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Friday, March 13, 2009

Publishing: Writing the Fiction Synopsis Part Two

The fiction synopsis boils down an entire story into a few pages. You are never going to capture your story perfectly, but you can certainly give a good approximation.

Here are a few thoughts I have, in no particular order:

* No weird fonts, weird formating, or weird paper.

* Ragged right edge, header and page numbers at the top etc.

* Write in third person present tense.

* Yes, put in the ending! Include the whole plot, spoilers and all.

* You're writing what the story is about, not how it happens. Don't spend lots of time explaining a scene; just give the final point or twist to the story. (For example "Jody and Steve fight, and Jody decides to leave" rather than explaining that the fight occurs during Steve's parents' 50th wedding anniversary and she walks out after dumping a glass of champagne on his head).

* Focus on only the major twists of the story. You can skip the smaller events.

* Similarly, name only the major two or possibly three characters -- more are confusing.

* Don't tell the editor what he's going to think about the story: "This is a heart-rending story of the loss of a love..." "This novel has the inventiveness of Michael Crichton and the otherworldliness of Dean Koontz..." Save that for your endorsers.

* Edit your writing as you would your novel: eliminate adverbs, passive voice, modifiers, and so forth. Get the writing tight and beautiful.

* Once you have a 3-5 page synopsis, boil it to also make a one page synopsis. Some editors may like to see a longer 10 page synopsis so you might want to do one of these too, although I never needed one this long.

* Always check the guidelines of the places to which you're submitting, and follow them to the letter.


OK, now for getting ready to write the durn thing. First thing you might want to do is list all of the scenes in your book, so that you have a shorthand of the story flow.

I opened my synopsis with my trusty zinger highlighted at the top of the page: A small military team travels back in time to film the theft of Jesus' body from the tomb. This zinger implies a story question: WILL the team be able to film the theft?

Next, describe the ordinary world of the story and the change. Depending on the complexity of the backstory or the world, this may be short or long. For example, for Lever my first two paragraphs are:

The year is 2029. Following the reconstruction of the third Temple five years ago Israel has been torn apart by civil dissension and is about to be destroyed by external forces. The politically powerful Jewish Orthodoxy clashes with the sudden appearance of an underground of Messianic believers (Jews who accept Yeshua, Jesus, as their messiah). Meanwhile the moderates desperately try to hold the country on an even course since the Arab countries surrounding them have united into a new, more dangerous coalition.

The ultimate weapon, a time machine, is in final development. With the divisive growth of the believers an audacious goal has been formulated: a small military team of four must travel back to the time of Yeshua in 32 C.E. to prove that the resurrection was a hoax, thus allowing the moderates to shut down the believers in time to prevent national catastrophe. The team will have exactly 72 hours to film the theft of Yeshua’s body from the tomb and collect corroborating data such as star positions and films of Jerusalem.

Next, describe your main characters in a nutshell: who they are, what they want, and why they want it. For example, the next paragraph in my synopsis is this: (CAUTION: PLOT SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!)

Benjamin Feinan, the experienced special forces soldier who will lead the mission, is secretly in love with his second in command Sara Levenson, a former American astronaut who left her country in undeserved disgrace. After the time throw to the first century he is stunned to hear her murmur “Yeshua Ha’Maschiach” (Jesus, Messiah) – a believer has infiltrated the mission. He confronts her but she denies she is a spy. Nevertheless the mission has been compromised.


Now figure out the main plot points through the middle of the story and any emotional changes that may occur. Stick with only the main story and names of only two characters (or maybe three). Your subplots are fabulous, but will make this sleek document distracting and hard to follow.

I don't want to put any more of my synopsis down because it gives away too much of the story, but if you're interested, write to me and I'll be happy to send you a copy. My middle section takes five paragraphs, all the way to the final conflict.

The final conflict, resolution, and ending take one paragraph.

For the last paragraph, I like to give the theme of the story. For example, for Lever my last paragraph is: (SPOILER AGAIN!)

In this book during his mission, Benjamin grapples with his attraction to Sara, a believer, and in a larger context the nature of truth and miracles. A resurrection of Jesus is illogical in the extreme but is more difficult to refute than it would first appear. Yet Benjamin must refute the resurrection to prevent the believers from destroying his country.


OK, I hope this is helpful. The only way to write the synopsis is to write it, unfortunately, so just go for a first draft and polish from there.


Andra M. said...

More than helpful, Amy. Thanks.

gzusfreek said...

I can't believe the great timing fo this. You are such wise counse-Thank you, Amy