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Writing the Dreaded Synopsis...

Originally posted at The Scarlet Letter.


The most fun part about being an author is writing books; at least that's what I think. When I wrote my first novel I had no idea what was in store, but I sure knew I was having a heck of a good time creating the world and characters for The King's Tale. I enjoyed crafting the scenes, and doing the research. When it came time to review and revise I was still in love with the process. Of course, in those days the thought of publishing was the farthest thing from my mind. I only knew that being immersed in writing that book was pure heaven.

In short order, the train slowed down once I finished the manuscript. Nothing actually derailed, but I discovered that publishing a book was not the easiest thing. There were simple things, like formatting the manuscript and indenting without using the tab key. Huh? I didn't know you could even do that! Once all those simple obstacles were tackled, I learned about something called a synopsis, and that almost did cause the train to fall off the tracks.

When in doubt, turn to the Internet. I think the first thing I did was type "how do you write a synopsis" into the Google search engine. That netted me a lot of results, including some eHow articles. I dutifully read many of them, but I was still stumped, possibly because I don't have a lot of patience for these kinds of things. A friend suggested I find some synopses online and read them. I searched and found one for Daughter of Fortune by Isabelle Allende. Since I'd read that book I wanted to see what the synopsis looked like. Turns out, it was the whole four hundred page book condensed into a page and a half. Impressive, but I still didn't know how to write one.

Since it was the barrier between me and submission, I decided I was just going to have to plunge ahead and get it done. The result was my 113,677 word novel condensed into a little more than two pages. Finally! Now I could send off the book to a publisher and get a rejection letter! I know that sounds crazy, but I was positive I'd get a rejection the first time I submitted my novel, and I planned to be very proud of that rejection because it was going to be proof that I gave it a shot!

Imagine my despair when I let a friend read the synopsis and she had nothing kind to say about it.

"You know Rowena, I've read your book and it's a fantastic story, but this synopsis is boring."

Boring?! No!! I was so aggravated I gave up. I didn't say it to her, because she had been my cheerleader through the entire process, but I decided getting a book published was just too hard.

A few days later I was watching television, and probably eating chocolate and drinking wine to drown my sorrows. There was an advertisement for a movie. It wasn't a movie I wanted to see, in fact I can't even remember what movie it was, but as I watched it I kept thinking, wow. As the ad progressed the wows got louder until at the end I actually said out loud, "WOW!" That was a synopsis!

The next day I dutifully went through my novel. I wrote a one sentence summary for each chapter. After that I went back and put arrows next to the wow moments. Next I made a list of all the wows. Granted, a movie trailer is not really a full synopsis for a movie, and I found I had to pad the wow bits in order to really give the flavor for the entire novel. At least now I had a road map, and when I finally had this wow filled outline, I was able to write my synopsis. This time when my friend read it she was floored!

"I know I've already read the book, but if I hadn't, this would certainly make me want to read it!"

I've never quite recreated the pizzazz of that first synopsis. It was magical because instead of getting a rejection that time, I got a contract to publish The King's Tale. I still try to use this wow method for writing synopses, but in the mean time I have come up with another method that works almost as well.

This second method is loosely based on the premise: Somebody/Wanted/But/So. What that means is somebody (the character) wanted (their motivation) but (a problem got in the way) so (they solve the problem). With this method it's usually a good idea to also include a resolution, in other words did the solution work?

I used the S/W/B/S method to write the synopsis for my novella Blue Moon, and because that story only has 16,045 words it worked like a charm. I think that is probably my second best synopsis. To give you an idea, here is the S/W/B/S frame I used for that story:

Somebody: Brad, Wanted: to deal with life on the wrestling circuit, But: he keeps making the same mistakes and allowing himself to be taken advantage of by bullies like Bruiser, So: he enters into an "illusion of control" relationship with another wrestler named Scott. The resolution is: the plan worked because at the end of a year Brad managed to get Scott to make a surprising admission, and suddenly life on the circuit was bearable.

Granted, none of this makes writing a synopsis easy, and it is still not something I look forward to. It is a necessary evil though, and I've discovered that if you take your time and make the synopsis interesting, filled with wow moments, then you are ahead of the game!

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