In the near future, I am going to an event where I will be presenting a synopsis and a short sample of my novel to Important People. This, logically, means I will need to write a synopsis, which is what I’ve been doing for the last week. I have now completed a version I can read without wincing, so it’s time for the inevitable blog-hashing of what I feel I’ve learnt from this.
And for anyone who is actually worried, my synopsis itself does not feature in this post, so there will not be any spoilers for my half-edited unpublished novel about Satan. Furthermore, if you have a scary dream which you think would serve as a good ending, absolutely post details in the comments – there is still time for me to use it. Thanks.
A synopsis, for anyone who hasn’t run painfully into them, is a description of a novel from start to finish, trying to convey the beginning, middle and end of the story and make it sound amazing and be concise. Yes, it’s difficult.
It should not be confused with a “blurb” – that’s the text on the back of published books trying to persuade you to buy them. Blurbs (ideally) do not give away the ending. The aim with a synopsis is not yet to persuade a reader to buy my book, but to convince an agent/editor/publisher I know what I’m doing in terms of constructing a whole story.
So, that’s what they are and I’ve now written mine. Here, in no order, are the thoughts I had whilst doing so.
“…but seriously, it’s way better in the book!”
With a limited amount of space (many synopses only get a page to wow the reader), it’s pressuring to fit in a full, meaningful explanation of the depth and scope of your story. Even if your prose is beautifully written, trying to cram everything into a synopsis often leads to a childish odyssey of “…and then… and then… and then…”.
And this, sadly, can be especially true in sci-fi/fantasy, my chosen genre, where the need to explain how your “universe” works might crowd out the character stuff which is just as much (if not more) of a selling point than the amazing new type of orc/alien/boy wizard/vampire/detective you’ve made up.
Which led me to hours of thinking on how much exposition was necessary and trying to make myself keep a reasonable percentage of the character-important rambling, even though it was tempting to see that as filler and keep the worldbuilding. To be honest, a lot of the refining here will come when I show repeated versions to beta readers and ask them whether they understand it.
“…and then, in a brief subplot, Bob has colonic irrigation, and then…”
For those of us who write novels containing a wide range of characters and events, you gotta find yourself asking – how much of this must I cram into my one-pager? Does every subplot need at least a brief mention? Can I drop a few? If I can coherently describe the plot without mentioning Bob’s bum-washing storyline, is it possible it doesn’t really need to be there?
Yes, I had these thoughts. But if you think that’s bad, imagine the one-page synopsis of the longer George R.R. Martin novels, they must be nothing but brief words for a few main characters. Or perhaps they’re in 1-point font size, that wouldn’t entirely surprise me either.
Point being – yes, if you can effectively summarise your book without mentioning a subplot, it’s probably worth having the “Do we really need this?” chat with yourself, but don’t necessarily assume it means instant death. Like all good blog posts, I’m proposing we have a rule, but sensibly so.
“So the printer can print how close to the edge of the page, exactly?”
If nothing else, you can fit more words on the page by widening the margins. I wouldn’t usually propose such cheap tricks, but let’s be honest, this is summarising a single novel in one sheet, every pixel counts.
And that, folks, is everything that came to mind whilst writing my synopsis. If nothing else, it gave me an interesting high aerial view of my story and did lead me to solve a few problems along the way, so was a worthwhile exercise. Now, back to the actual editing.