Haven’t done a writing post for ages and since I’m in the process of writing outlines for the agent, I thought I’d do one on every writers arch-nemesis – the hideousness of the synopsis.
It would really be good if editors or agents could just lift the story straight from our heads. But sadly, since thought sharing devices haven’t been invented yet, we have to actually write the stupid thing down. In a way that not only makes sense but also makes the editor/agent hungry to read the actual story. Oh and that fits onto one page (or two, double spaced if you’re my agent).
And that’s the tricky part – how to distil your story down to its essence without losing its essential amazingness (cos all our stories are totes amazing right?).
The first thing to know is that if you’re writing romance, the essence of your story is, naturally, the romance. Not the relationship between your heroine and her brother. Or between the hero and his dog/cat/next door neighbour. Basically it’s not the economy, stupid. It’s the romance.
My big breakthrough when it came to writing synopses was realizing that the best kind of synopsis to write for a romance was an emotional one. This is especially great for a pantser like me because if you don’t know quite how the external plot is going to work, then you don’t have to worry because you shouldn’t include it anyway.
So what should you include then? Okay, this what I put in mine:
A brief introduction to the characters – who they are, what they do, what they want at the start of the book, and the setup. Example – ‘For top ferret whisperer Larry Larryson success is the only thing that matters, so when he’s chosen to do the impossible – tame a rare and dangerous ferret – he’ll stop at nothing to make sure that ferret is tamed’. I tend to do a paragraph for the hero and one for the heroine.
How the characters meet, what draws them to each other and what they do about it. ‘When Carla meets Larry at the latest ferret trials, sparks fly. She hates ambitious men but their chemistry is undeniable. After being ignored by her ex-husband for years, she decides Larry can do a little bit of ferret whispering on her’.
The growing attraction – what is it about each character that holds the other characters attention? This has to be deeper than the intital attraction. Example – ‘Carla starts to see that though Larry is ambitious, his care for his ferrets is obvious. And it melts her heart.’
Why these two can’t be together (black moment) – Example ‘Carla can never be with a man who puts success before love and Larry can’t be with a woman who doesn’t understand how badly he needs to prove himself.’
Then a closing paragraph about how these two overcome their conflict and get together. ‘Carla tells Larry he doesn’t need to prove himself, he’s okay as he is. And Larry realizes that as Carla has accepted him, she’s accepted his ferrets too. Together they become ferret whisperers to the stars’.
That’s it. You don’t need anything more. You don’t need to put in that the heroine goes shopping or has a confrontation with her mother. Or how the hero builds a new ferret house and tracks down a villain intent on stealing his ferrets. Or anything else really. All you need to include in the synopsis is why these two fall in love with each other and overcome their conflicts.
In which case, to save having to go into the details of the external plot, suitably vague words and terms like this can be your friend:
‘complications arise’ ‘a situation occurs’ ‘circumstances mean’ ‘But things get complicated when’ ‘soon they are’ ‘after a situation where’ ‘Eventually they’
So there we are, a quick and dirty guide to synopsis writing. I have sold a few books on proposal alone and I guess there must be something about my synopses that work for the editors concerned, however I’m by no means an expert. If anyone else has any tips/questions, feel free to comment!
Oh and why ferrets? Why not? 🙂