Thursday, March 6, 2014

All About The Synopsis

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: writing a synopsis is the worst form of torture. But it must be done. I posted about how I learned that lesson the hard way.

Luckily, I learned some awesome tips at last years RWA conference. Before I learned this little trick my synopsis was three pages long. THREE. Which made sense for me, because, how could someone cram an entire plot into one page? Sounds impossible, right?

Here's the deal, you can summarize your entire novel in just seven paragraphs. Eight max. That's it. Here's what they should cover (I'm going to use Twilight as my model story since everyone knows it:

Paragraph 1: Your MC and their world (establish who she is what she wants. Think "She is__________and wants__________.") If we use Twilight as an example it would be something like this: Bella is the new girl in town and wants to fly under the radar.

Paragraph 2: The love interest and his wants (establish who he is and what he wants. Think "He is__________and wants__________.") Again, with Twilight as the example, it would look something like this: He's a vegetarian vampire who's family has survived for years by laying low.

Paragraph 3: The First Threshold - this is the event that brings the two characters together. The first Threshold in Twilight is when Bella and Edward become lab partners in science class. They are now FORCED to be together. This forced interaction triggers the future conflict.

Paragraph 4: The Inciting Incident - this is the event that spins the plot forward - they must choose to move forward into the new and different world. This is also usually the end of act one. In keeping with the Twilight example, the inciting incident is when Edward saves Bella from the car accident).

Paragraph 5: The 1st Pinch - something that trips up the characters on their mission in the new and different world. A misunderstanding/ a conflict. This is called a pinch, as I understand it, because it tests the relationship forming between the characters. Here's the Twilight 1st Pinch example, Bella annoys the heck out of Edward with her questions about what happened. She refuses to let it go but Edward tries to ignore it.

Paragraph 6: The 2nd Pinch - again, something that tests the characters budding relationship. In Twilight, it could be when she calls Edward on being a vamp. It fundamentally changes the nature of their relationship. But it could also be when he saves her from her would-be rapists in town. Again, their relationship is changed. He admits that he can read thoughts. It's optional in the synopsis because the most important pinch, arguably, is the third and final pinch. The pinch that triggers the end of Act Two and moves the story into Act Three.

Paragraph 7: The 3rd Pinch - think about this as a pinch with a capital P. This is the big event. The inciting incident that closes Act Two and signals the begging of Act Three. This event pushes the characters into the final leg of their story together. In a lot of romances this is actually something that forces the characters apart. In Twilight it's when they are seen playing baseball by other vamps. Edward reads their minds and learns that they want to kill Bella and will stop at nothing. Bella is separated from Edward in an attempt to keep her safe. She's smuggled to her old home town. cue Act Three.

Paragraph 8. Resolution - Note: this is where you spoil the ending. Really. Give the details. Specifically. No vague generalities will do in a synopsis. The Agent needs to know how the story ends without reading the entire thing - so give them the juicy stuff. Also, if this is a romance then you must include the redemption - whatever happens between the hero and heroine that allows them to be together again. In Twilight, it all comes together at Bella's old ballet studio. Bella's life is in danger. Edward kills the bad vamp and is forced to do what he never thought he could before - taste Bella’s blood - to save her life. Having conquered his demons he can now be with Bella safely (he's changed). Be sure to highlight how the MC has changed.

And that's your synopsis. Eight paragraphs. Done. Bam. You've conquered the beast of the synopsis.

At least, that's my approach to synopsis writing. But there's not a single right way to write one.

How do you plan your synopsis?

Need more thoughts about the dreaded synopsis? Check out this post from YA Stands and this post from Jamie Krakover

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