Call it serendipity but just as Nicola Morgan, The Queen of Crabbit is engaging in her exhaustive and exhausting blog tour for Write a GreatSynopsis, I am wresting with the synopsis for my second crack at publication. Compared with the reams and reams of conflicting, dubious and downright baffling advice that pop up whenever I Google synopsis, it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s crisp, witty and to the point and makes it sound so do-able.
So when I had the chance to get Nicola all to myself, I locked away the champagne and chocolates I'd been ordered to present to her and instead sneakily subjected her to a grilling. (I've heard Crabbit on Toast is a rare delicacy.) But guess who came out of it singed about the ears? (Clue: it wasn't Nicola.)
Q I was a little sceptical at first but when I read your versions of other people’s synopses and the one you wrote for your YA novel, Wasted (which I read and loved, by the way) I was pretty much converted. So why am I still daunted by the task ahead? Any thoughts on that?
A Because writing a synopsis is not easy, just not as hard as most writers think. Also, you’ll only not be scared when you’ve actually done it and truly believed that it’s not as hard as you thought. It’s all very well being told and even trusting the teller – you have to believe it fully and that usually only comes once you’ve done it. Also, anything worth doing is tough! Also, also, some people will find it harder and that’s not a function of how good a writer you are: I suspect you are over-thinking and over-anxious, because you want it to be fabulously wonderful. It won’t be: your book will always be better.
Q You quote a passage from your hugely informative guide: Write to be Published. In it you write: Too much sweat is secreted over synopses. Yes, they are important and useful but there are different ways to get them right and the synopsis is unlikely to lose you a deal if the letter and sample are wonderful. (Unless the synopsis is terrible, of course.) You also quote several agents who say they don’t always look at synopses. I found all this a bit confusing, I must admit. Can you clarify it for me?
A Not confusing at all. You’ve forgotten an obvious truth: when you read that “several” agents do one thing you are forgetting the obvious truth – that you don’t KNOW which ones do and which don’t. So you have to assume that they might want a synopsis and you have to give them what most of them want. You obviously have to try to cover all bases and assume they want as good a synopsis as you can produce, without giving yourself a hernia. The fact that the one you send it to might not look at it is entirely irrelevant.
Q An editor who works for a well-known publishing house has critiqued my ‘submission package.’ She told me that my synopsis didn’t match the lively tone of my first three chapters. In a word: dull. She told me to scrap it and start again from scratch. But I’m a bit at a loss. Any liveliness in my fiction comes is mainly in the dialogue which doesn’t feature in synopses. Any tips how to convey brightness without making the whole novel sound like a comedy which—as it covers some dark themes—it most definitely isn’t?
A I bet the liveliness in your fiction doesn’t only come from the dialogue. If she says your fiction is lively then it is. Your synopsis is probably dull because you are feeling negative about it (I know you are!) and hating it. You think it’s a dull exercise and you are approaching it with evil worms of dullness whispering in your ear. (Those worms can whisper evilly, I promise.) You are writing your synopsis with a sulky curled mouth, aren’t you? Go on, admit it! (More a cringe of terror actually, Nicola but I get what you mean!) I don’t think I can tell you exactly how to convey voice in your synopsis because I haven’t read your novel, but if you look at Louise M Kelly’s synopsis in WAGS, you’ll see she uses the odd phrase that lightens it and gives a lovely echo of her book. It’s a light touch and every book has a voice which can lightly be shown by the skilled writer I know you are. If you feel your book while writing the synopsis, it will inevitably come. Really.
Q I thought your advice to forget about the details of the novel before writing the synopsis (Your Crappy Memory Tool) fascinating. Then again, having spent the past few months polishing and correcting my manuscript so I can’t easily forget the details. Is this method a total non-starter for me or should I put it on one side for six months?
A If you don’t have that particular tool of a crappy memory, you will have to manage without. It was only a trick for avoiding the need to decide what to omit. So, instead, you have to think of the recipient and think, “Does the person NEED to know that?” Not, “Do I want to tell them?”
Q You don’t recommend writing a very long synopsis and then cutting and cutting it to a manageable size. In fact, you recommend the total opposite. But the former is the only method that seems to work for me. My attempts at a short and snappy pitch always end up clichéd and simplistic so attempting to expand on that never works for me. Maybe I should try harder to adopt your methods even though every attempt so far has ended in abject failure and a headache?
A No. I never ever ever tell anyone to do anything that doesn’t work for them! My first rule is always, Do what works for you. That’s why I suggest some other methods, too. It would be awful of me to tell you to do something which doesn’t work, and I never would, you bad woman, you. However… I know what you mean about 25-word pitches sounding clichéd etc – but if you can ignore that and then expand it, allowing yourself more words, you’ll find it won’t be clichéd etc. Maybe? But if that doesn’t work, don’t do it!
Q I found your analyses and rewrites of the synopses writers were brave enough to submit to you fascinating. As I said above, you clearly have a talent for it and you make it look easy. Any final tips for those of us who yet to acquire your skill?
A Relax. There’s a lot of emotion that goes into all writing and I sense you are letting all your negative emotions in. If you did that during your actual novel-writing, you’d be in a fine pickle. Well, same for this: it’s just a task, and the task is to do a good job for the book you love, not to write something as beautiful as the book, but to let an agent or publisher see that you’ve reached the end of the book and the story looks as though it probably works and includes the right elements. Your synopsis will never be read on its own – it will be attached to your beautiful three chapters. Relax. And smile J
And thank you for letting me invade your lovely blog! And write well and be happy J
Thank you so much, Nicola, for your time and sensible answers to my stupid questions. And finally, before I go back to my wonderful, positive and stunning synopsis here's a reminder of Nicola's fabulous competition that accompanies this tour.
BIG WAGS COMPETITION
If you’d like the chance of winning help with your synopsis, simply leave a relevant comment on any of the guest posts. (This could be a deep and meaningful comment or a plea to the gods of fortune to pick you!) One comment per post – but comment on each post if you wish. On February 15th, each blog host will send me the names of valid commenters and Nicola will do a random selection, using a random number generator.
Prizes: 1st prize – a critique of your synopsis, at a mutually convenient time; plus a signed book of your choice, if available. 2nd prize – a critique of your synopsis. 3rd prize – a signed book of your choice, if available.
The list of blogs Nicola is visiting will appear one by one on the panel on right of her Help I need a Publisher! blog. Do go and read them – all the bloggers are great supporters of writers.