Sep. 19th, 2008

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So back in March I ran what I called the “Plot Synopsis Project”. Basically, I asked a bunch of authors if they’d be willing to post an old plot synopsis for a book that actually sold and got published, and make comments about how they write synopses and their process. I had quite a few authors respond and the Project was a huge success. However, there were some authors who wanted to participate but due to deadlines and other projects couldn’t at that time. I figured I’d do another project at some point in the future.

And the future in now! Here’s the lineup for “Plot Synopsis Project II”, with all new authors and what they have to say about writing synopses. With the exception of Alma Alexander, they should be posting their entries today, September 19th. If you link to their site and don’t see anything, they may not have gotten around to posting it yet, so check back later. Alma will be posting her entry on September 20th. A few of them have posted to past posts in their blogs that address this subject. And Kelly has listed a bunch of related topics to the plot synopsis she made in past posts for everyone to look at.

I’ve reposted my original entry for the project after the new participants, with the links to all of the old participants after that so everyone can find all of the entries. Some of those older links may not work, since the author may have changed the webpage or file name, but hopefully they’re all still active.

And now I’ll shut up and let you all get reading. Hope all of this helps with writing your plot synopses!

Plot Synopsis Project II Participants

Alma Alexander (Will post on the 20th instead.)
Sam Butler
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Daryl Gregory
Simon Haynes
Jay Lake’s comments and his synopses
Kelly McCullough
Jeri Smith-Ready
Jennifer Stevenson
Edward Willett

Some additional links to consider, provided by Kelly McCullough: Pitching and Synopses parts 1, 2, and 3. Plus, what a synopsis should do.

And now here’s my original post about plot synopses from the original Plot Synopsis Project. Note: This is a repost! Nothing has changed much except a few typos and sentences. If you read this before, you may want a refresher, but I haven’t added any new astounding insights that I didn’t have originally. Just so you know. *grin*


A while ago, after I posted a question/interview about plot synopsis and my answers, Chaz Brenchley [ profile] desperance suggested that perhaps someone should post examples of the plot synopses they used to sell their novels, the ones that were for books already published and out there. I thought this was a great idea and with his permission (and participation) I set up what I’m calling the "Plot Synopsis Project". Essentially, I gathered together a group of authors who were willing to post an entry about their own plot synopsis writing technique as well as a sample copy of one of their own plot synopses OR post an entry about how they got published without using a plot synopsis, to show everyone how different people write their synopses, and that it isn’t necessarily required to get published. There are other routes. I would say that MOST people have to write a plot synopsis in order to get published though . . . and most of us hate doing it. I personally do.

And just to clarify, by plot synopsis, I mean the (usually) 3-5 page summary of the book that is (usually) included in a submission package to the agent or editor, along with a cover letter or query letter, and sometimes with the first few chapters of the novel. This is not the one paragraph pitch, or even the one line pitch. Some of the other authors will talk about these other things as well in their discussion, but the main thrust of these posts is the 3-5 page synopsis.

So, what you have here is my entry in the Plot Synopsis Project. At the end of every participating post in the project, there will be links to the other authors’ blogs and their posts there. So take a moment to read through what I have to say, and then at the end, click on one of the links to find out what some other authors have to say about the subject. Hopefully, this will help all of the aspiring writers out there.

Plot Synopses

First off, there are two types of plot synopses: the one written AFTER the novel is finished, and the one written BEFORE the novel is finished, both used to send to the agent or editor in the hopes they’ll buy the novel. I’ll start with the one written AFTER the novel is finished, since this is typically what happens for a writer who has yet to be published.

Writing a Synopsis AFTER the Book is Finished )

In any case, here’s my sample plot synopsis, for the first book in my Throne of Amenkor series, published by DAW Books, called The Skewed Throne [Amazon; Mysterious Galaxy]. Keep in mind that if you haven’t read the book, this synopsis will reveal all of the major plot twists and turning points in the novel, so spoilerage is possible. Well, not possible. Spoilerage is DEFINITE. I think you’d still find the book enjoyable even after reading this though. In fact, it might be an interesting exercise to read both the synopsis and the book itself so you can compare them and see what I put in the synopsis and, more importantly, what I left out. You certainly can't put everything in the book in the synopsis.

After the sample, I discuss writing a plot synopsis BEFORE the book has been written.


Skewed Throne Plot Synopsis (spoilery if you haven’t read the book) )


Ok, that’s what the beast looks like if the book has already been written. However, once you’ve been published, the agent or editor is more willing to work with a book that hasn’t been written yet. At this stage, they’ll likely demand a plot synopsis, and sometimes they’ll want a plot synopsis and the first few chapters (even if the rest hasn’t been written). I find this a much MUCH harder beast to tame, because of the way that I write.

Writing a Synopsis BEFORE the Book is Written )

So here’s my sample of a synopsis written BEFORE the novel was written. It's from the second book in the Throne of Amenkor series, called The Cracked Throne [Amazon; Mysterious Galaxy]. Again, if you read this, it WILL spoiler the book. (But also again, it might be good to read the synopsis AND the book so you can see what was included and not included . . . and also what I thought would happen and what actually happened.) You’ll notice some differences. I didn’t capitalize the characters names when they first appeared in this one, for example. Some editors/agents like them to be capped, some not. You should always read and follow the guidelines for the publishing house or agency where you’re submitting in order to see what kinds of rules they like you to follow. You’ll also notice that the synopsis doesn’t read as smoothly as the previous one; that’s because the novel wasn’t written and I was flailing around in the dark while writing it. And for those that have read the book already, you’ll notice that the final version of the book had some serious changes (the part about Erick and Baill leaps to mind). The end product didn’t follow this synopsis exactly. Editors and agents know this might happen, and they generally accept it.


Cracked Throne Plot Synopsis (spoilerage ahoy!) )


So that’s my take on writing plot synopses and a few examples to give you guys something to work from. Hopefully you found some helpful advice in there. But my way isn’t always the best, and doesn’t always work for everyone, so take the time to read some of the other authors’ posts about their process and see some of their examples. I think what you’ll find is that there isn’t one set way to do these things, and there’s not one set road to publication. Some include synopses and some don’t. Some synopses are 1 page long (if that) and some are 10 or more. It depends on the editor’s and/or agent’s preferences.

And keep in mind that you can have the perfect synopsis but if the STORY ITSELF SUCKS, it won’t help. You have to have a good story to tell. And if the story is good, most editors and agents will cut you some slack if your plot synopsis isn’t perfect.

Here are the other authors participating in the Plot Synopsis Project. Check them out . . . and then check out all of our books! We worked hard on them and we hope you enjoy them.

Plot Synopsis Project I participant links:

Patricia Bray ([ profile] pbray):

Chaz Brenchley ([ profile] desperance):

Mike Brotherton:

Tobias Buckell:

S.C. Butler ([ profile] scbutler):

Barbara Campbell:

David B. Coe ([ profile] davidbcoe):

Jennifer Dunne ([ profile] jennifer_dunne):

S.L. Farrell ([ profile] sleigh):

Diana Francis ([ profile] difrancis):

Gregory Frost ([ profile] frostokovich):

Felix Gilman:

Jim C. Hines ([ profile] jimhines):

Jackie Kessler ([ profile] jackiekessler):

Mindy Klasky ([ profile] mindyklasky):

Misty Massey ([ profile] madkestrel):

C.E. Murphy ([ profile] mizkit):

Naomi Novik ([ profile] naominovik):

Joshua Palmatier ([ profile] jpsorrow):

Maria V. Snyder:

Jennifer Stevenson ([ profile] smokingpigeon):

Michelle West ([ profile] msagara):

Sean Williams ([ profile] ladnews):

There’s also a book available that has other samples of plot synopses in it. It’s called I Have This Nifty Idea: Now What Do I Do With It? [Amazon; Mysterious Galaxy], edited by Mike Resnick. Check it out for more samples!


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Joshua Palmatier

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