It's conference season again, and for those of you madly putting together marketing materials to use in your follow-ups to agent and editor requests, I thought I'd pull out my notes on writing a short synopsis from last year's PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Associaiton) Conference. The advice comes from three excellent sources: two best-selling novelists, Bob Mayer and Robert Dugoni, and an outstanding fiction editor, Elizabeth Lyon. Dugoni and Mayer made presentations on the subject. Lyon's suggestions are from her book, A Writer's Guide to Fiction. Here are their guidelines for assembling your short synopsis:
1. Main story arc from beginning to end.
2. Only three names on the page: protagonist, antagonist and one major supporting character.
3. Give the ending
4. Goal: get the reader to know it's a good story so they want to turn the page to the rest of the submission. If they don't, your novel will never get seen by them.
1. Don't overpopulate it. Take the main plot and main character and run with that.
2. Almsot everything relates to the physical journey of the protagonist, but keep in mind the emotional journey and the through-line, as well.
3. Best way to write it is to use story structure—beginning, middle, end (but use this as a guide, not a rule). Use five main questions (also addressed in query letter) to fill in the story structure:
a) who is the protagonist?
b) what is the protagonist?
c) where is the protagonist?
d) what is the protagonist's goal?
e) what is the protagonist's obstacle?
4. Beginning: open with the call to adventure/refusal of the call. What happened? Why does the protagonist resist, but have to do whatever has to be done herself or himself?
5. Middle: identify the tests/obstacles that show up—1, 2, 3, 4 or more. these are the sequences of events. They should never be the same or show the same strengths of the protagonist.
6. End: the result of it all: the quest will go beyond whatever the external goal was, and the protagonist may find previously unrealized inner strength as his/her own truths are revealed.
1. Synopsis describes how a plot carries out the story promise (fulfillment of unmet issue of human need) by the protagonist, who is driven by the core issue or need.
2. One-page, single-spaced when sent with a first query letter.
3. Use active, strong, evocative verbs and concrete, specific nouns.
4. Contains the entire story: beginning, middle, end. Include plot points and emotional turning points. Leave out subplots unless understanding the main plot depends on them, then sketch only.
5. Open with a statement of the story yearning, such as a narrative hook, or by showing it embedded in action. Include the novel's setting, time period, background and situation. Make this dramatic, colorful and brief.
6. Introduce main characters with a short sketch, beginning with the protagonist and including his/her goal and what's at stake. Indicate the protagonist's fatal flaws (weaknesses stemming from past trauma) and state the character strength that defines his/her heroism. Show how the protagonist is the driving force of the story. Sketch the antagonist and other main characters or integrate them into a plot summary.
7. End by showing what the protagonist learns or realizes that supports fulfillment of the story yearning or theme. (Implied here is that the protagonist has overcome his/her weakness.)
Best of luck with this important task! As Bob Dugoni pointed out, it's the hardest thing of all to write. If you have a friend who's read your book, have them help. Here's hoping you get through it with panache and have a great time at conferences meeting and getting to know those agents and editors. And if you're not going to a conference, you'll still have a great synopsis to include with your query letters.