Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Synopsis Writing: It Should Be Simple

Guess what I'm working on today?  You're right!  I'm writing a synopsis.  Okay, I'm trying to write a synopsis.  I can't say I'm breezing right through it though.

Most of the time, writing a synopsis isn't something I fear.  While I don't find it fascinating or fun, I'm usually fairly sane while I do it.  Not so much with this one.

What is it that makes writing a synopsis so difficult?  It shouldn't be, because a synopsis is nothing more than a simple telling of the major points of the story.  There's no reason to "show" how the characters react or feel.  Words such as "angry," "hurt," "devastated" (my personal favorite ☺), and a wide range of adjectives will do the job with a minimum of writing.  Oops!  Better get some glad words in there, too.  Happy, thrilled, surprised and...  Just pull out a thesaurus or, my favorite, The Synonym Book, and find the perfect words to convey the characters' emotions.  No need to show the tears streaming down the heroine's face or the hero's jaw working as he considers an answer to a difficult question.

One of the early mistakes writers make when writing a synopsis is leaving out the GMC of the main characters.  It quickly becomes obvious after receiving a long list of WHYs from an editor.  "Why did [character] do that?"  "Why did this happen?"  "Why did [character] react in that way?"  A writer's first reaction is to tear out some hair and then ask, "WHY DIDN'T THE EDITOR UNDERSTAND?"

Always keep in mind that the editor has no way of knowing things about our characters if we don't explain them or mention them in our synopsis.  Do your characters have secrets from their past? Is there a reason the hero is committing a dastardly act against humanity?  If you want the editor to recognize him as a hero, not a villain, there'd better be a reason, and that reason had better be conveyed in the synopsis.

My longtime author friend, Kathie DeNosky, shared a way to put the character information up front, so it's there in the beginning and questions about GMC, along with the accompanying WHYs shouldn't arise.  I've been doing it her way for so long, I'm not sure I could do it any other.  The bonus to doing this is knowing your character even better, when you're done.

Think of these short introductions of the main characters as character sketches. They are short bios, including relevant details about the character's past, including childhood instances that relate to character's goal and/or motivation. You can also add a physical description of the character (age, hair and eye color, height).  The end of the character sketch should lead to and end with the point where the story starts and also hint at the conflict.

For a romance, the hero and the heroine each have their own character sketch.  Each should run much longer than a page, and a half page paragraph would be considered short.  I briefly mention birth order, number of siblings, and if the parents are still living.  Leave out any unnecessary details that don't pertain to major life events or things that affect the story.  For a non-romance, the sketch can be kept to the main character.  Minor characters in any are not needed.

What's currently driving me crazy with the synopsis I'm working on are the character sketches.  It isn't that I don't know these characters.  I do.  I just can't seem to find the right words in the right order, so I'll once again re-read what I've written, move some things around, and hopefully finish them before the end of the day.  I only have two days after that to write the rest of the synopsis!  And that rest of the synopsis is what we'll take a look at next week.
First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!
- Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920 - June 5, 2012)

1 comment:

Joanie said...

Gosh--that picture really does show our first reaction when we hear the word synopsis. But all humor aside, this is one great post, Rox. This is definitely one I need to share with my writing friends.