the dreaded one page synopsis

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the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby cheekychook » 23 Sep 2010, 12:17

The synopsis issue seems to be one of the most grey of all grey areas of the query process....some agents want one page, some want two, some want five, some want ten, some want "brief".....and, as if that's not confusing enough or enough variables, there's debate as to whether these should be single or double spaced.

Gah!

I mean GAHHH!!!

I've come to the conclusion that a 1-2 page synopsis would have to mean single spaced, simply because a double spaced 1 page synopsis would be a briefer overview than your average single spaced query letter---which is just absurd. (I may be rationalizing on that point, I know, but please, let me maintain that one delusion.)

I know a synopsis should be omniscient, should convey the tone of your story, should hit the major plot points and all the major characters (and preferably capitalize them on first mention and include their age in parenthesis), should read in an exciting manner and avoid "and then this happens and then that happens", and should disclose the ending.....but I can't wrap my head around how to do all of that in one page. Particularly while trying to make it sound different than your query letter, which is of similar length (or shorter if you think the single page should be double spaced).

Anyone have any tips to hitting all those "shoulds" in the space of a page?? Anyone? Bueller?
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby Holly » 23 Sep 2010, 13:10

Here's a good post by agent Nephele Tempest on the one page synopsis:

http://nephele.livejournal.com/99392.html

I would write a 1-2 page synopsis (single spaced) and a 3-5 page one (double spaced). The 1-page synopsis is universally accepted.

The synopsis is a beast. It requires a different mindframe from writing a novel or a query letter. You want to drop the details, the descriptions, all the subtle whys, and go for the big picture. Sketch out the main plot points and the main theme(s) of the story. And that's it. You're describing a skeleton with themes. You can add more details/plot into the 3-5 page version.

My understanding is that it does not have to be exciting -- that's the query letter's job.

Editing this to add I don't think you have to capitalize the character names at first mention.

To start, you might look at your chapters, summarize them in 1-2 sentences each, and then step back and summarize them all again in a mini-story.

Good luck.
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby stephmcgee » 23 Sep 2010, 13:20

Holly's advice reads sound to me. I've never written a synopsis. I hope to soon though. Good luck!
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby Holly » 23 Sep 2010, 13:20

One last bit of advice. You might go to the synopsis part of Nathan's forum and help somebody else whittle their synopsis down to 1-2 pages. Think summary. It's easier to do it with someone else's work, and the practice will help you with your own synopsis.
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby cheekychook » 23 Sep 2010, 13:44

Holly---thanks for the link---I read that post by Nephele (a while ago and again today) and she states her description of what she wants to see in a one-page synopsis pretty clearly....but it's still quite open to interpretation when it comes to execution. Plus some agents say the exact opposite...that they want all the major plot points hit...that they want to know the premise, themes and resolution but not necessarily the plot points... The only thing they all agree on is that what they want may not be exactly what their colleague wants when requesting what appears to be the same thing. I have written my other-length summaries, it's the one page that's giving me a hard time. Nephele's blog is comforting in that I know it's not that my story lacks plot/arc/etc, it's that I'm still not 100% certain what the "assignment" of "write a one page summary" really means. Maybe I'm just dense, that's certainly a reasonable possibility!

Also, I've seen on numerous blogs and how-to sites that you are supposed to put the character names in all caps at first mention. I'm sure that's a preference issue for some, but it seems a pretty standard recommendation in the technical info I've read, and was also called "standard practice" by a creative writing professor and my crit group leader. Anyone know if that's outdated or considered a no-no by anyone?
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby Holly » 23 Sep 2010, 13:51

Hi, cheekychook. You might want to draft your 1-page synopsis, put it on Nathan's synopsis forum, and get some feedback from other writers.

Read somewhere, don't remember where, that the caps are outdated.

I would rather paint myself orange and stand on my head naked in the middle of an interstate than write a synopsis. My big bugaboo: it's not novel writing. Leave out the details. You can only do the best you can do.
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby Quill » 23 Sep 2010, 14:35

Holly wrote:I would write a 1-2 page synopsis (single spaced) and a 3-5 page one (double spaced)

One or two single spaced would be the same length as two to four double spaced.

I've also heard that the all-caps and age intro for characters is outdated, though I don't know where. Maybe this would be a question for Nathan. And I've heard this custom is primarily from and for screenplay treatments.

I personally think it's a kind of a cool way to do it, though, and that it probably wouldn't hurt.
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby polymath » 23 Sep 2010, 15:05

The purpose of a synopsis is to demonstrate a narrative has a coherent beginning, middle, and ending with a payoff denouement so that a screening reader doesn't have to read an entire manuscript to find out in the first place.

In the word "denouement's" definition is what a synopsis needs: the final outcome of the main dramatic complication. Beginnings are for introducing the main complication. Middles are for efforts to address the main complication. Endings are for outcomes of the main complication. Chapters are plots themselves, ideally depicting discoveries of and reversals from minor, building complications that have minor outcomes that lead toward a final outcome.

For a synopsis composition exercise, written or mental, pick a minor real-life complication. A flat tire, laid off from work, in-laws coming for a visit, rejected by a love interest, drought, meeting a stranger, leaving town for a strange destination, whatever. Discover the complication in the beginning. That's the inciting crisis to introduce.

Middle. Attempt to address the complication, fail, setback, reversal, learn something, discover something, encounter another reversal or a setback; discovery, reversal or reversal, discovery. Repeat as needed in order as circumstances dictate. Each chapter summary should depict at least one minor discovery and one minor reversal related to the main complication and build complication toward climax and decrease complication after climax toward denouement.

Climaxes occur when all salient information about a complication is known or discovered, efforts to address the complication are greatest, antagonism's forces of purpose and complication opposition are greatest, and the final outcome of the main complication is most in doubt.

The tragic crisis is what seems to put an end to efforts to address the complication, usually a seemingly insurmountable setback or reversal.

Ending. Then summarize the final crisis discovery that leads to the final outcome reversal. Summarize the outcome. The outcome should depict a credible, irrevocable, unequivocal transformation of a setting, idea, character, and/or event based on the main complication and from the final crisis.

Beginning introductions
Complication, Inciting crisis
Middle efforts
Tragic crisis, Climax
Ending outcomes
Final crisis, Final outcome

Should single space or double space synopsis? Whatever the screening reader, agency, or publisher requests in their submission guidelines.
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby cheekychook » 23 Sep 2010, 16:53

Thanks polymath, that helps. I'm thrilled that my novel actually contains all of those necessary ingredients. I still wish the single page synopsis would somehow magically appear on my screen. And, sadly, the agents who are requesting a one-page synopsis with the query letter do NOT happen to specify if they want single or double spaced.

Quill--Regarding the all caps thing on character names at first mention, I went back and looked at the samples I've bookmarked, and more have them than don't have them, including several that appeared in posts made by either writers or agents within the last year...so it can't be THAT outdated. Who knows?
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby cheekychook » 23 Sep 2010, 17:48

From Writer's Digest February 2010:

Your Essential Synopsis Checklist
February 01, 2010
Here are the essential specs for a successful synopsis. Bookmark this page and always cross-reference before sending out any synopsis.
Use a 1-inch margin on all sides; justify the left margin only.

Put your name and contact information on the top left corner of the first page.

Type the novel’s genre, word count and the word “Synopsis” in the top right corner of the first page

Don’t number the first page.

Put the novel’s title, centered and in all caps, about one-third of the way down the page.

Begin the synopsis text four lines below the title.

The text throughout the synopsis should be double-spaced (unless you plan to keep it to one or two pages, in which case single-spaced is OK).

Use all caps the first time you introduce a character.


After the first page, use a header on every page that contains your last name/your novel’s title in all caps/the word “Synopsis”:Name/TITLE/Synopsis.

After the first page, number the pages in the top right corner on the same line as the header.
The first line of text on each page after the first page should be three lines below the header.
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby polymath » 23 Sep 2010, 18:30

cheekychook wrote:Thanks polymath, that helps. I'm thrilled that my novel actually contains all of those necessary ingredients. I still wish the single page synopsis would somehow magically appear on my screen.

I'm encouraged your novel contains all those necessary ingredients. For pitch, query, synopsis, or narrative focusing on the complication is fundamental.

For instance, paraphrasing Mr. Bransford's pitch for Jacob Wonderbar: The Cosmic Space Kapow, Some kids trade corndogs at a carnival for a spaceship. They blast into outer space and break the universe. Bridging complication, they trade corndogs for a spaceship. Main complication, they break the universe. Addressing the main complication is what the story's about, the kids' efforts to fix the broken universe. As a reader I'd expect them to succeed, but would want the outcome to remain in sufficient doubt to keep me engaged.

How to get the one-page synopsis on the page? Break the complication down to its simplest expression. Some kids break the universe, for example. Then add some meaningful flesh to summarize the plot skeleton.
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby Quill » 24 Sep 2010, 08:11

If you wish to read the equivalent of an entire book about writing a synopsis then visit Anne Mini. She has a ten or twelve post blog series starting Sept 22, 2008. Both the search function and key word function are wonky, but you can get in through the Sept 08 link. There are enticing key words on the right on the main page about the 1-page and 5-page synopsis, but the links don't work and I'm not sure those are part of the mentioned series. I guess you could email Anne for help locating them. Good luck!
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby cheekychook » 24 Sep 2010, 08:27

Quill wrote:If you wish to read the equivalent of an entire book about writing a synopsis then visit Anne Mini. She has a ten or twelve post blog series starting Sept 22, 2008. Both the search function and key word function are wonky, but you can get in through the Sept 08 link. There are enticing key words on the right on the main page about the 1-page and 5-page synopsis, but the links don't work and I'm not sure those are part of the mentioned series. I guess you could email Anne for help locating them. Good luck!


I've read those posts....the irony of ALL THOSE PAGES to describe what to do in a synopsis----her blog could use a synopsis!
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby Quill » 24 Sep 2010, 08:30

Haha. Agreed.
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Re: the dreaded one page synopsis

Postby Mira » 24 Sep 2010, 11:51

You've received so much good advice here, I have nothing to add. Except - remember to BREATHE. :)

Good luck! I'm sure you'll write a great one, Cheeky! :)
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