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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » There is a special place in hell...

   
Author Topic: There is a special place in hell...
wetwilly
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...for whoever decided making a writer write a synopsis of his novel in a few pages as part of a submission package was going to be a thing.

This crap is hard.

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Brooke18
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Those last four words summed it up for me!
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LDWriter2
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Indeed.

Being hard that is.

But there are people who can teach how to do it easier.

I took Dean Wesley Smith's online workshop essentials and I was surprised when he dealt with that issue. One week dealt with outlines and synopses. I can't recall his exact words and I seem to have misplaced my notes even though they should be here by the computer. Anyway the way he explained it made it easier.

I'm sure he isn't the only one at there who can explain it in a way that would also make it easier.

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Meredith
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Yeah. Synopses are evil. [Frown]
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jerich100
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I've spent six months, off and on, writing a synopsis for my novel. It is excruciatingly difficult. Every keystroke must be perfect.

Metaphorically it's an audition.

Anyone who says they're easy is pompous and should be flogged publically.

I assume famous writers have someone else do it for them. Wait, if they're famous they don't need to write them. So unfair.

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History
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Book: [to Mal] "If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater."
--Firefly, Our Miss Reynolds, [FOX TV 2002]

One of my favorite quotes from a television show.

I guess we can include those who suggested to publishers that authors should write them query letters and synopses.

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extrinsic
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Where a query letter is a letter of introduction, a synopsis is a high school book report, its own special perdition.

Though if persuasive writing for publication were easy, everyone would write--and writing for publication would mean nothing.

[ June 16, 2014, 05:16 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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My struggle with writing this synopsis is finding a balance between "just the facts"--getting the necessary information across as efficiently as possible--and providing some color that will promise an interesting read in the novel. I have found conflicting advice on this point from the pros.
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Grumpy old guy
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Hell may indeed be filled with publishers, however I can see why they might insist on writers supplying a synopsis. Having seen writers write their own, I'm a firm believer that unless you actually understand what your story is about, what it means to a reader, then get someone else who has read your story to write the synopsis.

In my opinion, if you are struggling to write a synopsis then you don't really have a firm grasp of your own story. It means that you still have more to say that you haven't thought to include in your story or that your ideas are not fully realised in your tale.

I disagree with extrinsic that a synopsis is a 'book report', I think it is a distillation of plot, character and motive into a brief narrative. I have found that unless I can finish this statement, "This is a story about . . ." then I'm not yet ready to sit down and write that first draft.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
I disagree with extrinsic that a synopsis is a 'book report', I think it is a distillation of plot, character and motive into a brief narrative.

Distillation of plot, character, motive, and stakes and, crucially, what a narrative expresses about the human condition, is the crux of a fully realized book report, though rarely accomplished in a high school composition.

The human condition feature is often overlooked in high school English book reports, less so in undergraduate studies' literature responses, less yet in graduate studies, and a core requirement for post graduate English studies.

For synopsis, summary, book report composition, etc., a best practice is to first realize the human condition expressed. Backtrack from motifs and themes, simplify down to first principles, then expand for "color," or bright, lively expression.

For example: What is a human condition on point for Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game? Andrew Wiggin's moral crises are motifs of a human condition theme, a theme which unifies the whole and the surface, external action with the internal, interior life action. Wiggin is conflicted by his duties to humankind, his duties to himself, and others' duties to him. Kill or be killed. Kill and be wicked or suffer and be noble. Protect him from harm or make him harmful so he serves a common good. A dramatic conflict of life or death, acceptance or rejection, too, and the stakes and outcomes, a motivation from the complication of wanting to live normally with all the cosmos in problem opposition to a normal life. A theme-complication of the gods mock and torture an individual for presuming to be great and wanting to be normal and liked.

[ June 13, 2014, 10:53 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I stand corrected, extrinsic, my description of a synopsis does encompass the term book report. As for Ender's Game, I've only seen the movie--which I thoroughly enjoyed. They appear to have included, at least in part, most of the motifs you mention, although I would say that in the film Ender Wiggins is portrayed as almost borderline psychopathic in that he is quite prepared to engage in a generally frowned upon activity (violence) coldly and calculatingly to achieve his own ends.

Having said that, at the end of the film Ender is so completely shocked at what he has been manipulated into doing that he feels he must atone for his acts--hardly a psychopathic trait. All in all, I feel the central theme to the film story is not win at all costs but rather an exploration of the question: Is winning at all cost worth it?

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extrinsic
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Film cannot easily encompass internal, interior life crises the way written word narrative readily may and often does. Tel est la vie d'escritur; such is the life of writing.

My thoughs on Ender's Game is the question and an answer to do the ends justify the means are on point at each juncture of the narrative. Wiggin is a less psychopathic and more conflicted personality in the novel due to his interior life conflict development carrying the narrative more than the film does; that is, conflicts between duty and individual discretion--free will either way, though the "gods"--his superiors--co-opt Wiggin's free will time and again.

One feature of the novel lays uneasily on me, though. Wiggin is a degree psychopathic anyway, by conventional social value standards; an underdeveloped aspect of that feature is society made him that way.

[ June 13, 2014, 11:04 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
I stand corrected, extrinsic, my description of a synopsis does encompass the term book report. As for Ender's Game, I've only seen the movie--which I thoroughly enjoyed. They appear to have included, at least in part, most of the motifs you mention, although I would say that in the film Ender Wiggins is portrayed as almost borderline psychopathic in that he is quite prepared to engage in a generally frowned upon activity (violence) coldly and calculatingly to achieve his own ends.

Having said that, at the end of the film Ender is so completely shocked at what he has been manipulated into doing that he feels he must atone for his acts--hardly a psychopathic trait. All in all, I feel the central theme to the film story is not win at all costs but rather an exploration of the question: Is winning at all cost worth it?

My take on that is that it's partly due to the format. For example, they only show Ender playing the Giant's Drink game twice--and the second time he kills the giant. Wow! That seems like he resorted to violence really quickly. In the book, he actually tried a lot of different strategies before resorting to that one. And, as a result, he doesn't look quite so psychopathic in the book.

Now, back to the subject of synopses. I've got to write one, too. Again.

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic, your lament at the end of your post is, for me, another validation for thorough 'world building' and exploring all aspects of an imaginary society. Such an exercise must include the society's moral values and belief systems, either spontaneously developed by circumstances or state sanctioned societal manipulation to achieve a desired end.

OSC may have gotten side-tracked slightly with his attention to detail in the 'training games' and overlooked the very nature of military training: Break down the current personality and rebuild it so that it will do what you want it to. This does include 'adjusting' the psyche to make doing the unthinkable possible and bearable; that is, cold bloodily killing another human being.

This is a motif that I'm exploring in my current WIP, and what happens when such 'imposed' morality comes into conflict with someone's 'innate' ideas of what's right and wrong.

Phil.
PS. Sorry for going 'off thread'.

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extrinsic
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In terms of the human condition, are not social-moral values and belief systems very much on point for developing a synopsis? Also, as features, or motifs, are they not as a best practice implied and inferrable by the audience so they're not overtly lectured or preached, for synopsis or narrative?

I believe yes.

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wetwilly
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Phil,

I don't disagree with you, but I don't think what you're saying applies to me in this case. My problem is not that I can't figure out the kernel of my story; it's that I don't know what editors/agents expect in a synopsis, so I'm just guessing about what tone to use. I want it to shine, but I don't want to appear unprofessional if a drier, just the facts version is expected.

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Grumpy old guy
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wetwilly, there's the rub. Just what do agents expect, and do they all expect the same thing? In my view, if an agent is asking for a synopsis they want to know not just what the story is about but how expertly you can narrate that synopsis. By this I mean how expertly do you write. Is it tight, snappy and reasoned or is it loose, turgid and ill-conceived? Or anywhere in between those two extremes. Then they'll make a choice based on genre/reader/target audience if your story merits them allocating a precious resource, time, to looking at a full manuscript.

extrinsic, that's the fine line I have chosen to tread in this case--deal with a key element of humanity, the desire by government to control and influence vs the innate desires of those being governed when they 'feel' the line has been crossed without 'telling' the reader that's what I'm exploring. If the story works, they're smart enough to understand what I'm saying without me having to point and yell.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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For synopses, as for anything in writing or life, part of audience expectation fulfillment is pleasant surprise satisfaction. Reconcile both a "just-the-facts version" with a "shiny" version that suits submission guidelines and your sensibilities and self-imposed rules: the challenge met.

Compose a lean and straight just-the-facts version, revise for "shiny" production value appeals, meet your own goals within each's expectations and limitations.

Anyone who screens such an end result will prefer an original, lively approach against one too rigidly conformed to X-Y-Z or A-B-C expectations advised by synopsis guides, which so many amibitious writers read, study, follow, done to death. Guides are exactly that: guides, not a single, one-size-fits-all convention expectation.

[ June 14, 2014, 01:34 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
If the story works, they're smart enough to understand what I'm saying without me having to point and yell.

Phil.

"They're smart," there's a key appeal feature for any narrative, synopsis too: write such that the audience feels smarter than the characters, the narrator, the narrative, the writer in particular, inferring and interpreting what really goes on between surface events. Dramatic irony is a powerful appeal force: where one party knows what's going on and another doesn't; like Wiggin knows the "gods" manipulate him, though not as much as readers know they manipulate him, and are still curious and care what will happen all along and in the end.
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Denevius
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Actually, writing my ten paged synopsis for Tor proved to be easier than I thought, as I figured it'd be tough, too. And really, I had to start cutting things out, as it would have gone way past ten pages if I hadn't.

I do think the two paged synopsis I did was more difficult because the novel doesn't really lend itself easily to a short writeup. It's longish, it's complicated with a lot of moving parts, and trying to condense it all to 600 words is difficult.

But yeah, I think Extrinsic is spot on. It's a book report. Just think of freshmen English at university (or really, high school English), and you shouldn't have a problem.

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wetwilly
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I think I have a workable version written. Conveys the kernel of the plot, what I believe sets this story apart and makes it interesting, as well as the "flavor" of the writing. Did it in 3 pages. Now let's see if I can cut it down to 2.
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Grumpy old guy
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wetwilly, I'd be interested in reading it when you feel it's ready. If it makes sense to someone who hasn't read the story then you're half-way there.

But, for me, a synopsis that is over a page long (roughly 300 words) is indicative of a writer who can't, or won't, eliminate the irrelevant and concentrate on the essential.

Phil.

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Denevius
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quote:
But, for me, a synopsis that is over a page long (roughly 300 words) is indicative of a writer who can't, or won't, eliminate the irrelevant and concentrate on the essential.

Tell that to Tor.

quote:
A synopsis of the entire book. The synopsis should include all important plot elements, especially the end of the story, as well as aspects of character development for your main characters. The synopsis should run between three and ten pages in standard manuscript format.
Tor
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wetwilly
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Yeah, Tor is 3-10 pages. 2 pages seems to be industry standard. 1 page, and you're approaching query length.

Thanks for the offer, Phil. I'll send it to you when I'm on my computer.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Tor Submission Guidelines:
A synopsis of the entire book. The synopsis should include all important plot elements, especially the end of the story, as well as aspects of character development for your main characters. The synopsis should run between three and ten pages in standard manuscript format.

Note that plot is an event sequence, end is the outcome of the main dramatic complication, the end of the central sequence, and main character development aspects are personality traits as moral values and belief systems through attitudes exhibited related to the complication. Though the above doesn't ask for settings, they are the fourth corner of narrative, synopsis, etc., essentials: complication, event, setting, characters' attitudes. Superficial appearances notwithstanding, the implied internal meanings of the above are more on point for strong, clear, appealing writing.

For example, Seventeen-year-old Marie finds herself at odds with her parents' college choices for her. Age--main characters directly stated, vague, generic; event directly stated, vague, generic; complication directly stated, vague, generic; setting directly stated, vague, generic. Superficial. Bland.

Or, The old apron string and bacon winner demand Marie attend nearby Vasser or Harvard--she cares for neither stuffy dust pile. Far away Berkeley is her choice. Event, complication, setting influences, character traits and attitudes, specific and implied and inferrable. Depth. Spicy.

[ June 14, 2014, 01:21 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Interesting that Tor wants the synopsis in manuscript format, since the purpose of manuscript format is to facilitate publication.

One approach to planning a synopsis:

What is the beginning situation? (What does the proactive character want and what are the obstacles to achieving or fulfilling that want?)

What are the turning points that change the direction the plot would be expected to go because of the beginning situation?

What is the cost involved in resolving the plot?

How is the proactive character affected by the resolution?


Something to consider, anyway.

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extrinsic
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Tor is one of a very few houses that still names Courier as an acceptable manuscript format typeface, and otherwise Times New Roman.

Courier, being a monospaced typeface, is an equalizer in that each glyph is one equal space each: every manuscript and synopsis' actual real estate is equal. Times New Roman allows for a tenth or a fifth or so more glyphs than Courier: more word count. Using Courier speaks volumes about "concentration on the essential."

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Denevius
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Tor is also one of the very few that insists you send a paper package. No emails for their manuscripts.

quote:
Don't send submissions or inquiries by email or fax. We do not respond to emailed or faxed submissions, queries, or inquiries about the status of submissions.
Some of the others give you an option, but they tend to state that they prefer electronic submissions. And for paper submissions, I find Times New Roman easiest to read.
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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Where a query letter is a letter of introduction, a synopsis is a high school book report, its own special perdition.

In that case, I've done my time in hell... in the Montana school system, you're required to do nn-many book reports per quarter (distributed among fiction and nonfiction and occasionally special topics; some oral, some written), and your book reports follow you forever, so you can't recycle them for the next grade up. I hated doing 'em with a purple screaming passion. [Mad] [Mad] [Mad]
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Grumpy old guy
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For my High School final English exam (don't know the American equivalent but it's the level before entering university) I wrote a report on a book I'd never read--I simply analysed the question. I passed, which annoyed my English teacher immensely as I hardly ever went to his classes. He was a real nong (idiot).

Phil

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extrinsic
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Book reports were a torment until I realized their components, purposes, and functions. I spent all of eighth grade independently studying English--weekly read a book, weekly write a book report--while the rest of the school revisited grammar studies. The first quarter was a struggle. I ploughed through anyway, wanting to avoid a year of grammar review.

I tested out of that, one out of 750 students in three middle school grades, the one of two who actually took and the only one who passed the end-of-year grammar exam at the beginning of the year to opt out of grammar study. The honors, advanced placement, and academic distinction cadres worked on intensive grammar review right along with everyone else.

Once a week for a school year a book report was due Friday to the study director, the English chair, or a day earlier if school was out that day. Once a quarter a term paper was also due, about process, method, new knowledge learned. Once every four weeks an oral defense, interview, and review was also required. No quizzes or tests. That was eighth grade public school English for me.

The director did not express any criteria or limitations for the book reports, probably couldn't anyway, didn't know the one essential criteria--what a narrative expresses about the human condition--beyond a typewritten page count. The director learned from me what I learned independently a book report is about.

A noteable difference between a book report and a narrative synopsis is no direct declaration for a narrative, its synopsis, etc.--though direct declaration for a book report--what each expresses about the human condition; only implied and inferrable what a narrative expresses about the human condition will serve that function, so that message, moral, meaning, etc., are not too overtly told, lectured, or preached.

[ June 16, 2014, 05:11 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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After some useful feedback (thanks Grumpy old guy), I've got this synopsis sitting at 3 1/2 pages. This works for TOR, but I'll be damned if I can figure out how to tighten it up any more. I think everything there is necessary. I might be able to cut a few lines worth if I go through it and get super stingy with wording, but I'm losing faith that it's possible to get it down to 2 pages.

Guess I just have to operate on the "TOR will buy it, so don't worry about shortening it up" theory. [Wink]

I can count on that, right?

I guess I can at least send it off to TOR, and then I have a year or so before I have to worry about it.

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