Tuesday, December 27, 2005

TTT: The Four Horsemen Pt 3--The Long Synopsis

This is perhaps the fuzziest of all the synopses, because while it's the most specific, it's also the least trained. Generally, the long synopsis is the tool of the published author and thus not deeply needed for the submitting writer. So no one really gets into it the way they should. I'm not sure I'm about to get into it the way I should, but I do want to make this point perfectly clear: When you start advancing to revision/rejection and out of form letter status, you should consider learning not only this tool of the trade.

I find that with Long Synops, it's hardly ever what it is...but what it isn't, that sets it apart. Keep these points in mind whenever you get the urge to send one along.

What A Long Synop ISN'T:

• less than five pages
• single spaced
• short on details
• short on characterization, motivation or conclusion

You will be laying out your story, truncated, yes, but with plenty of information and plenty of pages. How many you use is often dictated by category. Because, you see, the Long Synop is your big gun. The ammo is expensive and hard to get, so the key to knowing when to use it...is knowing when not to.

When NOT to use one:

• with your initial query letter
• without a specific request from an editor
• when giving a pitch of any kind

But how the hell do you write it, right?

The average long synop is 5-10 pages. This kind is utilized most often and it's the one I heartily recommend. There are authors who write as much as a 30 page long synop. I would not do this unless you've hashed it out with your editor exactly how much detail she would like. She will not welcome a book on your book without an invitation. Also, always double space your long synopsis. I can't say that loud enough. Unless you're dealing with someone who has given you specific instructions to single space, double should be your default. We whine about reading a lot, but no one reads more than an editor. Don't drive them to blindness.

If you've been following this series, you'll realize that you need the previous step to achieve the best results with your synopses. You've inserted voice and interest into the short synopsis--which should really never be more than two pages. My recommended route is to build from your short synopsis. All of your needed elements are already there, as is your story outline. All that is needed are the words we love to say: details.

This is not "padding". You aren't looking just to inflate your word count. You are "layering"--adding details of emotional response, sexual attraction, plot motivators, etc. Read each line of your current short synop and see where you can fill in more blanks. For example, long synopses are where editors get the skinny on your secondary characters--who are they, what role to they fill in your character's lives?--as well as learning more about any particular villain. This is not to say you should go buck wild and tell us their childhood food aversions, but finally, you are able to explain what their purpose is. (And if you can't find one...you need to go back to that ms.) Keep in mind that you will still need to maintain your tone and much of your concise sentence structure and you should be fine.

Now, some authors actually use quotes from the ms to illustrate points of interest. If used sparingly--pretend it costs you a hundred dollars every time you do it--this is acceptable. However, the caveats are as follows:

• Be sure it's worth quoting--doesn't move the story forward, don't use it.
• If you have less than ten pages in your synop, don't use it. Believe it or not, you just don't have the space.

If you layer your short synopsis correctly, you should have a nice long synopsis that already contains all of your required elements along with the complete ending. Should you have an epilogue you didn't add into the short, this is the time to put it in. Double check for flow, tone and voice and get it out the door. Few things will ruin a synopsis faster than time to obsess. If you have a CP, run it past them. This should not be a 6 pass event. Once, maybe twice if drastic changes are needed (and if you had a complete short synop, they shouldn't be) is all that you need.

The final tip about synops: They are NEVER more important than the book. A selling tool, a skill to be desired, yes. But if you put as much time and energy into the synop as you do the book, you won't have a chance to sell it. Write it good, write it right, write it gone.

Then get onto the next project. :)


Shesawriter said...

My longs usually run about ten pages. I don't plan it that way, it's just how they come out.


Dee said...

LOL, it's been a while since I've had to do a long. I'm an 8 pager or so, but until recently, my short synops were 4.5 pages, snort. I've seen people go into 20 pagers...and that scares the crap out of me.