Sittin’ On The Porch With Kelly -Writing Coach Vicki M. Taylor-Overcoming Synopsis Fear

It’s been a while seen I’ve had a porch guest, and I’m thrilled to be joined by Writing Coach and Author Vicki M. Taylor. We are discussing writing a Synopsis. I read Vicki’s article earlier this week and just had to have her join me for some sweet tea and a swing on the porch.

Let’s see what she has to say:

Overcoming the Fear of Writing a Synopsis

If you noticed, I didn’t title this article “Overcoming YOUR Fear of Writing a Synopsis.” I don’t think you own the fear anymore than I do or any other writer. We all share a common emotion, one that can be summed up in one word: Formidable.

What is it about this particular piece of writing that brings out more moans and groans from writers than a roomful of sixth graders getting a surprise math test?

What is a Synopsis?
Look at the word. Synopsis. Say it with me. “Sin-op-sissss.” Even the sound of the word emanates dread.

What is a synopsis? Webster’s defines it as “a shortened statement or outline, as of a narrative. Abstract.”

Nothing sounds particularly evil in that definition. Let’s look at it a little closer – “shortened statement or outline.” Hey, look at that. “outline.” Now there is a little word we’re all familiar with. Does “outline” make you cringe as much as “synopsis?” What about “shortened statement?” Not me. Probably not you, either.

Start with a Simple Sentence
Let’s start with the shortened statement. I’ll use the popular children’s story, Lady and the Tramp to help demonstrate my points.

What is our story about?

“Lady and the Tramp is a story about dogs.”

True, but the portrayal is dry and uninteresting. Would you want to just read a story about dogs? What makes this dog story different? Let’s see if we can add some more information to better describe the story.

“Lady and the Tramp is about two dogs from different sides of the track.”
Good. Now we know that there are two main characters. And, we know that these two characters are different in some way. Let’s see if we can do a little bit better.

“Lady and the Tramp tells the adventures of an upper-class, well bred cocker spaniel and a roguish mutt from the wrong side of the tracks.”

Okay. Now we have some description and a hint at a story. We know that these two distinctly different characters are going to have at least one adventure.
Describe Your Story in 25 Words or Less
So, now we need to think about our audience. The synopsis generally goes to an editor, agent, or publisher. So, we must capture their attention. Give them something to grab onto and not let go. This is where you can really get creative and meet the “describe your story in 25 words or less” challenge.

“Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks.”

Whew! There it is – 25 words – exactly. We’ve just written a strong hook for the opening of our synopsis.

Every synopsis should start out with a statement that describes your story in approximately 25 words. However, don’t be a stickler about trying to hit the “magic” number. There isn’t really a magic number. But, keeping your description to approximately 25 words helps to focus your writing on the key elements of your story.

Key Elements – Not That Difficult to Identify
Speaking of key elements, those are what we now need to identify so that we can create our synopsis.

Wait, wait. Stop groaning. I promise we’ll go slowly. Okay?

I think I’ve read every article and book written on creating a synopsis and even though every writer has their own formula for creating the “perfect synopsis,” I admit that authors agree on one thing – You need to practice. So, my suggestion is that you do what I’ve done here. You find some simple stories and practice creating the synopsis for them. Once you’re able to pick out the key elements easily, you’re ready to create a synopsis for your own story.

So, back to our story, Lady and the Tramp.

First Element – Structure
The basic structure of the synopsis should be a complete summary of your story from beginning to end, written in present tense. Simple, right? So far. Let’s see how that helps us with our story.

“Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks.

Lady’s owners love her but ignore her when their baby arrives. The owners leave her with a cat-loving aunt who locks Lady out of the house.

Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how good he has it being free from owners.

Lady is caught by the dog catcher and spends time in the pound learning some of Tramp’s secrets. Hurt and jealous, Lady is returned home and exiled to the doghouse once again.

Lady discovers a rat making its way into the house and is helpless to defend her home. Tramp helps her by getting into the house and killing the rat. However, he’s accused of attacking the baby and is placed in the dog catcher’s wagon to be taken to the pound.

Lady’s owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and have Lady show them the dead rat.”
More Key Elements – Setting, Main Characters, Conflict

Not bad for a first draft. We’re missing a few items that would make the story more dramatic and compelling for the editor, but those can be added easily. First, we should make sure that we’ve established the setting for the story and identified our main characters.

We’ll have to identify real conflict between these characters and their motivations. Then, we’ll have to show the resolution of the conflict. It isn’t as important to name every character in the synopsis, but you must name your main characters.
Final Key Elements – Tell Your Ending

Finally, we must make sure that we’ve wrapped up our story and told our ending. Yes, that’s what I said, we tell our ending in the synopsis. You must never, ever tease editors and leave them guessing about the ending of story.

As a side note for romance writers: If your story is a romance, make sure you always establish the love relationship between the two main characters by showing how they met and why they’re fighting against their attraction.

With that advice, let’s see how our synopsis shapes up after adding these key elements.

“Lady and the Tramp is an early twentieth century story filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks in New England.

Lady’s owners lavish attention on her until a new baby arrives that takes all their attention. Ignoring Lady’s needs, they go away on a trip leaving her and the baby with a callous aunt and her two Siamese cats that wreak havoc. Lady, wrongly accused of the mischievous cats’ pranks, ends up in the backyard doghouse and eventually fitted for a muzzle.

Fearful, Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how good he has it being free from owners. He treats her to a night on the town, complete with a romantic Italian dinner from his favorite restaurant.

Unfortunately, even though he protects Lady from a vicious dog attack, Tramp can’t protect her from the dog catcher. Lady spends time in the pound learning some of Tramp’s secrets from his other wayward, albeit, intimate acquaintances. Hurt and jealous, Lady returns home and is once again exiled to the doghouse.

Lady’s other neighborhood dog-friends advice her to forget this scoundrel and chivalrously offer to take care of her.

Tramp returns, hoping to change Lady’s mind about him. She rejects his advances and sends him on his way.

Moments later she’s alarmed that an ugly rat enters the house, but can’t do anything about it because she’s chained. Tramp comes to the rescue by finding a way into the house and killing the rat before it can harm the baby.

However, the heartless aunt accuses Tramp of attacking the baby and calls the dog catcher who places him in the wagon to be taken to the pound.

Lady’s owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and have Lady show them the dead rat. Lady’s friends run to stop the dog catcher’s wagon and everyone is reunited after a thrilling chase scene.

When the commotion settles, Tramp chooses the family life and abandons his drifting ways to stay with Lady and her owners.”

And, there you have it. Your synopsis. Was that so painful?

This synopsis is rather short when compared to the longer books you desire to write. Don’t let that intimidate you. The concept is still the same.

Final Advice
Editors have specific requirements when it comes to the length of your synopsis. Unfortunately, just like snowflakes, no two editors are the same. One editor requires a ten-page synopsis while another may only want two pages.

My advice to you is that you follow the requirements of the editor and make sure you include enough information in your synopsis to tell your story but not so much to slow it down. Focus on the story’s development from beginning to end and make sure you emphasize the resolution of the conflict and/or romance.

If you’re having trouble writing your synopsis, don’t beat yourself up about it. Go back to your story. Have you developed the plot completely? Do you understand your characters and their motivation? Is your conflict believable and resolvable? If you can’t answer those questions, the problem isn’t with your synopsis. If you don’t understand your story how do you expect an editor to?

Good luck and remember to practice, practice, practice.

Thank you so much, Vicki. That is some fantastic advice on writing a synopsis. Somehow I believe my next one will be much easier.  To find out more about Vicki please visit my Porch Guests Page.

About Kelly Abell

I am a writer, blogger, and graphic artist. My aim for you is to utilize this blog to help you improve your writing skills, and to educate you on the publishing business. If you need help with writing, want to self-publish a book and need advice, or just want to kick a story idea around to see what works best, that's what I'm here for. As I gain knowledge from editors and publishers, I will share that knowledge with you. As writers we should always strive to improve our craft and grow. A day should not pass where you haven't learned or tried something new with your writing. Many thanks to my Night Owl Friend, Lea Ellen Borg for editing my posts! Best to you and all your characters and stories. Write on, my friends...Write on.
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6 Responses to Sittin’ On The Porch With Kelly -Writing Coach Vicki M. Taylor-Overcoming Synopsis Fear

  1. frankgrn@comcast says:

    Would Faulkner do a synopsis?

    Never do one.

    If your words don’t engage, telling about the story won’t help. Oh, I guess if you’re trying to be topical, but . . .

    Like

    • Kelly Abell says:

      Thanks for the comment, Frank. A synopsis is very important if you are trying to query an agent or publisher. A lot of authors find them very difficult to write because it does take some skill to condense what you’re writing into a page or less. Not sure what publishers required in Faulkner’s day, but they sure want one now. 🙂

      Like

  2. Vicki says:

    Back in Faulkner’s day, as well as the early writers in the 50’s and up, really didn’t have to make “formal” submissions to agents or publishers. They sat over a cup of coffee, or maybe something a little “stronger”, and chatted about the next book idea. If the agent or publisher liked it, the author was given the go ahead. No other “props” necessary. But, then again, there was no such think as digital books, reading tablets, Amazon.com, CreateSpace, or any of the other author-published sites, There was no Internet, The number of authors was exponentially less and more in demand than our current 2016 publishing world. Back then, an author was the STAR of the publishing house and bent over backwards to provide editing services, marketing services, and PR service. Do we get that now? NOoooooooo. But, as authors we have learned how to do most of it ourselves, because we’ve been thrust into that role. Of course, we can hire PR, Marketing, etc, but the ROI is not very good. And, in Faulkner’s time, it was usually the men who were given all the good writing assignments, and the women were shuffled off to do research, fetch coffee, or keep track of schedules.

    I realize this is a simplistic view of a whole generation that is long and gone, but I believe it makes a point.

    Like

  3. vickimtaylor says:

    I doubt very much if Faulkner or any of the authors in his time ever had to create a book proposal or synopsis to get it accepted for publication. Back in the 50’s or so, Contracts for books were done over a cup of coffee or something “stronger”. Handshakes and a quick sign were all it took. Of course, there were infinitely less authors available back then. And, authors didn’t have computers, Internet, Amazon.com, CreateSpace, or any other application to help them create their own books without using a nefarious company that promises you the moon when publishing your book and rakes you over the coals until you give up all your $$$ and probably your first born.

    There were more male authors during that time, than female authors. Women were mostly delegated to research, fetching coffee, maintaining schedules, and using their “charms” to get a stubborn author to work appropriately and get his draft in on time.

    I know this is just a simplistic view of what the publishing world was like back then, but here in 2016 we are lightyears ahead of that generation. Anyone … and I mean ANYONE can publish a book, regardless if they have an agent or publisher. There are many “publishing” companies eagerly awaiting the innocent first time author to fall into their trap of promising them well-paid contracts, Marketing, and PR. For a $$$$$.

    There are legitimate routes authors can take where they still have control of their book, but don’t have to pay someone to do the work.

    That’s where the Internet comes in. It’s a good and evil entity.

    The female author market has grown exponentially. They’ve excelled in the Romance, Suspense, Romantic Suspense, Women’s Fiction and Memoir sections.

    Although, now authors must wear many hats: writer, editor, cover designer, marketer, PR, and more. With the used of hired professionals, those tasks can be handled for the author for a price.

    You make some great points. Thanks for posting.
    Vicki

    Like

  4. Ron hepner says:

    Heck, I enjoy composing book blurbs and synopsis; it’s not hard…put your mind on what’s the story about, who’s who, our central antagonist. Write it out, trim the unnecessary.

    Like

    • Kelly Abell says:

      Hi Ron, thanks for the comment. That’s a very nonsensical way to approach it. I think as writers sometimes we get caught in the mire of our own words. Keep the muscle, trim the fat. Wise advice.

      Like

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