Thursday, October 30, 2014

Synopsis Hell

A synopsis is a wonderful, beautiful, elegant tool for publishers and agents to understand what your entire book is about, without all the bother of actually reading the book.  Because publishers and agents are inundated with queries on a daily basis, it makes perfect sense for them to request a
So, how's that synopsis coming, Rob?
synopsis after reading, and enjoying, a sample of your work.

A synopsis is also an exercise in utter futility, not unlike brain surgery with a rock wall.  It literally (and I mean literally) opens the Gates of Hell and lets forth every demon and tortured soul to visit pain and suffering upon a writer such that the Spanish Inquisition looks like a lovely tea party.

The problem for most writers is that condensing the beauty, brilliance and genius of an 85,000 word manuscript into a 1,500 word synopsis isn’t just writing a book jacket description meant to sell copies.  The synopsis must show all the major characters and events in a story—what happens, when it happens, who it happens to—but without any of the internal emotional consistency that provides for character depth, background or logic.

It’s like a three year-old telling you what happened in an epic and seminal science fiction movie.

Yesterday, working with my Beta Team, we railed against the requirement of a synopsis due to the closing scenes for my samurai novel The Second Cut.  Reworking the synopsis to prepare it for an agent became a four-hour chore as we attempted to work out how best to describe the conclusion.  An earlier draft ended with these exact words:

Wary of the trap, Yoshimori agrees and the former enemies sit down to tea while Juke’s men tend Yoshimori’s wounds.

Early options to writing a synopsis.
You see?!  This historical fiction about bold, brave sword-swinging samurai, with fights and chases and romance and escapes, actually does end (essentially) with a tea party.


But to actually understand why two enemies sit down and sip tea at the end of the story, you have to actually read the story.  One of my Beta Team members went off at some length at how much he enjoyed the scene, how it was true to the characters and the overall emotional conclusion of the book.  But in the synopsis, it’s boiled down to sipping Earl Grey over a quiet chat.

Fortunately, my Beta Team enjoys a good challenge.  Together, we worked through several revisions.  Finally, bleary eyed, battle-scarred and exhausted we at last arrived at reasonable, and well-written, conclusion to the synopsis that more accurately reflected the true nature of the scenes.  Meanwhile, a couple of short folk with no shoes wandered into a volcano, which erupted and then some big birds scooped them up and carried them to safety.  Exciting!

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