So you can read my books

Sunday, January 27, 2013

THE SECRET TO SIN_Samuel Clemens, ghost, here

{"A sin takes on a new and real terror

when there seems a chance that it is going to be found out."

- Mark Twain

("The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg")}

Samuel Clemens, ghost, here. 

Alex Cavanaugh has been so kind to Roland over the years

that I thought I would help him out in an area that seems to cause all of you folks trouble:

The secret to sin ...
Or should I say ...
The secret to a synopsis.

Ain't that the dangedest name?


Sounds like one of them ancient Greek philosophers, don't it?
And I know many of you would rather kiss an ancient Greek
than have to write one of those dang things.

But I'm going to show you how to do it as smooth as easy as a politician's lie on election day.

Doubt me?
Which one of the two of us is the beloved literary genius here?

1) And that above was my first rule in writing a great synopsis:
Sure, there're a lot of you reading this. But I'm only talking to one of you in my mind. Heart to heart. Like we're sitting at the same table in the dark.

No one-size-fits-all with your synopsis.

Tailor your synopsis to the requirements stated by the publisher/agent. No guidelines given?
Well, that leads me to the next rule :

2) This, too, shall pass ... like a kidney stone.
Short means no short tempers.

Ever have the misfortune to ask a pilgrim how his day's going only to have the fool actually tell you ...
in agonizing detail.
 Be short. One page.

Yeah, I hear you groaning.
But the agent/publisher doesn't want all your story.

She just wants the gist of it, to know that your story has a start, a middle, and a for-sure ending (not just a hope and a prayer.) You're still groaning.

3) This tape will self-destruct in thirty seconds, Jim.
And so will the agent's interest. You have thirty seconds at most, children, to grab that agent and pull her into your story. That's a half page at most.

Can you squeeze your 400 page novel into three lines?

Can you make them convey why your story is unique and absorbing, detailing background and characters?

Sure, and after that, you'll establish world peace.

But you can squeeze your novel into a half page. How?

4) go to
Type in GONE WITH THE WIND. Look at their short version of it :

A manipulative woman and a roguish man carry on a turbulent love affair in the American south during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Do those words sing? Do they capture the magic, scope, and heartbreak of the movie?

No. They just lie there without life or spark.

Well, put a little spin to them :

My novel is the saga of a selfish woman who doesn't want to admit her feelings about the man she loves, and she finally loses him.

How about tuning up the synopsis in three sentences?

GONE WITH THE WIND is the epic tale of a woman's life during one of the most tumultuous periods in America's history.

From her young, innocent days on a feudalistic plantation to the war-torn streets of Atlanta; from her first love whom she has always desired to three husbands.

She survives going from the utmost luxury to absolute starvation and poverty and from being torn from her innocence to a sad understanding and bitter comprehension of life.

Are you beginning to see how you might be able to pull off the half page synopsis?

5) In my end is my beginning:
I got your attention with the title of this post, didn't I? Well, that is the secret to selling your synopsis.

You have to grab that eye-weary agent by the imagination and shake hard. Start with a one sentence paragraph.

"Samuel Clemens had been dead all of thirty seconds, and he already hated it."

Got your interest, didn't it? How about :

"The situation was hopeless but improving." Another imagination grabber.

6) Last Words:
Is your summary unique and "This is really something!"

Do you include the punch line to your joke? No holding back to tease.

If the agent presents an unfinished turkey to her editors, she gets her hard-earned reputation bruised.

Is your novel in the genre the agent handles?

Her list of agents is genre specific. If she handles techno-thrillers, she doesn't know one editor who would be interested in your Western.

And worse, you've shot your ounce of good will with that agent.

Agents are tired, impatient, and lovers of order.

Agents want your synopsis to be laid out in three orderly paragraphs.

Short ones. Easy on the eye ones.

Any more paragraphs, any longer, chunkier ones scream unprofessional rookie to them.

And they don't have time to be your mentor. They want a partner not a pupil. You are not in the remake of THE KARATE KID.

Here listen to one of my favorite living writers
(I sometimes stand over his shoulder and read his pages a'fore they hit the printers!)


  1. Mr, Twain, I thank you!
    Will continue to work on the opening line zing. Actually the whole thing needs more zing.
    I also have enlisted the help of one awesome critique partner and await his thoughts.
    And fortunately since this is the back of the book synopsis, I can hold back the punchline!

  2. Alex:
    Then, it's more a pitch than synopsis. Zing is hard for me, too!

    You are fortunate to have the help of a critique partner that doesn't flick ghost-cigar ash on your keyboard when you stray! :-)

  3. Head-banging experience. Such a short thing leaves me seriously crazy.

    Love the way you post.

    Hugs and chocolate,


  4. Shelly:
    Yes! LOL. A synopsis is truly a head-banging experience. I'm really glad you like how I post. I am in the middle of working 12 days straight with half of it on call, and my brain is beginning to melt! :-)

  5. I have to write a new synopsis on the suspense story, so this is timely.

    I've done a synopsis that is a little over a page for my scifi. Someone said to have a longer one prepared as well, if needed.

    Thanks, Mark and Roland. Take care Roland and don't forget to sleep.

  6. D.G.:
    I'm glad my post helped a bit at the right time even. For the longer one take a page for each of the three acts of your novel.

    Hospitals left me alone last night so I got to sleep a whooping 12 hours straight. So this is what a clear head feels like! :-)