!
Hopefully not about the squirrel in her garden that just dug up another of her tulip bulbs. You want to keep her interest. Fortunately, that's fairly easy to do if you've applied all those Do's from above.
The questions I ask myself when I read a synopsis are: who, what, when, where, why, and how with regards to the plot and characters. What is the story’s genre? Who was this story written for (target audience)? How many other books are already published with this subject matter, and how does this one compare? What makes it unique? What additional genres are represented if any? All these things are very important to an editor, but most important of all is, What is this story about?
To answer that last one, we need to know the story’s theme, the crux, the arc, and the “big question.” Often these things present themselves on their own—themes tend to present themselves without the writer intentionally stating them. That’s totally fine as long as the reader can figure it out on some subconscious level. The crux and the arc both have to do with character motivation—who is doing what, who wants what, what do they hope to gain, and why. The big question typically makes itself apparent either in the story’s “hook” or during the story's enticing incident. For example, Will Frodo get to Mount Doom and dispose of the cursed ring before it destroys him? Will Jane Eyre change who she is to find and keep love? Will Bella Swan survive a romance with a vampire? (Why, Bella? Why would you do that?)
A really excellent synopsis will include the answers to all these questions, lay out the plot exactly as it is, remain engaging, oh, and do it all within one or two pages.
My next post I will go over how to properly format a query letter. There are lots and lots of resources on this already, but it can never hurt to take a refresher. Plus, my way is probably better. It just is :D
I hope this helps clear some of the fog.