Friday, February 22, 2013

Synopsis - What is it?

synopsis (plural synopses)
  • A brief summary of the major points of a written work, either as prose or as a table; an abridgment or condensation of a work.
Did you learn anything?

  • early 17th cent.: via late Latin from Greek, from sun- ‘together’ + opsis ‘seeing.’
Did that help you any?

While the dictionary is a very useful tool, and I find the origin of words sometimes interesting, just exactly what is a synopsis? 'A brief summary' sounds so terribly formal, and it reminds me all to much of school and homework.

Look at it like this. Imagine yourself a bit rushed for time, but you simply MUST tell your friend all about this story idea you just got, or maybe you just gotta pass on the details about this really great book you just read. (I hope mine might fall into that category someday haha). That's what a synopsis is.

The first time I was asked to write one was for my first book, King by Right of Blood and Might. They gave me specific guidelines to follow, but basically it worked out to be about 1% the length of the book, so that's pretty much what I stuck with. That translates to about a page of synopsis per 100 pages of book.

On my website, I posted a synopsis of all of my books, published and not yet. Friends have told me they would prefer to see a sample there, but I can't decide what. Maybe I'll have to come up with a good blurb - but I digress.

So, for most people, most manuscripts, 1% is 3 or 4 pages. Okay now; that's a good length to aim for, but the real question I'm sure is 'how do you write one?' Go back up to the top. You're telling your friend about this book or book idea, but you don't have much time. Just walk up to someone in your family and tell them about the story. Don't explain anything (we'll talk about that here in a bit). Don't answer any questions. Just tell them about your story from start to finish. Yeah, all the way through to the end. No hangers. No 'you gotta read it to find out how it ends'. All of it.

That is your synopsis -

Once you have it all typed out, then just like you would with your original manuscript, you need to go back through and make sure names, places, and events are in a clear chain. Potential readers of your book are going to be reading this - or at least I hope mine do - and just like in your book, you don't want your reader to get confused and lost. All you're doing is hitting on the main chain of events; all the dialogue and all the background details are left out.

Look at it this way. For your manuscript, everyone tells you to 'show don't tell', well for your synopsis, all you do is tell - no showing at all. Like I said, you are 'telling' someone about the story.

Now, as promised above - about explaining:

There are times when writing up a synopsis can actually help your manuscript. I've said it before in other posts and in other contexts: "If ever you feel the need to explain something about your book, you need to get that information into your book." Sometimes when writing a synopsis, the gap where an explanation is needed is a glaring hole, or you just can't get from page 2 to page 3 because the chain of events is all screwy. That's when you know you need to go back to your manuscript and iron something out.

So, that's a synopsis. Why don't you sit down right here and tell me about your story? I'd love to hear all about it.


st said...

haven't had to write one in years and glad of it:)

David M Oldroyd said...

I found after publishing my first book last year, when I looked at my synopsis, I'd more or less told the person the story before they'd looked at it. So I cut a lot out.

Anna L. Walls said...

Are you talking about the blurb, or the 'about' for you book on Amazon? Those are not the synopsis, and should for sure be the hook.

William Kendall said...

I wrote several of them early on in writing my MS. When I decided to go indie, I left them behind, though the plot of the book follows them.

Sandra Tyler said...

a synopisis is the hardest thing to write. And most often, can't do justice to the full length of a work.