Synopsis struggles

writingJoe’s Post #155 — Okay, everyone seems to agree: writing a synopsis-thingee is hard. It’s harder than writing a novel in many ways.

I learned this first by trying to write one, then by looking up how to write ‘a damn synopsis’ on the internet. The internet wouldn’t lie and the general consensus is it’s difficult to distill a 400-1000 page novel into a few paragraphs.

So, why am I doing one?

I’ve decided to get a few more of my stories out there. And while some agents or editors just want a query and a few pages or a query and a ton of pages, every so often you’ll find one that challenges you with the words “and include a 1 page synopsis.”

They may as well have written “and stick your head in a blender and send me the results”. It can be as messy.

So, for some, if you can’t do one, you will get rejected. Bang. Just like that.

How’s that for stakes?

Well, that just made me all the more determined to make sure I sent out my best synopsis, so I wanted to see what advice there might be.

Jane Friedman had a great blog about it, and my take-away was that we have to make readers care. I have a hard time making my dog care, so making my readers care may be something beyond my reach.

How to Write A Synopsis on Pub Crawl had some great worksheet stuff that might help you organize your thoughts. Me, I love worksheets. They give you step-by-step direction to what goes where. Like an Ikea manual.

Chuck Sambuchino had some great advice for queries, synopsisesess and first pages. My take-away from him, expand your query rather than trying to contract your novel.

So, armed with lots of information, I went back to write the damn thing.

And failed.

I knew it the moment I’d finished.

Despite my best intentions and all the warnings, I wrote out a ton of “and this happens, then this happens”. Then the book ends.


Now what?

Now you phone a friend.

It took a bit of doing, but we worked through the problems. Or at least both agreed that my first attempt sucked hairy monkey balls.

In the end, I produced something that I hope grabs the attention of an agent or an editor. Who knows if it’s awesome, all I can tell you is it doesn’t completely blow.


Page count:  90ish still

5/5/5 Word count. I don’t think I got past 22,000

Words that will get thrown out: The way I feel today, all of them

Blogs Written Since Last Post: 6 (a burst of 5 at Just A Stepdad.)

Exercise days: Did my very first one today. At a gym. With gym equipment. I’m sore. A 90 year old granny kicked my ass on the rowing machine. I think she told me to man up, and stop crying.

Movies Seen: None, but first two Walking Dead episodes were the best TV I’ve seen in a while.

Book I’m Reading: None at the moment. Kinda sad, I know.

Rejections: 1 – it came fast.

Déja vu all over again


Silk’s Post #103 — I love new beginnings. For some people, the year begins on January 1. Others are in tune with Spring as a time of rebirth. I was a Halloween baby, so for me the year has always started with autumn. It’s a new cycle and we’re on the start line once again.

Our 5Writers mini-retreat in Vancouver last week was a perfectly timed re-start for me. If you’ve ever belonged to a writers group – or any kind of small-scale, informal professional circle – you’ll know how this kind of support and encouragement kindles new enthusiasm for your work and kicks your energy up a notch.

And there’s nothing like a new challenge to wake up the competitive spirit. As a group, we have just embraced an ambitious common goal to write and self-publish five new books. If “competitive” seems like an inapt word to describe our cooperative efforts, it’s used deliberately. As unpublished authors, we’re a bit like a team that’s training together. We egg each other on. Put any five people on the same track – whether they’re running or writing – and the natural competitive human spirit turns it into a race. At the same time, we have an unwritten rule, born of our mutual respect and loyalty: Leave No Writer Behind. So it’s a genteel “race” of 5 cooperative competitors designed to produce 5 winners.

Over the next months, this blog will be sharing our brave new journey. It’s less brash than our original 5Writers challenge to write 5 novels in 5 months two years ago. In 2012 we set out at a furious gallop, hell bent for leather. Yee-haw! It was a terrific exercise and we learned a lot from it – about writing, and about ourselves.

I’m one of the two who didn’t finish the novel I started for that challenge. I may finish it one day because I love the characters and I think it has potential, but it’s a book that was conceived to fit that 5Writers challenge. It’s not the book I absolutely must write – at least not right now.

This new challenge is different. I like to think we’ve matured together as writers. Life has thrown us all many changes over the past couple of years. Our nice comfy schedule of meeting once a month or so for critiques is out the window, with two of the five now spending winters in the desert, three going through house moves in the last year, and one taking up Dad duties with his wonderful new family.

We’re all very aware of life’s ticking clock. It’s time to get more serious about writing – and publishing. Even if that means doing it for ourselves. No Cinderella stories have been forthcoming – what a surprise! So we’re not waiting for someone to knock on the door with a glass slipper in hand. But I think we’ve become realists about what we can accomplish as indie writers, and how much work and time we will need to (and are able to) put into it.

Here’s the box score from our lively review last Friday of our 5 book concepts:

  • 5Writers who had completed a full synopsis for review: 1
  • 5Writers who completely switched what book they’re planning to write after review: 2
  • 5Writers who are contemplating major changes to characters after review: 1
  • 5Writers who are now at work on new synopses: 4
  • Fabulous Thai dinners consumed during retreat: 1
  • Fabulous fellow bloggers who joined us for said dinner: 2 (Alison and Don of Adventures in Wonderland, the first time most of us had met these superstars in person!)


Helga and super supportive husband Emil

Helga and husband Emil

Don and Joe

Don and Joe

Paula and Silk

Paula and Silk

Karalee and Alison

Karalee and Alison

Alison and Don

Alison and Don


How to write a synopsis


Joe’s Post #72 — How do you write one?

Damned if I know. I’m bad at it. Like really bad. Like Highlander 2 bad.

It’s a hard thing for me to do. You know, write one or two pages on something that’s actually 500 pages long. What do you leave out? What themes, subplots and clever little jokes do I keep? How do I condense thousands upon thousands of my wonderful words and unbelievably brilliant ideas into something exciting without confusing the sh*t out of everyone?

But, as already stated in previous blogs, I am nothing if not stubborn, so for the last few days, I’ve been working on my synopsis. Lots of them.

It hasn’t gone well, but today, I think I cracked it.

How did I do that?

I got out of my head and just wrote about the best parts of my story. Not “and then this happens and this happens, and then someone’s penis falls off.” Nope. I tried to hit the key points, the ones I would talk about if anyone asked about my book.

I have no idea if it works any better than the previous 11 drafts. Not a clue. But it flows better, that’s for sure, and it was kinda fun to write. So, maybe that’s the secret.

I started out with a sentence describing my story. I chose one similar to (but not exactly the same as) the one I’d written for my query. Then I worked on characters and what they wanted and what stood in their way and why it mattered and what they did to overcome the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

That led to five pages of writing.

Too long.

I cut back as much as I could.

Four pages.

More needed to be cut.

I took out most of the lead-up. No one at the conference ever said to me, “hey handsome Joe, tell me more about the backstory.”

I deleted all the subplots. Fun as they are, they distract from the story when you’ve only got a few pages to work with.

That got me to three pages.

Just one more to go.

I could do it.

I took a break, grabbed a beer, watched Dallas fumble on their first possession (that’s football talk for those in the know) and then went back to it. With coffee. And a donut. Ok, three donuts.

And then I had two pages.

Probably as good as I could do. It focused on what the agents had questioned me about. World-building. The magic. The big bad.

So, Monday, it’ll be time to send it all off. Query, synopsis, 10 pages (bio if necessary).

Here’s a link if you want to check it out. There are many like it, but this one’s pretty darn good.

johnnySorry there are none written by Johnny Depp.



Joe’s Post # 23 — I got nuthin’. No words of wisdom. No amusing anecdotes. No tales of a hero overcoming obstacles. So, time for another journey into the bizarre world of spam. Here are the latest additions, all unaltered.

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Queries Written: 2

Queries Sent: 0

Synopsisesesess Written: 1

Synopsisesesess that suck: 1

Bios written: 1

Not the best week of my life. Need to do better.