Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Writing a Synopsis - Pippa's Method

I don't often do posts on writing advice, mostly because I still feel at heart I'm too much of a novice to be telling other people how to do it. But writing a synopsis is something I often see others wailing over, so I thought I'd share my system for writing one, in case anyone might find it useful.

I have to say it - writing a synopsis is the bane of my life as an author, only slightly outweighed by the challenge of writing a single tagline for a whole series (my debut novel Keir was meant to be book one of five, so being faced with not only blurb, tagline and synopsis for my first book, but a tagline for the entire series had me rocking in a corner). I struggle with them. I suppose if I was a plotter instead of a pantser it might be easier - the plot line wouldn't take much work to transform into a synopsis. But I don't plot, aside from perhaps writing a couple of scenes and putting between them in brackets such helpful notes as 'insert fight scene here' or 'dialogue', or more often the 'needs more here'. O.O

Having finally finished my decopunk superhero romance and sent it off to beta readers [insert author biting nails here], I decided to tackle all the other documents I need for the submission process - blurb, tagline, query letter and synopsis, having researched where I want to submit to (never forget the research, and take careful note of all the submission guidelines!). The blurb I'd already done a rough draft of for Camp NaNoWrimo in August 2012, where the novella began. I'd even done a tagline for my mocked up cover at Camp. I enjoyed doing the query letter, because now I have a few titles under my belt and some nice shiny awards to add to my author pedigree (don't panic about having those things if you're a new author - we ALL started with nothing!). Which just left me the synopsis. The guidelines stated a 2-5 page synopsis, which is pretty generous (I've had to do a half page synopsis for a 100K novel before). However, I'd expect to do 5 pages if I was submitting a 100K novel but maybe not a 40K novella. If you take 5 pages to 100k, that means 20K per page, so 40K should be a 2 page synopsis, which I think is enough. You can find various opinions on the internet of synopsis pages per K of a manuscript, but regardless of that you have to fit into the publisher's requirements.

Set up.
Publisher/agent guidelines vary, but generally it'll be double (or possibly 1.5) spacing, a plain font such as Times New Roman size 12 (don't ever use a fancy font!), with 1.27 first line indents (set this in your template), and standard margins. Some publishers will want a front page with such details as title, author, contact info, word count etc. Some will want author name, title and/or page numbers as a header and/or footer - some will ask that you have no header or footer at all. Always check the submission guidelines carefully! Put your book title and 'synopsis' at the top, and centre.

Breaking it down.
Essentially I start by putting down the number of chapters. In the case of Darkfall, I have eleven. So I write 'chapter <number> as a list, then write 3-5 sentences under each covering the main events in that chapter. Chapter 1 is usually the exception as I need to introduce the characters, the setting, the opening conflict and a bit of back story to set it up. Example -

Chapter 3
Kadie wakes to a cut on her arm. Devastated when Jev sends her back to the lab she had her accident in, she's certain she’ll be punished. Dark comes to the lab, and is apparently shocked by Kadie. On the way home, she leaves the bus to be sick and is accosted by Jev who pushes her into an alleyway. Nightcrawlers attack.

Building it up.
I then expand the explanations/details contained in the three to five sentences, or trim back if I feel that's necessary.

Chapter 3
Kadie wakes to a cut on her arm, still none the wiser to what is happening and devastated when Jev sends her back to the lab where she had her accident, certain she’ll be punished. Dark unexpectedly visits the lab, and is shocked at discovering Kadie there, yet he does nothing to her. On the way home, she exits the bus early to be sick after all the stress, and is accosted by a disguised Jev who pushes her into an alleyway. Nightcrawlers attack them, and Kadie passes out.

Tidying up.
The Chapter headings get deleted, and the sections become paragraphs. Now I read them over and smooth them out into one complete thing, making sure it remains inside the required length.
Here I have to admit I went over. With the 2-5 pages allowance, I didn't see as much reason to trim back as necessary. A couple of my beta readers for the story read over the synopsis for me, catching any little mistakes and making suggestions. After a final run through to check it over, I had just under three pages rather than the two I was aiming for, plus the required title page. 39,500 words condensed into a 1363 word summary.
I hope some of you might find this useful, but if you have a system that works best for you, please share!

Pippa's Journal

Currently I'm waiting on two things out on submission - a scifi short to an inhouse anthology call at Champagne Books, and my decopunk superhero romance. The latter I should know about by early March at the latest. The freaky little NaNoWriMo story that got a request for the full from Breathless Press is still in revisions, and I'm working on a holiday themed scifi romance short that I've already booked to release next winter (I have a cover for it, but I'm not sharing yet, bwahahaa!). The two novellas I wanted finished for the end of 2013 are both complete and awaiting edits. The paranormal short scheduled for release at Halloween 2014 is now with my editor. And next month the Kickstarter being run by my new publisher Definition House for the sequel to Keir - Keir's Fall - will begin. I'm also taking part in two conventions next year - the Stargate con Chevron in April, and LonCon 3 in August - which may also affect what I can release. EEEeeek! At the  moment I can only guarantee two releases - my holiday themed shorts - because I'm self publishing both toward the end of the year. Next year is going to be CRAZY! 

Ping Pong

Oh, dear, I haven't done too well keeping up with my fellow bloggers here lately. Too much time spent in the writing cave! Sorry guys!

Laurie, loved the post on perfectionism. Slightly disturbed at how many I said yes to - although I've always laughingly called myself a perfectionist, the fact that I never felt I was achieving perfection made me believe I wasn't one. I am finding coping mechanisms as I go. A single negative review can negate all my good ones in an instant, but I can handle constructive criticism from my peers these days, for one thing. The setting more achievable aims is definitely a good one. But I definitely can't get over the *headdesk* over little setbacks.

Donna, frankly I'd take a science nerd over a barman or billionaire any day. Oh, wait, I already did! * looks at Analytical Chemist husband* :P (but he can cook too).

Next week I'm going to look back to the start of the year and see how my aims that I set then compare to how the year actually went (which should help with my perfectionism issues, lol).

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