Posts Tagged synopsis
I just finished the manuscript of my third novel, Ever Rest, and am now querying agents. So I’ve had to write a synopsis.
I don’t know any writer who relishes the synopsis. Essentially, you take 100,000 words (103,000, in my case) and boil it down, spoilers and all, to 500. And hate every moment.
But we have to do it. And this time, I came to an important realisation, one that made the process so much easier.
First, you need to get it down.
Phase 1 – outline the story
- Start with the protagonist. Introduce them and the status quo.
- Describe the incident that kicks off the main action and how it affects the main character.
- Describe how everything becomes complicated, the main plot turns, how they test the protagonist and make them change their goals.
- Mention any traditions and tropes of your genre that will appeal to your ideal readers. Amazing settings, outlandish murders etc.
- Describe the protagonist’s lowest point.
- Add the ultimate crisis or confrontation, and how the protagonist faces it.
- Finish with the resolution – how the protagonist is changed (or not), whether they’re wiser, happier, sadder, more true to themselves etc.
- Now consider other characters, if you haven’t already. Who else should you add so the synopsis makes sense? Choose the most important characters.
- How do those main relationships develop? Add that.
- Also add themes and issues.
- And lastly, what’s your most original and exciting idea? Make sure you’ve showcased that.
- Splice it all together, so it flows as a story in its own right.
You’ll have to fit it into just one page. There’s a lot you might have to leave out. In Ever Rest, I have four main characters, but there wasn’t room in the synopsis to explain all their arcs. So I left one out. My synopsis is a version of the story with just three of the main characters.
So you now have a document that makes sense but probably looks entirely soulless, compared with the rich experience it is derived from.
Hold that thought.
Here, we eavesdrop on writerly life.
Husband Dave is also a writer (here’s a post about the two-writer household). It’s useful for support and also for tough love.
Dave: ‘Have you got your synopsis ready?’
Me: ‘Yes. I hope nobody reads it.’
Dave: a severe look.
I realised. That would not do.
I searched my soul. I had written the synopsis in a state of frustration and rebellion. This is stupid. Why do I have to write this? I’d prefer you read the whole book instead.
Does that sound familiar?
So here’s the biggest secret.
I decided I had to stop hating that document.
Writers are creatures of expressive emotion, and that emotion shines through our work. The reader can tell which characters we’re most committed to, which situations arouse our deepest curiosity, which ideas we love. We draw on our most genuine parts to write a story. We believe in it. We need to bring that belief to the synopsis too.
I read my synopsis and saw it had no soul. It was just a series of events. I rewrote those events, concentrating instead on the characters’ emotions. The rage, the hope, the fear, the distress, the dread, the yearning. Suddenly, I was enjoying it. I still loved telling the story the long way, the proper way. But now, I loved this new way to tell it.
That’s what you’re looking for. If someone reads your synopsis, you want them to crave the full-length experience, not to shrug and move on.
So set yourself a challenge. You know you’ve got a fine book, full of emotion, jeopardy and your own genius originality. For your second phase of synopsising, write with that spirit. Don’t write it with disdain. Write it with love.
(There’s a lot more about writing synopses in my Nail Your Novel workbook.)
Oh, and what’s Ever Rest? And why, if I can self-publish, am I looking for an agent? All discussed here
Sometimes it’s good to take a break from our novels – especially at the end of a draft. But those are the breaks we’ve embraced. The purpose is to forget everything we knew about the book. An enforced break? That does the same – right when you don’t want it to.
It’s not that I’m shouting ‘humbug’, but before Christmas I was working through some notes from a publisher and Dave was deep in a first draft. Now, festivities over, we both have to get back into our writing, which isn’t easy. We don’t book many holidays compared with the normally employed, but somehow as departure looms, we grouse more and more about having to stop writing.
To make a good job of a book I need to know its every nuance. I need to understand how every scene and simile will reverberate through the whole thing – the way a note played on a piano is not just one sound, it quivers the strings of the whole instrument from highest tink to lowest rumble. When I come back to my novel after a break, I have to find its harmonics again.
So here’s how I do it.
First of all, I make sure I’ve got a summarised version of the book. This could be
- the scenes on index cards if it’s at the planning stage
- a working synopsis
- a beat sheet, if revising.
(For a full explanation of these, see Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence.) I use these documents as cribsheets to reboot my understanding of the novel from beginning to end. The structure, the character arcs, the tick-tock of the timeline, the threading of the subplots.
You’ll probably have seen from my other blog that I make soundtracks of mood pieces that have inspired major scenes and characters. Whenever a song snakes out of the radio or my headphones and tells me something about the novel I’m working on, I put it on a playlist. When I’m trying to reintroduce myself to my book, I take the soundtrack for a spin.
Trust the process
In a recent comment here on this blog, Fredrica Parlett made a wonderful remark that I’d like to put on a T-shirt – ‘if I can trust the process and not panic…’ Experience of writing’s ups and downs gives you faith. Faith that you have lost the thread before but you can pick it up again. Courage to get through the first day, when you don’t feel like going back to work after the holidays. Yes, that day isn’t easy. But the next one will be a lot better than you think it is going to be. And before you know it, you’ll be back in the swing.
If you’re thinking 2012 is the year you write your novel, you might like this multimedia short course I co-host with Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. More than 4 hours of audio with 86-page transcription and slides. And there’s also my book, Nail Your Novel.
Thank you for the vintage ad pic JBCurio
Do you have any tips for getting to grips with your novel again after a break? Share in the comments