Ironically, the subject of the May 2012 Writing Show — “To Make a Long Story Short: Writing a Synopsis That Sells” — is challenging to discuss in brief. A record number of attendees came to the Children’s Museum of Richmond to hear a seasoned agent from New York and an accomplished author address the challenges of writing synopses. The panelists were Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management and novelist Stacy Hawkins Adams, and the moderator was Bill Blume, an enthusiast of the fantasy genre.
For the first half of the program, the panelists discussed the difference between queries, synopses, and outlines. A synopsis presents the “movement” of the book. It should reveal the general direction of the plot, the themes, and the development of the characters, and it always gives away the ending. It should also reflect the writer’s voice. In contrast, an outline is an in-depth tool to aid the writer.
Adams noted that the standard format for a synopsis is reminiscent of academic writing: 12-point, double-spaced Times New Roman, with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
The second half of the program was devoted to critiquing synopses submitted ahead of time. As Blume read each one, the panelists offered useful advice for both the authors and the rest of the audience:
- Skip the set-up and go right to the conflicts in the story.
- Describe how the tension builds. What events drive the plot forward?
- Provide context: Why should readers care about the world you have created and its characters?
- Show, not tell. Reading the synopsis should mimic reading the book.
— Melanie Carter, JRW Intern, and Charles Gerena
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