Writing the Synopsis

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When an agent or editor responds favorably to your query letter, he or she will probably ask you to submit the first 3-5 chapters of your book along with a synopsis. Writing the synopsis is the tedious but necessary evil. With a non-fiction book, the process differs in that you will have to submit an outline. In other words, you are pitching an idea or set of ideas on how to solve a problem such as how to survive in the desert with Antonio Banderas (Angelina if you’re guy), or how to cook a seven-course dinner with one pot.

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For fiction, basically the synopsis should be a chapter-by-chapter summary of the plot. The key word here is summary. It must be concise and in the present tense. In essence, you’re saying: “In the book this happens and then this happens, and so forth.”

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A good way to do this is to first label your chapter headers (Chapter One, etc.). Then write a summary of that chapter, then of the next, and so on. Of course, you will remove the chapter headers when you are finished with your summary paragraphs. The next step is to trim, trim, trim like crazy. Then trim some more.

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Sometimes it’s helpful to preface the synopsis with a brief background paragraph of the protagonist(s). A few sentences can explain who he or they are in the context of the time and place, before launching into the chapter-by-chapter summary.

In presenting the kind of synopsis that will capture the attention of the reader, you will have to include a character sketch for each of the main characters. These sketches should concentrate on the characters’ motivations, especially those that bring the characters into conflict with one another. Keyword?Conflict. Remember, unless the villain is a one dimensional psychopathic serial killer with no conscience, the person has a human heart, and is many-sided.

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Ask yourself these questions:

v Does the synopsis make clear the main character’s goal? What does the main character want to accomplish?

v Does your synopsis explain what is keeping the main character from achieving his or her goal? This is the conflict essential to the plot.

There are as many aspects to the writing of a novel as there are styles. But some basic rules apply even to the activists and risk-takers. The basic building blocks of a book are the scenes. They are the units of action, dialogue, thought and description, which occur at a specific time in a specific place. Narrative is the glue that holds the scenes together. I hope that following these plain vanilla guidelines will help to keep you building and writing.

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A writer/editor, I work with one client at a time, beginner or pro, for a cost effective solution to your writing and editing needs. Visit me at http://www.susanscharfman.com

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