Friday, December 14, 2012

Synopsis vs. Outline

I'm really exhausted from staying up late two nights in a row to write a synopsis of my book. It's the last roadblock left before I'm ready to send it off to the people I hope will publish it.

I keep talking about it on Facebook, but haven't given much detail. A synopsis is a very short retelling of your story. Think back cover blurb, only you have to give away the ending. Potential publishers or agents want to know the whole story, because they want to make sure you can tell a good story from start to finish.

The definition of a synopsis is exceptionally difficult to find - it's seriously like herding cats, or nailing jello to a tree. I've spent months trying to figure it out.

Some people say 500 words or less. To put that in perspective, so far this blog entry is 149 words.

Other people say 3 - 5 pages, with 5 pages being on the very long end. There are undertones to most of those posts that suggest you'll be lucky if a reader (publisher's acquisitions editor, or prospective agent) makes it to a fifth page. If they can't make it to the end, they're very likely to toss the whole submission package. What's worse? They won't tell you they did it, so you're waiting with bated breath, hoping to hear from them, and after 3 months or so, you exhale, feeling deflated, and send it to someone else. My takeaway there? Less is more.

Still more people say that a synopsis should be a certain length for every so many words or pages you've written. The math on those suggestions typically comes out to say that an average first timer's novel (75,000 - 100,000 words) will have a synopsis that runs 10 - 15 pages long.

Oy. How are you supposed to know who's right?

Without fail, they all say to research the publisher that you're querying, and they will be specific about what they want. You may need multiple versions of your synopsis - some short and some long. Some publishers or agents aren't specific, so you have to guess if they'd rather have more detail, so they can see the diamond in the rough a little bit better, or if they're very busy people and they just want the bare bones to see if it's interesting to them.

For me, the cherry on top is this: some also ask for an outline.

Uhhh, well okay. Can someone help me define an outline please? If you google it, you're going to find tons of information on outlining before you write your story. Well, that's not how my story grew. It was pretty organic, and grew a life of its own over the years, with very little guidance from me. Honestly. The story presented itself, I just recorded it. To outline after the fact causes me to write this monstrosity that is half of the story. If five pages will make a busy editor throw away my query, what on Earth will this gigantic document make them think?

So, I've been hung up on writing this one document for months. Months, I tell you. My book was all the way finished maybe half a year ago, but every time I try to write my outline, I take a wrong turn and have to start over. In my defense, I did get sick for a few months, and couldn't sit at a computer for a while, but still... this is out of control.

Well, this week, I decided to regain control. I started over not one, not two, but three times! I made it almost half way through the book each time, too. I spent hours reading about how to construct a good synopsis, and trying to understand the difference between a synopsis and an outline, and I finally came up with some answers of my own.

I am not published, and am by no means an expert in this matter, but in the hopes that this will help at least one person, I want to share what I learned.

Here are links to the things I found online that I found to be the most useful:

In the end, what I did, was I found a blurb I had written a long time ago, and I added to it, until it got me into storytelling mode, and I just told the shortest version of my story that I could. Creating a logline and a blurb will be very helpful to you, even though they're hard to write.