Friday, February 15, 2008

That Good Ol' Suckopsis

I finished judging my GH entries last night. The last one was really good. Totally drew me in. I took the entry to the pool while my kids were in swimming and by the time they were done, all I wanted to do was keep reading. Granted, there were holes, and I was confused in a few places, but overall the writing was good and the story line was intriguing. I was ready to give the entry a really high score.

Then I read the synopsis.

The summary of the pages I read was complete - followed very closely. I had such hope. But then the writer totally lost me. He/she described things that happened that didn't seem to fit with the pages I'd read. I had no idea why or how the situations arose. The love scene seemed to come out of nowhere and the characters' (described) actions didn't fit with how they were portrayed in the first few chapters. I was left scratching my head. And then the final paragraph of the synopsis completely threw me for a loop.

Writing a synopsis takes skill. Just as writing a book takes practice, practice, practice, so does synopsis writing. Each action/reaction and plot point have to make sense, otherwise you lose your prospective buying (ie: editor/agent) reader. I ended up giving this entry a moderately high score, because I did enjoy the pages, but when the entry is supposed to be judged on pages AND synopsis, you have to take both into consideration. My score would have been much higher had the synopsis made even a lick of sense. If I were an editor or agent, I'm not sure I'd request more off this entry, even though the pages were okay. In my mind's eye, I'm not sure the writer can carry an entire book.

We're starting up a synopsis contest, and I'm hopeful it will be a success. People hate to write synopses, but they're important. They show you know what you're doing and that you CAN write an entire book that makes sense. As Alice has said before, they're a selling tool. One a lot of writer's don't give enough time to.

I'm curious. If you've judged contest entries (or, as in Paty's case, considered partials for a pub), do you find the quality of synopses to be high or low, in general? Does the synopsis impact your opinion of the entry or the pages? And as a writer, how much time do you devote to your synopses - before or after the book is written?


Alice Sharpe said...

Well, as everyone here knows, I take writing a synopsis very seriously. It literally sells my book, sometimes without any pages to go with it. So I make sure it works.

I write a long synopsis (15-20 pgs.) because I can. My editor wants it. But if I had to shorten, I could. I would simply take out all the peripheral details (after writing it the long way first.)

After I sell a book and then begin to actually write it, I paste the synopsis a page or two ahead of where I am writing. When I finish a scene, I delete that part of the synopsis so that by the end, the synopsis is gone and a book has replaced it.

This doesn't mean I don't occasionally go off on a tangent or deviate from the synopsis. However, because I have spent so much energy and time making sure the synopsis makes sense, I try to trust it. A change can throw everything into a tailspin. I just want to make sure the tailspin is worth it, story wise.

I have friends who also sell on a synopsis and then ignore it when they write. I guess it depends on how capable you are, and how fond you are of the original idea.

As for judging -- it's been awhile since I judged although I used to quite often. Got the point where it drained me so I stopped. I don't recall ever reading too many great synopsis. I think they are notoriously hard to write and just because I don't hate them doesn't mean I am any good at writing them so I would definitely come down on the side of the pages as opposed to the synopsis (though in the case you cite, you were left wondering if the writer could actually tell a coherent story.)

Good blog! Love the picture, the origin of "Ack!"

Lisa Pulliam said...

I've judged a couple of contests with synopses and I found them to generally be of low quality. Personally, I've only written a synopsis once and it was for a contest. I don't have much experience with them.

I think the reason they tend to be of low quality is because the style of writing them seems to be much more subjective than with writing the book. Everytime I read an article about writing a synopsis, it seems to contradict what I read in the last article. But with writing a book, there's more of a formula involved. The formula doesn't have to be followed, but at least it's a starting point.

I also think we just don't spend enough time practicing them, teaching them and learning about them. We spend 90% of our learning energy on craft related to the book itself, the synopsis is an afterthought.

One last point, I think the reason they tend to be so hard for many of us is because most of us are unpubbed. We have to sell off the completed book, there's not much of an emphasis on the synopsis. Granted, it seems that more and more agents and editors want them as part of the pitching package.

Great topic! I'm all about the synopsis right now. I'm feeling the synopsis contest groove, baby.

Genene said...

Thought-provoking question, Eli!

I love Alice's idea of writing a long synopsis that is replaced by the book as she writes. I generally write a shorter synopsis of 2-3 pages after the book is finished, so that wouldn't work for me, unless I wanted to rewrite the book yet again. LOL!

As Lisa said, for unpublished authors, an editor generally wants a finished product to be sure a writer actually can carry an entire book.

Perhaps a synopsis becomes more important after you sell a few books?? That way you've established a track record so editors know you can tell a story. They just want to know if it's a story that fits what they are publishing. I don't know if that's so, just a thought.

In that case, learning to write a synopsis would be a skill to develop after learning to write a whole book. Dunno...

Paty Jager said...

I'm into the synopsis thing right now. I stink at it, but I NEED to put together some good synopsis in the next few months because I am hoping with four published books under my belt to be able to sell or entice a larger publisher with a synopsis and proposal. Sooo.. Alice I may be knocking on your door in a month or so.

As for quality- I have yet to find a synopsis that is up to the same level of quality as a ms. I've had synopsis that totally confuse me. One talked about sisters who were killed and at the end they were the characters in the next books??? I've been confused because so many names and people were in the synopsis I thought I was in a circus. I've had synopsis that tell me all about the secondary characters and little about the main characters. And Ive had synopsis that had so much detail in them they could be a short story.

The only way TWRP will turn down a ms from a query/synopsis is if it doesn't fit the line they sent it to or has objectionable scenes. Otherwise a partial is asked for whether the synopsis made sense or not. BUT- I always tell them their synopsis was confusing and it wasn't what made me ask for the partial. I don't want these people thinking their synopsis made me ask for more.

There is definitely a need for more classes/workshops on synopsis writing.

Paty Jager said...

To answer the question- Right now, I am devoting a lot of time to writing the synopsis before the book is written. Something I haven't done before.

Karen Duvall said...

I've read hordes of synopses throughout my years of contest judging, and they were all awful. Just horrid! Well, there was one phenomenon where the synopsis was actually better than the sample pages. Seriously.

I don't enjoy writing them, and I've written them at the beginning of a book, and at the end. I think manage them better before the book is written. After the fact, I'm so overwhelmed with the details of the story that I struggle to extract only those parts important enough to be featured in the synopsis. Writing a synopsis is definitely an artform unlike writing the book itself. Two very different animals. 8^)

A good synopsis should read like a short story without dialog and only minimal description used for emphasis. It should convey the tone of the book and the voice of the author. It should have rising tension and illustrate major turning points in the story, touch on subplots or leave them out completely, spotlight the black moment and climax, and reveal the main character's growth at the end. I've only ever read two or three synopses that have actually accomplished this.

The contest should be interesting. Those judging it will certainly be experts at writing their own when the contest is done. Not an enviable task. Good luck!

wavybrains said...

When I judge, I always read the synopsis first. If the synopsis is poor, I don't have much hope for the submission, and even when the submission is entertaining, a synopsis that reads like an epic War and Peace or Godfather movie plot makes me fear that poor plotting will be the downfall of the work. To me, I need the whole package: good plot, good synopsis explaining plot, good chapters, in order to give my highest score. The synopsis lets you place the work in context.