The One Page Synopsis

Now that you’ve written your query letter and performed your research on the different agents and publishers who might be interested in your story, you learn that some require a one page synopsis. Wondering what that is, you then do more research, discovering that this new task means concisely summarizing your 50,000-100,000 word story in roughly 500-600 words! At first glance, the task looks impossible, but it is not.

Since the synopsis is a condensation of your completed novel, consider it an important step in getting your story published. If you don’t do a good job here, your novel will be passed over. The easiest and most productive way to begin drafting your synopsis is to outline your novel chapter-by-chapter. Then succinctly write down the “Big Picture” of your story (i.e. what it’s all about) in one to two sentences. Finish your outline by noting the motivations, problems, and end goals of the main character(s) and antagonist(s).

Once you have all this down, divide your outline into the categories beginning, middle, and end, with an eye for the dramatic arc as well. The dramatic arc depicts the chronological order of events that most narratives tend to follow and can easily be separated into beginning, middle, and end.

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Image credit: “Writing Stories Your Learners Will Savor” by Claudia Escribano http://c2portal.com/blog/?p=108

The beginning section includes the introduction of the main character(s) and his/her/their problems, the setting, the antagonist (external or internal), and the inciting action. The middle then details all points of rising action. These are not subplots or minor details, but two or three main points of action without which the story could not reach its climax. Basically, these are the turning points in the story of action and in characters. Finally, your end section should include the climax and denouement (the unveiling and resolution, how everything ties together), with a mention of how your characters progressed.

With your story outline completed, compile everything into an engaging summary. Since it’s a first draft, don’t worry about length, but instead focus on getting everything laid out. You can cut at a later date.

Now, draft done, set it aside for a week or two. When you come back to it, re-read with the intention of revising for clarity and brevity. Since it’s only one page, make each word count. Make each word work hard for its place in your synopsis. You will most likely re-work entire sentences and the entire draft several times. This is fine and completely normal. In the end, it should read like an extremely brief, well-told and engaging version of your story.

Once you’ve rewritten your synopsis and fit it into one page, take it to several other discerning, objective and honest people to read. If they are confused or bored, take note. Ask them for suggestions and weave their suggestions into your rewriting. However, if your readers love it, that’s great! It’s time to send it out.

Synopsis Format: First, carefully review each agent or publisher’s specifications. Synopses need to follow a specific format as specified by each agent or publisher. However, there are some general principles: it should be written in the present tense from the 3rd person point of view and only name three main characters, as more will confuse your readers. Further, the synopsis should be typed in Times New Roman font size 12 with a 1″ margin all around. In the header or first line, write “Synopsis of Title, Genre, Word Count, by Name.”

In the long run, synopsis writing can be challenging, but highly rewarding. It will help to hone your writing skills overall, as well as help to get your story published.

Next week’s topic: Research for Different Types of Writing

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Never Fall in Love with Your First Draft: Learning the Importance of the Rewriting Process

My 7th grade language arts teacher had a red poster of a lion hugging a piece of paper as little pink hearts floated around his mane. Below the lion were the words NEVER FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR FIRST DRAFT. I (obviously) never forgot that image but at the time I thought it meant reading a draft over once—or twice if I was being really good—before hitting print or send. In actuality, it means making time for the work of rewriting. When I figured this out, my first thoughts were: Psh! That’s too much work and my stuff’s great first time ‘round!

No, it wasn’t, and it still isn’t.

So, instead of falling victim to one of the classic blunders, don’t fall in love with your first draft and learn to rewrite. Like me, the first thing you’ll have to figure out is: what is rewriting?

Rewriting is an integral and intensive part of the writing process that deals with the adding, deleting, and rearranging of words, phrases, sentences, entire paragraphs, and (in some very distressing cases) the entire paper or manuscript. This is called revising when it’s minor and rewriting when it’s a major overhaul. So how do we rewrite?

Step One

Take a break. After that first draft has been written, put it aside for at least a day. The more time you have between the first draft and rewriting, however, the better, and I recommend at least a week.

Step Two

Now that an acceptable amount of time has passed, you can come to your piece with fresh, objective eyes. Read it over, noting any point where you are confused, where information is missing, or something just doesn’t work. Say, a character’s behavior is inconsistent or you pulled in evidence that hurts your argument. These need to be fixed. Do this several times with short breaks in between each reading session.

Step Three

Once you can read the piece over without stopping a million times to make corrections, take it to someone else to read. Preferably, read it aloud to that person, because then you’ll hear the nonsense coming out your own mouth, be quite surprised at how erudite you sound, or, more likely, flip-flop between the two.

Step Four

Rewrite again, having caught all of the pieces that don’t make sense, need to be expanded, or are superfluous. Once you get to the point where you’re no longer making major changes but minor ones, you’ve hit revising. If you have time, have someone else look it over again, but if not, read it once or twice more and then send it off.


Tips

  1. “Kill Off the Little Darlings”: These are the pieces of writing that we perceive as (or know to be) little strokes of brilliance that just don’t fit no matter how hard we try. Delete them mercilessly. They will never fit. Trust me, I’ve tried.
  2. Print a hardcopy: Reading something on a computer screen generally leads to two things: distraction (chess! Wikipedia! Netflix!) and a focus on the small picture. A hardcopy, however, keeps our focus longer while also emphasizing the big picture that rewriting is all about.
  3. Time:The more important the project is to you, the more time you want to put between drafts and the more work you’ll want to put into rewriting. For instance, I never worked on a grad paper longer than a week (sans research), but I worked on my Master’s thesis for a year because I put at least a month in between finishing a chapter and picking it back up again and this had to happen several times.
  4. Accept Criticism: We all want to cry, scream, and/or sink into a hole when we hear criticism on our writing. However, nine times out of ten, the critic is right. But we only see this when we’ve gone back to the draft after time. Then you think, “Yup, that jerk was right. Well damn.” After accepting this disappointment, make the recommended changes and rewrite some more.
  5. Don’t over think it: You CAN overwork a piece of writing. This is another reason why you need time in between rewriting sessions. It will keep you from overworking something and having to dig out an old copy of the draft, because once it’s overworked, there’s little hope.