Saturday, January 30, 2010

Synopsis Psychosis: Part Three. The End and an Example

Yesterday, I wrote about complications as the points you must concentrate upon as you write your synopsis. Each complication (or twist) in your plot is a paragraph of your synopsis; you write from complication to complication until you get the resolution of your story, which is The End.

One thing I didn’t touch on (because I didn’t want anyone to need a Xanax) is the second part of the definition I trotted out in part one. So that you don’t have to go back, I’ve repeated the full definition here:

synopsis [(si-nop-sis)]: A narrative showing your story’s progression with an emphasis on character growth as affected by the events in your plot.

In part one and part two, we looked at how a synopsis is a narrative showing your story’s progression. The progression is described a paragraph at a time, one complication at a time. But wait, there’s more. Your synopsis also must tell how your character changes or grows because of the events (especially the complications) in your story.

Your character is different (or should be) at the beginning of your story than they are at the end. Every good story shows a character’s experience of a life-changing event.  In the best stories, the main character(s) have learned something and gone through some sort of emotional/physical/mental trial and emerged a better, stronger person (hopefully) at the end. (In a bad story, everyone dies and no one's learned a thing. At least, that's been my experience.) If they could emerge from their pages and tell you anything at the end of your story, it would be, "If I knew then what I know now..."

The writer needs to think of their character’s objectives, reasons and obstacles in order to discover whether or not s/he has grown or changed. In the very best stories, they may have not even achieved their objective but they've still grown and learned. (Sometimes they learn what they thought they wanted wasn't what they wanted, at all.) But, that's up to you to decide.

Anyhow...yesterday, Clarice offered Stu herself in exchange for the cost of body work to his car (which her son dented). I've added a new sentence (in pink). It tells her (emotional or mental) growth/change due to the events in the plot.

The last thing Clarice needs in her new life is a hunky guy with a crappy attitude. Especially one who seems to have a thing against her Austin. But she does owe him a substantial amount of autobody work and on her single-mom salary, she may as well owe him the moon. So she offers him the only thing she has: Herself. But only if he promises to leave her and her son alone after one night of anything-goes sex. She feels humiliated but exhilarated at the same time. For the first time ever, what she does with her body is her choice and she's in control.

As she becomes more self-assured, she's going to become less of a doormat for her demon spawn child. She'll become a better mother and even become more open to the love of a man who doesn't treat her badly.

Here's Stu's paragraph. Again, his (emotional/mental) growth/change due to the events in the plot are in pink:

Stu is tempted but asks Clarice to be his personal assistant for the space of a month, instead. Paying the salary of a person who cooked, cleaned and shopped would certainly cover the cost of the car repairs.  He’d have the added bonus of a clean house, food to eat and less distractions. But he doesn’t count on how distracting Clarice can be…why would such a lovely, kind woman—even if she is the mother of a hellion—have such low-self esteem? The question tortures him more than his more carnal fantasies of Clarice in his bed and he resolves to learn more about his enigmatic neighbor.

Stu, whether he realizes it or not, has not only changed his goal but is going to open his home and heart to this woman, probably losing his commitment to bachelorhood as well. Of course, we're going to have to work the child in there, too. But now that I've told that Stu is resolved to learn more, it's easy. ;)

And that's that.  No, I haven't gone all the way to the end of the story here, but I've shown you one way to conquer your fear of writing synopsis. I’ve given you a (albeit muddy) technique to visualize your story and then layer on the words you need to tell it in a narrative form:

1) Visualize your story skeleton.
2) Find your complications (things get worse when).
3) Create one paragraph for each story complication.
4) In each paragraph, point out the character(s)’ growth or change as a result of the complication.

As for your voice/style: that comes with your word choice and your sentence construction. It's part of the craft of writing. If you're committed to being a writer, you will practice your craft in all its forms, fiction as well as nonfiction. You can make writing a synopsis just as interesting and even fun as writing a novel. Stop looking at a synopsis as a lifeless, horrible thing and electrify it with the excellent writing of which you are capable. If you want to continue the skeleton/flesh/fat thing, imagine you’re Dr. Frankenstein. Use active verbs to animate your synopsis and make it strong with a lean form and muscular word choices.

And now…for a critique! I chose Vanessa Barger's synopsis from my hat, though I don't see the title of the book on it. Thank you to everyone who sent their synopsis to me!

Let's see how Vanessa did. I'll highlight her character objectives, reasons and obstacles in yellow, highlight her complications in red and then use a green font for her character growth. Things I feel could be deleted or condensed will be placed in orange font.

ISADORA ALLSOPP has a family history that would make a strong man squeamish.  For the better part of five years, she’s managed to forge an identity apart from her family, and make a name for herself in the airship business.  Just when things are looking up, she wakes to find a tall, dark, and handsome stranger waiting on deck for her.  He is a gift from the Timekeeper, one of the most powerful and dangerous people in Europe.NOTE: On her story skeleton, this would be the inciting incident. A good place to start the story and a great place to start her synopsis.
The Timekeeper and Isadora share a secret – Isadora is the Timekeeper’s younger sister.  In order to get Isadora to meet with her, she assigned a bodyguard; NATHANIEL MACLAUREN.  He’s everything Isadora has ever dreamed of, and it scares her to death. The last man she gave her heart to betrayed her, under her sister’s orders, and she has vowed no man will ever do so again. 
Isadora sets out to answer the summons,trying to keep her bodyguard at arm’s length.  That’s difficult when the man insists on being three feet away at all times.  Nathaniel has his own set of issues with The Timekeeper.  He takes the assignment seriously, having been blackmailed into the arrangement. He is biding his time and protecting his charge in order to get close enough to kill the Timekeeper and take back what she has stolen. (Notice how Vanessa's included both her hero/heroine's information; she's woven it together quite nicely.)
Nathaniel is a Peer of the Realm, and a Sky Pirate.  His family, impoverished after his Uncle squandered the family fortune and died in his cups, has relied on his enterprising to maintain their standards.  The Timekeeper has discovered it, and taken his youngest sister as a hostage for insurance.  Why he was chosen for this particular job, he is unaware.  All he knows is that he must get Isadora to the Timekeeper in one piece in order to keep his own neck from prison and his family honor intact.
That proves to be harder than he thought.  Despite Isadora’s hurry to get rid of him, they run into trouble.  (Well done! See what Vanessa did? She introduced her character and then went right into the complication, even using the word "trouble".) First storms drive them to a friend’s Fueling Station, where they are driven off almost immediately by threats.  As soon as they leave neutral airspace, Sky Pirates attack the ship.  Only Nathaniel’s fast talking save them, but as part of the bargain Isadora is forced to act the part of lovesick woman to Nathaniel’s hero.  He’s been growing on her as the days go by, and the act isn’t as hard to keep up as she thought it would be.  (emotional change/growth)
After a night trapped together while the other Sky Pirates decide what to do with them, Isadora must admit the two of them have more in common than she thought.  She also has to admit to herself that Nathaniel is quite appealing.  She opens up to him more and more, and their relationship progresses to something more than just friends.
After a few days, they arrive at the Timekeeper’s home.  Things appear to be going well, until the Timekeeper reveals Nathaniel’s motivation and true identity.  Feeling the sting of betrayal again, Isadora vows to get even with both of them.
The Timekeeper wants Isadora’s key to a chest, delivered by courier to The Timekeeper on Isadora’s 28th birthday.  She believes it holds the key to a family mystery which could reveal the location of a lost “family heirloom” rumored to be plans for an alternative form of energy.  This would make the Timekeeper not only rich, but also control the world’s power.  She has already accepted payment from prominent members of the European Underworld for the plans, and her time to produce them is running out. (I'm thinking this could be deleted. It's good stuff BUT, it's also fatty. Vanessa's synopsis is actually four pages long--I asked for a two page synopsis, and if she was submitting this to me, I'd wonder if she would be willing to make requested changes to her manuscript. An author needs to follow guidelines to the letter; some editors would reject her story simply because she didn't.)
Isadora tries to escape, and the Timekeeper has her locked away.  She discovers her cell to be shared with Nathaniel’s sister, Juliana.  The reasons behind his betrayal are made clear.  Isadora decides to forgive him, and gets working on an escape plan. 
Nathaniel frees them, deciding to risk the Timekeeper’s wrath.  He and Isadora steal a ship and the chest, escaping narrowly.  They retreat to Nathaniel’s home to try and unlock the chest.  Isadora gets distracted from the chest as she and Nathaniel enlist the help of everyone they know to avoid being caught by the Timekeeper’s minions.
They run to Isadora’s friend, Cornelius Latimer, an inventor with dubious morals but astronomical intelligence, and ask him to try and crack the code.  Everyone is stumped until they are attacked and Isadora bleeds on the chest.  Her blood catches in the grooves on the carved lid, and the lock releases. 
The Timekeeper is brought to the lab, where they are all being kept prisoner.  No one will open the chest until the Timekeeper arrives.  When she does the contents are revealed to everyone.  The Timekeeper is (where she opens the chest and is) dismayed to discover the energy source plans she had anticipated are merely blueprints for an airship. 
Isadora and Nathaniel, and Cornelius extract her oath she will cease trying to ruin their lives and leave them alone.  In a hurry to get away before her associates appear, she agrees.  They review the plans and learn that what was left was a magnificent invention, and Cornelius her friend (One thing that is often suggested and just as frequently ignored is to keep character names to a minimum. For one thing, I find adding character names means I need to tell about them; it adds fat. Keep it lean by describing secondary characters by their function in the plot.) begins work immediately.  Nathaniel and Isadora share an awkward moment, and Nathaniel leaves without expressing his feelings for Isadora.
Her pride will not allow her to follow Nathaniel, and she convinces herself that her background is not appropriate marriage material for a Peer.  She stays with Cornelius until the completion of the airship.  The day it is finished, Isadora has decided to start running merchant orders on the Continent to distance herself from Nathaniel, her family, and her feelings.  She is passing over London when Nathaniel appears, confessing his love.  Isadora finally gives in, and admits she loves him as well.  He proposes, and she accepts. 

Overall, this is a good start as a synopsis. Vanessa did a great job moving from point to point; I can see her complications/twists. One thing I'd suggest she do is deepen her character's growth; why does Isadora finally give in? What makes Nathaniel change his mind or finally decide to confess his love for her?

I'd like to know, too, what actually kept them apart. Pride? Distrust? I think if Vanessa uses this and focuses on expressing her characters' growth as affected by the events in her plot, she'll have a bang on target synopsis.

Thank you so much, Vanessa--and everyone else--for submitting your synopses to me and allowing me to hack them apart on my blog. You're brave souls. I applaud all of you.

Please give them all a hand by leaving a comment. I hope I've helped you; if you can take away one small bit of this, I've done my job. Happy writing!


  1. Wow. Great workshop. You made some great points that I will now have to go apply to my synosis. :D

  2. These posts were awesome! Thanks so much! Now, I'm off to write my own synopsis. Maybe it's not as bad as I believe.

  3. Thanks Cyn, that was awesome. :)