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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Writing a Synopsis for a Novel Submission

Are you budding or blooming? 
I realised recently how few new writers, or even not-so-new writers (I hate that overused word 'budding'. People have started using 'emergent' but I'm not sure that's any better) know very much about writing a synopsis of a novel for a submission to an agent or publisher. I'm not surprised, because it's something I didn't know much about either when I was starting out, and even when I had been writing for some time.

Part of the problem for me, anyway, is that I'm what is known as a 'pantser'. I write by the seat of my pants. I often know the beginning and the end of a novel, but am not certain how I'll get there. I write to find out. If I do know in too much detail, I tend to get a bit bored. Not everyone works this way. I know writers who plot in great detail and writers who even work through a series of ever more complex synopses until the novel takes shape. There is no right or wrong way. Whatever works for you is right for you.

However, if you're intending to make a submission to an agency or a publisher, or even to a competition, you may be asked for a synopsis and the first three chapters of your novel. Sometimes it's a synopsis and a certain number of words. But they will always want the synopsis. So you're going to have to work out the characters, the overall shape of your book, the story you want to tell before you do the submission. Now you may think this is a tall order - and it is. But of course as a new writer, before you actually submit anything to an agency or publisher, you should have finished the novel itself, so it shouldn't be impossible to summarise your 80,000 words into a page or two at the most. The media are very fond of running tales of writers who submitted three chapters to an agency, were quickly inundated with offers to publish, and had to write the whole book in a hurry, but this is as rare as finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It's more helpful to assume that you won't be inundated with offers, but you may be asked for a full submission.

The biggest mistake people make is to confuse a synopsis with a blurb.

A blurb is a teaser. It is intended to whet the reader's appetite, to give just a taste of the tale on offer, but no more. To suggest that all will be revealed later on. It's what you get on the back of a book: maybe the start of the story, a brief but enticing summary of what it's about, maybe a suggestion of a cliff hanger if it's that sort of book, often accompanied by a 'cover quote', either about the book or about previous work. Essentially, it's a tool for selling the book to the reader. The cover may make them pick it up, or click on it - the blurb may help to make them buy it.

A synopsis, on the other hand, is a tool for selling the book to the agent or the publisher, and in it, you need to summarise the whole story, who and what it's about and what the story is, as briefly and as clearly as you possibly can. You don't need to go into too much intimate detail. What we're looking for is the main cut and thrust of the story accompanied by tiny character sketches along the way.  If the plot gets complicated, simplify it, but not to the point where the thread is lost. Clarity is important. Remember that you probably know all about these characters now, but the reader, coming to it cold, doesn't. Try to avoid confusion. But above all, don't hold back. Now is not the time for mystery. Don't hesitate to tell all. If there's a twist in the tail, reveal it. You are aiming to make it lively and involving, but it has to make sense. Imagine a good friend asks you to tell him or her about your novel, not just 'what is it about?' which is a difficult question to answer, but 'tell me the story as vividly as you can.'

So there you are. Next week, I'm going to give you an example. Just for fun, I summarised Pride and Prejudice. I did it from memory, and I did it as though I was planning to submit it to a publisher. Watch this space!

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