Tuesday, March 4, 2008
The Dreaded Synopsis -- A love/hate relationship!
Does anyone like synopses? I never did. In fact, writing a synopsis was the part of contest entries I dreaded the most. Invariably, I'd struggle to create an overview of a story I hadn't developed much beyond the first three chapters.
Sure I knew how the story would end. But what about the sagging middle? Usually I had a limited vision of the direction of the romance, the escalating conflict and the villain’s role in trying to thwart the hero and heroine from achieving their goals.
So basically, I could sum up my various synopses in four lines:
~The hero and heroine fall in love.
~The villain causes problems.
~The hero and heroine overcome the problems, attain their goal/goals and live happily ever after.
Generally, my synopses would start with a description of the main characters, then I’d throw in some backstory, type “the story begins” and add the opening. The middle would be a tap dance with a bunch of general blah, blah, blahs. Using vague references to “things got worse” and “they started to feel a sense of attraction,” I’d wing my way to the climax and resolution. Looking back, I seemed more concerned about formatting the synopsis correctly rather than ensuring the contest judge realized I understood what was needed to make the story work.
Thank goodness my synopses writing skills eventually improved, although I still shudder when I'm faced with a blank screen. For years, I thought the only reason for a synopsis was to explain the story to the judges. Recently, my opinion has changed.
Now I see the synopsis as a tool I can use to improve the story I’m brainstorming. Before I dedicate three to four months writing a manuscript that ends up flawed, I can ensure I’ve incorporated the major elements for a satisfying and saleable read.
I start by jotting down the basic outline of the plot. Then I include the turning points and weave in a bit of emotion. Internal and external conflict and motivation are stirred into the pot. Goals, set backs and black moment are clearly defined.
After listening to Michael Hauge at last year’s RWA Conference, I now add my hero’s internal wound and misperceived opinion of who he is at the beginning of the book. By the end, I test the strength of my character arc by how the hero has changed and grown.
What about my hero and heroine’s greatest fear? Is that mentioned in the synopsis, and do I explain how it will be faced and conquered in the story? Layer by layer, I add the points that turn a so-so story into one that hopefully engages the reader, whether contest judge or acquiring editor.
Do the pieces always fit? Of course not. Often the sequence of the story has to be changed. Pacing needs to be tightened, characters cut, danger increased. But by roughing the story out in the synopsis, I can see the whole, make the changes, add the missing elements and end when I’m satisfied the ten or fifteen or twenty page synopsis can be expanded into a full-length novel.
My advice? Give the dreaded synopsis a second chance. It may turn out to be an effective tool in your writing chest.
Wishing you abundant blessings!
PS: The photo above was taken to announce a booksigning for my third novel, MIA: MISSING IN ATLANTA, which will be held at Omega Books on March 13th. Karen Duncan, on the right, owns the store and always hosts events that are fun for customers and writers alike.
MIA is the story of a U.S. Army Captain’s search for a missing girlfriend he met while on R&R in Atlanta. I wrote the novel when my son was deployed for his second tour in Iraq and dedicated the book to the brave men and women in uniform. To support our troops, I’m donating free copies of my book to military personnel in the name of each customer who buys MIA at the signing. The books will be distributed to soldiers traveling through Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, and the customers will be invited to inscribe personal messages to the soldiers.
When I talked to the major who works at the airport, he was thrilled with the idea and said hundreds of soldiers—often as many as 700--pass through Hartsfield-Jackson each day. Many of them have hours to kill between flights. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy having a book to read along with the good wishes of people who appreciate the sacrifices they make so our country can remain free. God bless our military and God bless the USA!