Stupid Synopsis Part 2

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Nely Cab - 30 page critique from yours truly
Beth Fred - Query Critique from Stacey
Adrianne Russell -Synopsis Critique from Stacey
Jennifer Chow -  Your pick query or synopsis critique from Jamie

On Wednesday we talked about the need for a good synopsis and my general rules for what it should and should not include. (Go back to Synopsis Part 1)As promised, today I'm going to share my tips to for writing your synopsis in five easy steps. To help, I'm going to use Hunger Games as an example. If you haven't read HG...I got nothing for you. Let's get to stepping!

Step One: Know thy problem!
The synopsis is all about the core plot/problem of your story. If you don't know it, you can't write a synopsis and more importantly, you probably have a wobbly novel. Figure out what the key issue is for your protagonist and write it down. As you add things to your synopsis, check them up against this problem. If what you just wrote has nothing to do with this key problem, Delete It.

HG example: Katniss has to play in the Hunger Games and doesn't want to die.

Step Two: Start with conflict
Sure, you have to give us a little lead up to the key problem in your novel. It's what introduces us to your characters and makes us care about them when it hits the fan. Your synopsis isn't held to the same level. No one is going to care about your character after a two page summary of your story. So skip all the frontage and start with the key conflict. You should give ONE sentence to introduce your character, setting, etc., but don't overdo it. Fill out this first paragraph with the essential details of the core conflict. Notice in the example below I only mention three characters despite the presence of a ton more in the first chapter.

HG example: Katniss Everdeen and her sister Prim are preparing for the annual reaping of District 13 where one boy and one girl are chosen to play in the Hunger Games, a winner takes all battle to the death held in the Capital. Against all odds, Prim is selected as this year's tribute. Determined to save her sister, Katniss volunteers as tribute in her sister's place and is sent to the Capital with Peeta, this year's male tribute. Despite her hunting skills Katniss is certain she will never see her family again.

Step Three: How does it end
I'm skipping around here so stick with me. Writing your end now will help you avoid including details that aren't directly related to this ending. Think about the very last scene of your book. Who's there? Unless you've killed of the rest of your characters, chances are you'll have more people in this ending scene than need to be in your synopsis so be sure to pare this down. What are these character's doing? Think about specific actions that bring about resolution to the key problem you identified earlier. Katniss's problem is that she wants to live. How does she resolve that problem? Note that the ending is clear though the details are slightly vague. If I go into using the berries here, I have to mention them in an earlier section and that scene isn't crucial to the core plot. How they would commit suicide is less relevant than the fact that they threaten it.

HG example: Katniss and Peeta outlast all the other tributes and prepare to leave the Hunger Games. Despite an earlier rule amendment that would allow them both to live, the rules have changed again and now there can only be one winner. Katniss refused to kill Peeta and tricks the game makers into thinking that they will both commit suicide instead. In order to ensure a champion is named, the rules are hastily changed back to allow for two winners. Katniss and Peeta are declared champions and allowed to go home, but both know nothing will ever be the same again.

Step Four: Bare your Midriff
Go to the middle of your story. What is going on? If you've paced your novel well, this should be a big swing in your story. Your main character is either experiencing a fake victory that lulls her into a sense of complacency or a false defeat, that makes her think it's all over. This is the place where  your character has to make hard and fast decisions that impact everything in the rest of the story. This is the place where true character is revealed. Your paragraph for this section needs to show what's changed and how your main character intends to deal with it.

HG example: After weeks of preparation the Hunger Games begins and Katniss realizes just how alone she is. Her show of strength has made her a target for this year's favorites. She expected to be hunted, but she didn't anticipate Peeta would help them. With her hunting skills and a little unexpected help from another tribute, Katniss is able to drive off her pursuers, including Peeta.

Step Five: Fill in the Blanks
You need two more paragraphs. One to tie the intro to the middle and another to tie the middle to the end. Think carefully about what core pieces of information are essential to bring these paragraphs together. Lots of stuff goes on here, but you don't have room for lots. Go back to the key problem and only include those elements that matter.

HG example (1): In the Capitol, Katniss has an entire team to prepare her for the games. She has to avoid showing her strengths to the other tributes to avoid becoming a target. At the same time, she needs to impress the game makers if she has any hope of earning sponsors that can help her once the game starts. At first, Katniss and Peeta work as a team, but as the game draws near, Peeta pulls away leaving Katniss alone in her fight to survive.

HG example (2): As the number of surviving tributes dwindles, everything changes when the game makers change the rules to allow for two champions as long as they both come from the same district. Determined to get home and save Peeta, Katniss takes a calculated risk to find Peeta and join forces. She finds him injured and hardly the asset she had hoped for. Thanks to medicine received from her sponsors, Katniss is able to nurse Peeta back to health and together they work to survive the other tributes and avoid deadly obstacles created by the game makers.

So that's it. Put your paragraphs in order and you have the makings of a fine synopsis. Once you see all the sections together, you'll want to tweak your wording and adjust things for clarification. This is an important part of the editing process, but be sure that editing doesn't become adding. Unless the detail is essential in getting your character from key problem to resolution, leave it out.

There are tons of details that I left out of this synopsis. Almost all the characters are left out, including Rue (a personal favorite). It would be tempting to add her in, but don't. She isn't an essential part of the key problem so she doesn't belong here. I mention her only as "another tribute" to show that Katniss does get help, but avoid details so there isn't a need to explain more of the story.

Even though there is a ton of stuff not included, I hope you can see that the key story is there. By avoiding all the other plot lines, I can focus primarily on what makes this story. As the agent is (hopefully) reading your story, they will be pleasantly surprised with all the extra details that weren't in your synopsis.

**Special Note**
Most of the synopsis requests I've seen on agent submission pages are in the 1-2 page range. There are some who ask for longer. In order to flesh this out, go to the places in your story that lie directly in the middle of what you already have until you reach the desired length. So the next extension would add four additional paragraphs and so on. While this does allow you to provide more detail, it is important that you stick to the key problem. A longer synopsis is not permission to explain every plot layer in your story.