Yesterday I posted tips on writing a synopsis from agent Joanna Volpe. Today we'll continue with her advice on how to actually condense a novel into a page or two.
3 Things to include in a synopsis:
1. The main plot. Though there are many subplots in a novel, tease out what the main one is. Reconcile that most, if not all, of these wonderful and imaginative subplots will not make it into the synopsis. That's ok.
2. Main characters. These are the characters that appear in the beginning, middle, and end of the book. Two of my secondary characters that I just love (one is even a love interest) are only in Act 2 and 3. One of them gets a mention (though not by name) in the synopsis. The other doesn't make the cut at all.
3. The ending. In a synopsis, it's expected that the writer give away the ending. Like I mentioned yesterday, agents and editors need to see that the plot carries through.
Formatting a synopsis:
1. Check each agent's specific guidelines. If there aren't any, keep it to two pages or less.
2. At the top, put the title, word count, author's name, and genre (optional).
3. Use a 12 point readable font--usually Courier or Times, but never script or any kind of fancy font.
4. Synopses are single spaced, with a space between each paragraph.
5. Number the pages in the header.
6. Write in present tense. Think of the way you tell someone about a movie you liked: "The heroine leaves home, gets chased by aliens, then finds true love and saves the world."
Now, the big how-to:
1. Make a list of all the characters you'd like to include in the synopsis, if length were not an issue.
As an example, Volpe had the workshop attendees call out the names of important characters in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Here's the list that was generated:
Harry, Hermione, Ron, Voldemort, Mr. & Mrs. Dursley, Malfoy, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Harry's parents, Snape, Professor Quirrel
2. Make a list of important events that occur throughout the book. The class came up with these:
Harry is an orphan, has a bad situation at home, discovers he's a wizard, enrolls at Hogwarts, takes the magical train, makes friends and enemies, learns about his past, discovers his connection to Voldemort, plays Quidditch, different houses at Hogwarts compete, sorcerer's stone is hidden, the Mirror of Erised, the invisible cloak, finding Fluffy, saving Hermione from the troll, detention in the forest, the murder of the unicorns
3. Narrow down the characters to three or more that appear throughout the book. Here's how it looked for our exercise:
Hermione, Ron, Voldemort, Mr. & Mrs. Dursley, Malfoy, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Harry's parents, Snape, Professor Quirrel
You might say, "But what about Snape? He's a major character." Anyone else that seems important can be referred to, such as, "a teacher who picks on Harry". The Dursleys can be mentioned as "Harry's adoptive parents". This keeps the focus on the true main characters. Hermione and Ron are "Harry's friends", while Malfoy is "his enemy".
4. Narrow down the events to a handful of the important ones, supplemented by a few that help connect them.
Harry is an orphan, has a bad situation at home, discovers he's a wizard, enrolls at Hogwarts,
takes the magical train, makes friends and enemies, learns about his past, discovers his connection to Voldemort, plays Quidditch, different houses at Hogwarts compete, sorcerer's stone is hidden, the Mirror of Erised, the invisible cloak, finding Fluffy, saving Hermione from the troll, detention in the forest, the murder of the unicorns
Is it surprising how much was left out?
5. Take the characters and events that are left, and write the synopsis. It does not have to be chronological. Volpe gave a few tips for different genres: If the story is fantasy or sci-fi, use one paragraph of the synopsis for backstory, but no more than one or two sentences. If you have dual protagonists, as in a romance, start with the character that has more focus in the story. Give them one paragraph, then use the second paragraph for the other character. After that introduction, continue on with the rest of the plot.
What do you think? Would a system like this help to condense your manuscript?