I’m still in the revision cave, so I’ve asked my fellow Erin Murphy Literary Agency folks to help entertain you guys while I’m gone. Please welcome Daisy Carter who is here to show us how a synopsis can help diagnose story problems (and to reveal my imaginary fear of the color blue).
Ode To A Synopsis
How do I loathe thee?
Let me count the ways.
I’ve been trying to write you
For fifteen freaking days.
You make me doubt my craft,
You heehaw at my flaws,
And just when I’m about to give up,
Your laughter gives me pause.
“Oh, look,” you say, “Here’s something
You didn’t see before.
Now fix it and move on
So I can show you more.
Then sing my praises, with haste!
Tell everyone you know.
Who saved your sorry butt?
The synopsis you once loathed.”
I know, I know. I shouldn’t be allowed to rhyme.
Here’s the thing. Writing a synopsis? Yeah, that pretty much sucks. It’s hard for us writers to write because it’s got to be so freaking short, and we writers are verbose by nature; it forces us to use that part of our brain that actually craves algebraic equations, and we writers aren’t usually math people; it requires a balanced mix of voice, story arc, and character arc, which we writers should be good at, but still; it’s only successful if we give away the ending.
The ending? But it’s a surprise! If I give that away in a single page synopsis, my dream agent/editor won’t care enough to read the entire manuscript!
Yeah, I know. It’s painful – like nine-inch-nails-through-each-one-of-my-eyelids painful (thanks, Slim Shady).
The freaking synopsis is so freaking helpful that it makes all the freaking pain freaking worth it. Anyone else picturing a piece of paper doing hip-hop?
I am not an expert on synopsis writing. Other people are. So when I had to write a synopsis for my manuscript, NEXT, I knew I was in for a really fun weekend…of shopping for hats to cover the bald spots where I’d torn out my hair.
I decided to start with as skeletal a structure as possible. I started by writing ONE sentence that described what happens in each chapter of my manuscript. This is where I started tearing my hair out.
Here’s what my freaking synopsis showed me (I wrote it after I’d finished my manuscript, NEXT. If I’d written it before, I might not have come across so many problems).
1. There’s a hole in the plot. Sometimes we’re so deep in our work that we don’t see the gaping holes. Writing a one-page synopsis forces us to write the bare bones of our story, how our main character gets from act one to act three. For example, when I wrote a sentence for each chapter of my manuscript, I found that a couple of chapters were fluff. The action didn’t move the story forward in some way. That was a hole I needed to fill.
2. There’s too much happening. Sure, twists are great — surprises, red herrings, and our main character trying and failing to reach their goal. But 100 pages of your character learning to play darts needs to go! Two chapters of your heroine lying in bed, staring at the ceiling thinking about what she’s going to do next should get the axe, too.
3. Connections unseen. Writing a summary or synopsis often makes unused connections apparent. It also shows us instances where we can forge connections. Your sentence from chapter two reads, “Anna Stan’s fear of the color blue has her running away from all things azure. “ Chapter five reads, “Blue eyed Toby moves in next door and falls in love with Anna Stan.” Do you see the problem? Doesn’t mean you have to change lovesick Toby’s eyes. But Anna will have to overcome her fear to get up on that hunky boy.
4. Your character doesn’t arc. I’d leave in Anna’s fear of blue. Overcoming a fear is a great way for Anna Stan to grow. Heroes must grow, change, or learn something about themselves by the end of their journey. If yours comes out the other side unaffected, you’ve got a flat character. You may even have…
5. Plot problems. Your story arc should look like this:
Here’s the rub: synopses aren’t the most fun part of writing. But once you suck it up and write it out, you’ll find them to be a very useful tool. Worst-case scenario? You’ll have to do a major revision or three. BUT, you’ll have a great road map to help you on your revision journey. Best-case scenario? You’ll have proof that your manuscript is ready for your dream agent/editor. You may even get up and dance with that freaking synopsis.
Daisy Carter has never been on a soap opera, but she did once sing on stage at Disney World. She writes YA contemporaries and is represented by the fabulous Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Her current manuscript, NEXT, is the story of four girls whose lives intertwine on their graduation day. She blogs about lots of freaking things at www.daisycarter.com. It’s hurricane weather down in Florida, where Daisy lives with her family. In other news, any land-locked readers interested in meeting Daisy in person, and soon, can email her at DaisyCarterFresh [at] gmail [dot] com.