Saturday, June 5, 2010

Paragraph starts in the synopsis

I read a LOT of synopses submitted by writers to my publisher, and they're almost never interesting. That isn't any comment on the worth of the books summarized by the synopses, which span the spectrum from great to okay. Rather it's the nature of their synopses-- they are so often just chronicles of what happened. "This happened and then that happened."

"But isn't that what a synopsis is?" a writer might ask. "A chronicle of what happens?"

No. A synopsis is a brief presentation of the story. The story is more than the plot. The story includes character, theme, emotion, conflict, change. So maybe we should think more about that as we start a synopsis, and less about what events we're going to summarize.

But just to get really practical here-- one thing I'd suggest that doesn't require a full re-invention of the synopsis is... make use of the first sentence of the paragraph. Often the paragraph starts with an event or character action.
Example:
Jack gets a ticket and goes to her concert.

or...

The murderer strikes again, kidnapping a mob accountant and leaving his torn body by the roadside diner.


Trouble is, that can lead to a jagged read, and a seeming reliance on event rather than conflict or emotion.

So think about using the first sentence as a transition from the previous paragraph's action. The transition can be time ("Three days later" or "After that") or cause/effect (reaction rather than action-- When Jack reads that Sally is singing at the local stadium, he knows he has to go) or emotion (Jack has never gotten over Sally's betrayal) or conflict (He still had enough blackmail material to capture Sally's attention). Then have the event or action, and its effects and how it changes the story or emotional arc or character.

That first sentence in the paragraph eases into the new event as a transition from the old, making for a smoother flow. But also an emotion or conflict line there can keep the synopsis focused on the experience of the story and not just the events.

So next time you write or revise a synopsis, try putting something in front of the "event" at the start of a paragraph, transition, emotion, or conflict (or all three). Just try it, and report back!

Alicia

8 comments:

Deb Salisbury said...

Sigh. I spent all day today writing a synopsis.

Thank you for writing this post before I sent it out!

JewelTones said...

After reading this I had to pull up the last synopsis I wrote and I was surprised to find I actually did this with most of the first sentences of my paragraphs. Yay! I used a combination of the cause/effect and emotion, but every once in awhile there's a time one slipped in there (By the next morning, a few days later, two weeks later, etc).

I think I'm one of the weird people who actually enjoys writing a query and synopsis. LOL.

JT

Anonymous said...

Your blog has excellent advice for new writers and submitters, especially on how to make things work on a sentence level. I edit a tiny online lit zine. A small, insignificant enterprise that is too poor to pay its esteemed contributors.

We occasionally receive stories and poems that ought to be published in fancy-pants mags like The Paris Review, but alas, most of our slush pile is atrocious. Cliches and illogical sentence structure are the biggest issues. And narrators who are just puppets spouting the author's opinions. Sometimes I think I could start a more profitable magazine out of all the bad poetry and pretentious stories we receive. Like a freak show that people can't look away from. Meh...it's late and I'm just feeling nasty after reading utter crapola. Lucky you guys getting paid!

Edittorrent said...

Yeah, you know, I think it's dangerous to write fiction about something you already have a strong opinion about-- you end up ranting or proseletyzing, not telling a story.

So, Anon, I feel your pain-- I want to tell writers, if you mean to send a message, write a bumper sticker! A story is about story!
Alicia

Ruth Donnelly said...

Thanks for the synopsis-writing advice--very helpful.

rachelcapps said...

Timely advice, Alicia. It's a mind-battle condensing 100K down to a synopsis. I feel your advice should be obvious to me - I know not what to do, but don't know how not to do it. Hopefully, your pointers will get the ball rolling in the right direction :)

rachelcapps said...

Timely advice, Alicia. It's a mind-battle condensing 100K down to a synopsis. I feel your advice should be obvious to me - I know not what to do, but don't know how not to do it. Hopefully, your pointers will get the ball rolling in the right direction :)

Fawn Neun said...

I came up with something that incorporates these statements by having my word processor "autosummarize" down to 15% and then creating the transitions. The problem is, I ended up with a seven page, single-spaced synopsis. :/
Much cutting ahead...