Friday, January 20, 2012

Pulling Teeth with Pliers... Or, Writing a Great Synopsis

It's Friday! *does Friday dance involving flailing of arms and awkward hip swings* Want to know something even better than Friday (no, not wine)? Tomorrow, I'm off to the sunny climes of Cairo for two weeks! Not to worry, though, I'll still be blogging as much as I can, as per usual. While my in-laws go off for hours in Arabic I haven't a hope in hell of understanding, I'll be tucked in the corner, tapping away at my lovely little laptop. We are still planning our regular outings to the Pyramids, the market, Memphis and Alexandria, so I will have plenty of photos to share.

Now. Onto more serious things: the dreaded synopsis. If you're not a writer, consider yourself very lucky that this is something you've escaped. For me, it's like pulling out my own teeth with rusty pliers while someone hammers nails into my eyeballs. Oh yes, it's just that much fun. Luckily, today I've got Crabbity Bat (her words, not mine) and absolute writing genius Nicola Morgan here to talk about her new book, Write a Great Synopsis.

Take it away, Nicola!



Hello Talli and Talli’s lovely readers!

Thank you so much for letting me visit again. I’m very honoured and in recognition of that I’ve brought some champagne. *pops cork* Cheers!

Since most or many of your readers aren’t writers, I thought I’d say something that might interest both groups.

Writers get horribly vexed about synopses.  Many of us (not me, tbh) would rather eat witchety grubs than write one, and yet quite happily sit down to write a 100,000 word novel. Thing is, making a few words work well is hard. Blaise Pascal famously apologised (in French) for writing such a long letter, saying he didn’t have time to write a short one. And there’s a real truth in that. And what writers have to do is turn a 100,000 word thing into something very short – maybe 600 words – and that’s very hard.

On the other hand, Tolstoy said, “No book should be too complex to explain to a barmaid.” (Very rude to barmaids, imo.) Indeed, Anna Karenina may be long but it’s far from complex – omit the farming, and there’s very little left to go in the synopsis.

Actually, I also think it might be easier for a reader to produce a good synopsis of a book than its writer. In fact, one of the things I recommend to writers in Write a Great Synopsis (WAGS!) is to forget your book, or forget the details. If you forget the details and sequences, what you’re left with is the core – what and who it’s about and how the story ends, bringing the memorable driving forces together.

Writers, please stop worrying! WAGS covers everything about synopsis-writing, clearly and reassuringly. At the end of it I believe you truly will say to yourself, “Don’t panic – it’s only a synopsis!

And readers, next time you pick up a new book, spare a thought for the poor writer who almost certainly had to write a sparkly synopsis before getting the deal! 

Thanks for listening, everyone. I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts. 

Would you rather write a book or a synopsis?

NB: all commenters below (by Feb 15th) will be entered into the Big WAGS Competition, with chances to win a critique of your synopsis by the Crabbit Old Bat herself! One comment per person on each blog – though you can add to your chances by commenting on the other posts on the tour. Details of all stops on the tour will appear on my blog (Help! I Need a Publisher!) as they go out.

Details about the book, including buying options, here. The link direct to Amazon UK is here; Amazon.com is here. And it’s stupid cheap till the end of January!

Thanks, Nicola! 

Well, I'd much rather write a book than a synopsis. A zillion times more! How about you? Have a great weekend, everyone!

53 comments:

  1. Hello Talli and Nicola,
    Talli - hope you have a great time in Egypt and look forward to seeing the photos.
    Nicola, this book looks great and I shall be getting it. Writing a synopsis, especially to fit one page is difficult. I've found that the only way to condense it down is to focus on the main plot, hardly mentioning the backstory or sub-plots.
    Anita.

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  2. ps. also narrow margins seem to help!

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  3. Hi Talli and Nicola!

    Talli - I'm happy dancing with you! Hope you enjoy your two weeks in Egypt!

    Nicola - Thank you for this...I will get a copy definitely!

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  4. You forgot about changing font size too Anita and scrapping double line spacing! Thankyou Talli and Nicola - will be buying the book! I wrote my first book and then shelved it rather than write the synopsis, getting on with the second instead. It was only after some urging to get it out there following a conference that I braved the blessed thing. And even now have only submitted it to 1 place because they didn't specify a length! Having very happily written a second book, 102,500 words - I face the same issue again. Only this time I KNOW I have to get the synopsis sorted. Have nailed a longer version - 1800 words - but to cover it in 2 pages with the complexity of the multiple layer plot all leading to one point...Um. Think I might make a start on the next book!

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  5. Ah Talli please look after yourself in Cairo!
    Nicola - as you know I have read WAGSynopsis and...it is still more fun writing the book!

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  6. Talli - I suspect you'll have much more fun in Cairo that we will struggling with synopses - though with Nicola's book it shouldn't be quite such a torment (*have just downloaded book to my Kindle*)

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  7. Talli - enjoy your two weeks in Egypt!

    Nicole - great post. I'm not surprised by Tolstoy's opinion of barmaids yet there is truth in his line of thought! Imean, if you are explaining your book to a friend whose eyes start to wander... it's time to think NUTSHELL!

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  8. Hello, me again! Thank you for your hospitality Talli and again Nicola - your advice is worth gold. I've already had fewer temper tantrums writing a pitch by following tips from previous interviews. Need the book. You're right, reducing one's "baby" to the essentials is worse than giving birth anytime.

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  9. WOW! This comes as a very fitting time! I'm self published, small published, and on my way to big six NY published (because I believe in doing it all!) and the big six publisher wanted a three book proposal with a synopsis. I HAVE A BAD TASTE IN MY MOUTH JUST SAYING IT! As a matter of fact, I wrote it and it's now in the hands of my critique group. They will fix it for me! My problem is that I write cozy mystery, and there are so many sub plots that I try to incorporate those in the synopsis, which I should just stick to the basic plot.
    Have a great weekend!

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  10. Well what would you believe it...I bought a copy of the book this morning!

    It looked so useful, I just had to have it on my Kindle!

    Have fun, Talli.x

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  11. I detest synopsis writing so I think it's great that there's someone out there willing to write a book about it!

    It occurs to me that you might have had to write a synopsis about writing a synopsis...

    It all that sounds so fractal my mind nearly imploded with the universal consequences.

    Rather you than me!

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  12. Like Sarah, I have, so far, avoided writing the dreaded synopsis. I hope to continue doing so because it scares the heck out of me! Perhaps I should instead buy your book! :)

    Talli - I'm a fairly new follower, so I didn't know you went to Egypt. Wow. I'm so incredibly jealous. My husband isn't a traveler. He only wants to be by the water so he can fish, and he doesn't see the point in spending money otherwise. So unless we win the lottery, and I find a fellow female to go with me, I won't ever travel further than our dream retirement spot - Belise.

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  13. There's a book for that?!? Man, if I'd none that years ago ...

    ~JD

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  14. Yay for Nicola's book about the one aspect I truly stink at!! So this is so on my TBR list!!! Thanks Nicola,thanks Talli! Happy Friday!!

    Talli - HAVE A GREAT TRIP TO CAIRO!!!! Your in-laws sound lovely! Yay!:-)

    Take care
    x

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  15. Synopsis writing? Oh the dread. Thankfully I'm not writing them anymore, but it used to help if I considered the synopsis something along the line of the jacket flap of a book.

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  16. This book sounds right up my alley, Nicola! Gah I hate synopses. (in fact, I even remember trying not to submit to agents/editors who wanted one because I hated them so much... :-))

    Have a great trip, Talli!

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  17. I struggle with both. At least the synopsis is shorter!
    Have a safe trip, Talli.

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  18. god i hate synopses. I'm totally going to buy WAGS. For reals.

    Have a great time in Cairo!

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  19. A book is definitely more fun to write. All those details can bog down a synopsis. That might be why I write one before I write the book and tweak it afterwards. :)

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  20. Have a great time in Cairo.

    I found out I didn't have to wait for Friday to get hold of WAGS; downloaded it to Kindle yesterday - now I have to find time to read it.

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  21. Have a great time in Cairo.

    I found out I didn't have to wait for Friday to get hold of WAGS; downloaded it to Kindle yesterday - now I have to find time to read it.

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  22. I would much rather have to sit down and write a 300,000 word epic than a synopsis of my 75,000 word novel. I get so nervous when trying to put a synopsis together. May have to check out this book!

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  23. I saw that word (Synopsis) in your title and I immediately groaned. Pulling teeth is too kind of a description, but maybe I can get some releif from Nicola's book.

    Have fun in Cairo!! :)

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  24. Nicola! I think you're correct: most synopsis' could probably be written much easier by a reader instead of the writer. We're so close to the story. That's what makes synopsis writing so difficult.

    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks to Talli for having you!

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  25. I don't mind writing synopses at all. Working out the plot of a book and making it all hang together is the testing thing for me. I think it might come from years of having to write concise reports and summaries in my old life as a health professional.

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  26. Ugh, the synopsis. The one thing that's worse than a query letter, in my opinion. :) I'm not looking forward to it! But I am definitely looking forward to your Egyptian photos, Talli! Have a great trip!

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  27. I remember a little French cafe in Cairo with wonderful coffee & croissants. I was there in February. Cold, wet, miserable. That little cafe saved my life. Thanks for the review. Going to put that book on my Kindle RIGHT NOW!!

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  28. Cairo? oooh, sunshine and lots of it. Have fun sweetie!

    Nicola, I agree, readers could write the synopsis easier than many authors, lol! The high points,core as you say,is all that's needed and yet...it's still hard because you want to add the spices, lol!

    Thank you for the info. :-)

    Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

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  29. Hi Talli and Nicola. Egypt, eh? Sounds much better than Leicester in the January murk; although, on the plus side, I notice that I've got some snowdrops in flower.
    I, too, hate writing a synopsis - I mean, are they really necessary? Wouldn't a 200 word blurb and three chapters be as much use to an agent? If they don't like your first three chapters [if they even bother to read past the first couple of pages - ouch]will the best synopsis in the world make them change their mind? Don't think so. I suppose you could argue that they need to see a synopsis just to make sure that the writer knows how the book ends. Well if you don;t know how your book ends and how you get there - should you be submitting it anyway. (Being devil's avocado here :-))
    I think your post (and Nicola's book) is very timely as there are probably 250 members of the RNA New Writers' Scheme out there getting their WIP ready to submit to the RNA reader and hoping for a second read. I wonder why no one ever does a masterclass in synopsis writing at the RNA conferences - now that would be most useful. Failing that - buy Nicola's book. Ok. Shutting up now. Have a great holiday, Talli and happy writing and have a great weekend everyone.

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  30. Wow, Talli's blog always has the most amazing array of fabulous comments! Thank you, everyone, and thank you to Talli for having me.

    Chillcat: "I mean, if you are explaining your book to a friend whose eyes start to wander... it's time to think NUTSHELL!" Yes!!

    Thanks to those of you who've bought the book today - you've helped propel it to #1 in all its categories and #335 in paid Kindle books, which is way higher than I've ever been for anything. So, Thank you!

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  31. I found writing the synopsis for my first novel much easier than anticipated. It also helped me enormously. I could see glaring plot glitches and realised how I could 'up the stakes'. I found it much easier to write than the novel itself, but I'm not sure whether it's good enough to sell my novel. We'll see. Almost scared to read WAGS now! It's a bit like feeling you've done really well in an exam only to find you haven't at all.

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  32. Synopses suck. I'm glad you've written a book that may make them much easier to produce.

    Talli, have a marvelous Egyptian vacation!

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  33. Today it's pouring with rain and I'm writing--or trying to write--a synopsis. But I do have WAGSynopis at my side but I still reckon I'd rather be in Cairo. This task started out as impossible to crack as the Riddle of the Sphynx. I'm hoping by the time you're back, Talli, Nicola will have solved it for me. Her bok is that good.

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  34. Ugh, that synopsis is always there, laughing at me. I have vowed to get my done by the end of January...not sure that will happen. But this book looks awesome and I may have to check it out if I have any chance in hell of an agent wanting to read my ms after getting through my synopsis.

    And Talli- so jealous you are going on vacation!

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  35. I'd definitely rather write a book than a synopsis, especially because my manuscripts always end up being longer than they should be. Right now I'm working on my prospectus, which is similar to a synopsis, because I have to summarize/outline in just a few pages what I'll be writing in my dissertation, which is supposed to be the length of a book. So it's been very, very difficult to sum up what I want to say, especially because I'm not entirely sure what I want to say yet.
    P.S. I just ordered your Watching Willow Watts book! I would've ordered it sooner but I don't have a Kindle and I was kind of broke before. But I can't wait to read it!

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  36. A book, definitely. I've never tried writing a synopsis--though I suppose I'll have to at some point.

    I hope you have a great vacation to Cairo!

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  37. I can write a crappy synopsis fairly easily. Writing a good one is much hardcr.

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  38. Oh, I would much rather write a book than a synopsis. Just saying the s-word makes me shudder--which is exactly why I need to check out Nicola's book!

    Safe travels, Talli! :)

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  39. I'm planning on finishing and actually editing the novel I'm currently writing (I haven't managed both with previous novels) so I'm going to have to write a synopsis. Because I've never done 1, I'm quite looking forward to doing it, but know when it gets to it I'm going to hate it. I'll certainly be adding this to my collection before I even attempt it!

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  40. Ps - have fun in Egypt... I'm just imagining how hot its going to be there... jealous :-)

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  41. I'd much rather write a book :-)
    But I don't mind writing a synopsis. I like boiling it all down to a limit of 1000 words or so.
    Anything less though - like, say, a query pitch - has me running, screaming, for the hills.

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  42. Hi Talli and Nicole.

    This is a very helpful and informative post. Don't worry-not so helpful that I won't purchase the book, LOL. I am excited about the book. I am quite the "writing craft book junkie" and this one sounds promising.

    Btw, I am hosting a blogfest-prize give a way with some great prizes including a Kindle Fire and a 2 hour plot consultation with Martha Alderson, author of The Plot Whisperer. Please check it out.

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  43. Nicola, I would much rather write a book than a synopsis but perhaps I will change my mind after reading WAGS.

    Talli, I am looking forward to your photos and to reading what you have written while you were away.

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  44. Talli, I shared your view of fear of synopses until I read this book. Nicola's advice is spot on. I'm not scared of synopses any more!
    Thank you.

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  45. Barbara Keenan22 January 2012 13:10

    Reading WAGS over the weekend, lots of great advice. Please add me into the draw for a critique.

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  46. I will definitely check this one out, great insight! : )
    And omg,Egyyypt! My main character is Egyptian, and loves Basboussas!
    And tell me about foreign speaking in-laws. When they start with German I just switch off sometimes!

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  47. I have to admit I had a little help when I wrote my synopsis. I'm glad I did. this book would have gone down really well if I hadn't. In fact, I'm obviously going to have to write another one, but I've another 96,000 words left to write yet. :)

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  48. Looking forward to re-tackling my synopsis! No honest - I really am! Have a great Holiday Talli!

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  49. Talli: Reading this post made me wonder if perhaps Pan Am or TWA were still in business! They actually did fly to Cairo--TWA for certain. At any rate, this sounds exciting and I hope you have an incredible visit! :)

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  50. Hi Nicola,

    Thanks for a great post on writing synopsis.

    Talli- remember, we're looking forward to photos from Egypt.

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  51. Hello Talli - is there a video of this Friday dance available anywhere - it sounds like a fun thing to take up.
    Hope you enjoy Egypt.

    I have read WAGS apart from Nicolas synopsis of Wasted (thanks for the spoiler warning - that pesky habit of revealing the end in a synopsis may ruin Wasted for me otherwise). I have Wasted on Kindle so really want to read that soon to be able to compare a book to a synopsis to see what has been kept in or left out.

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Coffee and wine for all!