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48: How to Write a Strong Synopsis and Why
Episode 4821st September 2022 • Writing Pursuits • Kathrese McKee
00:00:00 00:18:03

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A synopsis is a useful tool for authors and a necessary one to attract an agent or publisher. Use these tips to make the process easier.

The question of the week is: Do you have any pointers or experiences to share about writing synopses?

Get your free copy of the First Chapter Rubric.

Laube, Steve. 2018. “Book Proposals: The Fiction Synopsis -.” The Steve Laube Agency. https://stevelaube.com/why_write-a-synopsis/

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Transcripts

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If you're sending out queries to agents for your

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novel, you need a synopsis. But there are good reasons for

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writing a synopsis. Even if you plan to go indie, what must be

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included in your novels synopsis? What should you leave

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out? How long should your synopsis be? Answers to these

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questions and more in this episode of writing pursuits,

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welcome to the writing pursuits podcast where authors like you

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discuss writing craft, author, life and book marketing

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strategies. I'm your host Kathrese. McKee. I own writing

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pursuits and write and produce the weekly newsletter writing

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pursuits tips for authors. In addition, I am a speculative

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fiction author, writing procedures for authors who drink

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too much coffee, endure judgemental looks from their

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furry writing companions and struggle for words. If you are a

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writer seeking encouragement, information and inspiration,

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this podcast is for you. Let's get to it. Hey, writing

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pursuits, authors. Welcome back to the podcast. To those of you

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who are new, I want to extend a special welcome. My name is

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Kathrese McKee, and I'm glad you're here. Please leave a

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comment a star rating and follow the show to help others find

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writing pursuits. authors who want to be traditionally

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published must include a synopsis in each query. indie

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authors should not miss the golden opportunity provided by

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creating a synopsis for their current work in process. For

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anyone who has never seen a synopsis. Let's get that out of

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the way. Simply put, a synopsis for fiction is similar to an

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abstract for nonfiction, and you've probably seen those. If

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you've ever written a master's thesis, a doctoral dissertation,

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or even a super long academic paper, chances are that you have

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written an abstract abstracts are expected for scientific

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studies to and put simply an abstract is a courtesy to help

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the reader decide if the full length work is what they are

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looking for. An abstract is a high level summary, usually one

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paragraph that ranges between 150 to one 250 words. We'll get

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to synopsis length in a moment. But first, let's discuss why you

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need one. And by the way, if you want to see examples of Synopsys

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for novels, just go out and Google that you'll see lots and

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lots of examples. Some are better than others. But we're

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going to get into that. Why do you need a synopsis for queries?

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If you are seeking traditional publication? Your synopsis is an

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important part of the querying process. Steve lobby of the

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Steve lobby agency wrote that sending your first three

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chapters to an agent without a synopsis is quote, like asking

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someone to buy a car online but only showing them a picture of

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the front grille and the passenger side door.

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I love that analogy. If you want to read his entire article,

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it'll be in the show notes. The other reason you want to write a

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synopsis for craft purposes, even if you plan to self

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publish, your synopsis is valuable to save you time during

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novel creation. Why? Because it will help you find the

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weaknesses. In your story, you will learn the answers to these

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questions. Is your premise strong enough? Are your main

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characters compelling? Does the plot stay interesting? What

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makes your story unique? How long should a synopsis be?

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That's a trick question. And the answer depends on the purpose of

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the synopsis. First 100 words or so write a synopsis that is not

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more than 150 words in length. This is not the same as a hook,

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which should be about 30 words in your query letter. These two

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items the hook and the short synopsis should total 200 words

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or less as a rough guideline. After all you need room and your

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query letter to sell yourself to the hook for your query is a

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topic for another day. Let's concentrate on the short

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synopsis for a moment. Try for approximately 100 words. This

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copy can serve as your elevator pitch and help you develop your

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back cover copy to you need this synopsis. Realistically you will

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rewrite it many times before it is perfect. For the short

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synopsis make the characters for conflict and the stakes clear.

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Let's take Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen as an example, in

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Regency era England, Elizabeth Bennett is one of Mr. And Mrs.

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Bennett's five unmarried daughters. Mr. Bennett's estate

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is entailed to a distant cousin and the girl's mother is

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desperate to marry her daughters off wealthy prospect. Mr. Darcy

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is attracted to Elizabeth but repelled by her decidedly crass

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relatives. He insults her at their first meeting and

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She is in no hurry to forgive, can love overcome his prejudice

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and her pride. So that was 75 words. Notice the elements of

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this synopsis. The main characters Elizabeth Bennet and

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Mr. Darcy are introduced. The conflict is clear his prejudice

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against her family versus her injured pride. The stakes for

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both are emotional death with the side of destitution for

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Elizabeth. If she can't make an advantageous match, see, you can

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do that one difference between this short synopsis and a longer

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one, so that the story ending is not as clear as it will be more

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about that in a moment. Multiple page synopsis. Writing a

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multiple page synopsis is the most logical place to start this

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synopsis is great for evaluating your plot at a high level, go

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for five pages or less. In other words, set yourself a limit.

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Then if you need a one page synopsis for your queries,

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whittle the multiple page one down and make every word count.

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Chop off the side plot, get rid of the minor characters. Focus

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on the main conflict, chop as much as you have to to make it

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fit the length you need. The exercise of limiting your space

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to a handful of pages is worth your time. One page synopsis

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ideally, you should hone your synopsis down to one single

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spaced page. That's approximately 500 words one page

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is difficult to achieve, especially for a lengthy novel.

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So if you are preparing your synopsis for submission, then

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pay attention to the submission guidelines. If you ignore them,

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expect the agent or publisher to toss your manuscript out. But

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some agents want one page and some want to and some will go

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for three. So follow directions if you want to contract put

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yourself in their shoes. If you look at submissions all day, how

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much time would you want to spend reading about a book you

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might never get to read? That brings us to the next question.

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When do you create a synopsis? My best advice is to create your

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first synopsis before you write your story.

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What did you say? You've already written your first draft. That's

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okay. Write your synopsis. Anyway, after you have your five

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page synopsis, step back and ask is my main character relatable?

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If you have multiple MCs are they all relatable? Is this the

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best story I can write? Where are the weak spots? are the

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stakes high enough? Is death on the line? Is the pacing tight

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enough? And the plot twists it enough to hold my readers

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interest? Does the ending makes sense without being the same old

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thing? Does the main character have a satisfying arc? Now you

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can tighten your story in an informed way during the revision

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process. You can even rewrite your synopsis before you start

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revising to perfect the plot and the story arc without having to

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rewrite the story several times, you might be able to do it with

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a synopsis in hand. Writing pursuits is run by Kathrese.

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McKee who has been trusted by fiction authors since 2014. To

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take their writing to a new level of excellence for threes

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is a three story methods certified editor who specializes

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in story diagnostics, coaching, and line editing to help you

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prepare your story for the journey ahead. For more

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information go to writing pursuits.com. The link is in the

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show notes. And now back to the podcast. What needs to be

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included in a synopsis main characters, setting, secondary

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characters, plot points, and the ending. So let's go over those

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main characters start your start with your main characters. Also

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known as your MCs. I like to emphasize my main characters

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names with all caps the first time I referenced them. This

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saves the reader time and figuring out who is important

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you shorthand descriptions for your MCs, it is fine to use

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trite phrases like single mother, deadbeat father,

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estranged son, impoverished family, distinguished doctor and

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so on. You do not have room to provide backstory, but you can

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use the shorthand phrases to get the idea across. Name the

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setting, setting equals place in time and it must be disclosed

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because context matters. Don't linger on the details. And you

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know how those some movies establish the shot with place

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and time with a little subtitle like New York City September

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11th 2001. Get as close to that as you dare in the example about

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Pride and Prejudice I said in Regency England, so that's the

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time and the place. It helps the reader I

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understand the context of the story. Important secondary

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characters include critical secondary characters. For

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example, you wouldn't mention Frodo Baggins, without including

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Samwise Gamgee. There are a set, you have to have both. In a one

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page synopsis of Pride and Prejudice. You could expand a

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little bit, but you would need to mention Jane Charles Bingley,

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Mr. And Mrs. Bennett, George Wickham and Lydia Bennett by

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name. These characters are integral to the overarching

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plot, but keep your audience in mind. And don't expect an agent

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to keep 10 characters straight. In a multiple page synopsis use

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your best judgment about how many characters, places and

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organizations you name is this for your eyes only well, then

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fine. include anything you want. Will you be sending multiple

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pages out to others? Make it as easy as possible for your

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readers to keep people, places and things straight. major plot

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points tell how the characters start out. Tell the inciting

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event, disclose the conflict. Go through the major plot points

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and make the stakes clear. You're expected to tell not show

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put on your summarization hat. Just the facts, ma'am. Like Joe

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Friday used to say in dragnet. use strong verbs. This is

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something I didn't mention, but it really needs to be said. And

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I know I said to summarize and tell the facts however, you need

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to make an emotional connection with whoever is reading your

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synopsis. This is the time to stretch for strong verbs with

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meaningful connotations. For example, Cinderella longs to

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attend the royal ball, but her stepsisters shred her homemade

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gown and mock her before sauntering away grief stricken,

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she stumbles to the garden, where her fairy godmother bursts

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interview to console her. Did you notice the verbs? Cinderella

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longs to go to the ball? Doesn't the word long have a stronger,

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more emotional connotation then want her stepsister shred and

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mock and saunter Cinderella stumbles and her godmother

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bursts into view to console her if you have trouble with your

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word count. Work on your verbs because verbs can do the heavy

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lifting in your synopsis and remove the need for a lot of

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helping words through the step sisters actions. In our example,

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the reader knows they're wicked. Through the verb stumbles, we

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get how overwhelmed Cinderella is, but godmothers arrival seems

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miraculous, without having to say so she burst onto the scene

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to console Cinderella. The ending, tell the ending give it

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away, hold nothing back. agents and publishers want to know the

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resolution. If you play coy, your submission will go and file

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13 They need to know the ending. Help them out what needs to be

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left out of the synopsis. Here are the things to leave out of

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your synopsis. Leave out minor characters if possible. Leave

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out subplots as much as you can stay on the main path through

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the story, omit backstory. Please leave out the detailed

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history of everyone in the story. Do not use flashbacks in

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your synopsis, not present the story in a linear fashion. Don't

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use bullet points, headings and subheadings tell the story. And

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don't include dialogue. This is a summary not a snippet. Your

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one page synopsis will accompany your first three chapters of

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your full manuscript. Your manuscript is where your

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dialogue skills will shine. So here are some tips. Finally for

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a great synopsis. use present tense. That's what we've done in

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the examples we've talked about so far about Pride and Prejudice

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and Cinderella. And we'll talk a little bit more with a few other

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examples. Put your main characters names in all caps the

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first time they appear. This helps the reader know who is

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most important. It's just a clue. It's a tip. I like it.

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It's it's very helpful to me. If the setting is key to the plot,

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put it in all caps. The first time it's mentioned, it's just

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like the main characters. Again, this is my preference, state the

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inciting event in a compelling way. For example, Luke Skywalker

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is a farm boy on the desert planet tattooing who dreams of

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becoming a fighter pilot. When his aunt and uncle are murdered

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by Imperial Stormtroopers. He leaves his home planet to train

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to be a rebel pilot and a Jedi stay out of the weeds. In the

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Star Wars example, you would not mention Luke's friendship with

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big dark lighter. Wow, what a name bigs dark lighter in your

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synopsis. He is part of Luke's backstory and he gets about two

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lines in the movie, he's not important enough to find his way

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into your synopsis. Make every word fight to stay in the

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synopsis. Every word must serve a purpose. Edit like mad. Your

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synopsis is a demonstration of writing skill. If you do not

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feel adequate to the task, ask your critique partners for help

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make the sakes clear. For example, when Luke joins the

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rebels at their base, the pilots are ordered to fly a suicide

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mission to destroy the Deathstar. Summarize the

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resolution in simple terms. For example, Luke escapes from Darth

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Vader. Using the power of the force he pilots his ship to

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deliver the impossible killing shot that destroys the

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Deathstar. Darth Vader worlds into space in his TIE Fighter,

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leaving the door open for sequel to Star Wars. So you tell the

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ending summarize it, keep it simple, but tell the ending obey

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the guidelines you find. For the agents or publishers you want to

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query. This shows that you can follow instructions. It is a

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test so make sure you pass it and make sure your story meets

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the expectations for your genre. Can't say that often enough,

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make sure your story meets his expectations for your genre.

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This is why I'm an advocate for writing a synopsis before

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writing the first page.

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But even more so for writing it again after the first draft. A

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synopsis is a useful tool for authors and unnecessary one. If

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you intend to attract an agent or publisher, use these tips to

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make the process easier. This week's question is do you have

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any pointers or experiences to share about writing synopsis?

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That's all I have for this week. Until next time, keep writing.

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Thank you for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode,

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please leave a comment and follow the podcast. If you're

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new around here. I hope you will sign up for the weekly

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newsletter writing pursuits. Tips for authors that link and

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all the links mentioned in today's episode are in the show

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notes at writing pursuits.com. Please join us on Wednesdays for

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new episodes and keep writing my friends. Keep writing

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