Tag Archives: synopsis

Contests & Synopses

Yeah! I successfully entered my first literary contest, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. I say successfully because I know a lot of people want to and never actually do it. But I couldn’t have done it without the help of my critique group members Emily and Jessica. Together we worked for over six weeks polishing our entries together and I definitely know that my entry is much better because of their insight and thoughtful comments.

The finalists in each category (genre) will be announced some time in June and each entrant will receive feedback from at least two judges, one of which will include a literary agent or editor. It will be hard not to count the days until June. Finalists in each category receive several honors including a special colored ribbon on your name badge at the summer conference (like the scarlet letter but with an upside), as well as recognition at a dinner at the conference. In addition, the contest entry of finalists (which included a synopsis and my first two chapters of my memoir) is available to all agents and editors that attend the conference in a special quiet room for their review. I’ve never heard anyone say they found an agent or editor this way, but I’m not ruling it out (provided I am fortunate enough to be named a finalist)!

First and second place in each category also receive $500 and $200, respectively, as well. I’m certainly looking forward to the feedback.

I encourage every writer to enter a contest. Don’t wait until you’re completely ready. Instead, identify the contest well in advance and then plan for it. I think having the deadline out there helps push you along. I certainly worked harder on my first two chapters than I would have without it. Plus, those two chapters, now more polished, will improve the quality of my book proposal that I’ll be sending out to another round of agents in a month or two.

As I’ve blogged about recently here, I wrote a synopsis that I love for the contest and I’m sharing it with you now below. Please be aware that this synopsis may or may not be considered “a quality synopsis”, it’s just what I wrote for my contest entry. Thanks for reading.



The desire to be a mother washes over Nina like a slowly rising tide. A neurotic, single twenty-something fresh out of college, she wanders, exploring the sandy beach of life, the sea nowhere in sight. A shiny treasure catches her eye—an adventurous older man. Twinkling like a precious stone, he feeds her aching need for love, for life.

Water rises quickly, almost undetected, as Nina clambers over the now rocky shallows. He already has a child and doesn’t want any more. The waves turn cold against her legs. Should she climb out, into the sun’s indulgence? Or turn away in search of deeper water?

To calm her fear and indecision, Nina donates some of her eggs anonymously, giving another woman the chance to swim. When Nina learns of the fraternal twin girls born from her eggs, a surge rises to her chest. She meets Ruby and Raven at two-years-old, and is no longer afraid. She floats on her back, alive; and now she wants her own baby more than air.

But her man, who wades into the shallows slowly, cannot give her the baby he is now ready to share. They despair. Buoyed by a fertility doctor, they are rescued by a faceless stranger, the Frenchman, who bestows his seed.

Nina tests many different strokes against and with the current: aunt, stepmom, and Egg Mama, all training for the race that is parenthood, as her own twins grow inside her.

Storms blow in: Ruby and Raven’s parents divorce and Nina’s own twin boys arrive too soon. She can barely stay afloat and they all struggle to stay together. But as the storms subside, Nina rolls in the waves of motherhood, riding the natural rhythms. Water becomes her air and soon she cannot live without it. The flood tide crests and Nina no longer cares about the shore.


Elements of a Great Synopsis

I’m entering the memoir category of Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest this year. A new addition to the contest is that each submission must be accompanied by a one page (double-spaced) synopsis. I haven’t written many of those so I got a couple books from the library to help me.

The other dilemma that I’m still trying to work out is that a synopsis usually talks about it’s main character, which in my case is me. But for this contest, the authors name cannot appear anywhere, so I’m either going to have to change from third to first person, or change my main character’s name for this submission. Any suggestions for my new name? Maybe I should just use my stripper name, Streak Illinois? I’m sure I can find something better, but right now it feels like an unnecessary distraction from the real goal: to get this thing polished and submitted by Feb. 18.

Back to the synopsis. The suggestions below are straight from Ch. 18 The Novel Synopsis by Rebecca Vinyard in The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals (Moira Allen Ed.). Somehow, my synopsis is supposed to contain each of the following thirteen elements and cannot exceed one page in length, double-spaced! So the trick is to jam all this information together in such a way that it doesn’t seem crammed, choppy, or rushed. Simple, right? Unfortunately, this book only gives examples of synopses that are several pages long, single-spaced. But I found some shorter examples here compiled by Charlotte Dillon.

1.       Set up

Premise, location, time frame, main characters backgrounds.

2.       Why?

Explain everything, if your character is angry, explain why.

3.       Characterization

Describe your character, not their looks, but their background, personality, occupation. Only primary characters in synopsis.

4.       Plot points

The major decision faced by your character or something unexpected and outside the experience of the character. Stick with the main theme, mention all major plot points. Leave out subplots.

5.       Conflict

The obstacles the main characters must overcome in order to achieve their goals.

6.       Emotion

Include it whenever possible to keep it from being a dull summary.

7.       Action

In the story, this is very important. But in a synopsis, only include it if there are significant consequences.

8.       Dialogue

A few lines of significant dialogue at the most, if any.

9.       Black Moment

A moment of reckoning, when it appears that your hero will never reach their goals and all is lost.

10.   Climax

The moment when your hero succeeds or the bad guy fails. Your character reaches their goal.

11.   Resolution

In a synopsis, don’t be coy, give away the ending. Tie up loose ends.

12.   Basics

Use present tense, avoid passive voice, and focus on flow and forward motion.

13.   Formatting

Double spaced is usually preferred but check Writers Guidelines for each submission. For general synopses, include contact information and word count on the upper left corner of the first page. Subsequent pages should include title, your last name, and page number in your header. But beware, in this literary contest, no author names should appear anywhere to reduce bias.

I’ll post my polished synopsis on this blog in a week or two for your generous feedback.

“Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg (Part 1)

Whenever I talk to another writer about my current plans, they inevitably recommend that I read Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. I’ve had the book on my shelf for months and finally was in the mood.

The great thing about this book is that each chapter has a self-contained message. So, I have scribbling down her underlying message and I’ll share them with you here.

Goldberg’s recommendations:

1. Set up your writing system, whether its the right pen and notebook, or coffee shop and laptop. The goal is choose the method that least slows you down so those words can flow.

2. Turn off your critic on your first draft. (This also happens to be advice given by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird–the shitty first draft). Her advice seems to say we should NaNoWriMo all year long.

3. Practice writing every day, be in the moment with your thoughts, don’t try to control them. If you let go of control, your voice will come all on it’s own.

4. Compost! Let your ideas and thoughts spin and churn. Eventually, you’ll get fertile soil.

5. Trust the writing process, stick with it, and you will improve.

6. Keep a running list of writing topics so that you’ll never feel blocked. You’ll always have a place to turn for a quick start.

7. Write. Don’t argue with yourself about when you’re going to do it, or why you’re not. Just do it. Use rewards, deadlines, a buddy, whatever it takes to just get writing.

8. Learn to hear and recognize your inner editor so you can more efficiently ignore it. (my inner editor just asked me whether I should change this to “recognize and hear” instead–I just told the bitch to shut up. :))

9. Write about what’s in front of you and expand thereafter.

10. Don’t read about writing as a way to learn to write. Just write (no, I didn’t stop reading the book right there, but I did put it down to re-work on a chapter).

Goldberg’s approach is simple and I like that. This is a fast, informative read. It’s interesting that she uses a lot of examples from her life to color these themes, including Buddhist teachings, quotes, and a variety of poetry.

I’m a third of the way through, so there will be a Part 2 (at least) in the next couple weeks.

I will be working it in around my plans to enter my first writing contest since 5th grade (which I won!). By Feb. 18 I will enter the first 27 pages of my memoir, along with an amazing synopsis, in the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Literary Contest.  I have  a couple friends who were finalists in the contest last year and they very much recommend the experience, which includes feedback from at least two people, one of which might be a literary agent.

This week I’ll be learning what qualities make a good synopsis. Will let you know what I find out.