I’m in the middle of preparing a submission to a literary contest, and as part of this, I must turn my 95,000-word manuscript into 600-word synopsis that tells the whole story.
Which is a lot harder than it sounds.
The rules of the category I am entering (Genre Fantasy/Sci-Fi) are clear: submissions must be of new, never-before-published novels. You can include only the first 25 pages of the manuscript, which will follow the synopsis.
In other words, the synopsis first, sample of the novel second.
The rules are:
- Must be no more than 27 pages, including the synopsis. If the entry is longer than 27 pages, it will be disqualified from the contest and only receive one critique.
- Must be single-sided.
- Page one must begin with a synopsis (no cover page, please.)
- The synopsis must be 1 to 2 pages.
- It must be in 12-point font.
- The entire document must be double-spaced.
- Separate scenes with marks, ie. * * * or # # #.
- Must be in Times New Roman or Times font.
- Have one-inch margins.
- Indent the first line of each paragraph.
- No illustrations or images of any kind can be on the entry.
- The title, category, and page number must be on every page on the top right-hand side of the header. (Does not need to fit in the 1-inch margins.)
So, what is a synopsis? It is an entire novel boiled down to its barebones and laid out in two pages, double-spaced. That totals about 630 words.
With the help of my writing group, I have managed to write the first two drafts of my synopsis. I will have the whole thing ready for submission by Wednesday.
One of my fellow writers had a bullet list for writing a synopsis, and she was kind enough to share it with me. Having an organized list to follow was invaluable when I crammed the entire novel, including the ending, into 600 words.
- An opening image/setting/concept that sets the stage (a tag line of sorts.)
- Protagonist intro
- Inciting incident
- Plot point 1
- Conflicts, Character encounters
- Go easy on names. Use job titles instead of multiple character names (“the daughter,” etc.).
- No going back point.
- Winning seems possible but . . .
- Black moment
- Climax – the fight is on
- Final Image
When I started, I knew that I wasn’t writing a blurb and that I had to include all the spoilers. So, I wracked my brain and managed a 2-page breakdown of the book that read like a laundry list.
Several writers in my group pointed out that I had named too many characters in the first draft of the synopsis. That was easily fixed. Another mentioned that I had three characters that begin with K—something I hadn’t noticed, nor had my beta readers or my editor. That was also easily fixed: Kai became Cai. Same name and pronunciation, just with the Saxon spelling instead of Norse.
This is a task I would have found far more daunting without the support of my Tuesday morning writing group.
As a group, we have brainstormed every aspect of writing with the aim of helping each other along the publishing path. From plots to covers, to maps, to making your advertising work for you—we help each other find the way through the challenging world of indie publishing. Adversities and successes have forged strong bonds among us, and we’ve become close friends over the years.
So how do you find your group, the safe place where you can grow as a writer and develop confidence in yourself?
My group formed about ten years ago as a regular NaNoWriMo write-in that somehow morphed into a weekly “writers’ therapy” group. With the pandemic, we continue to work and meet on Tuesdays via Zoom.
We have all maintained connections with other writing groups too. I am familiar with and have participated in a formal critique group, which I needed at that point in my development. In this sort of group, one has rules to follow. It’s a large group, and each member submits a sample of their work-in-progress. Two are selected to be read aloud. A roundtable discussion follows, dismantling the work and pointing out each area of concern.
In any writing group, rules are necessary. Authors should be aware that their manuscript’s flaws will be pointed out, which can be painful but essential to a publishable novel. An excellent article on forming a critique group can be found here: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.
Your area may have established writers’ groups, and some may be able to accept new members. In a meeting, more than twenty-five people can be tricky to manage. Most groups will close to new members if the number of members reaches a certain amount. The best way to find out is to google writer’s groups in your town and make inquiries.
Attend a few meetings as an observer to see if this group is a good fit for you.
If you don’t find any group meeting in person or via Zoom, see what online writers’ forums might fit your needs. For several years, I participated in an excellent online group, Critters Workshop.
So now a new year has begun, and possibly this will be the year we get back some sense of normalcy. I wish you a productive pen, witty words, and may all your words find readers who appreciate your style.