Balancing the pitch and synopsis

You can walk into a room and tell who the writers are by yelling the word “synopsis!” and then watching to see which ones dive behind the furniture.

Writing a synopsis is a royal pain, particularly when so many agents and publishers want to see only one page. Cooking a 98,000 word novel down to one page can be done, and it’s a great learning exercise, but it’s still like shoving an elephant into a spandex leotard.

But once that’s done, there’s another step I have to work on: matching the pitch and synopsis so they’re complementary, and don’t just repeat the same information. Every first draft synopsis I write tends to start with a lot of the same phrases that are in the pitch.

In my experience, every agent/publisher wants to see a pitch of some kind, but not all of them ask for a synopsis. So never leave anything really important out of the pitch and just assume the synopsis will pick it up. (As an aside, the same goes for sample chapters. Not every agent wants to see samples right away, so don’t assume your first three chapters will fill in for your pitch).

Conversely, I’ve never seen anyone ask for a synopsis that didn’t want a pitch too, so the synopsis can skimp a bit on information that’s already in the pitch. Which is good news if you’re still trying to cook the darn thing down to one page.

Use the pitch for important background, character introduction, and your theme. Your pitch is your “hook,” and you shouldn’t need much storyline. Focus on plot and character development in the synopsis. When you’re done, your pitch should be like a line drawing, and the synopsis should be the added coloring.

Easier said than done, right? As far as the mechanics go, I usually print them both out, set them next to each other, and attack both sheets with a pencil. And yeah, a little repetition is okay.

Elephant Bunhead

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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