For Real Not Joking Synopsis Post

For Real Not Joking Synopsis Post

Let us pour out a drink for all the writers being murdered by synopses. I wrote a post on this awhile back that was mostly me being a smartass and avoiding the synopsis I was supposed to be writing at the time, but here's how I write a synopsis when I manage to stop being a smartass and actually do the thing, which to be honest is a rare occurrence.

Synopsis Basics (as I understand them):

-  Synopses are usually 1-2 pages long, but if your publisher really hates you, you may be asked for up to 5 or 6 pages. In this post, I'm focusing on the 1-2 pagers, but the format is the same; you just expand or contract the level of detail depending on the requested length.
-  They contain spoilers.
-  They should be in third person present tense.
-  They should be voicey and snappy, like your query or back cover copy. 
- They are commonly single spaced Times New Roman, 12 Pt Font, with your name and  book title at the top. 
-NOTE: If you're here because you're entering Pitchwars 2018, you'll need to submit a ONE PAGE synopsis. See more info on the Pitchwars FAQ page

Step One: Organize Your Book's Outline

Here is a link to the beat sheet I use to outline my novels. I separate my books into 4 acts, and here are the main plot points I'm working with (I did not invent this. I use a combo of some different outlining tools I've studied over the years, mainly Save the Cat and Anatomy of Story and a bunch of stuff I've read online.):

  • Intro and Set Up: The before picture, the world that has to change because it is broken, and the MC is the only person who can change it.
  • Inciting Event: The event that will force MC to take action
  • Debate: The road ahead of the MC is scary. Make sure the MC's motivation to enter the action is all clear on the page in the debate.
  • Break into Act 2: A whole new world. Transition often involves a setting change. 
  • Act 2A: Climbing up the mountain, gathering companions along the way. The B story is here too (love interest, etc).  
  • Midpoint: Holy crap, this changes everything. Stakes raised in a huge way. 
  • Act 2B: Everything is falling apart, the bad guys are closing in, MC's team is losing the battle and running out of time.
  • All is lost: That's it, bad guy has won, MC has lost everything, there's no way out
  • Break into Act 3: Hero's team regroups, finds a way out, casualties and excitement and war.
  • Climax: Villain and MC face off, and it's the battle of their similarities that makes a truly great climax and shows us why one is the hero and the other is the villain. 
  • Denouement: The new world with consequences of everything that happened.

Step Two: Organize Outline Into Six Paragraphs.

Don't laugh at me. I'm serious. Maybe get a glass of wine though. 

Paragraph One:

Introduce the MC, stakes, and main conflict of the story. "If Jessica doesn't divorce her hackey-sack playing husband, her children will grow up thinking hackey sack is normal." The purpose of P1 is to make us care. Why is this story being told? Why must things NOT stay the same as they are in Act 1? You can recycle a lot of your query in here if you wrote a good query.

Plot points to cover:
-  Intro and Setup
-  Inciting Event
-  Debate

Paragraph Two:

MC goes on their mission. What does that look like? What companions does the MC meet along the way? DO NOT DROP SEVEN THOUSAND NAMES IN THIS SYNOPSIS. We need to know about the love interest, main friendships, and don't forget to make sure we know who the antagonist/antagonistic forces are. Act 2A is all about building and climbing uphill. 2A is the hardest work of the book, and it should feel like increasing pressure and energy as we approach the midpoint.  

Plot points to cover:
-  Break into Act 2
-  B story (love interest or the equivalent)
-  Act 2A major action

Paragraph Three:

The midpoint gets its own little beat here. Much like in your book, the midpoint should feel like standing on the top of a mountain. When you got to the top of the mountain, nothing on the other side looked as you expected. This is a big moment. 

Plot points to cover:
-  Midpoint--how does this change EVERYTHING?

Paragraph Four:

Back into the fray! Action is coming faster now. You've already introduced everyone we need to know about. How does it all fall apart for the MC, bringing them to their lowest point? 

Plot points to cover:
-  Act 2B
-  All is lost--end this paragraph on the All is Lost moment. Leave us there for a second, sour with the feeling of disappointment as we realize our hero has failed to accomplish the mission. 

Paragraph Five:

But the hero rallies and finds a way out! Walk us through the big climax, and end this paragraph there. 

Plot points to cover:
-  Break into Act 3
-  Climax

Paragraph Six:

Although the MC won the fight (maybe), things look differently than they'd expected. Because they've changed through all this, the world they are coming back to looks smaller, and now they have to live with the consequences of all their hard choices. What does that look like? How does this story end? 

Plot points to cover:
-  Denouement

Disclaimer: This is just how I do it. If it doesn't work for you, no hard feelings. I'm obviously someone who adheres to commonly accepted plot structures. Perhaps you're not! I still encourage you to review your outline and organize the information in outline format before creating your synopsis masterpiece. If you have other tricks of the trade, please let me know so I can steal them. Good luck! 

Successful Query: Hunting Annabelle

Successful Query: Hunting Annabelle

Hey Pitch Wars hopefuls! Here is the query I sent out for HUNTING ANNABELLE (then titled COPPER SHADOWS). My agent is the inimitable Lauren Spieller with Triada. I love my agency so much, and Lauren is one of the best and brightest in the business. She's smart, relentless, and a  top notch editor. I feel lucky every day. 

Here's the query! 

Dear Lauren,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit my query for COPPER SHADOWS, a psychological thriller and twisted love story about **redacted for spoilers.** COPPER SHADOWS is set in 1986 and is complete at 71,000 words. 

After serving three years in a psychiatric prison, Sean is determined to stay away from any potential victims. He can’t resist Annabelle, though, and when she’s kidnapped on their first date, he’s driven to extremes in his quest to find her. Haunted by the fear that it might be better for her if he never does, he is tormented by the belief that in saving her lies his only chance at redemption. His investigation leads him through her troubled past in rural Texas and brings him face-to-face with a killer more ruthless than he.

Thank you again for your consideration. I have pasted the first chapter into the body of this email and am happy to provide a partial or full manuscript for your review. Thanks to your first page/query swap project a couple of years ago, I've created a Critique Partner matching site where I play matchmaker for aspiring authors. It's going really well! I thank you for your work on that.   

All the best,

Wendy Heard

Final back cover copy:

Sean Suh is done with killing. After serving three years in a psychiatric prison, he’s determined to stay away from temptation. But he can't resist Annabelle--beautiful, confident, incandescent Annabelle--who alone can see past the monster to the man inside. The man he's desperately trying to be.

Then Annabelle disappears.

Sean is sure she’s been kidnapped—he witnessed her being taken first hand—but the police are convinced that Sean himself is at the centre of this crime. And he must admit, his illness has caused him to “lose time” before. What if there’s more to what happened than he’s able to remember?

Though haunted by the fear that it might be better for Annabelle if he never finds her, Sean can’t bring himself to let go of her without a fight. To save her, he’ll have to do more than confront his own demons… He'll have to let them loose.

On My Path to Publication

The road to publication is fickle and seems to change its topography for the traveler. For some, I've seen it unfurl simply, peaceful and direct. For me it has been...not that. If you knew me, you'd say, "That makes sense." Peaceful is not really my thing.

I recently signed with MIra in a two book deal. HUNTING ANNABELLE will be published on the twenty year anniversary of starting my first book. Just typing this fills my heart with a gratitude so heavy it almost doesn't count as happiness. It's too big for happiness, too deep. It's relief, it's wanting to hug my younger self who cried over drafts of books that never got picked up. It's grief for all that energy that went into worrying about the future of my books. It's pride, it's bliss. It's disbelief. It's everything. 

I already wrote about my path to signing with my agent here, and I won't re-tread that ground. I will insert an addendum: the pain of rejection on submission was worse than I expected. While my powerhouse of an agent, Lauren Spieller, tirelessly pitched my book, I battled wave after wave of writer's block as I tried to focus on my work in progress. When Michelle Meade at Mira expressed interest and shared her thoughts with me, I was struck by the feeling I had with Lauren. She seemed to truly understand and love what I was trying to do with this book and the themes I wanted to explore. In short, she 'got it.' I cannot express what that felt like, what it feels like. Ironically, just when I came to peace with the idea that this book might not sell and dove into my next project, just when I let go and felt my chest expand and relax knowing the sale of one book does not make or break me as a writer, the barrier broke.

It's hard to know what the road to one of these moments looked like and develop perspective on the size of that moment compared to the road that led to it. Here is a list of work that went into this moment for me:

  • 20 years 
  • 30 drafts
  • 6 complete novels, 2 unfinished
  • 700 agent rejections
  • 20 full manuscript requests
  • 4 R&Rs
  • 9 writing contests
  • 30 beta readers
  • An uncounted number of friends and family who offered a portfolio of support, platitudes, alcoholic beverages, criticism, love, and advice
  • Uncountable hours of research into the business of publication and writing
  • Uncounted hours reading for other people and sharing successes and failures with my fellow crazy writers, whom I love more than love

So here is the announcement, and even though I've worked so hard, I feel incredibly lucky to be posting this. I know so many writers who are still in the query/submission trenches with work better than mine, waiting for their lucky moment. It's a numbers game I suppose. Stick with it, my friends, and don't be afraid of playing the long game.