After ‘The End’ (1)
#1 – Polish & #2 – Synopsis
Once a writer gets to the end of their manuscript and ties up all the loose ends and proudly types THE END on its last page, she’s indeed climbed up the ladder one rung, but is most certainly only at a new beginning! She now needs her story to attract the attention of the agent, the next person another rung up on the ladder we’ll call ‘Published.’
The first thing after the story is finished is to polish it. Hopefully, you’ve been reading each chapter along at a critique group and/or submitted it as you wrote to your online group. But now you need a fresh pair of eyes. Your mentor should be willing to read your entire manuscript and make comments and mark type-Os and errors. You need to ASK for help.
If there’s no one you can, then look for an editor. A referral from a friend is great, but you can find them in abundance online. Don’t go with anyone who wants money up front. If they are not willing to edit the first chapter or at least three to five pages, keep looking! When someone’s willing to do that, they are open to showing you how they work so that you can see if you like their style and think their knowledge actually will help you improve you manuscript. I always offer that because it also helps me – as an editor – see how close the writer is and how much work it’s going to be for me then charge accordingly. And you should have several to compare and choose from.
This rung cannot be skipped. Hopefully you’re dealing with a published author, too. They probably have an agent who—even if your genre is wrong for them—they can ask for a referral if they think you have an exceptional story. Another thing I’ve done more than once for clients. That completed, and the manuscript polished, you can work on a synopsis and query letter.
I have never met anyone who loves synopsis. How can you boil all your wonderful words down to a sentence? A few paragraphs? Three to five pages? Ah, but think of chicken stock, how much stronger and flavor FULL it becomes when you boil it down! Here’s a hint I got that has helped me. Don’t try to tell what happens, tell instead what your story is about. First, you need one sentence. In Hollywood, it’s called a Logline.
Example: Love conquers hate even unto death. –“ Romeo and Juliet”; or Wagon Train goes into space. – “Star Trek”.
That helps you know your premise and can be built on. Next start with a paragraph. This will be very similar to a paragraph that you might find as the jacket copy on a book to lure a buyer inside to read the first page.
Again using my VOW UNBROKEN for an example:
“Desperate young widow Susannah Baylor recruits War of 1812 veteran Patrick Henry Buckmeyer to help transport her cotton from the Red River Valley to market in Jefferson, Texas. Along the trace, snakes, drunks, wolves, thieves, black bear, and nature thwart her efforts at every turn. With her daughter, nephew, unsaved hireling and his dog, Sue overcomes each obstacle. At her destination, she learns travel to New Orleans is necessary to sell her crop. Once her mission is finally achieved, she must go on to Tennessee for her love to be realized as Henry asks her father for his marital blessing.”
See how you can add those together, the sentence and the paragraph by inserting a ‘when’ between them? And now you’re on your way. I totally hate writing anything longer than a one page synopsis, but what you must do now is look for WHOM you want to submit to. Do your research; I can hardly believe how blessed we are to have the world wide web at our fingertips! Make a list of agents who sound promising and take notes. Each one will probably want a different length synopsis! You MUST send what they ask for—EXACTLY what and how they want it.
Synopses, like everything else, have a beginning, middle, and end like we talked about last week in Texas Tender ‘Story Composition’. So, you’ve got the beginning—your sentence and first paragraph. The length each agent asks for determines the middle, how long it will be, and this is where it’s hard not to get into what happens versus what the story is about, but try to keep that in mind. As your thinking what happens next, also ask yourself WHY it happens, how does it propel your characters on their journey. I find that really helps.
Then the end of your synopsis is a quick tie-up with your hero returning home with the elixir. Agents DO NOT WANT to be asked little questions as to how your story ends. The synopsis is to prove to them that you can write a satisfying story including a succulent ending. Don’t try to tease them with silly little questions here. On the jacket copy, yes, in your synopsis, no!
Sorry, y’all, I can’t show you the last paragraph of VOW UNBROKEN’s synopsis. I will tell you I had to turn in a FIVE PAGER – ugh! But I really really want you to read VOW UNBROKEN and hope I’ve whetted your appetite a bit. I’d never want to ruin it by telling its ending here! Simon and Schuster’s Howard Books release it March 4th, and I can hardly wait! You can order your copy here.
Next week, we’ll continue with WAYS to get MANUSCRIPT READ AFTER “THE END” and cover #3 – Query & #4 – Submission.
So tell me, y’all, know anyone who loves SYNOPSES? Do you have any hints to pass along?