That Slippery Synopsis!

sumner 4No, it’s not Man-Candy Monday. Though I believe he totally qualifies, Bernard Sumner has joined me today because of his creative process. A founding member of Joy Division and the somewhat reluctant frontman of New Order, the finest band of the 80s, nay, OF ALL TIME, Bernard Sumner has said that writing lyrics is a struggle akin to breaking a horse.  Well, sweetie, I get it. That’s exactly how I feel about writing a synopsis.

And shall I say it’s been awhile? The last time I had a project in the synopsis/submission-ready stage was….well, longer ago than that last time I Googled shirtless pictures of Bernard Sumner–and that’s been way too long! Sheesh, sometimes we get so busy, we neglect the really important things in life.

But anyhoo…the synopsis. I’ve read so many advice blogs, so many “magic” formulas. Some of it not-so-great (write a one-sentence summary of each chapter et voila), some of it very good, and usable–if I wasn’t hopeless at the whole process. All of this just increased the dread. I spent half a day writing and deleting the same opening sentence. My wild horse stood in the corner, snorting, stomping, and glaring fire.

Since I was getting nowhere, I was forced to return to my notebook. While not to the extent of a couple of fellow Bad Girlz (ahem, Jenna P and E. Michels), I’m a plotter. Before I write, I begin with a loose outline of the plot, including as many scenes as I can visualize at that point, and a definite direction of my story arc. I also do some fairly detailed character descriptions, with a focus on each one’s GMC. Each character sheet includes back story, the romance arc, and his/her individual character arc, referenced back to the events in the outline. All of this is hand-written, semi-stream of consciousness, and a total mess with arrows, doodles, and crap written everywhere.

And then, a funny thing happened. I realized my synopsis was already there. I had the loose plot, and my characters’ motivations, and their turning points. I only had to put them together in an interesting way, and not make it too damn long. That’s where the best internet advice came in. I found these pointers here and here.

  1.  I used third person, present tense, active voice.
  2. I hit the highlights, and left out most of the details. Just a general summary of the beginning, middle, and end, including resolution of conflict.
  3. What I did spend precious word count on was the emotional aspect of my story. I made sure I gave my characters a little background, and gave an impression of their motivation.
  4. One of the best pieces of advice I read was to tell the story in a conversational style. Before, I either fell into dry summary, or resorted to “In a world where…” Both were hard to do, felt unnatural, and produced sucky results. I even added a quote and a joke or two.

And you know what, I think it worked! There are a lot of great articles online for synopsis help. If some of the things you find strike a chord, but you still don’t know where to start, my advice is to return to your outline, or character sheets, or your beautiful color-coded plot board as the case may be. If you’re an incurable pantser, and you don’t have anything like that, it’s worth it to try. By investing the time beforehand in my story arc and my characters’ GMC, the advice gelled.

I may not have Mr. Sumner’s lyrical chops (it takes years of experience to get away with rhyming things with stinks), but do I have a synopsis!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: