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Thread: Any MTS-specific tips for writing synopses?

  1. #1
    Going home! Zelenka's Avatar
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    Any MTS-specific tips for writing synopses?

    Especially short ones? I have only 1,000 words or less to write up a synopsis of my crime novel, so does anyone have any tips as to how to write an effective crime synopsis in a very small space? Obviously in this genre there's a lot of twists, clues etc, stuff that is important to later developments in the story. I saw some pointers elsewhere about missing out all but the crucial plot elements, but one thing I've made sure of is that all my plotlines etc tie up to each other and interact with each other, so anything I miss out of the synopsis, later parts of the story then don't make sense, if you see what I mean.

    So any idea how I can summarize? Anyone come up against this before?
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  2. #2
    Making my own sunshine AW Moderator heyjude's Avatar
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    I'm in the same boat. I've had to do it, and I'm going to do another one today. Ish. Todayish.

    The best thing is to write it, trim ruthlessly, and give to a beta who has never read your book () to make sure it makes sense.

    Good luck to us both! I have to do a max 500-word one.

  3. #3
    Going home! Zelenka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by heyjude View Post
    I'm in the same boat. I've had to do it, and I'm going to do another one today. Ish. Todayish.

    The best thing is to write it, trim ruthlessly, and give to a beta who has never read your book () to make sure it makes sense.
    This is how I know it doesn't make sense! What happens is, so far as I can see, it looks like I've not fully thought out the story, just actually I didn't have space to include details that would make the later stuff make more sense.

    Good luck to us both! I have to do a max 500-word one.
    500? Good luck!
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  4. #4
    The colors! THE COLORS! leahzero's Avatar
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    If an agent/editor is asking for a very short synopsis, they can't then fault you for producing one that makes the story seem too barebones--because that's exactly what they're asking for.

    Don't sweat it so much. No one's judging you based on the writing in your synopsis--it's just a reference.
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  5. #5
    standing on head, typing one-handed... muse's Avatar
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    The dreaded synopsis!

    I have spent more time on my synopsis than I did my whole book. Most places I submitted to wanted a 1-page synopsis, single spaced!

    I managed it, but not without a few tantrums and a lot of grey hairs.

    My first tip is to do a chapter by chapter outline - just a few lines showing plot points etc. Depending on how many chapters you have (I had a lot of very short chapters) you will end up with a 'manageable' outline to work from.

    Next, take this outline and edit it as you would your MS, cutting out every extra word, shortening sentences, condensing full passages into one-liners wherever possible.

    Take a deep breath.

    Go through it again. Unless something is vital, and I mean vital to the plot, cut it, chop it out.

    Leave it for a few days/weeks.

    Take another deep breath

    Now read it through. Does it still make sense. Does any of the stuff you've taken out need to go back in? Is there anything you've left in that can be cut out?

    Breathe.

    It took me almost 8 months to get a one page synopsis, but I did. Now, whether it's any good...?
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  6. #6
    Going home! Zelenka's Avatar
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    Actually that was the approach I took. I think the problem was I did a pretty lousy job of judging what was important and what wasn't.
    The blog for work - ghosts, legends and all manner of things in Prague: McGee's Ghost Tours of Prague Latest post - Underground Prague
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  7. #7
    The Riverwalk Murders Ken Hoss's Avatar
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    My approach is to get the main plot line down, what happens to the MC, what the story is about. Then I cut. Of course I haven't written a synopsis since my first book, so...

    This is the one I did for book two, Storm Warning, and I got it down to 149 words. (Well, it's not really a synosis as much as it is a back cover blurb.)

    Actually, what muse said is the better course for a full synopsis. The challenge is to gut it without losing the gist of the story. Think of it as a mini-book, or better yet, as a Readers Digest condensed book. Cut the superflous, leave the meat.


    When her new partner is shot during a botched robbery, Detective Kelli Storm never expected that the trail of the shooter would lead her to Colombian drug lord Miguel Garcia; the man whoís cousin she had killed months earlier, and had made numerous attempts on her life. A man she had believed to be dead.

    Detectives Kelli Storm and Eric Ryder follow the bloody trail of a notorious drug kingpin from the streets of Washington Heights, New York and south to Medellin, Colombia.

    When the suspect in her partnerís shooting is killed while in custody, the man makes a startling deathbed confession. With this revelation, Kelli finds herself unwillingly thrown back into the world of the drug cartels. With the aid of DEA Special Agent Gregory Larsen and Narcotics Detective Javier Vasquez, Kelli works to stop the Cartelís operations in the city, and bring down the notorious drug lord.
    Succinct and I think it gives the reader a good feel for the book. JMO

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  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW
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    This thread prompted me to review the synopsis I wrote for HOA Hell (two pages, double spaced). I realized it read just like a police report, factual and chronological, absent any emotion or speculation.

    Apparently, I'd slipped right back into the old habit of preparing a document that would be scrutinized by a court - almost four decades on the job will ingrain such a CYA habit like little else.

    What the hell - I decided to leave it alone.

  9. #9
    standing on head, typing one-handed... muse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelenka View Post
    Actually that was the approach I took. I think the problem was I did a pretty lousy job of judging what was important and what wasn't.
    It's so hard to pick what to leave in and,more importantly, what to leave out. It's trial and error, mostly.

    Try this. Forget all the advice and write a synopsis that holds everything you want to get across, plots, sub-plots, clues etc. Make 5 or 6 copies of it in a fresh document and play around with cutting different bits out to see whether they impact on the meaning of the overall story.

    If the story still holds together, cut them. (You still have everything safe in your main copy.) I've found that I don't mind slashing through my work as long as I know I can go back to the original if need be.

    Good luck and I hope this helps.
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  10. #10
    figuring it all out Arislan's Avatar
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    Are you supposed to give away the ending?

  11. #11
    Making my own sunshine AW Moderator heyjude's Avatar
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    Yes. A synopsis must be complete. I'll hunt down a sticky for you.

    ETA: Here you go.

  12. #12
    Lost in a plot hole BfloGal's Avatar
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    I've had to do a lot of synopses for contests and such, and now evaluate them as an acquisitions editor. I'd actually recommend that you step back from the chapter-by-chapter approach. What that will give you is too much dry detail.

    Instead, I recommend that you spend the first paragraph on whatever you think is the strongest selling feature--do you think your book is great because of the characters? Then introduce them. Do you have a killer concept? Make that the focus. Then pick out what are the major turning points (no more than 3-4) in the book. Include those, each in their own paragraph, and fill in just enough detail and character names so it makes sense.

    From my brief experience editing, I'll recommend that you keep sentences short and easy to read--and keep it active. Try to use a similar writing style that you employ in the book (inject your voice whenever possible), but avoid quirky things like writing it in first person. And, of course, use present tense and put the first instance of any names in caps.
    Last edited by BfloGal; 02-12-2013 at 07:28 PM. Reason: everyone needs an editor
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  13. #13
    Going home! Zelenka's Avatar
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    Bflogal - that's made me feel a whole lot better. That's pretty much how I tackled it in the end (the contest actually specified that the synopsis be in the same voice as the sample of the story). I opened with the basic premise of the whole book, because I love it and I think it's the best selling point.
    The blog for work - ghosts, legends and all manner of things in Prague: McGee's Ghost Tours of Prague Latest post - Underground Prague
    My story "Full Moon" available here.

  14. #14
    for certain qualities of "sane" tarak's Avatar
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    I need to do this, too. I was thinking of starting out by summarizing each chapter, but then lead the whole mess with an introduction to the characters. Similar to what Bflogal just posted.

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