Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Slimming Down the Synopsis

It's another new year, and while everyone else is at the gym whipping themselves into shape, I've long since given up on ever recovering my pre-motherhood sylph, and have been concentrating on whipping, beating, and pounding book proposals into shape.

This includes the heavy, misshapen lump better known as The Dreaded--and sometimes, I fear, Dreadful--Synopsis.

I notice from many of the agents' guidelines out there that a synopsis of no more than 5 double-spaced pages seems to be all the rage these days. My synopses tend to run twice that length, and could easily go on even longer till they're nearly the length of the book itself. And since I write according to what I call The Indiana Jones School of Plotting ("I don't know, I'm making this up as I go"), I tend to write the story first, then go bald, ulcer-plagued and insane over the synopsis.

Before TRUE PRETENSES was published, I entered it in an RWA contest where the rules asked for a 5 page synopsis. I took the 10 page synopsis and whittled it down to half. I didn't care for the result. It was basically the set up and the resolution: Instead of "from Point A to Point B" it was "Point A and Point B."

After the contest was over and I got the entry back, I found the synopsis covered in penciled questions from the judge: "Why this? How's that? Was he [the hero] drunk? You don't say if--" AARGH! If only I'd been allowed to submit the full length, 10 page version, those questions would've been answered.

Then two years ago, my RWA chapter, TARA, did what we call a "Birds of a Feather" or BOF workshop. We divided into groups according to the genre we wrote--chick lit, romantic suspense, or in my case, historical--and we had to write a query letter and synopsis and submit it to the others in our BOF group for critique.

Since I'd never written a synopsis for an unwritten book before, I thought I would try again to pare down an already completed 10 page synopsis for a Regency historical I call Confessions of a Lady Ruined.

I couldn't do it. I felt I needed everything that was in that synopsis. Cutting one paragraph would be tantamount to pulling a loose thread from a sweater and unraveling the whole story. Additionally, my writing "voice" was evident in that synopsis. Whittling it down would mean diluting my voice.

I ended up writing a synopsis from scratch. I don't know how I did it. But it took me one day, and when I went on to write the book (another Regency historical with the working title of Malcolm in the Midden--I said WORKING title!), I was surprised to find that up until the resolution (which I can never figure out until I get to it), the story followed the synopsis rather closely. There were things I wrote that showed up nowhere in the synopsis, yet they didn't throw it off, and I realize now that had I waited till after the book was written to agonize over writing the synopsis, I would've felt compelled to throw those in for fear the synopsis would make no sense without them. (I wonder if I'm making sense right now.)

In the two years since then, I've been working on contemporary stories, but now that the pendulum is swinging back toward historical romances, so am I. A Lady Ruined was summoned from exile beneath the bed, and this last week I set about trying one more time to write a 5 page synopsis.

I don't know what happened to me since I wrote MITM (one of the writers who critiqued it in the BOF workshop suggested Malcolm in a Muddle), but when I looked at the old 10 page synopsis for A Lady Ruined, I saw all the extraneous gobbledygook that didn't really need to be there. Sure it was nice to know these little extra details, certainly they were braided in with the plot, but the whole thing would not implode if I chopped them out. So I did. I submitted the 5-page result to my critique partner, who said that aside from a couple of "Huh?" moments that were easily fixed, I did a good job explaining what she called all the twists and turns to my hero and heroine's Happily Ever After.

Then I took a 10-page synopsis from another book and somehow carved that one into 5 pages. I'm feeling rather pleased with myself, but not only that--I'm starting to think from now on, I will write the synopsis before I write the book. It really does seem to be easier that way.

So long, Indy!


Vicki said...

I love the new site, both the blog and the website!

I'm wirting my POS synopsis now as well. UGH! What to keep in what to throw out.

Sounds like you're getting the thing down though and that's a great thing.

See you Friday!!! Can't wait.

Erica Ridley said...

Yay for the new design! Love the coordination. =)

And viva synopses! I have learned not to hate them. (I haven't learned to love them, but... baby steps.)

Wendi said...

Karen, I do love the new look around here! Please don't hate me, but I tagged you! If it's any consolation, I only tagged people whose list I thought would be hilarious! The details are on my blog: www.wendidarlin.blogspot.com

You're it!
P.S. It was great seeing you this weekend. I wish I'd gotten to spend more time with you.

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