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Thread: synopsis always present tense?

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    practical experience, FTW pollykahl's Avatar
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    synopsis always present tense?

    I read on a writers blog that the synopsis must always be in present tense, even if the book itself is not. I thought the synopsis should reflect the writer's voice and book tone as much as possible, which would mean the synopsis should probably be written in the same tense that the book is. Has anyone ever heard of this rule?
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    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Present tense, regardless. And yes, reflect the tone and voice.
    Last edited by Bufty; 02-24-2008 at 08:57 PM.
    Everything yields to treatment.

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    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Present tense. Absolutely.

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    This hat is getting too hot Chumplet's Avatar
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    You might not think it works, but it really does. Blurbs are generally in present tense, too.

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    present timewaster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chumplet View Post
    You might not think it works, but it really does. Blurbs are generally in present tense, too.
    Don't know that I write synopses in present tense. [checks] How weird. I have never heard of this rule, but apparently, I do automatically write synopses in the present tense. I suspect it is because you normally write reviews that way and yes, blurbs too.
    It doesn't make logical sense but it must make intuitive sense or I wouldn't have done them that way.
    [bemused]

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    Around and About SuperModerator Birol's Avatar
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    Moving to Novels.

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    Hapless Virago IceCreamEmpress's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pollykahl View Post
    I read on a writers blog that the synopsis must always be in present tense, even if the book itself is not. I thought the synopsis should reflect the writer's voice and book tone as much as possible, which would mean the synopsis should probably be written in the same tense that the book is. Has anyone ever heard of this rule?
    For fiction, yes.

    For non-fiction, no.

  8. #8
    Dorothy A. Winsor dawinsor's Avatar
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    I knew the present tense is conventional in synopses, but when timewaster (above) said blurbs and reviews are written in present tense too, I suddenly had a flashback to writing papers for literature classes in grad school. They describe the book in the present tense too. The profs called it the "literary present," meaning it was the conventional way to talk about stories, as if they were always going on.

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    Well begun is half done... Mumut's Avatar
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    It does make it hard when the book's action is in the past and some of the action you are describing is past perfect! But present tense is definitely required.

  10. #10
    It was a dark and stormy night hammerklavier's Avatar
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    What about the synopsis in query letters?

    (I just went to check my query letter and found that it's in present tense. Weird how you just do that naturally.)
    Last edited by hammerklavier; 02-25-2008 at 01:44 AM.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW pollykahl's Avatar
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    Boy am I glad I asked. IceCreamEmpress, do you have info about this rule not applying to non-fic, which would include memoir? Everyone's responses seem pretty adamant.
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    figuring it all out mlbrownassociates's Avatar
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    Past or Present

    Quote Originally Posted by pollykahl View Post
    Boy am I glad I asked. IceCreamEmpress, do you have info about this rule not applying to non-fic, which would include memoir? Everyone's responses seem pretty adamant.
    Pollykahl if your writing a memoir that should go past tense with the non-fiction piece it depends. If your starting in the past then keep it past however no matter what don't switch your tense in your synopsis. Not only does it throw off the agent but it hinders the flow of your letter. With fiction no matter what keep it present.


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    figuring it all out mlbrownassociates's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammerklavier View Post
    What about the synopsis in query letters?

    (I just went to check my query letter and found that it's in present tense. Weird how you just do that naturally.)
    Hammerklavier it should be present tense in the query letter. Most people write in present tense so unless they train their selves everything is often wrote that way which is good.


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    present timewaster's Avatar
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    I don't know but I would imagine that in Non fic you would write 'a History of Bull' deals with the development of the theory of bullshit from 200BC to the present day.'
    Almost everything else lends itself to the form: 'Don't look down' is the story of a high wire artiste with vertigo... and there you are in the present tense.
    I think a memoir follows the same form: 'From nappies to napery' is the memoir of a childhood spent in the top hotels of Europe...

  15. #15
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    What synopsis in a Query Letter? A synopsis and a Query letter are two different animals.

    Quote Originally Posted by hammerklavier View Post
    What about the synopsis in query letters?

    (I just went to check my query letter and found that it's in present tense. Weird how you just do that naturally.)
    Everything yields to treatment.

  16. #16
    figuring it all out mlbrownassociates's Avatar
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    Bufty I think she means the brief blurb you give in the query letter.


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  17. #17
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Then he should have said so.

    Quote Originally Posted by mlbrownassociates View Post
    Bufty I think she means the brief blurb you give in the query letter.


    MB
    Everything yields to treatment.

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    Hapless Virago IceCreamEmpress's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pollykahl View Post
    Boy am I glad I asked. IceCreamEmpress, do you have info about this rule not applying to non-fic, which would include memoir? Everyone's responses seem pretty adamant.
    That's because this thread got moved into the "Writing Novels" forum, and everyone here is assuming you mean a novel.

    A non-fiction synopsis certainly does not have to be in present tense. I think a memoir synopsis that was entirely in present tense would seem odd.

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    practical experience, FTW jenstrikesagain's Avatar
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    (checking) Huh. Mine are all in present tense too. Mindbender's in present tense but I dunno if that had anything to do with it. Maybe I've been doing this for so long I finally know the rules. My dad once said, "The weird thing about conventional wisdom is that it's all the things you don't know that you should." Which, for an engineer, is a mouthful.
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  20. #20
    It was a dark and stormy night hammerklavier's Avatar
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    I assume some brief set up in past tense is ok? Something along the lines of "Steve enjoyed skiing in Vermont, until X happened."


    Quote Originally Posted by mlbrownassociates View Post
    Hammerklavier it should be present tense in the query letter. Most people write in present tense so unless they train their selves everything is often wrote that way which is good.


    MB

  21. #21
    Sick and absent Shweta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pollykahl View Post
    Boy am I glad I asked. IceCreamEmpress, do you have info about this rule not applying to non-fic, which would include memoir? Everyone's responses seem pretty adamant.
    pollykahl -- it seemed like you were asking about a novel, so this thread got moved to Novels; are you asking about a memoir? Should we be moving this back out of Novels?

    I'm sort of confused about what you're actually asking and what would be most useful for you
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  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW pollykahl's Avatar
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    Yes, this is non-fiction, not fiction. My question was, must a memoir synopsis always be in present tense? I've posed the question to Nathan in the "ask an agent" thread, if anyone's interested in hearing what he has to say. I've gotten various responses so I thought I'd go right to the expert. Thanks everyone for responding with such enthusiasm.

    Meanwhile I'd heard that memoirs are presented with outlines, not synopses after all, so hopefully Nathan can clarify that too.
    Last edited by pollykahl; 02-25-2008 at 06:47 PM. Reason: clarification
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  23. #23
    Feeling lucky, Query? jclarkdawe's Avatar
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    Normally a synopsis should be entirely in present tense.

    But there is one place where you might have to go into past tense to keep your reader oriented.

    Some synopses consist of character A going along, doing his or her thing. Then the synopsis goes like this: Meanwhile, character B did this and is now doing that. The purpose is to let the reader now we need to move back in time so that we're looking at something that B was doing at the same time A was doing something that we know occurred earlier in the book.

    This is going to be real quick, no more than a sentence, and maybe not even the entire sentence. The problem if you don't use the past tense is that the reader has a problem staying oriented in time as to what is happening when.

    One of the fun things about queries and synopses is that there are all sorts of rules, and then there are the exceptions.

    ETA: And here you hit one of the exceptions to the rules. Memoirs are their own little beasties. Memoir synopses tend to work best in first person, past tense. That way you tend to bring in the most personal involvement with the reader.

    Best of luck,

    Jim Clark-Dawe

    Last edited by jclarkdawe; 02-25-2008 at 06:53 PM. Reason: posting the same time as the thread's originator
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    Around and About SuperModerator Birol's Avatar
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  25. #25
    figuring it all out mlbrownassociates's Avatar
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    answer to setup

    Quote Originally Posted by hammerklavier View Post
    I assume some brief set up in past tense is ok? Something along the lines of "Steve enjoyed skiing in Vermont, until X happened."
    Hammerklavier yes that's fine when you use it in that term.
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