I am having great difficulty in writing a synopsis for my memoir… No matter how much I seem to read about synopsis they don’t seem to cover memoir synopsis. My book is written in prose and verse and short story format. My book is called ‘Cuz I’m Mixed’ It’s about me as a young girl growing up in a culturally diverse mixed race family. Any suggestions you have I know would help…So if you can HELP I would be most thankful.
Yours truly, Sharon-Seeking-Synopsis-Advice
Thank you so much for your question about writing a memoir synopsis. I think that any synopsis is difficult to write (even a synopsis for someone else’s book) so imagine how difficult it is to encapsulate the essence of a story you are so close to, a story in fact that is you.
You won’t believe this, but when I thought about your question and researched “how to write a memoir synopsis” I found my own post on this topic that I’d written for WomensMemoirs.com in 2010! Even more surprising, when I read it, I felt I learned something! Apparently we all have a wise inner self who knows more than we think we do.
Since I wrote that piece, however, I did sell my own memoir and was compelled to write a synopsis for it. So I am going to add to my original article another tip, (#6) that I was not aware of at the time. I am also enclosing links for other articles on writing memoir or novel synopsis (a novel synopsis is similar to a memoir synopsis since you are, after all, telling a story) that may be helpful to you.
I ran face-to-face into the issue of a synopsis when I thought I had everything I needed for my memoir package: a beautifully polished manuscript, a well-written query letter, and a strong proposal. But – surprise! – I discovered I needed a synopsis, too. I swear, a root canal or, better yet, writing another memoir would be a lot more relaxing.
I did on-line research about writing a memoir synopsis and found it’s really quite easy. All you have to do is toss it off, hitting the highlights while simultaneously demonstrating the dramatic arc in vividly evoked scenes that convey the universality of the story in the style and tone of the original piece.
It reminds me of my daughter’s driving lesson. She has her permit now and spent two hours on the road recently with Steve, a certified driving instructor. It was the first time she’d done night-driving on major highways. And then it started to rain.
“Turn on your windshield wipers!” cried Steve, as they merged on to Route 95, “check your blind spot, flip on your blinker and for heaven’s sake, speed up!”
What’s so hard about that?
Well, for one thing (driving aside; I didn’t get the merging traffic gene) writing a memoir is very different from summing one up. It involves different sides of the brain – special synapses for synopses. I think I may have missed out on that gene, too.
Weeks passed, and I was in despair about ever getting my synopsis written. My office was littered with reams of printed-out instructions for writing a memoir synopsis, testimonies from writers describing how they tore their hair out attempting it, and the grisly remains of my own failed efforts. Then my friend and fellow writer, Debbie, asked me what I wanted for Christmas. For a moment, I was quiet, thinking. What did I really want? And then it came to me.
“I’d like an hour or two of synopsis help,” I said.
Debbie readily agreed and even before we started, I got to work using a synopsis worksheet I purchased on-line for $5.00. A day later, my synopsis was complete!
My friend’s gift was the best Christmas present anyone could have given me. And so I’d like to pass this gift — this advice — on to you with six tips for writing your memoir synopsis.
Tip #1. Take it to the next level
In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Joe Fox, played by Tom Hanks, is heading to a restaurant to meet his email soul mate (Meg Ryan) for the first time. Joe is a nervous wreck. What if his soul mate turns out to be hideously ugly? What if his dream girl isn’t the girl for him at all? Joe’s assistant, Kevin, offers him some relationship advice.
“You’re taking it to the next level…I always take a relationship to the next level and if it works okay I take it to the next level after that.”
Remember, you’re not trying to write a perfect synopsis on the first try. You’re just taking it to the next level. Even if all you do today is organize your papers, that’s taking it to the next level. You can worry about the next level after that tomorrow.
Tip #2. “Chunk it out”
A synopsis isn’t a detailed list of every event in the story – “this happened and then this happened and then this happened.” But in the early stages of composing, writing down a list of events can be helpful. Later this list can be shaped, trimmed, or expanded. But “chunking it out,” as a novelist friend of mine says, is a good place to start.
Tip #3. Highlight what you love
Once you have a list or a chapter-by-chapter outline of events, sit down and highlight every paragraph, sentence, or phrase that captures the essence and personality of your story. These highlighted sections are ones to include in your finished synopsis.
Tip #4. Find a friend
Just knowing there is a friend or colleague holding you to a deadline or waiting to give you feedback is an incentive to finish your synopsis. It’s like throwing out a safety rope and feeling a reassuring tension on the other end.
Tip #5. Have a little faith
Don’t worry about whether or not you have the synopsis gene. Have a little faith and accomplish the impossible. The genes will just have to catch up later.
Tip #6. Read other memoir or novel synopses. Lots of them!
Reading other synopses will give you a sense of the cadence and rhythm of the synopsis, and also what it consists of. Google the synopses of your favorite novels or memoirs, if you are able to find some, study how they are put together. You can even use these as a kind of template to write your own.
Sharon, I hope this post has been helpful to you; please feel free to comment if you have further questions, and I will do my best to answer.
Here are two links to check out that will help you with your book proposal:
This column was originally published at womensmemoirs.com.