Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Question: synopsis

So I've slogged through my epic masterpiece fiction novel thingy (kidding, it's a regular old paranormal romance) and I'm now sitting down to write the synopsis. And I've found plenty of advice online about how I need to cut out the details and leave just the bare-bones plot, but I'm finding it a challenge to pare things out without making the main characters sound like they have no motivation for their actions. I was very careful to craft a tight plot in which Event A influences Character B which causes him to do Action C - so if I leave out Event A, Character B seems like he just wanders around doing C for no reason at all. I'm worried the agents who have requested the synopsis will ask the obvious question ("Why on earth wouldn't he just do D instead?") and assume I don't know how to write.

What's your take on this? Do you ask for synopses from your authors? I'm finding this particularly difficult with the paranormal events in my story, because I could easily spent a page or two explaining my world's magic and its limitations (which affect why the characters do what they do) and I kinda suspect that's the part all these internet gurus are suggesting I cut . . .

I hate synopses. They are the spawn of Satan. But yes, all my authors do them because at some point, I'll need it.

The point of a synopsis is not to explain much. It's to show what happens.  It is not intended to be lyrical beautiful writing. In fact, if you try to do that you'll go nuts because the point of a synopsis is to show what happens in the book in one or two pages. It's like a book report from a third grader. This happens, then that.

So, you don't explain motivation. You say Event A influences Character B and thus he does C.  We're not looking to nitpick "why doesn't he do D" here. We just need to know he does C.

Don't explain the world of magic. Don't explain the limitations. Simply set the scene.

Here's an example from Trickster by Jeff Somers:

Magic uses blood—a lot of it. The more that’s used, the more powerful the effect, so mages find “volunteers” to fuel their spells. Lem, however, is different. Long ago he set up a rule that lets him sleep at night: never use anyone’s blood but your own.

What you don't see here is the effect that has on Lem, and I assure you there is one.  We don't need that fact in the synopsis. We just need to know that magic requires blood and Lem only uses his own...right up until Event A in fact!

Simple declarative sentences are the key.


Stephanie Faris said...

I hate them, too! I actually don't mind writing them--what I hate is the thought that an editor might judge the entire book on it, since we obviously spend much more time writing the book than the synopsis! What if I don't adequately describe the plot and the editor assumes the book has that plot hole? That sort of pressure makes it hard to write a synopsis. The good news is...I get a lot of housework done while procrastinating work on a synopsis!

Melissa Dymock said...

What helped me write mine was plain necessity. I prepared my book for a writing contest but when I went to submit, I read the fine print one last time. They required a synopsis, and I had less than an hour to write it.

The book didn't win but my synopsis received high markings. This is just one of those things that's easy to over think and overwrite.

Colin Smith said...

I dislike synopses, too. Especially at the querying stage. I don't understand why an agent needs to know how the whole plot works out. If they're that intrigued, clearly my query did its job and they should request pages. HOWEVER, I recognize some agents like to see not only if the writer can write, but how the story works out. And sometimes in life, we have to do things that make no sense to us if we want to achieve our goals. When I had to write my first synopsis, it hurt. Reducing my beautiful prose to what is, essentially, a bullet-point list of things that happened (no, I didn't literally use bullet-points, but it felt like it), was almost as hard as trying to find succinct ways of summing up entire chapters. But I did it. It can be done. Just, hopefully, not often. :)

Michael McDonagh said...

If you write from an outline, and keep the outline updated when the plot takes its predictable unpredicted turns, you should end up with something resembling a good synopsis (or at least something easier to turn into a good synopsis than a full-length novel is).

Joyce Tremel said...

I write the synopsis before I write the book and adjust it as I go along. If something changes in the plot, I change it in the synopsis.

Even if you're a "pantser" you most likely know most of your characters, and how the book begins and ends. Write that much and add to it as you go along. It's so much easier than waiting until you're done.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

This post was well timed! I was just thinking about a synopsis (and thank you for the snippet of the Trickster synopsis; having read that novel, it's a good frame of reference.

Pia Newman said...

I recently discovered this gem of a post when I was driving myself batty trying to write a one-page synopsis for a workshop:

It's almost like a recipe for writing a synopsis, and it uses a great example that most people will know the story of (nerd-alert). It helped me craft a decent one-page synopsis (as compared to all the ones that went before) in only a day (as opposed to a week that ends in trashing all my efforts). Totally worked for me.

BP said...

Oh well that was encouraging until I got to the lyrical, well-crafted synopsis sample that sounds better than some books I've read (and much better than third graders' book reports). Wozers! What a work of art! :D

Lance said...

Thank you for this post. It is helpful to know that you don't really like them either, but you need them to sell the book. Helps a lot. I think synopses are like novels in a way, you have to write a certain number of bad ones.