Find yourself in one of the above definitions? Me too, as well as countless other writers out there. I don't think there's anything we dread more than having to write a synopsis.
In a way, I envy my self-publishing friends. They never have to write a synopsis for theis mss. They write the book, edit, polish, and upload. Simple. No hassle of, you guessed it - the sucknopsis!
Yet, for all of the others who go by the agent and publisher route, a synopsis is a necessary evil. I'll admit I dread having to write one. It's not just the purpose - it's more like, how do you bring a so-so thousand long story down to a few pages?
That's where we could all do well to remember some pointers about the synopsis! It's not the trauma it represents in our minds. There are ways to do it, methods to get it right, tips and pointers to keep in mind.
It's true that I never write a synop for an ms unless I really need to (understand by that, at the query process!). But I bite the bullet, and remember the following, which have come to help me in good stead over the years.
What's a synopsis, basically? The freedictionary defines it as:
A brief outline or general view, as of a subject or written work; an abstract or a summary
Pretty simple, innit? How and why do we get it 'wrong'? How and where does this process morph into the writer's personal apocalypse?
The trick is - we need to de-mystify the synopsis. Plain and simple - bring it down to its basics. Here are some tips to do that:
- A synopsis is an outline
What's the outline of your book/story? Don't panic and start hyperventilating when you're asked this question. Think of the broad lines of your work, its parameters, and put this all down.
Example: let's attempt an outline of the movie Mamma Mia. Heroine Sophie is about to get married, and wants to know who her father is from the 3 men who were in her mother's life at the time of her conception. She invites the 3 men to the wedding, behind her mother's back. Chaos, mayhem, and unfinished romantic business ensue when all 3 land on this little Greek island and everyone has to come to terms with who and what they've been to each other, using hit songs from Abba as their cue and expressions.
There you have it - an outline. 5 lines. You build upon this to give the plot and the resolution and you have your synopsis.
- A synopsis 'tells' your story
Example: In Cinderella (I'll use the Disney version), the movie/story shows you the Prince coming to their house as the final house to visit in the whole kingdom. The evil stepsisters try the shoe, one even manages to push her whole foot in, but the shoe doesn't resist. And when it's time for Cinderella to try it on, the Evil Stepmother grabs the shoe and slams it on the floor, shattering it to smithereens. Everyone is crestfallen, and then Cinderella says that it doesn't matter, because she has the other shoe, which she removes from her skirt pocket. The Prince makes her try it on; the shoe fits, they fall in each other's arms, they get married and live happily ever after.
In your story, you'd show all this - the glass smashing, the expressions on their faces, etc.
In a synopsis, this would give you something like - when Cinderella tries on the shoe, it fits, and the Prince finds his Princess. A whole scene is brought down into a few words that still convey the gist of what happens.
- A synopsis is abstract in nature
- A synopsis is a road map
A synopsis 'leaps' from A to B to C, etc. If there is something you have to mention happening between A and B, then that something is a point on your road map, and should've been labelled B instead.
- A synopsis has its own structure
Example: In Mamma Mia, we find out halfway through (around the Chiquitita part) what relationship Donna had with each of the 3 men. That gives suspense, a sense of hanging on the edge of our seats to figure out what it is all about.
Writing the synopsis though, at the paragraph where you mention Donna, you'll already mention how and why she was involved with all 3. You don't disclose this at the halfway mark.
- A synopsis is not a blow-by-blow account
Example: Cinderella again. The final shoe and proposal scene - it is brought down to a simple 'the shoe fit and the Prince knows he's found his Princess. They marry and live happily ever after.' Your synopsis tells it like it is - it doesn't chronicle every happening in the book/scene.
- A synopsis lays it down without any fluff
- A synopsis is the bare bones' skeleton of your story.
If you keep these definitions/pointers in mind, you should be able to whittle down your story into a concise and coherent whole.
Is there a 'formula' for writing a synop? Actually, there might be, and I have found one that works very well with paring down my story yet without taking away any of the gist of my plot.
I'll share that with you next week, along with the example of one of my synops that won me publisher notice and approval. Same spot, same day - we'll take the synopsis apart and find out why it works and how this happens, all within the scope of the synopsis formula.
Join me then too, and if you have any questions or pointers to add to the discussion here, feel free to pop up in the comments.
From Mauritius with love,