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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: writing synopses for fiction

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There is one word known to strike fear into the hearts of most writers. Synopsis. Most of us would rather perform brain surgery from space using a lemon zester and a squirrel than be forced to boil down our entire novel into one page.

Yes one.

But alas we need to for numerous reasons. First and foremost, if we want to land an agent, it works in our favor to already have an AWESOME synopsis handy because the odds are, at some point, the agent will request one.

Sigh. I know. Sorry.

A Quick Aside

When it comes to synopses, I lean toward the, “Better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission” camp. Which is where already having a seriously spiffy synopsis helps.

Think of it this way. E-mail sucks. Getting lots of email and having to juggle it all sucks. Agents get a lot of email. Since I am also a person who gets a ridiculous amount of email, I can tell you with conviction that I LOVE people who save me work. They do this by saving me steps.

Most queries these days are via email and since agents don’t like getting their computers crashed by a virus? This means the query will be pasted into the body of the email (no attachments).

Believe it or not, agents like writers. In fact they need writers. They don’t get paid without a writer and last I checked agents also really like being paid in money—not adorable pigmy goats and trust me you will only make THAT mistake once.

Where was I?

Agents need writers. Just as much as they are looking for reasons NOT to read our book, they are simultaneously looking for reasons TO read our book.

I know it’s a paradox much like time travel. Don’t think about it too long or your brain will cramp.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with ending your query with: I have taken the liberty of pasting the one page synopsis of my novel below for your convenience.

Worst case scenario? They don’t scroll down. OMG!

But best case is they DO scroll down and they like it! Better yet, you are off to an awesome start because you just saved them a crap-ton of time.

Why Do We Need a Synopsis?

If you don’t want to automatically include the synopsis that’s fine, but if you write a really good one (which IS possible if the story is strong)? Why the hell not?

All right, so what if you aren’t brave enough to include a synopsis and are just praying that the subject never comes up and the agent just asks for a full. Okay, great! Problem is, if you do get a book deal, often the editor will want you to write a synopsis of the book you are writing next (for approval of course).

Ugh, so if you go traditional, really no dodging it.

Some of you might be saying, Oh, but Kristen! Traditional is sooo yesterday and I am self-publishing. I don’t need a synopsis.

Technically correct, but actually I do recommend a synopsis for all the reasons writers loathe writing them.

Why All the Angst?

Dramatization of writers off to work on a synopsis.
Dramatization of writers off to work on a synopsis.

So a big reason that writers hate writing synopses with the power of a thousand suns is that we believe every word we have written is precious and every character vital and necessary. We lack perspective, especially if we haven’t had any time or distance away from the work. This is normal.

But a bigger reason that many writers hate writing the synopsis (particularly for first-time novels) is it makes it painfully obvious we have no story or a terribly flawed story.

The synopsis strips away our pretty prose and all our verbal glitter and it lays our story bare.

Today I want to talk about the BIG PICTURE stuff. What is it our synopsis is really out to reveal? If we don’t first grasp that, no amount of tips I give for writing a great synopsis will help.

Synopsis as Skeleton

The synopsis is the skeleton of our story. What do skeletons do? They support everything else. The skeleton is the guidepost for all that is to come. We can see the skeleton of a fish and “see” the fish even without benefit of gills and scales. We can see an elephant skeleton and get an idea of scope and size and finished “entity/product.”

But most importantly, we don’t have to be a doctor to look at a skeleton and tell that something is horribly wrong.

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Image via Wikimedia Commons.

We don’t need a lot of imagination to see how this skeleton above is going to flesh out, pardon the pun. We can see just at a quick glance that this human skeleton is going to have a lot of problems because of the various deformities.

The same holds true with a story skeleton. If the narrative orbital sockets are located in the posterior, we don’t care how pretty the eyes are if they are in the @$$.

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There is no amount of witty dialogue or clever prose that is going to rescue a plot that is missing vital parts or has them in the wrong place.

Yes, we are sending a synopsis in hopes of selling a story, but how is the synopsis doing this? Plain and simple? The synopsis is letting the agent see if the skeleton is solid, symmetrical and is of a creature that is rare, cool and maybe never seen before.

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Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Steve Starer.

An agent is also looking at a synopsis because she knows it is the fastest way to reveal terminal (deal-breaker) errors.

***For the self-published folks. Technically you don’t need to write a synopsis, but if you can’t for any of these reasons below, the novel might not yet be good to go and this could save a bunch of nasty reviews.

Is the premise weak?

I get pages all the time from “finished novels” but there actually is no story. Just because we have 80,000-100,000 words does not mean we have a story.

Is it really a novel or just melodrama?

Do we have a solid plot or just “scene” after “scene” of bad situations?

Does the “plot” rely on trickery? Gimmick? 

Often writers are having a panic attack about writing the synopsis because the entire book rests on a “clever” twist ending that often really isn’t a twist but rather a gimmick.

I.e. It was all really a bad dream.

No.

Does it require deus ex machina to resolve?

I call this a Luck Dragon. So protagonist is enduring plight after plight and all seems lost when she finds…………a journal!

No.

Does it really resolve?

New writers often don’t understand structure, which naturally means they don’t yet understand that series follow similar structure guidelines to a singular novel. And btw, it is OKAY to be new, so breathe!

Even series still follow three act structure. But say the story follows four or even five act structure. doesn’t matter. The story is not over until the core story problem introduced in the beginning is resolved.

Series work the same way. If it is a connected series, then it works a bit like those Russian nesting dolls. Every book has a bigger and bigger problem to solve until finally the CORE problem is solved/antagonist is defeated.

In LOTR: Uruk-Hai defeated—> Saruman defeated—>Sauron defeated

Which means NO BATMAN ENDINGS.

Stay tuned for next week book!

Often I get, Oh well the reader will have to read the next book to know if she lives. Nope, not how that works unless we write for Days of Our Lives.

No matter the structure we use, our story must come equipped with a satisfying resolution or that skeleton is missing arms. In the case of a connected series, often a gatekeeper to the Big Boss is defeated but the journey continues toward that final showdown. No being clever by withholding a resolution.

There is only one The Lady or the Tiger? and the only reason that story is read at all is because it’s one of the only ways English teachers can get back at us for having to read our crappy essays.

Is the writer breaking genre constrictions in unforgivable ways?

For instance, romance comes with an HEA (happily ever after). No HEA? It ain’t romance and if the author is selling it as romance in the query, but the story ends in a breakup? The agent knows this is a new writer who doesn’t understand that genres have expectations.

Is the story just not all that remarkable?

Once the plot is laid bare, is it truly anything unique? A fresh twist on an old idea? Or is it really just more of the same?

My book is about a thirty-eight-year-old female executive who decides she wants to have a baby and the struggle of being an older mom.

Okay *falls asleep*.

My book is about a thirty-eight-year-old female executive who finds out she’s pregnant with her first child at the same time her teenage stepdaughter reveals she, too is expecting.

*perks up* Hmmm, interesting.

The Good News

When we can write a concise and interesting synopsis, it shows our level of skill and the strength of our story. If we can write tight and clean here, it bodes well for the book. If your brain is in knots writing your synopsis, relax.

If the story is there the synopsis is too. It’s just a matter of unearthing it.

Though we will talk more on how to do this later, I do recommend starting with forming a log-line. If you can boil your entire book into one sentence? The synopsis can be built using that and it is far easier to build UP TO one page than whittle DOWN 300 into one.

Here is an earlier post about how to do the log-line. Additionally, if you need more help, I have a class coming up on how to do your log-line and the added benefit is I do your log-line WITH you so you walk away from class with that in hand 😉 . I also have a class on how to write queries and synopses to help you as well.

What are your thoughts? Have you been struggling with the synopsis and think it’s because there might be bigger issues going on? Are you a more seasoned writer and remember the nightmare of trying to fit a first-time “novel” into a single page? Any thoughts? Questions? Suggestions?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

I’ll announce September’s winner next time. Been out of town and need time to tabulate the results. Thanks!

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! I have also included new times to accommodate the UK and Australia/NZ folks! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

NEW CLASS! OCTOBER 14th Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

FRIDAY October 21st Your Story in a Sentence–Crafting Your Log-Line

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Those who miss being in the first ten will get a deeply discounted workshop rate if they would like their log-line showroom ready.

SATURDAY, October 22nd Blogging for Authors

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

  • How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
  • What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
  • How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)
  • What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
  • How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
  • How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
  • How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
  • How can a blog help you sell more books?
  • How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre.

Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook