Friday, August 7, 2009

The Dreaded Synopsis

I once thought the query letter was the bane of my existence that would shred all trace of sanity from my mind and leave me a raving (no comments, people, I have a fragile ego) lunatic.

I was wrong.

There is something worse than the query letter . . . and it has a name: the dreaded synopsis. Yes, dreaded!! OMG, and I thought the query was rough! Oh, silly, silly readers, the query is a piece of cake - Coconut, if you please - compared to the dreaded synopsis. Ya know, for whatever reason, those words seem to echo in my mind . . . over and over and over (Madonna anyone) again.

The dreaded synopsis has its own special place in literary hell. I'm just saying . . .

But, like Sophia Petrillo before me, I digress. Go here and read Amy Allgeyer Cook's wonderful post about the dreaded synopsis and get some tips on how to write your own.

Now, since I'm a kind and gentle soul of unenviable generosity, I'm going to give you the skinny, the scoop, the 411, right here and now . . .

The main questions your synopsis should answer are . . .

What is the main character's goal?
What is the crisis at the beginning?
What keeps your protagonist from achieving their goals?
What's the climax?
What's the ending?

Now, Amy didn't just pull these questions out of thin air, a magic hat, or her . . . she found them in an article that she references here. Go on, click on over, read the whole post, and check out the rest of her blog. No, I don't know her, haven't ever met her, and am not getting paid to direct you to her blog. It's just my overwhelming generosity pouring forth like Niagra Falls. Yes, I can be that generous . . . at times.

I took Amy's advice and began my work on the dreaded synopsis. I opened up a new Word Document, typed out each question, and began to answer them. It's absolutely amazing that I'm still sane. The questions really, really, really help.

And, to demonstrate the ease . . .

What is the main character's goal?

To protect the secret his mother and aunt have covered up for 32 years.

What is the crisis at the beginning?

The discovery of his mother and aunt's dreadful secret, and the implications of its revealment.

What keeps your protagonist from achieving their goal?

The close proximity of those who would be hurt the most by the secret being revealed.

What's the climax?

A man and a gun, and the ultimate realization that he cannot, no matter how much he wants, protect those he loves the most in this life.

What's the ending?

An acceptance that no matter the lies told so long ago, no matter the secret, life goes on.

Okay, that's purposely overly simplified just to show a basic example of the the dreaded synopsis process.

So, my thanks to Amy, and to the author of the article she referenced, and to all aspiring writers who have bravely swam in the shark infested waters of the dreaded query . . . and survived.



Marybeth Poppins said...

Can I just point out that I DESPISE writing a synopsis!!!!!

Oh it feels so good to have that off my chest!

Scott said...

Marybeth - I'm right there with you. But, hey, at least I've provided a tad bit of instruction to make your life a bit easier. Now, quit playing Bejeweled Blitz!!!


p.s. you too Elana!!!

Marybeth Poppins said...

Oh I can take a break for a bit...being in first place already and all ;)

Tess said...

Nah, the synop is not that bad cuz there doesn't have to be any tension and it's not about the writing - it is just a summary of the complete story. Agents/Editors skim the synop and don't put nearly as much stock in it as the query or sample chapters.

so...step off the ledge....come can do it...

Davin Malasarn said...

Nice list, Scott. Thanks for posting this! I admit that I've stressed out a lot on the synopsis. More than the query letter, like you said. For me, it was more laziness, though. I knew the parts of my story. I just didn't want to have to put them all in an organized, shortened form. My approach was to do a little every day, at least in the beginning until I could get some momentum going.

Scott said...

Marybeth - you're an evil woman!

Tess - thanks. I guess you should know since you have an agent. Whew! Some stress off my back!

Davin - I think part of my problem is a bit of laziness as well. The questions really seem to help. I would think, if done on a chapter by chapter basis, it would give a good starting point to a detailed synopsis.


ElanaJ said...

Hey! I can play BB if I want! It doesn't matter that I haven't written a single word today, or that laundry is piling up everywhere, or that I still need to write both a query and a synop for the novel I just finished...

Freak! All right! I'll go read the post and fling myself into the shark-infested waters already.


*wink wink*

Glynis said...

Oh my, oh my I have the pleasure of both yet to come!
Thanks for the info and tips.