Sunday, June 24, 2007

The (Dreaded) Synopsis

Ask any writer - go ahead, just grab one and ask 'em, what the worst part about the writing process is. Go on. I'll wait.

You thought they would say research, right? Or maybe writing the first draft? Possibly revising the first draft?

Betcha they said writing a synopsis.

I would rather poke hot needles into my eyes than write a synopsis (although writing the query letter ranks a strong second in that contest.) I hate writing a synopsis. Let me say that again, I hate writing a synopsis.

It seems so simple, right? Hero. Heroine. Conflict. Turning points. Resolution. Nothing to it, right? I wrote the story, I can write all of these things as well. No sweat.

Then I sit down to do it. Within maybe thirty seconds, I'm ready to do a Miss Snark and set my hair on fire. Ugh. How can something so simple be such a freakin' nightmare?

Easy - a synopsis is a summary of 400 pages of a book - crammed into 5-10 pages (this is an estimate, some publishers/agents want more, some want less.)

It has to be interesting enough to get an editor or agent to keep reading, and to make them want more. It has to give away the ending. And then you have to figure out what are the most important turning points, and what details go, what details stay.

Even writing this, it sounds so simple. In reality, though, the exact opposite is true.

I bring this up because of another (mini) contest rant. Upon reading one entrant's synopsis, I realized there is no story. There's a hero and heroine. Okay. Some stuff happens. Okay. But where do they change? How do they grow? Wy do they even fall in love with each other?

I reread it - it was late the first read through, maybe I was just tired. Nope. Still no plot. A string of events doesn't make a book. It makes a 400 page string of events.

I've read on other blogs (and I tend to agree) that a book is like a three-act play. Where each act ends, there is a turning point.

For example, I will use my book Shelter From the Storm. I like it and it's mine, so here goes:

(the setup)
Kendra marches aboard Ash's ship and demands to be taken to him, but he isn't on board yet, so she waits. As she waits, a gun battle breaks out and she turns to see some lunatic racing towards the ship. It's Ash and, in his haste to leave the harbor, he accidentally kidnaps Kendra and her brother. Things happen on board the ship, Kendra and Ash kiss. More things happen. The ship is sunk.

(the conflict deepens)
Not only do Kendra and Ash have to work together to survive, they have to keep from killing each other as they make their way from the Jersey shore to the city of Philadelphia. Things happen and they end up sleeping together. Uh-oh. They arrive in Phildelphia, where they pretend to be married to keep the gossips at bay. But, feelings grow and deepen, and old fears are brought back to the foreground. Finally, they secure passage back to London, but now Kendra's life is about to change again. She's pregnant.

(the resolution)
Things come to a head when Kendra's father tells Ash in no uncertain terms that Ash will marry Kendra. More stuff happens. Finally, Ash is able to accept the truth about his feelings for Kendra and she does the same. Happily they ride off into the sunset.

That's it, in a nutshell. Trouble is, you have to decide which stuff that happens is the stuff that creates the turning point, or the growth. I've written synopses where I've thrown in everything and the thing ends up being 20 pages long. Yikes. Time to go back and chip away until you have the barest (yet most interesting) bones.

And include the ending!!!

I've heard new writers say they leave the synopsis hanging - like a season finale cliff-hanger. Don't do it. Editors/agents want to know how the story ends and you aren't going to whet their interest enough if you don't tell them. Most of them don't have time for it.

Now that brings me to the second synopsis. Not only was there no conflict, I'm still not sure who the hero and heroine are. Not a bit. I have an idea, but I don't know. There is nothing there to tell me what happens, or why this couple end up together. Of course, if I'm wrong about the hero, it would explain it, but it still wouldn't make any sense.

A synopsis should read similar to the back blurb on a book. A bit more in depth. Don't put an epilogue in it. Don't tell anything that doesn't have a direct relevance to the plot.

Just. Don't.

Trust me. You'll thank me for it later.

No comments: