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Secrets To Synopsis Writing by Rula Sinara

I invited author Rula Sinara for secrets to Synopsis Writing. Please welcome Rula Sinara...

Are You In Conflict With Your Synopsis?
By Rula Sinara

If there are any writers out there that love writing synopses for their manuscripts, please raise your hand…or leave a comment below telling the rest of we poor souls why in the world you love it so much. I promise I won’t throw tomatoes J.

When I first began interviewing authors on my blog, A Writer’s Rush, a few years ago, I had a golden opportunity. They had managed to get published. I was in a position to ask questions. Surely I could get them to reveal the untold secret of synopsis writing. I was desperate. The mere thought of tackling a synopsis kept me up at night. I was bound to fail. My synopsis was going to blow my chances of ever getting published. Do these thoughts sound familiar?

Breathe.

An imperfect synopsis will not blow your chances at achieving your dream. BUT…a synopsis IS an indicator of whether your story has the strength of plot and conflict that will sell. Use that point to your advantage.

One thing I learned from struggling to write synopses for my submissions that didn’t sell, to the one that did, is that if a story’s conflict is clear and strong and the character’s goals are well motivated, then writing a synopsis is easier. Notice I didn’t say easy. It’s never easy…just easier, because the point of a synopsis is to lay out the skeleton of a story, including the turning points and conflict development. Well, going with the skeleton analogy, if you can’t tell where the joints are, building the skeleton is going to be impossible…that, or what you end up with won’t look like any creature alive on earth.

Let me put it another way. I was in denial with my unsold manuscripts. I couldn’t see that the reason I was struggling with my synopsis was because of weaknesses in the story itself. I needed to point out turning points but my turning points weren’t clear…and the same for my conflict. Each character had issues, but they ran independently like runaway trains down parallel tracks.  When it comes to conflict in a story, those trains (the hero’s and the heroine’s) need to collide, rather than crash separately. You know those railroad crossing signs? Think ‘Conflict Crossing’ (I’ll have to write another post on that ;). That was invaluable advice and feedback I got from my editor on a partial she read before the one that sold. The hero and heroine’s journey and goals should cross, rather than run parallel. They need to impact one another such that reaching their goal will prevent the other from reaching theirs. But before I go off on a tangent, I’ll make my point. A solid story (rather than one that rambles or is disconnected) makes for a more solid synopsis.  In my manuscript that sold, The Promise of Rain (Harlequin Heartwarming), I had the level of ‘impossible’ conflict my editor was looking for. It was by no means the perfect manuscript or synopsis (it had its share of revisions), but the critical elements came through.

So how did I get there? Over the years, I’ve read just about every blog post, by writers, agents and editors, that I could on the ‘dreaded synopsis’. I attended workshops on the matter and read numerous craft books. They were all wonderful resources and it’s important to note that not one technique works for everyone. There are many ways to approach a synopsis. But, just in case what made it click for me works for you too…

1.      Save the Cat by Blake Snyder: Whether for synopsis writing or not, every writer should read this book. However, the thing about it that helped me with synopsis writing was his ‘Beat Sheet’. Blake wrote the book for screenwriters, so I simply doubled the page numbers on his Beat Sheet so that I could gauge where in my book the turning points should be. For some reason, the term ‘turning point’ sets my nerves on end (blame it on post-synopsis stress disorder). Blake describes the critical points in a story as beats and his chapters describing each beat make so much sense. When I start a synopsis, I fill out his beat sheet and there’s my skeleton, joints and all. After that, filling in things like voice and emotion (depending on word count/pages and synopsis length) are icing. If I have trouble with a beat, then I know there’s an issue with that part of my story that needs addressing.

2.      Author Lisa Gardner has a ‘Writer’s Toolbox’ on her website and in it she’s written a series of ten lectures on synopsis writing. Her explanations are fabulous and ‘clicked’ with me early on (before I read Save the Cat). I really think reading those articles was a ‘turning point’ in my learning to write a synopsis journey.

3.      Michael Hague’s lectures called ‘Story Mastery’, on story and character development probably had more impact on me than all the craft books I’ve read on writing (and I’ve read tons of must reads). And like I said above, if you understand conflict and your hero/heroine’s journeys, and the critical turning points or beats aren’t missing from your story, then it’ll be that much easier to spot the bones and joints needed for writing the synopsis.

Now, don’t take any of this to mean that you shouldn’t read other craft books. I have a list of my favorite craft books and internet sites on the left margin of my blog. My writing wouldn’t be where it is today if I hadn't read them and I highly recommend them to others. And I’m certainly not done learning. I re-read these books or use them for reference. The more you know, the more you realize how much there is you don’t know. Learning never ends. Unfortunately, neither will the need to write a synopsis, but don’t give up. Don’t let it scare you. Remember, a synopsis is a summary, not a hooky, cliffhanger sales pitch (like blurbs). It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to get the job done. And if you’ve done your homework on synopsis writing and are still struggling, take a deeper look at your story. Don’t give up or get discouraged, but also, don’t ignore the possible need to revise. After all, revision is the road to publication.

 

Bio:
Rula Sinara lives in Virginia’s countryside with her husband, three boys and crazy but endearing pets. When she's not writing or doing mom stuff, she loves organic gardening, attracting wildlife to her yard (cool bugs included) or watching romantic movies. She also enjoys interviewing fellow authors and is a Special Contributor for USA Today's Happy Ever After blog. Her door is always open at www.rulasinara.com or www.awritersrush.blogspot.com.

He wants to take her child out of Africa… 

The Busara elephant research and rescue camp on Kenya's Serengeti is Anna Bekker's life's work. And it's the last place she thought she'd run into Dr. Jackson Harper. As soon as he sets eyes on her four-year-old, Pippa, Anna knows he'll never leave…without his daughter. 
Furious doesn't begin to describe how Jack feels. How could Anna keep this from him? He has to get his child back to the States. Yet as angry as he is with Anna, they still have a bond. But can it endure, despite the ocean—and the little girl—between them?
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34 comments:

  1. Those are very good tips about how to run character arcs that conflict with each other. I love Save the Cat, although I haven't read the others you mentioned. Thanks for the info!

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    1. Hi Lexa!

      You're so welcome. I'm a craft book junkie LOL. Sometimes you can read the same tips in different books, but then you come across an author who puts it in a way that clicks. I love that moment. Save the Cat is a great book. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Hi Kelly. Hi Rula. Who doesn't struggle with the 'dreaded' synopsis? When I came to write my first one, I researched a lot and then followed those suggestions. But writing your synopsis before you begin your book is a good idea, as you often find you don't have enough of a plot or sub plots or your characters are wishy washy. It's sad if your novel is accepted/rejected on the strength/weakness of a synopsis, but I guess it tells an editor that your novel may be excellent/lacking.

    Denise

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    1. Hi Denise! So great to see you here and you're so right. I had always written my synopsis after finishing my manuscript. Well, guess what? When it's time for you to submit a partial for your next book under contract, you're required to submit a synopsis. More often than not, the book hasn't been written yet (mine wasn't). So writing one ahead of time is a good thing to get used to. Thanks for commenting!

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  3. I've heard Save the Cat is very useful. Congrats, Rula!

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    1. Thanks so much, Cherie! It was one of the books recommended by Harlequin editors during one of the 'editor Q&A' online forum sessions during one of their annual So You Think You Can Write contests. I wasn't entering at the time, but I learned a lot from reading/asking qu during their craft/information sessions and it was free! Many of the craft books I listed on my blog were recommended by editors.

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  4. Great advice! I'm definitely not a fan of synopses--or blurbs for that matter :)

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    1. Hi Meradeth! Take comfort in knowing that you're not alone, LOL! Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. This is such perfect timing for me. I'm about to dig into a rewrite that needs major work. I think I'm going to write the synopsis first and see if that works. Outlining makes my brain leak out but I think I can do this! :) thanks!!

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    1. Hi Jemi! By the way, thanks for your tweets! I'm so glad this has been helpful. I've done a major rewrite, so I know how you feel. I truly think that editing the changes into your synopsis, even if the synopsis isn't in it's final, polished form, will help you keep track of where and how those revisions need to flow. For me, I had red pen marks on a print out of my older synopsis, just so I could 'see' (I'm visual) and remind myself where the changes had to take place. Then, later, I went through and revised the synopsis into a form I could submit. Good luck!

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  6. Hi Kelly and Rula - great to have the synopsis links and ideas .. I've got Save the Cat - still to look at it .. but I will .. but I love Africa - so good luck with your book ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi Hilary! Thanks so much for the nice wishes :). I love Africa too! Cheers :).

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  7. Wow! What an informative post! I have not read any of the resources Rula suggested- but have marked them down. Clearly she has done her research. I also liked how she mentioned that if the plot is strong the synopsis will be a little easier. Wishing her the best of luck!
    ~Jess

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    1. Thanks so much, Jess. It makes me so happy to hear that I've been able to help. I love giving back and I was blessed by all the authors/editors/agents who have either written craft books or posted blogs with tips on synopsis writing and all the other hurdles we have to survive to get our books out there. Best of luck to you too!

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  8. Thanks so much for this fabulous list, Rula. I'm adding them to my list. You can never have enough great sources for synopsis writing. Best of luck with your book.

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    1. Thank YOU, Joylene! Best wishes to you and thanks for stopping by!

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  9. Ugh, the dreaded synopsis. I always write mine as if I'm telling a friend about a movie I just saw. That works for me because it makes you focus on the highlights, which of course have the conflict.

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    1. Yes! That's a brilliant tip, Kelly. I once read that watching a movie and then summarizing or writing a synopsis on it, is a great way to train/learn how to write a synopsis for your book. Somehow, doing it for someone else's story isn't as scary as doing it for our own LOL. Thanks for the tip!

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  10. I've said it before but will say it again - I'm so glad I sell books (occasionally!) as I sure couldn’t write them! I do enjoy reading about the process though; it makes me appreciate my favourite authors even more.

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    1. Hi Barbara! That's so nice of you to say :). The process really is interesting and having been through it makes me appreciate my favorite authors more too ;)! Thanks for stopping by!

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  11. Writing a synopsis is challenging. I agree, though, that if you have a compelling conflict, the job is much easier.

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    1. Hi Sherry! I absolutely agree. A synopsis focuses on that strong, central conflict. Without one, you end up rambling. Instead of showing the skeleton of the story, you end up with a pile of bones, so to speak. Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. Synopses--YUCK! I think it's just that you know it's so important and you can sit down and do it at once. With a manuscript, you have days/months/years to work on it and there's always a chance to fix something. A synopsis is all right there, condensed in a very short # of pages. It sucks!

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    1. Hi Stephanie! I'm with you on yuck. Synopsis writing kills me, especially for a really short synopsis. Those are tough! I actually know of situations where weaknesses where picked up in a synopsis, but the editor liked the sample writing and other aspects of the story so much, they requested changes/revisions to strengthen the conflict/plot. But you never know if/when that'll happen, of course. You're right...so much pressure falls on the synopsis. Thanks for stopping by!

      BTW...if anyone hasn't been to Stephanie's website, go check it out. Her book covers and topics are so great!

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  13. Congrats, Rula, on your latest release.

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    1. Thanks, The Armchair Squid! Okay, now I have to say that that's one of the most original bloggy id's I've ever come across LOL. Love it! Thanks for stopping by!

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  14. Yet more handy tips. Thanks, I'll be sure to share them with my author friends.

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    1. Thanks, Tracy! Always glad to help. Best wishes to you!

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  15. I'm slipping in my own comment here, just to say that I'm sorry it took me so long to respond to all of your wonderful comments. I was at RWA Nationals soaking in information, workshops and meeting so many extraordinary authors and publishing professionals. If you're ever at a meeting/event and recognize my name, please don't hesitate to stop and say hello (and remind me of where we 'met' :).

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  16. Kelly, thank so much for having me on your blog! You have a wonderful place here. Best wishes on success on all your books!!

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  17. Great advice Rula and with perfect timing; I had just began struggling with a Query that required a synopsis and realized I needed help. Now I have to go back and think in terms of critical points and beat. My characters weave through the story in multiple collisions so this should be quite telling. Thanks again and I'll check back in the future for more greataadvice.

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    1. Thanks for checking out my post, Timothy! I'm so glad it helped!

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  18. I keep seeing recommendations for Save the Cat - I must add that one to the wishlist.
    I kinda like writing a synopsis :-) But only after the story is finished...

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  19. Hi Kelly! Hello Rula! This comes very timely for me. Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips. I know they'd be very useful at the stage my writing is in right now. Kelly, it's been a while since I posted but I'm back at my blog - www.anne-writersspace.blogspot.com. Hope you can come visit again :)

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