The Synopsis and its Friends

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© Chasbrutlag | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Chasbrutlag | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Image

When I am asked what my books are about, I try to respond with one sentence. That answer is not a synopsis, but what I would consider one of the synopsis’ “friends.” Books descriptions serve specific purposes. And just to make it easier, not everyone agrees on the rules. I’ve pulled together some thoughts and resources on what I consider the three most common forms of synopses.

Three Forms of Synopses

The Synopsis

What it is:  Tells the entire story, particularly the conflict

Length:  One-page single spaced or two pages double spaced maximum

Purpose:  To interest an agent or publisher to request manuscript

Tip:  Convey emotion

Example:  Spoiler alert! This synopsis includes the ending of “The Way Way Back.”

The Book Blurb

What it is: The 30-second elevator pitch normally seen in advertisement copy or on a book’s back cover or inside jacket flap

Length:  100 – 200 words

Purpose:  To tell potential readers enough to get them interested or used by sales representatives to pitch titles, post on retailers’ websites, and post in catalogues

Tip:  Make a connection with readers and book buyers

Example: Distributors’ book blurb (advertisement copy) for “Believing In Horses, Too”

The Super Short Synopsis

What it is:  My term for the short answer to describe the book in conversation or to append to a biographical line in a written post

Length:  One sentence

Tip:  Not much written on this one, but it’s the one I use most

Example:  A girl in a military family overcomes fears through her work with therapeutic riding programs (“Believing In Horses, Too”)

Additional Resources

Following are some additional useful resources I’ve found, with a brief description of each.

Back to Basics: Writing a Novel Synopsis (Jane Friedman) – Outstanding advice, and many useful links.

Five Tips on How to Write a Novel Synopsis (Chuck Sambuchino) – This article and links to other articles on the synopsis; the author also provides freelance services for synopsis writing.

Query Shark  -  Blog providing advice on how to write query letters that work – much based on synopses. Writers may submit their queries for critique.

How to Write the Back Blurb for Your Book (Joanna Penn) – Advice on back cover blurbs, and a little more.


Now you try – at the very least, ensure you have a super short synopsis ready to describe your writing, your business, or whatever it is that you do. Feel free to share here!


Farewell Shanghai

Shanghai 3 Please join me for the final installment of Vic Socotra’s thoughts on one of our Congressional trips to Asia, and a farewell to China.

We wandered down the street and over a couple of blocks. We found the entrance to the subway and went down. It was gleaming and shiny and not at all what I expected. We went down and got to the platform.

The little guy on the subway could have been sixty or he could have been eighty. He could have walked with Mao on the big swing around Chiang Kai Check’s Nationalists, and on to eventual victory in 1948.

He wore a little Mao hat and his gaze was implacable. He was staring at Val’s chest, or he was staring past her chest at me in my trench coat because he was exactly that tall. It was hard to tell. But it was a penetrating gaze, neither friendly nor particularly hostile. It was an intense and unwavering look, like that of a hawk on his prey. I leaned over to Val.

“I think he may consider us to be lick-spittle running dogs of colonialism.”

“But nice” she said. It was pretty clear that even if there were more westerners recently in town, they didn’t hang on the Shanghai subway. We had a lot of fans before we got off.

It was a fine subway, and like everything I had seen in Shanghai, it was first class and totally approachable for English speakers. The station was deserted when Val and I arrived. It was four minutes after nine in the morning, and the place was deserted.

We purchased two yuan tickets, sufficient to get us to People’s Square and ventured down to the tracks. When we arrived, a Chinese man came up to Val, gestured at the sign above us (Chinese and English) and asked her a question in Cantonese, clearly seeking directions. Val pointed at one of the directions at random. He bowed, satisfied, and walked briskly away in the direction she had pointed. Val rolled her eyes.

“Why would he think I would know anything here?”

“I think they like you,” I said as our train pulled into the platform. As we rolled off, we passed below several sites I wish I had seen up close. The site of the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China. The site of the headquarters of the Provisional Government of Korea- presumably the united one under Kim Il Sung, circa 1951. That was the year I was born. I was sorry we missed the residence of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, George Washington of China, still claimed by Communist and Nationalist alike.

Three stops down the line we departed the car and the unwavering gaze of our Long March admirer, at People’s Square. The morning had blossomed into a magnificent day. Still crisp, there were dozens of retired people in the park under the looming eves of the Grand Theater. We wandered along, objects of gentle curiosity. Once we left the park the buildings were those of the West: stolid brick blocks of flats and businesses with quaint and optimistic Victorian facades.

We were disoriented from being underground, and were struggling to make the tourist map coexist with the reality beneath our feet. A middle-aged woman stopped to help us in our confusion, pointing east down a wide mall toward the river.

We were on Nanjing Lu (Road), which according to the literature, is known as the number one commercial street in China. It runs about 5.5 clicks through the center of Shanghai from the Bund on the Huang Pu River to the Jing’an Temple in the west. They claim there are more than 600 stores along both sides of the street.

Further, the locals claim there to be “a satisfactory variety of goods of brand names, high quality ones, special local products and newly developed products, which are a feast for eyes.”

It turned out to be true. Everything under the sun was for sale, and in the alleys off the main drag I found a Chairman Mao cigarette lighter that plays the Chinese National Anthem when you open the cover.Valerie Ormond

Most of Nanjing Road was turned into a pedestrian mall two years ago. It is not all the way down to the Bund, where the streets narrow. My tourist guide informed me that Nanjing Road is a wonderful view at night, “with colorful and dazzling lights too beautiful to be absorbed all at once.”

I would have been willing to try.

We passed the Peace Hotel, where a jazz band of octogenarians, placed apparently in suspended animation during the Great Cultural Revolution, still plays the songs they played for the Colonials in 1935. Near that corner is an imposing but somewhat forlorn bronze lion in front of an equally imposing Greek Revival Building of commerce, left long behind by the Brits on whose Empire the sun finally set.

We arrived at the river’s edge after about an hour’s wander. Across the river rose Shanghai’s equivalent of the Space Needle: the 468 meter Oriental Pearl TV Tower, tallest in Asia and third tallest in the world. Its graceful spire transitions to a great sphere about three quarters of the way down, just like a snake that had swallowed a basketball.

Silhouetted before it is the only public representation of the Great Helmsman Mao I saw in town, aside from my cigarette lighter. His statue leans forward in heroic pose, wind sweeping his upward-turned and confident face. A line of children, cute as buttons in colorful sweaters and windbreakers moved along the street under the careful gaze of their caregivers.

“Look!” I said to Val. “It’s the Emerging Threat!”

Later, we had collected the delegation from the Consulate, agreed with the People’s Liberation Army troopers at the visa gate that they did not want to be photographed with us, and piled back into the van. We took a measured drive back to the southeast to Pudong Airport. I was a little concerned that we were inside the two-hour advance time I normally reserve for international flights, but traffic was light, and I wasn’t responsible for this trip. We arrived at the “Departing Flights” drop off point about an hour and ten minutes before the flight. In daylight, the heroic proportions radiated confidence. We piled the bags onto travel carts, bade farewell to the embassy driver, and rolled into the vast and eerily quiet hall. We were looking for Asiana Airlines to wing us to Korea. I couldn’t find the airline listed anywhere. I looked at Val, horror beginning to show in her eyes as the worst event in an escort officer’s career began to unfold. It was confirmed moments later by a perky Chinese girl at Information a few moments later.

“Oh,” she said in the most terrifying words it is possible to hear on international travel. “You are at wrong Airport. So sorry.” She smiled.

I won’t tell of the asses and elbows from that point, the broken Chinese, or the horror which dawned in the eyes of the Consulate driver, who we found still at the curb as we hurled bags two or three at a time into the back. He burned rubber on the way out, and the skill and audacity of this Chinese hero and the ostensible forty-minute drive to Hongqiao National was a wonder to behold. The intricate timing of the trip hung in the balance, and we drove places most official vans will never see. At the airport we moved with deliberate speed through the chokepoints of airport tax, ticketing, Immigration and Passport Control, adrenaline coursing through our veins.

As it turned out, we were comfortably seated on the airplane with nearly three minutes to spare. Relaxed and refreshed, we pushed back from the gate for the flight to the Land of the Morning calm. Wondering where the bags were going to go….

Copyright 2001 Vic Socotra

Thank you, Vic, for your guest posts. For those who would like to hear more from Vic, please visit him at Socotra House Publishing.

Long Marchers…Part Two

Please join me for Part Two of my friend and author  Vic Socotra‘s series of stories about one of our Congressional trips. We have now journeyed to Shanghai.

01 February 2001Shanghai skyline

Long Marchers

by Vic Socotra

I believe in traveling light, but there was no way for it on this trip- we would be in temperate, arctic and tropical climates. The bags went out full, and got fuller with each stop. The bags even began to multiply. It could have been worse. The last time I was in Hanoi, the famous Central Jail (“Hanoi Hilton”) was being torn down, and visitors were presented with bricks as unique souvenirs. Being the junior member on that trip, I wound up carrying a bag containing a major portion of an interior wall. But that is another story.

Downstairs at the Regal International East Asia there was a lavish breakfast buffet of both Chinese and Western delicacies. Rich coffee, eggs, fried cabbage, sausage, bacon, cucumbers, steamed dumplings, hare stew. Some items sampled, most not. After their travail, the infantry is only minutes late coming down, but they miss the breakfast. We have our bags in the van and waiting for them out front.

The Consulate is a few minutes down the road a trip. It had been a Jardine-Matheson mercantile compound (the prototype for Clavel’s Nobel House) after starting as a colonial family residence. There is an outside entrance cut into the wall for access to Visa and Consul services.

Two People’s Liberation Army Guards flank it. At the real gate to the compound is a security checkpoint with metal detectors. Within the whitewashed walls is a large rambling home set on a lawn that had to be two-acres, bordered by ornamental mulberry trees. Inside, past the glassed-in Marine sentry box it is old dark wood and stained glass. The reception area features a large circular table atop a rung with the United States Seal. An oaken staircase leads up and around to the business offices on the second floor, and a formal dining room for official functions is through great doors to the left. Except for the Marine in glass, it is all straight out of 1920.

We were scheduled to have two sessions of meetings, one for the senior members of the delegation, and another for us with some Americans from Nanjing. They have been delayed, and will not arrive until after lunch. I could dutifully attend a session in which I had no interest, watching PowerPoint Slides on the roles, missions and functions of another American Agency in China.

Val in Shanghai

Or, I could blow it off and wander around. It would be a pity to travel all the way to Shanghai and have to settle for a couple beers at the Club Old Times, five hours unconscious in a hotel and a twenty minute jog. I approached our Senior Staffer and offered up the options. Since we were scheduled to go directly from lunch to the airport, I made the case that someone needed to go shopping for the group. To my delight, the delegation cut me and the Congressional escort lady loose, and we were free in Shanghai for the morning.

We took orders: “Postcards!” “Cute little things!” “Have fun!”

As they trudged up the stairs to the conference room, we floated back out past the Marine and down into the formal garden. This was better than cutting class in high school. The sun was full up, the sky was hazy blue and the breeze was fresh and crisp. I had a trench-coat, a broad smile and a pocket full of yuan. I had always wanted to see the Bund close up, and this was the chance of a lifetime. Now, the only thing we had to do was figure out where it was, avoid international incidents, and get back before we lost the group…what could go wrong?



What were you doing thirteen years ago today? Thanks to Vic Socotra, I can answer that in detail. Vic penned a series of stories about a Congressional trip to Asia when I was the Congressional liaison officer in charge of the trip, and he, a “strap-hanger.” Vic’s words bring back great memories for me and hopefully will be of interest to you. So please, join me for a three-part series and enjoy this prolific writer’s wit and storytelling skills.

07 January 2001

Congressional Delegation Dorn, Tokyo, Japan, Jan. 9, 2001

Congressional Delegation Dorn, Tokyo, Japan, Jan. 9, 2001


by Vic Socotra

The term “Boondoggle” is derived from the Middle English “boon,” or pleasant flavor, and “doggle,” or pack of slavering wolves.

I am leaving on a boondoggle tomorrow. This is a boondoggle of the Congressional variety, arguably one of the spectacular of the breed. The term is normally used disparagingly by co-workers.

“Oh,” they will say. “You are off on a boondoggle.” The clear connotation is that you are shirking work, frittering away the taxpayers’ money, and generally tip-toeing the line of propriety. I’ll grant you there is some basis to that thesis.

I will not deny that you get free headsets on the jet.

But I was on a boondoggle one time that got a Nobel Laureate released from house arrest and normalized relations with Vietnam, too. So you have to take things in context.

A Congressional Boondoggle works like this: a Member, Senator or Staffer decides they need to go somewhere to investigate some issue. Working conditions at the Louis Viton luggage plant in Paris, for example. Arms control issues in Geneva. Trade issues anywhere. They take the issue and a proposal to the Chairman of their respective Committee.

The Chairman then signs out a letter to whatever Agency happens to have responsibility for the issue in the Executive Branch. The Agency hands the request over to its Congressional Liaison shop, which assigns a middling-senior specialist to arrange the trip.

That includes tickets, reservations, State Department clearances, the whole shooting match. It’s really quite elegant. Congress doesn’t have to cough up the money for the trip. It all comes out of the individual budgets of the Agencies or Departments. And you will love this: the Appropriations Committees, the ones who REALLY dole out the dough, insist on having a separate system to handle their needs. But I won’t go into that- it would seem to make this process cumbersome and duplicative.

There are a lot of moving parts to the grand democracy. A huge chunk of the resources that support Congress is buried elsewhere. For example, if all the military folks who are “detailed” to work on the Hill were directed to wear their uniforms one day, it would look like there had been a coup. But they wear plain clothes, for the most part, and of course their salaries are paid by the Defense Department. All the Agencies have people up on the Hill on detail. This keeps the staff off the Congressional books. It’s part of the same loopy but compelling argument that has people spending millions to get elected to jobs that pay $148,000 a year.

There are strap-hangers and horse-holders, too.

Which would be me, and people like me. There are three of us on this trip.

Any graduate of a high school civics class knows that the Government cannot lobby itself. That would be wrong.

But it is entirely appropriate to provide timely information to decision-makers to ensure that the fact-finding trips indeed find the right facts. There is nothing quite so unsettling as knowing there is a Congressional Delegation out there somewhere, talking to other disgruntled bureaucrats. Drastic changes to the budget can result, and the time spent trying to correct impressions warrants having someone along to provide damage control on-the-spot.

Perceptions are everything. And in this town, if you have to explain something in The Washington Post, you have already lost.

Boondoggles travel Business Class, but only on flights outside the Continental United States so it isn’t quite so visible. It’s all legit, and it is right there in the Government Travel Regulations. Shouldn’t even feel guilty about it. I mean, for tomorrow’s adventure, we leave Dulles at ten in the morning and get into Tokyo the following afternoon, and are expected to listen attentively to some folks from the Embassy on arrival.

Industry recognizes the importance of a little extra comfort in long distance travel, but let’s face it: it’s a guilty pleasure. If we were paying for it ourselves, we’d be in the back with all the other main-cabin trash. And since we are actually providing timely information, or at least have the potential to do so, it is important to be right there with the members of the Delegation.

Guilty pleasures aside, this is an actual working trip. We hit Tokyo for twenty-five hours on the ground. We then slog back out past Tokyo Disney World to the fortress airport and jet off for Shanghai. We get in late, hit the hotel and rise relaxed and refreshed for meetings beginning at eight. We are back on the way to the airport by two that afternoon, and God willing, in Seoul, Korea, that night.

This is what is known in the trade as a “bag-dragger.” The senior member of the Delegation is known as a bear for work, and not afraid to request formal briefings in the evening if that is what he desires.

He likes to regularly run the traps overseas, feeling it is his duty. Last time it was Saudi and Bahrain. Africa was the trip before that. With all the interest in the looming China Threat and the unsettling prospect of Korean unification, it is time for him to re-visit Northeast Asia. Something might be up.

The itinerary winds its way through Hawaii (“Let’s see: It’s January in Northern China. Then Waikiki. Do I have galoshes and flip-flops in the bag?”). Onward, northeast then through the Pacific Northwest before finally running out of steam in Alaska. Never in a hotel more than one night, so it is pointless to unpack. We return to Dulles International around midnight on Day Eleven.

The places sound glamorous in the planning phase. But now that I am looking at packing lightly for tropics and arctic, and realizing I am actually going to be spending a week-and-a-half looking at the back of somebody’s seat, I am having an attack of last-minute travel anxiety. But at least the headsets are free and the bar is open and complementary on overseas flights. Has to be; somebody might have a question. (“Another Magnum!” shouted the Senator. “And keep them coming!”).

I have finished packing. The muk-luks and sunscreen are stowed away in the luggage, and I am ready for the taxi to Dulles. In the coming weeks, we will be talking to many people about significant issues involving your taxpayer dollars, you can be sure.

You may sleep well in the complete confidence that I will be available to provide timely information to whoever might need it. And if you need a favor, or help in beating back a pack of slavering Congressional wolves, this is just the boondoggle to do it.

Copyright 2001 Vic Socotra


Christmas Heroes

Christmas brings back my last happy memories with my father. Growing up as “Daddy’s little girl,” it was no family secret that we shared a special bond. Dad served in the Navy in my early years, and I enjoyed hearing sea stories and exotic tales of places he visited. One time he brought home from a Navy cruise a three-foot-tall wooden table shaped like a monkey, which my brother and I named “Baboo.” My mother hated it. Mom’s detest for this furniture-creature among our early Colonial style décor made Baboo that much funnier to me, at six-years-old, and my way more mature older brother at seven. Dad’s sense of humor never stopped, and to this day when I think of him, I see twinkling blue eyes, shiny round cheeks, and a grin that made his entire face smile — just like that last Christmas.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Edward J. Ormond, U.S. Navy

Lieutenant Junior Grade Edward J. Ormond, U.S. Navy

Whether consciously or not, I followed in my father’s footsteps and joined the Navy.  Fiercely proud, my dad visited me at every duty station he could. And when I came home, Dad always wanted me to stop by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter Home, Omaha Beach Chapter Number 7, in Bowie, MD, to show me off to his friends and colleagues in the local veterans’ organizations. Every Christmas, the DAV held a holiday party for the residents of Charlotte Hall Veterans Home. Each year, one of the big highlights of the event for the Charlotte Hall residents was the belly dancer. [Read more...]

Words of Encouragement

Valerie Ormond Believing In HorsesI opened my LinkedIn messages last week and found a thoughtful, professional recommendation from a colleague about my Navy life, my writing, and Believing in Horses.

I have known this colleague, Joe, for over 20 years. He was one of my senior officers in the Navy. Joe is the kind of guy who asks how you are doing, waits to hear the answer, and truly cares what you have to say. He is a gentleman, a strategic thinker, and a prolific writer. He can be counted on as the guy in a room who will be the first one to stand up and ask a question during that awkward silence while a speaker is waiting for someone to do so. And Joe asks the hard questions everyone else in the audience wants to know the answers to also. I’ve always had great respect for Joe. [Read more...]