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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Writing Challenges » Synopsis Challenge

   
Author Topic: Synopsis Challenge
Meredith
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If there's one thing I've learned over the last year, it's that writing your novel is the easy part. The real work comes when you're trying to find an agent and hopefully sell the thing.

So, for us aspiring novelists, here's the challenge involving my personal least favorite part of the process--the synopsis.

Write a synopsis (if you don't have one already) for your novel. It can be a novel that you've finished and are ready to start querying, or one you're working on, or even one you're just thinking about writing. The only requirement is that it be no more than 1500 words.

Here's how it will work (I think):

  • Reply to this post with the name of your novel and its genre.
  • Email the full synopsis to me before July 15th.
  • Multiple entries are permitted. But, please, no more than three.
  • On or about July 15th, I will email an .rtf file containing all of the entries to each participant.
  • Participants will read the entries and write a short critique (approximately 100 words) of what you liked and didn't like about each synopsis. And, of course, we will vote for the three synopses that would make us request a partial if we were agents. Return this to me by July 25th.
  • Participants who don't vote will be disqualified. No voting for your own synopsis (even if you do think it's the best).
  • Scoring: Five points for a first place vote, three points for a second place vote, one point for a third place vote.
  • I will put the critiques up on this thread and post the winners.
  • Optional side votes for best title, which will not affect the voting for best synopsis.

This is yet another area in which I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. But I'm willing to give it a try.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited June 24, 2010).]


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Meredith
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BLOOD WILL TELL, Urban Fantasy
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Owasm
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MOTES & MEDDLES, YA Contemporary Fantasy

[This message has been edited by Owasm (edited June 23, 2010).]


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TaoArtGuy
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Cool. This is something I need to be doing anyway.

VALDA & THE VALKYRIES, YA Fantasy


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KayTi
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CONVERGENCE, YA sci-fi, but put an asterisk by my name because I'll be traveling during some of the voting part and might end up dropping out due to no time for crits. However, this is precisely what I need right now so I hope to not bail.
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KayTi
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PS

suggest shorter word length limit. Shouldn't most synopses be one page or less? In double-space land that would be 250 words. We could be generous and go with 500 words, but I think it's perhaps normally a lot shorter, no? Someone who's done this before should probably comment as I'm just guessing here, (query letter perhaps is what I'm thinking of, and maybe those are really two separate beasts?)


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Meredith
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quote:
suggest shorter word length limit. Shouldn't most synopses be one page or less? In double-space land that would be 250 words. We could be generous and go with 500 words, but I think it's perhaps normally a lot shorter, no? Someone who's done this before should probably comment as I'm just guessing here, (query letter perhaps is what I'm thinking of, and maybe those are really two separate beasts?)

I thought of going a little shorter. Most agents will accept a two page synopsis. The synopsis does not have to be double-spaced, any more than the query letter is double-spaced. It's not something that will be edited. 1500 words would be more like three pages. Trust me, that's hard enough.

However, you can certainly take length into account as part of your voting criteria.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited June 23, 2010).]


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Meredith
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quote:
but put an asterisk by my name because I'll be traveling during some of the voting part and might end up dropping out due to no time for crits. However, this is precisely what I need right now so I hope to not bail.

I can cut a bit of slack for hardships. I allowed ten days for critiques and voting so that it wouldn't be too stressful for anyone. Let's not borrow trouble, but if it becomes a problem, let me know at the time and we'll see what we can do.


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shimiqua
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FALLING, LDS Romance. (Yeah, I know. Makes me sick too. )
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Crank
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This is an excellent idea, and as TaoArtGuy said, is part of my craft I should be sharpening. In fact, I will up the ante for myself and enter a story that doesn't even contain "THE END," let alone a synopsis.

AGENTS OF THE FOURTH WIND - SF

S!
S!


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mfreivald
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CONFESSIONS OF AN ELDER, Fantasy

Thanks for doing this, Meredith.


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Rhaythe
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On second thought, won't be able to get around to this.

[This message has been edited by Rhaythe (edited June 30, 2010).]


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Meredith
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For those of you attempting to write or revise a synopsis, like me, this link might be helpful.
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MikeL
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I am attempting, and thanks.

Truth and Dissent - Modern/Future SF


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TaoArtGuy
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Another interesting page that contains link to synopsis samples and a few articles about writing the synopsis
http://catauniversity.com/on-writing/synopsis/3-synopsis-samples/

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TamesonYip
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Doing a synopsis scares me, so perhaps this is just what I need. I'll give it a shot.

For the Gods, Quest Fantasy.

Name is working title. I am considering a whole bunch of other options but for now, that is what I am going with.

ETA- maybe soon you'll do a query challenge, force me to work on that.

http://www.annemini.com/?cat=328

Here's a link to author! author!'s synopsis advice. From what I have read, you can be asked for a 1,2.3 or 5 page synopsis. Nathan Bransford says shoot for 2-3 pages double spaced, but it admits that the standard is pretty nebulous:

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/08/how-to-write-synopsis.html

I might spend a bit too much time reading blogs, not enough writing.

Oh, funny thing, if you read the comments, Nathan replies to someone that they should shoot for 3-4 pages for the synopsis (in post he says 2-3). So apparently, he hasn't decided exactly how long he would want it either.

[This message has been edited by TamesonYip (edited June 26, 2010).]


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Crank
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For some of us, there's a definite mental block when it comes to writing a synopsis. As far as I was concerned, it would be easier for me to hack into the Hatrack board and change Meredith's proposed word count to fifteen thousand words. However, I just found a piece of advice: it was something that never occurred to me before, but suggests a new way of approaching not just how I create my synopsis, but how I approach my entire story:

quote:
Some writers find that writing a synopsis is a painful process. How do you condense your entire story down to three or so short pages? That's a problem if you write the synopsis after you've written the story. However, some writers get around this problem by writing the synopsis first, as a kind of an outline, then altering it if the story changes as they write. This allows the writer to see the "bigger picture," the entire novel at once, and is a good composing device, as it helps keep your plot on track as you work.

Here's the source of that quote

Hope that makes a difference to a few others, too.

S!
S!


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Tiergan
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I'm in.

KNIGHTS VALOR - Fantasy


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Rhaythe
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quote:
Some writers find that writing a synopsis is a painful process. How do you condense your entire story down to three or so short pages?

One class I took at Pennwriters mentioned trying to capture the utter core of your story in 20 words... then 10... 5... As few as possible. One of the classic examples they gave was for the movie 'Alien':

"Jaws in space"

They also went on to mention that most agents love a good synopsis because, just like writers, they know they have never seen one before. It's a necessary evil.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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"Jaws in Space" sounds like a "high-concept" pitch, and those are okay for talking to movie producers, but I found out that they don't work so well for editors and publishers and agents.

(I offered "Brigadoon in Space" as a "pitch" to an editor once, and he said, "It sounds too derivative." )

So I'd recommend that after you distill it down to a few words, then you start building it back up with the words that will make your "Jaws in Space" clearly different from any other "Jaws in Space" that anyone else might come up with. Also, change your keywords "Jaws in Space" (or whatever) to something else, so there are no "derivative" keywords at all in your core description.

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited June 28, 2010).]


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Owasm
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Crank,

I have found it very useful to do a 'treatment' of the novel before I start. It really helps get the big picture down. I've done it three times and its something you can give a reader to comment on. However, be prepared for comments you wouldn't expect.


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Ken S
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Oh my god...my first synopsis *ever* came out to 3200 words

*Facepalm*

Time to kill my darlings


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Meredith
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quote:
Oh my god...my first synopsis *ever* came out to 3200 words

Don't feel all alone. I did say this wasn't going to be easy, didn't I?


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MikeL
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I just finished mine with 779 words. Is that enough?
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Meredith
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quote:
I just finished mine with 779 words. Is that enough?

Congratulations!

There is no lower limit, so long as you're happy with the result.


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TamesonYip
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Ok- potentially stupid question. On different sites, I have seen different answers. Do you put character's names in all caps? I know one agent said that is a screenwriter thing, but I have seen examples with the character's name in all caps. So, right now, I am not exactly sure how I should be doing it. Thanks!
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Do you put character's names in all caps?

I don't think you have to, and if you don't have to, don't.


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TamesonYip
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Thanks Kathleen. It is hard when there is so much conflicting advice out there.

Current draft is 1471 words. It hurts- no mention of a whole love interest, a minor (but significant) betrayal, travel through various cities, various character development moments, et.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The thing is, when there are Very Good Reasons for doing something a certain way, then you have to have Even Better Reasons for not doing it that way.

But a lot of things tend not to have any better reason than "that's the way it's done," and writers can do some fun things playing with other ways of doing them. (Manuscript format is the way it is for the Very Good Reason that publishers and editors still use typesetters and typesetters need manuscripts to be that way so they can efficiently typeset the manuscript.)

OSC has said before that everything in a story should be able to fight for the right to be included in the story, and I think that can apply to other things we do as writers as well. If it doesn't have to be done that way (the writers guidelines don't specify it, for example), and you don't have a Very Good Reason for doing it that way yourself, don't do it.

Just be sure you know when something has a Very Good Reason.


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Crank
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I just trimmed my synopsis down to just under 1,500 words.

...which means there's probably something seriously wrong with it.

S!
S!


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Tiergan
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Sorry guys, doesnt look like I won't make this one in time. Had my days wrong and have stalled.

[This message has been edited by Tiergan (edited July 14, 2010).]


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walexander
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Tried to pound one out today as a practice of time constraint just to see if I could do it. As the deadline drew near I was reminded of one of the only good lessons I took away from high school. Sometimes it's better to turn in nothing than turn in garbage. I Just saw this post today, so I'll have to wait till the next one.

Cheers everyone.

W.


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Meredith
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I have seven synopses. Still waiting on the other three.
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axeminister
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I did try this, but two things prevented me from entering.
Time - I am busily working on two different short stories.
Plot - for the novel I wrote this for (did get about 500 words into it) I don't have an ending yet.

But I thought I'd come in and say thanks for posting this because before reading this challenge I didn't even know about synopsises. (Synopsees?)

I feel I must now echo what I've read many times while researching this... It's tough.

Axe


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Tiergan
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I can get mine in tomorrow, with an extension. But if not I understand. Either way going to finish this one.
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Meredith
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I've still got three others outstanding. I'm willing to wait a little to give everybody a chance.
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shimiqua
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I wrote one, but I hate it so much I'm not going to let any of you to read it. Sorry, I'm gonna have to drop out for shear lack of skill.

It did help me with my plotting, so thanks for doing this. I think it's a great idea. Maybe next time I wont suck so much.

~Sheena


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Utahute72
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Here's a question, I'm not far enough along yet to write one of these, but I wouldn't mind reading and commenting. I think this might be a good exercise for me to learn. So the offer is there if you want to take me up on it.
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Meredith
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quote:
Here's a question, I'm not far enough along yet to write one of these, but I wouldn't mind reading and commenting. I think this might be a good exercise for me to learn. So the offer is there if you want to take me up on it.

I think that's a fine idea. If anyone objects, let me know. I can delete your synopsis from the file for non-entrants.

Oh, and by the way, it's often easier to start writing the synopsis before the novel is finished. You can polish it up and refine it after. But it's often easier to see the broad sweep of the story arc when you haven't all those details and subplots. At least, so I'm told. I'm planning to try it with MAGE STORM and find out for myself.


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MikeL
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I am only about 5000 words into my novel, so I don't think it matters how far along you are as long as you have a general idea where you are going with your story. I will say that it has helped me to plot some of the points to my story.

Is it ok that this synopsis is only the first part of four to my story? It will be approximately four books to complete.

Just another thought, do we have to write about our own? Because I get a bit self critical.

[This message has been edited by MikeL (edited July 16, 2010).]


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Meredith
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quote:
Just another thought, do we have to write about our own? Because I get a bit self critical.

If you mean critique, no. You're not expected to critique your own--or vote for it.


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Meredith
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I've sent the synopses out. If anyone doesn't recieve the file, let me know.
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