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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Synopsis Queen

Please welcome guest workshop blogger Kara Lennox

When I finished my first novel, I had never heard of a synopsis. I mean, I was familiar with the word, but I didn't know what it meant in the publishing world. So when I set out to sell my masterpiece, and I saw that certain publishers required me to send a synopsis along with my query letter or my manuscript, I gamely sat down to write one.

(This was in the dark ages. Not only before the Internet, but before home computers, RWA, and libraries, apparently, because I could have found the correct way to do this at the library.)

Anyway, what I did was I wrote one paragraph covering each chapter. To this day, there are probably a few former editors still in comas. That's how boring it was.

Later, older and wiser (and a member of RWA), I learned that a synopsis for a novel isn't a mere summarization. It is an art form in its own right. It seemed everyone hated them, everyone feared them, and it was hard to find an example of a good one. Despite formulas published in the RWR and workshops detailing the process, the synopsis remained a mysterious, daunting THING.

I sold my first book without one. I pitched the book at a conference, sent in the whole manuscript, and sold it. Hah, I thought, that's the secret to never having to write a synopsis. You just write the whole book. Right?

Wrong; chances are your publisher will want a synopsis anyway.

Then, I learned more horrible truths. My shiny new publishing contract specified exactly what my next submission should entail. Three chapters and a synopsis. What, write a synopsis when I hadn't even finished the book? When I didn't even know how it was all going to work out?

I decided the only way to deal with this was to write the whole book, then the synopsis, then send in the three chapters with the synopsis. (Did I mention that I was a major doofus?)

Eventually common sense won out. My editor told me not to worry too much about the synopsis, that I didn't have to follow it to the letter when I wrote the book. She said it could be a bit sketchy; she just needed an idea of where the book was going and what sort of conflicts would drive the story.

This eased my mind a lot, so I sat down to write "the dreaded synopsis" as it was now called by writers far and wide. To my surprise and delight, I found that I love writing a synopsis. At no other time can I see my book so clearly and in such perfect form. It's like having a child in the womb and seeing him or her all grown up, perfect in every way.

Writing a synopsis doesn't have to be horrible. Even pantsers (seat-of-the-pants writers) can learn to master this art form. Please join me for two weeks of strategies and tips, practice and feedback all focused on writing a compelling synopsis. I promise to make it as painless as possible, and maybe even a little bit fun.

Bestselling author Kara Lennox, who also writes as Karen Leabo, has written more than 50 contemporary novels of romance and romantic suspense for Harlequin/Silhouette and Bantam Loveswept.  Her books have finaled in several romance industry contests including the RITA, and she has won an RT Bookclub Reviewers' Choice award.  Kara loves writing synopses and has sold several books on synopsis alone, some as short as two paragraphs.

The Synopsis Queen Tells All runs from March 15 - 28, 2010


Lisa Kessler said...

Thanks for taking the time to blog...

I'ma total panster and I tremble contemplating writing a synopsis before I've written the book. It just seems like writing the book will be like homework if you kow everything up front. *tremble*

How long is a typical synopsis if you haven't written the book yet? How detailed?

Thanks again!


Kara Lennox said...

Hi, Lisa!

I know plenty of pantsters who write synopses. They can be pretty vague, focusing more on your characters and their conflict, rather than the step-by-step events of the book. A lot depends on what the editor is looking for.

Length can vary a lot depending on the length and nature of the novel and the editor's wishes, but a good ballpark is 5-8 pages. Shorter is usually better.