Welcome to Ravenna’s Monday Mumblings!
No, that is NOT me whining that question in the title. I don’t have a problem writing a synopsis. In fact, I’ve already blogged about writing a synopsis and a blurb HERE.
That question was asked in a writing forum where I hang out from time to time, and it’s asked a lot. So, let’s talk again about why that synopsis is so difficult for some writers.
1. You’re a pantser, like me. In other words, there’s no outline guiding this story. You wing it, having only a threadbare idea of what the middle of the story will contain. It’s all right. I do the same thing, and yet I still have no issues when it comes to the synopsis.
Why not? Well, for one very simple reason. It’s my story. I just wrote it. Who better to hit the highlights, which is what a synopsis entails? Yes, that’s all a synopsis actually is. The important points of the story. The scenes that drive it forward to its conclusion. Which brings me to my second point.
2. You’re trying to include too much detail. This is a common mistake that even seasoned authors make. You wrote the story, and so of course ALL details of the story are important, right. Yes and no. Yes to you. No to the publisher or editor who is reading the submission. In a synopsis, they’re looking to see if the story flows. They need to see the character/romance and story arcs, and they want to see how it ends.
One thing that will help tremendously with learning how to fit your story, and thus your synopsis, into this framework is to become familiar with, and use, the concept of GMC – Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. This isn’t a concept that grew out of romance novels. The woman who came up with it – Debra Dixon – began as a nonfiction writer. This book should be part of every writer’s library. You can purchase it directly from the publisher HERE.
Even if you don’t outline, you need to understand why your characters are doing what they’re doing in the story, what’s keeping them apart, and how they will work to resolve that conflict so they can be together forever. Let’s face it. It’s a romance. We all know how it ends. We don’t read them for the ending. We read them for the JOURNEY. We want our readers to fall in love with our heroes, right along with our heroines. To make it meaningful and keep them turning pages, the meat of that story needs to be emotional. We want them to WORK for it.
But Ravenna, doesn’t that make it harder then to pull out what should go into that three-paragraph, one-page, or five-page synopsis? Not really. Not if you completely understand GMC.
I’m going to borrow a way of illustrating this concept from Debra. She uses popular movies in the book to do so. I won’t use the same ones because that would be copyright violation, so instead I’ll use my own example.
In Ever After, Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott give us a charming version of the Cinderella story. Prince Henry’s character is loosely based on the actual monarch, and Danielle – Drew’s character – is a servant in her stepmother’s home. By the way, if you’ve never seen this, watching Anjelica Houston play the wicked stepmother is well worth it.
Danielle and the Prince meet, but not while she’s a servant. She’s posing as a Countess to save the life of a fellow servant. Henry thinks she’s nobility, but it’s her spirit and intelligence he falls in love with. Of course, the truth comes out at the crucial moment, and Henry must pull his head out of his ass to realize he loves the woman, in spite of her being a servant.
So let’s break down the GMC in this movie…
Danielle’s goal is to find a way to be with her Prince, even though by birth during the time in which she lives, it’s not possible. Henry’s goal is to find a bride, by order of his father, the King, or be forced to marry a stranger.
Danielle’s motivation is that she has fallen in love, and also that her stepmother and two stepsisters have forced her to become a servant in her late father’s home. She wants out of that life, but not enough to scheme the way her stepsisters are scheming to catch Henry’s eye. It’s an interesting twist, because by not telling Henry the truth right away, she’s doing plenty of scheming herself.
Henry’s motivation is that if he can’t choose his own bride, his parents will force him to marry a stranger from another country. Also, once he falls in love with Danielle, he knows no other woman will do.
The conflict, of course, is that Danielle is not who Henry thinks she is, and once he finds out the truth, convention won’t allow him to marry her. He also is hurt she lied to him.
Those are your high points. That is your synopsis. Add the ending, and you’re done. Yes, it really is that simple. The rest of the story – the silly things the sisters do to catch Henry’s eye, the scheming their mother does with a member of the King’s guard, and Danielle’s scenes with the other servants, who are more her true family than the stepmother or stepsisters ever were, are not needed in this synopsis. Your GMC for the hero and heroine fills in the high points of the story.
3. Your story isn’t cohesive. Of course, points 1 and 2 above assume a cohesive story to begin with. If your story rambles all over the place, if you couldn’t possibly nail down GMC for either hero or heroine if your life depended on it, then you have bigger problems than how to write the synopsis.
There are countless resources that speak to writing a book within the framework of a three-act play, a screenplay, etc., etc., etc. They all basically say the same thing. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Certain things go into each section, with some room for variation, of course. But at the core of all these how-to books is the concept that a story has to flow. It has to move forward. There has to be some type of underlying framework to ground it and help readers make sense of it.
Practice telling the story out loud to someone. Or to the wall if you’re too embarrassed to tell a person. Tell it to someone in no more than five minutes, then work from there. If you can’t nail down your story to a few sentences, you likely don’t have a cohesive story to begin with.
Think of taglines for movies: Giant shark terrorizes small New England town. A rogue starship pilot teams up with a Jedi Knight to save a princess from an evil dictator. A lawyer in the Depression-era South defends a black man accused of rape, amidst prejudice and fear.
Jaws, Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and To Kill A Mockingbird. Each reduced to a single sentence that gets straight to the meat of the story.
This is what you need to be able to do with your story in order to write a synopsis.
Try this next time you sit down to work on your WIP. As you write the story, keep notes. Play around with the single sentence, and single paragraph versions of the story. List the high points. Then, when you’re ready to submit, you’ll have the makings of your synopsis ready to go.
Until next week, Happy Writing!!