Monday, April 7, 2008


Writing a synopsis is ... difficult. I was going to launch into a metaphor of hammers and fingers, noting that our vital organs are all neatly packaged into our centers, rendering our extremeties ... superfluous yet still pretty dang nice to have.

But A) that's disgusting; B) it goes a bit too far; and C) why not quit thinking of metaphors for how hard things are and just get down to doing them? Honestly, if we took even part of the energy we use in talking about writing, and put it into actual writing, there would be fewer complaints of "not enough time."

Here is my challenge: the draft synopsis reads like a condensed, superficial, rushed version of the real story. Which, of course, it is. When in fact it should read like a short story treatment of the longer novel. The good news is that once the synopsis is ready, I can begin sending this to agents., so I have real motivation to work on it.

And to complain about it.


Horst Van der P said...

I've found that reading the synopsis descriptions of movies on the back cover is almost useless: "A chilling tale of a man's search for redemption." So why are movie trailers so much better?

At least for me, a synopsis is a weak attempt to put a story into a category. Is it a kid's book about a fantasy world? Is it an adult's book about archaeology and sailing? I think seeing it as a short story version of your full-length is totally wrong. Short stories deal with a more terse and simple story arc that wouldn't work stretched to novel length, and the opposite is just as true.

I would aim for a five-word description of the story surrounded with good writing and details that make you want to read more. Adjectives usually don't work and read like dustcover hyperbole. How about fragments of settings, snippets of mood, and teasers of action. If you treated this like a written movie trailer the results may be much more interesting than a one-paragraph book report summary.

S R Wood said...

No, that's exactly the problem. The "synopsis" is a tool in the publishing world, like a poker chip, that's expected to be a certain way. It's not a five-word, or even five-line summary of the story: that's the backbone of the query.

The synopsis is a bony outline of the plot, ideally linked in an arc from start to finish, that outlines the main characters and their conflicts. Usually it's a page, two max. Yes, they're bad and yes, they are hard and yes, they don't represent the book, but so many agents request them that I have to have one up my sleeve.

Too bad. Such is Mango.