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?
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.
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.
Blurb: The Promise of Rain
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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