Wednesday, April 24, 2013

PPWC13: How to Write a Successful Novel Synopsis

This workshop was led by Terry Banker.  Although these are my notes, the workshop content is attributed to Terry and the participants who offered input and discussion.

The key to a good synopsis is two-fold:
  • Know your story.
  • Know your characters.
A Synopsis can be described as the following:
  • a summary with feeling
  • a brief story bridge
  • a promise, encouraging the reader's trust
  • a summation of interesting characters in crisis with a fulfilling solution.
What Agents Look At: Page 1 and the Synopsis.  They want to know, in roughly this order: Can the writer write?  Can the writer pull off the ending?  Can the writer be entertaining?

Terry recommends two techniques:
 (1) The Story Sentence (Gary Provost)
 (2) The Heroes Journey (Christopher Vogler)

Every synopsis begins with the Hook.  The hook is one sentence meant to encapsulate your entire novel and pull the reader into the story.  Include who, what he/she wants, and why they cannot achieve his/her goal (which implies the ending).  Remember, fear, sex, and curiosity always hook readers but curiosity is never enough.  And the shorter the sentence, the better. 

The Story Sentence
This is a good synopsis style to begin with as it helps you construct the basic structure of your synopsis.  This type of synopsis is composed of 11 parts and can be condensed into one paragraph or expanded into 11 paragraphs, or the basic 1-2 page synopsis.  This synopsis should really only focus on the main characters, protagonist and antagonist, and the main conflict (ie. one clear path to the end).  Think of the story sentence as a chart; for each numbered phrase, write a sentence which describes your novel's equivalent action.  

(1) Once upon a time, something happened,
(2) to someone, and he decided that he would pursue a goal
(3) so he devised a plan of action, and even though
(4) there were forces trying to stop him, he moved
(5) forward because there was a lot at stake and just as
(6) things seemed as bad as they could get, he
(7) learned an important lesson, and when
(8) offered the prize, he had sought so strenuously,
(9) he had to decide whether or not to take it
(10) and in making that decision he satisfied a need that had been
(11) created by something in his past. 

The Heroes Journey
This is a technique for further fleshing out your synopsis.  Using this method, you can expand your synopsis to eight pages. Using this type of synopsis, necessary secondary characters can also be included as well as subplots.  Obviously, knowledge of Christopher Vogler's work is required to be able to take full advantage of this technique, but it is well worth the read.

(1) Heroes are introduced in the Ordinary World, where
(2) They receive the Call to Adventure
(3) They are Reluctant at first or Refuse the Call, but
(4) Are encouraged by a Mentor to
(5) Cross the First Threshold and enter the Special world, where
(6) they encounter Tests, Allies, and Enemies.
(7) They Approach the Inmost Cave, crossing a second threshold
(8) Where they endure the Ordeal
(9) They take possession of their Reward and
(10) are pursuing on The Road Back to the Ordinary World
(11) They cross the Third Threshold, expereience a Ressurection, and are transformed by the expereience.
(12) They Return with the Elixir, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World.

Tips on Writing the Synopsis:
  • A synopsis is Not a writing sample.
  • Synopses should include tone as well as the author's voice.
  • Do Not include dialog.
  • Don't waste real estate - every word matters.  No repetition.
  • Absolutely NO CLICHES!
  • Limit adjective and adverb use.  Instead, use strong verbs.  
  • Follow a logical organization.
  • Use third person past tense.
  • Don't forget to include what is unique about your novel/approach.
  • Correct use of punctuation, grammar, and spelling.
  • Include the end.

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