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Writing a Synopsis for a Fantasy Novel

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Greybeard, Mar 30, 2011.

  1. Greybeard

    Greybeard Minstrel

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    Does someone here have experience writing a synopsis for a fantasy novel? Would it be different than what is expected for any other genre?

    Also, what makes a synopsis stand out to an agent or publisher?
     
  2. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Hmm. A synopsis for a publisher is going to be different from a synopsis for a book jacket; for starters, you don't want to give away anything on the book jacket, but pretty much have to for the publisher. Which doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be longer: the recommendations I've seen are to make it a single paragraph of maybe 150-200 words… in any event, no longer than will fit along with everything else you need to provide on a one-page cover letter. No, I don't think it will differ significantly from other genres–apart from, say, a synopsis of a cookbook: not much to "summarize" there. (And there's no difference between what you provide a publisher and an agent, as the agent is simply going to pass what you provide along to the publisher anyway.)

    What would make it stand out would be providing all the information the publisher needs to understand what the story's about and where you're going with it. If the publisher is left with critical questions about those things, you haven't done your job. If the publisher is left only with questions about how you're going to get there, you have done your job: you've made him want to read your story to find out.

    I'd say that setting, POV and descriptions of characters providing same, and major plot elements and conflicts are pretty much de rigeur; I'd add issues addressed, if that happens to be an important part of your story. I would specifically avoid trying to give a complete plot summary, much less a chapter-by-chapter analysis. And resist all temptation to pad the description: you're far better off going short than long, if it comes down to that sort of choice.

    Give me a minute here, and I'll see what I can come up with as an example. (Not one from something I've successfully submitted, since I don't have one–which also means you're kinda taking my advice on face value :rolleyes: –but an example of something I would submit. If I'm really inspired, I'll do the same thing wrong, to display the difference.…)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  3. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    This is the website of a literary agent who does a lot of posts on writing synopsis and query pitches (the two tasks are very similar). Take a look down the right hand nav bar until you come to her "Blog Pitch Workshop" series and other assorted tags.

    Correction: It is not her website, just her blog.
     
  4. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Well, that was fun. Here's the first one:

    ---

    "An innocent young man discovers he's heir to an item of immense magical power, capable of corrupting his soul, and that mighty forces are actively seeking it. On the advice of a wise old friend, he sets out with three close friends on a quest to destroy the item, a quest requiring that it be borne to the place of its creation, deep in the heart of enemy territory. The story of the quest is seen primarily through his eyes, though some portions are told by those of his companions as they become scattered and rejoined by events. Their journey through hidden cities and forgotten realms becomes the locus about which fragmented, isolate and mutually-suspicious forces of good unite to oppose first the subversive influence and ultimately the seemingly overwhelming military might of their common enemy."

    ---

    The above synopsis is, of course, for The Lord of the Rings (or any of its many clones…). I left it specifically generic: had I been writing it for my own work, I would have included names for the major characters (and only those!), some mention of elves, dwarves, goblins, and so forth; would have specified the Ring as the "item”… all without adding significant length to the word-count (which is 136, so I probably had some room to play with). Without such details, the above is a bit too generic; what I wanted was to show what you don't need to do–in terms of providing descriptions of specific scenes, battles, encounters, etc. (How would you choose which ones to mention and which to leave out, anyway?)

    Okay, that's the more-or-less "right” way to do it. Then there's this… complete with bracketed observations pointing toward what's wrong with it:

    ---

    "Frodo is a hobbit [what's a hobbit?] from the Shire [what's the Shire?] who receives the Ring of Power ["the”? what "power”?] from his Uncle Bilbo. Gandalf, a wizard, tells him he [who? Gandalf, or Frodo?] has to take it to Mordor [what's Mordor?] to destroy it [which? the Ring? Mordor?]. Frodo, Sam, Meriadoc (who's called Merry) and Peregrin (who's called Pippin) [why tell me both names?] leave the Shire for Rivendell. [what's Rivendell?] They meet Aragorn, a Ranger, [what's a Ranger?] on the way and are pursued by Ringwraiths. [what are Ringwraiths?] At Rivendell they join up with an elf, Legolas, a dwarf, Gimli, and another man, Boromir, [another? who else is a man?] and the nine of them [nine?] go south. A storm forces them to go through the Mines of Moria where Gandalf gets killed [okay, that's the ninth one, I guess] by a balrog, [what's a balrog?] then they go through Lorien [what's Lorien?] and get magical elven gifts [what gifts?] from Galadriel [who?] before getting scattered by orcs. [what are orcs?] Frodo and Sam go to Mordor, alone until Gollum [who?] joins them as a guide, though he really plans to betray them and take the Ring, which used to be his. Merry and Pippin go to Fangorn [what's that?] and rouse the ents [what are ents?] to help by attacking Saruman [who?] at Isengard, [what's that?] while Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli meet the riders of Rohan [place? person? organization? deity?] and Gandalf comes back [huh?] to convince them to fight Saruman, who's a wizard like Gandalf. [What happened to Boromir?] Merry and Pippin rejoin their friends, then Pippin looks in a Palantir [what's that?] so that Sauron [who?] decides to attack Gondor. [where? what? who?] Gandalf and Pippin ride Shadowfax [what's a Shadowfax?] to Gondor, while the rest of them go through the Paths of the Dead [what are these?] and Merry stays with the Rohirrim until they ride to help Gondor. There's a big battle at Minas Tirith [where?] which is won when Mordor's army is caught between the Rohirrim and the army Aragorn brings up the river. [what river? where'd he get the army?] Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam fight a giant spider, Frodo gets caught, Sam frees him, and they disguise themselves as orcs [so hobbits and orcs look enough alike that it's easy for one to imitate the other? [this is a flaw of the real story, not just this synopsis…]] to sneak to Mount Doom. [where?] They get there, but Frodo decides to keep the Ring himself, until Gollum bites his finger off and falls into the Crack of Doom, [what? where?] destroying the Ring and Sauron's power. They're rescued [from what?] by Gandalf and some eagles, and everybody goes home to live happily ever after, except for the elves who decide it's time to leave Middle Earth [what's Middle Earth?], along with Gandalf and Frodo, because he was a Ringbearer. [which matters why?] The story includes lots of poetry and songs, which help explain history, and there are extensive passages in languages such as Sindarin, [what?] Khuzdul, [more what?] Morgul, [still what?] Entish and others which enhance the depth of the setting."

    ---

    At 393 (I think) words, it's nearly three times as long as the first one… and, I would argue, says less about the book than the first one does. The first, while too sparse, may suffer from a lack of details; the second, however, is nothing but details–trivia–and gives no better sense of what the story is about. Nor did I pick on the synopsis overly much: you'll note that I didn't flag items that could be reasonably understood from context: Uncle Bilbo is, presumably, a hobbit (and in fact his function as "Frodo's uncle" is about all he does in the story, so that's okay); the Mines of Moria are mines, okay; the riders of Rohan are probably guys who ride something or other; "Rohirrim" is probably connected to "Rohan" in a relatively transparent if unspecified way; there's gotta be a story in there somewhere about Gollum formerly owning the Ring and why he doesn't now; "the rest of them" going to the Paths of the Dead ought to include Merry, but since he's accounted for by the next clause I skip pointing that out (above, that is ;) ); and so on. (In other words, it's poorly written in its own right, in addition to being a poor example of a synopsis.)

    Hope you enjoyed reading that as much as I did writing it (and far more than I did formatting it… :p ); hope it was worth a chuckle, at the very least.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  5. Oh I can never do these things >.< I swear when my own novel's done I'm going to have to get someone to read it and do the synopsis for me LMAO!
     
  6. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    My rates are good.… ;)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  7. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    *dusts off the old PayPal account*

    Haha, I am also rather dreadful at writing a synopsis of my own works. Another's? Sure. Mine? Eh, it doesn't turn out very well. I'll give it a quick attempt, though, for the sake of hilarity.

    The quest for immortality once devastated the western half of Molusk, creating political discord and splitting allegiances in the fatherland in two. CAMBELL, Royal Father of the Elves, decides to bridge the gap and unite his people once more. Heading to the Occident with a band of close friends, Cambell sees all that the immortals have done for Molusk, both good and bad. When the immortal PARIDELL asks for his allegiance, Cambell turns back to the east and brings with him the end of magic.​

    *sobs in a corner*
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  8. lol! I'll definately take you into consideration Ravana >^.^<
     
  9. Artless

    Artless Minstrel

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    Ravana, If I ever have kids (Which would require me leaving my beloved bookcase and going out to meet girls! :O) I intend to point them to your second synopsis when they start clamouring for books to read....
    I will also share it with anyone else who wants a brief synopsis on the LotR...
    That was one of the most amusing things I have read in a long time.

    But why did you leave out Tom Bombadil? :( EVERYONE leaves out Bombadil damn it! :p
     
  10. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    What defines a synopsis varies from publisher to publisher/agent to agent. Sometimes in their guidelines they express what is considered a synopsis to them.

    Some prefer 1 page single spaced, others longer. This is a quote from Toni Weisskopf, Managing Editor of Baen Books on the topic: "We don't have any hard and fast rules about synopses, but in general I prefer: about 5-10 pages, double spaced, preceding the manuscript, and including synopsis of the chapters that are included if the submission is a partial (this helps me judge the synopsis against the text and helps me interpret the rest). Also include the ending of your manuscript-do not leave it as a cliffhanger for me to guess at. I like to get theme as well as the high points of the action and introductions to important characters and settings."

    One editor at Tor explained that he reads the first three chapters, and then reads the synopsis, if the writing caught his attention. He ignores the cover letter. In his experience he indicated other editors read the synopsis before moving forward. Some ignore both 1st three chapters and synopsis, and and focus on the cover letter first, and if it doesn't hook them, they don't bother with the rest.

    In any case, most writers find writing a synopsis very challenging. I'm one of them.

    I did write an article on the topic that might be of some assistance in writing one: Writing a Novel Synopsis
     
  11. Aiden Sawyer

    Aiden Sawyer Scribe

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    TW nailed it. And that is the reason my own manuscript collected dust on a shelf (figuratively, actually it was in a box) for a decade. As challenging as it is to write a synopsis I was satisfied with, it's more challenging to write 3 depending on what a specific agent required. An then there is the query letter for those agent who require you to query first. First, I researched agents to see who accepted fantasy and was currently accepting submissions. I had it narrowed down to 5, each with different requirements. So I picked one that looked like the most promising. They did not require query letter first, but they did require a complex synopsis, 1 page for chapter, which actually sounded easier than it turned out. My story involves 2 timelines that are interwoven within the chapters with sort of flashbacks, and each attempt at a chapter synopsis came out disjointed and disinteresting even to me. After several weeks of frustration, I passed on that agent and went to the next. Again, no query letter required but they required two synopsis, a short single paragraph synopsis (which I took to mean something like what you'd see on the jacket sleeve or the back cover) and a longer three page synopsis. That sounded much easier... except how do I explain two timelines in one paragraph? I couldn't, so I decided to ignore the flashback story line and just focus on the "present" timeline. I liked what I came up with (it's pretty much my current synopsis on my e-pub which I'll paste in below) and moved on to the three pager. No here again I ran into a delemna: the flashback story line is critical to the overall story, so I couldn't leave it out of the longer synopsis or it wouldn't make sense. But since I didn't even mention it in the shorter synopsis, would that confuse the agent? I deliberated over that for days instead of just writing it and sending it. Afterall, what's the worse thing that can happen? A rejection letter? I like to think I'm a perfectionist and that's why I never got past this point, but more likely it was the fear of some sort. Not of rejection really, but of wasting time on one agent after another until hopefully one would finally actually say, "yes, send me the whole manuscript." And the irony is, because I couldn't decide what to do, I never sent anything off... and wasted 10 years until my friend was reading about e-publication success stories and twisted my arm until I allowed him to e-publish it for me.

    So here's the synopsis I chose for the e-pub of Rogue's Honor:

    Tellion Steele, a peasant Elf by birth, was typically naïve and optimistic in his formative years and, without regard to the disparity between their stations, surrendered his young heart impulsively and completely to Lynless Allystriel, the Elven princess of Celestar. Yet, Tellion was anything but a typical Elf. Even in his youth he had faced demons, and he held secrets. . . secrets that eventually landed him in trouble with the Elven aristocracy.

    Banished from his homeland, the only honor Tellion Steele came to know was that of the sword and the shadows. Bereft of family and forsaken by Lynless, the outcast Elf learned to make his way in life as a thief and a mercenary. Now, the world is seized by the machinations of conspiracy and war, and the Elven princess is somehow caught up in the workings. Against his better judgment, Tellion finds he must return to the land of his exile to protect the beautiful princess from the forces of evil that threaten her. But when a conflicted Lynless refuses his aid, Tellion is forced to play a dangerous game fraught with peril and intrigue as he walks the fine line between honor and treachery, deceiving both friend and foe alike to pull off the gambit of his life — to liberate the unwilling princess from the fortress of the Elf-king.
     
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