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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Synopsis Writing - An Exercise in Brevity

Lately, I've been working hard on preparing Moonfall for submission which has included, among other things, writing the synopsis.  I've never written a synopsis before, so I scoured the internet looking for advice.  It's amazing how many different suggested tactics and lengths there are out on the web, including one site that made writing a synopsis sound like writing a term paper on my novel.  Bleach!  I finally decided to start by writing a no-holds-barred synopsis, chapter by chapter, in order to get all the main points down on paper.  By the time I was halfway through, I was already condensing chapters and plot points, grouping things together and deciding what to omit.  Signs that I was already learning what I was doing.

That first, barfing-on-the-page draft clocked in at 2,756 words.  Now, I'm fully aware that my writing is puffy in first drafts, and this was no exception.  After editing, I got it down to 2,234 words, which was about seven pages, double-spaced.

I'd already learned, during my excessive researching of synopsis writing, that a lot of places will want things shorter than that.  Much shorter.  The thought of getting it under 1,000 words made me want to cry, but instead I decided to approach it incrementally.  I figured that different agents would ask for different lengths, if they specified length at all, so it wouldn't hurt to have three different synopses in my arsenal that I could whip out as the situation warranted.

So I made some edits, removing the most obvious elements and condensing things down.  That mid-length draft came in at 1,567 words.

So far, so good.  My next goal was to get a third draft at 1,000 words or under, but I started running into trouble.  After around 1,200 words, I found that I had to cut things that felt essential to the plot.  So I decided that instead of three synopses, I'd have four.  The 1,190 word draft was the shortest I'd use by choice, and the shortest draft, painfully edited to 986 words, would be used only when an agent specifically requested something that short.

The interesting thing, though, is that after painstakingly summarizing my 99,000 word novel into 986 words, I realized there were nonessential things still in my longer synopses.  I decided to go back and work on them again.  The results surprised me.

The longest synopsis I edited down from 2,234 words to 1,845
The mid-length synopsis went from 1,567 to 1,372
The shorter synopsis went from 1,190 to 1,181

I meant to write this post a few weeks ago and didn't get around to it, so I have a little distance from my synopses now.  In penning this post, I went back and read them all again.  I still don't like the 986 word query--it feels rushed, though it isn't as horrible as I remember it being.  It tells a complete story, it just doesn't feel like it does my novel as much justice as I'd like.  To my surprise, my favorite versions are the 1,181 and 1,372 word drafts.  Being more concise than the longest one, I think they pack a greater punch.

The moral of the story is that writing the synopsis helped me to strengthen my writing all the way across the board.  It was still an arduous, nineteen-day process from start to finish, and I can't say I really enjoyed doing it, but I think it was a useful exercise.

Have you written a synopsis, or many synopses?  What did you think about the process?

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