Lesson Twenty-Nine from a Manuscript Red Line: How’s your synopsis?

The publisher talked a lot about the synopsis in the closing comments of the Red-line.  I found this really strange, but I thought it had merit to mention it.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

The reason I found this strange, was because they’ve already read the manuscript.  They’ve already made comments, and asked for it to be re-submitted.  Why are they even talking about the synopsis?

What it seemed like to me (being an optimist) is that they were actually being helpful.  They probably knew that there was a chance that the author may not make all the changes to their satisfaction, and that she might submit to other avenues.  They were nice enough to point out problems with the synopsis that might help her if she sent it somewhere else.

(Honestly, after reading all their synopsis critiques, I was wondering why they even asked for a “full” in the first place.  I guess you never know.)

So, this is what they said…

They went through a laundry list of what the story “is not”.

It is not about this, it is not about that either.  (Quoting what was mentioned in the synopsis)

It is not a character study on the main character.

The quest is not fleshed out…

These are some of the comments.  I am guessing they are saying that the synopsis was too in-depth and talked about the side plots in the story.

I can totally understand this.  It took me months of writing and digging and cutting and beta-bashing until I finally realized what my story is about…

Magellan Talbot has to save the world.  Too bad he doesn’t know it.

Boom.  Done.  Now, there is a lot of other stuff going on that is SUPER important and makes the story unique, but you wouldn’t believe how hard it was for me to boil it down to the above.  I kept getting bogged down by the details.  The crux of the story is simple.

To save the world he has to save the Goddess.
To save the goddess he needs to fight for her.
To fight for her, he needs to find the Rapier.
To find the Rapier, he needs to remember his dreams…
The catch?  He can never remember his dreams.
Or anything else about who he really is.

There is also a lot of other stuff going on.  There is a love story, and a jealous brother trying to kill  Magellan… but simplicity is the key for the synopsis… I need to use only the elements that draw the story forward that are closely attached to Magellan saving the Goddess.

The publisher’s next comment in the Gold Mine Manuscript was “If the story is about saving (the alternate world) then that’s your focus and everything that happens in the story needs to lead to that point.  And the synopsis needs to be focused on all the activities that happen to get to that point.  Tie in every character that is introduced to get there as well as why and how (the MC) is the true key… build that up and show how that’s important.  Show us through actions and scenes that push the story forward.”

After reading this, I think I may have edited my own summary down too far.  I bought it down to the bare bones of the fewest characters involved that draw the main plot line forward.  And I also think I centered on the WRONG plotline.  My current synopsis is straight and to the point, but it is more centered on the jealous brother… which is important, but not the center.  I also took out Harris, who is probably equally as important in the novel as Magellan is.

Honestly, I am just not qualified to give anyone advice on a Summary.  I am just as lost as the rest of you.  I have helped out others with suggestions, because sometimes it is easier to have someone else boil down your story for you.  The best I can do is give you the exact quote that the publisher wrote for the Gold Mine Manuscript. (above)

Read their comment over carefully, and do your best with it.  And… when you get lost… remember that you have friends in the blogosphere who are always willing to help.

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15 responses to “Lesson Twenty-Nine from a Manuscript Red Line: How’s your synopsis?

  1. Jennifer, can I tell you thank you! thank you! thank you! I have been struggling with writing my synopsis, perusing all kinds of how to articles on the subject, and the simple advice from this post made something click. “If the story is about saving (the alternate world) then that’s your focus and everything that happens in the story needs to lead to that point. And the synopsis needs to be focused on all the activities that happen to get to that point…” That’s the key right there! It made me drill down to the main goal of my MC and with that in focus, it was much easier to decide on what to leave out. Now, my synopsis is complete – at one page! Yay! Happy Writing!

  2. I always have trouble with this and blurbs. Thanks for the post.

  3. Pingback: Lesson Thirty from a Manuscript Red Line: Finale! Summing it all up | Jennifer M Eaton

  4. Jennifer, Thanks for this one. Very helpful.

  5. I write a couple of sentences to summarize each chapter as I write. At the end, you have a draft for a synopsis. Also, I’ve written one synopsis before the rough draft, but I didn’t enjoy that.

  6. I feel for you! Summarizing is the pits!

  7. I agree that the synopsis is harder than the query. Most of us (after much sweat and tears and gnashing of teeth) write that hook for the query. Three paragraphs? We really boil it down.

    But the synopsis gives us more rope to hang ourselves. We might wander off the right track, putting in needless information or focusing on the wrong bits. So easy, then, for an agent to pass.

    There are a few—a very few—agents who actually don’t ask for one. God bless ’em!

  8. Friends rule! Am I right?

  9. I hate writing synopses but they have to be done. Good luck!

  10. You know, I think that is gold that they gave you. Getting any sort of feedback is amazing, but in depth? Yeah, you won the jackpot. Now, making sense of all of it and getting it right the next time? Yikes. Good luck with it! These are great tips, even if you don’t think you’re qualified to give them.

  11. Jennifer, the way to see the pesky query is … it’s a pain in the a$$ … the way to see the synop. is … it’s a longer pain in the a$$. But since we don’t make the rules and must follow like good little Stepford writers … we must obey 🙂

  12. I still don’t have what it takes to write a synopsis. Sometimes, I wonder why I bother with the novel at all. I ask myself every day, ‘What is original about this piece that hasn’t been done before?’. If there is something, I can’t find it. There is no arc in the storyline. The quest isn’t fleshed out enough. It’s enough to make one want to cry. It’s fantastic, though, that the publisher took the time to make the comments. Goes to show a query can get you a request, but the synopsis has to carry the agent or publisher through to the end. I still say just because you have difficulty writing a synopsis doesn’t mean you have a sucky book. You just have to put on a different hat to write with. I haven’t found that hat yet.

  13. I have a synopsis already completed, but I need to change and update. I have a one page version and a ten page version. The synopsis is more stressful than the query letter, if you ask me.

  14. I’m not a synopsis fan, I don’t think I have the skill! Good luck with yours!