I’m late in blogging this week! Monday was Labor Day, a national holiday here in the US. Tuesday and Wednesday were consumed with getting my e-zine sent out. So now it’s Thursday, and I’m picking up where we left off last week.
We were discussing synopses and how to write them. I invited you to post a few paragraphs of your synopsis, if you’ve got one, and I’ll critique them. I see you’ve all been busy! Let’s get rolling then . . .
Pam wrote this one:
Fifteen-year-old Akeela lives in the forest outside the village of Broem in the country of Estinia with Krezma, the old hag who rescued her after her mother died in childbirth. Krezma took her into the deep, deep woods because she knows Akeela is no ordinary child. Akeela is destined to be the next fairy guardian.
Fairies are essential to the land. Their magic sows goodness into the ground that not only benefits the ground, it also keeps the ashes of the Dark Lord, Viss’aird, buried and, they believe, harmless. Years ago, a spell gone terribly wrong caused him to disintegrate. When his ashes were scattered from the witch’s tower, they settled into the ground. There they have been growing and recreating him into a potential power of evil so large, it would consume the entire world.
And now, an evil plan is unfolding to release the powerful Dark Lord from his slumber. The witch, Tzmet, is capturing and eating fairies in order to diminish their power until Viss’aird (her father) can rise from the ground.
Randy sez: This is good! It sets the stage for the novel in just a few paragraphs. It has about the right level of detail and it shows us the principal characters. Good job, Pam!
There was a question on whether the names will be an issue. The answer is that fantasy readers are used to weird names and expect them. These names will work just fine.
Marcus posted this excerpt from his synopsis:
From my YA novel “Unstuck”
The story begins one sparky fireside night 20 years ago at Camp Blue Sky, a teen summer camp in the Pacific Northwest. A 14-year-old Nick Adamson stands up and gives his first-ever testimony to a rapt crowd of newly-on-fire-for-Christ high schoolers. Nick has just accepted Jesus Christ as Lord. The reason for his conversion? Jesus is a blast! That’s what has been promised to Nick by his ultra-cool camp counselor, The Torque, and it’s what Nick craves—a life larger than he can ever imagine. After all, Jesus has given an amazing life to Torque, the muscle-bound university engineering student who creates canons in his spare time. Why wouldn’t Jesus provide that for Nick, too?
Next to Nick’s side is his best friend, Chad Michael Juniper Van Stantvoordt, AKA Juner, who’s too short yet to live up to his tall name. Juner loves science and mag lites and has been a Christian his whole life. He takes this Jesus thing in stride, and perhaps Juner overmuch likes all the hugs that girls give him on the last night of camp.
While giving his testimony, Nick can’t help glancing across the fireside area at Shipper Ryun, an acquaintance from school. She’s got hair, eyes, creamy skin—who wouldn’t want to date her? Shipper has previously ignored Nick, even spurned him, but after fireside, Shipper is suddenly all smiles.
Despite Juner’s dire predictions about high school starting in 14 days and “you know what happens to freshmen like us,” Nick can hardly wait for school to start so the benefits of his new-found Christian life and all its amazing promises can begin. He slugs Juner all-friendly-like in the arm: “Relax willya, Jesus wouldn’t let anything go wrong, would He?”
Randy sez: I would like to see the conflict emerging more quickly here. This is fairly detailed–so far it’s all about one scene, and so far everything is going swimmingly. Only in the last sentence is there a hint that things are about to go very wrong. So Marcus, I’d recommend summarizing this and getting to the conflict. Because the story doesn’t begin until there’s conflict.
What about if you have two plotlines? They occassionaly come together but are mostly seperate. Do you do the synopsis for one line until they merge, then do a “Meanwhile, back at the ranch, …” or do one until THE END then do the second, or do one and not mention the other at all? Something else entirely?
Randy sez: Mix them just like you would in the real novel. Do a paragraph or two on one storyline, then do a paragraph or two on the other. And highlight those points where the two storylines come together, because if they look like they’re totally separate, the editor is going to be asking, “Why isn’t this two books?”
Mary posted her first few paragraphs:
Ari Poorman, eighteen, walks home after babysitting on an autumn Friday night, bemoaning her sorry state of affairs. She encounters Ryan and Mick, two guys who never showed any interest in her during high school. The guys get Ari to go with them to “have some fun.” When they attempt rape, she escapes and runs home, losing her house key in Ryan’s car.
The next week, Ryan and Mick sneak into the Poormans’ house. Ari, home alone and ill with a cold, confronts them. They’re interrupted by the police, who have come to investigate a neighbor’s report.
After much effort, Ari gets a full-time job at Chinn’s Cuisine. She gets to know her fellow employees: waitresses Yu Chinn, the owner’s homeschooled teen daughter, and April, who disappears after threatening to get an abortion in order to keep her boyfriend; and busboy Mark Smucker, a friendly young man Ari would like to have as more than just a friend.
Randy sez: OK, this looks promising. The one point I’d like to see improved is the “reality factor.” In paragraph 1, Ari gets away from two able-bodied boys intent on rape. Good for her, but . . . how did she manage that? Is she skilled at martial arts? Is she a good runner? We need to know enough about her to believe she could do this.
In paragraph 2, the boys come back for another try. This time, the cops save Ari, which seems awfully convenient. Can you make this more believable? What does Ari DO to get herself out of trouble here? Readers want to see a character who can help herself, not one who gets lucky by having the cops drop by.
We’ll continue tomorrow with critiques of more synopses.
Randy sez: Because the story doesn’t begin until there’s conflict.
A question that’s been bugging me for a while: What strength of conflict really marks the ‘beginning’ of the story?
I have smaller conflicts at the start. Like Kathryn, I have 2 storylines for a while. Alternating protags. In each scene before the 2 lines merge, there is a conflict for that character. These don’t get resolved. When the storylines merge, or the 2 meet, there begins the first major disturbance. It doesn’t happen until (Yikes, I hate to say it) 12k words. Yeah, I plan to cut some of those out.
In my debut novel (literary fiction), the conflict was mainly in the character’s personality. He was divided.
The question is – whether it is advisable to have internal and external conflicts both, and how many conflicts should one include.
As far as I know there are conflicts between
man and man
man and nature
man and society
nature and society
Randy, I will appreciate your help on this. Thanks.
Carrie Neuman says
Now you’ve got me trying to remember high school English, Shruti. I remember:
man vs technology
man vs himself
man vs God
Not sure how many there were, but that should cover most plots.
Yeah, that’s right Carrie, but in most literary works there are more than one kind of conflict. Most of the time, it is both internal and external. There is a struggle going on inside the character and outside. What I wanted to know is whether it is advisable to shift conflicts like from man and society to man and man. Obviously, the internal conflict will shape itself around the character’s personality, so can’t do much with it.
How much, if any, backstory should we put in the synopsis? I mean, if conflict is important, we can’t wait a few chapters till we put in backstory, can we? And are there are ground rules we follow when we write synopis’?
Pam Halter says
Thank you, Randy. It’s good to have things to work on, but also good to know when you don’t have to.
Karla Akins says
I learn so much from this blog. Thanks for your hard work, Randy. It’s a gift I don’t take for granted.
Marcus Brotherton says
Thanks Randy for the excellent feedback. I appreciate your continued wisdom.
Debbie Allen says
Twelve-year-old Alaina is on a mission. Reluctantly. She’s currently hanging on to the tattered robe of a blind man, who is leading her through dangerous catacombs to the surface. Alaina hasn’t been to the surface since she was seven, when her mother- the queen- was brutally murdered as Alaina watched. Her father narrowly escaped with her and a few others into the tunnels beneath their Celtic city. Now, five years later, Alaina is sickly and needs fresh air and sunshine. But no one can know who she is, or the man who killed her mother will destroy her- and the remnant hiding below.
Alaina has no memory before the death of her mother. Leaving the dark tunnels she knows is terrifying for her. And trying to help Ruggles, her guardian, to keep the remnant supplied with food is a responsibility she would rather not be burdened with.
It doesn’t help that the town bully, Cullen, seems to take particular delight in her bungling ways, and seems suspicious of her sudden appearance. Added to that is the complication of the present king’s son, Colin, who was there when his father murdered Alaina’s mother. Though Alaina is determined to hate him, somehow she finds herself drawn to him. But it doesn’t matter. He’d never give her a moment’s thought as a peasant girl, right?
A little late, but I’ve never tried one of these before and I probably should. Here goes nothing… 🙂
The world is full of magic and mechanics of the mad-science variety. Ess is the prototype of an artificially constructed angel made of lab-grown biology and clockwork. Because of his design flaws his creator Marlux had him imprisoned inside a crystal, and he placed the crystal in a cursed valley where nothing grows. Ess is found and released by a girl named Merrily Soarin. After they escape he tells her that the man who built him is in the process of making an army of these artificial angels so that he can storm the gates of heaven and take his personal revenge against God. Ess’ biggest flaw, the one that his creator had rejected him for, was that he was not obedient to his maker. Ess he feels that it is his duty to stop Marlux’s plans.
Ess is very noble, but also very shy. Merrily Soarin is an ugly farm girl who had served as a priestess before she was attacked one night, and sickened by the mixed reactions of her peers had left the establishment. Headstrong, religious, and not eager to arrive back disgraced at her family’s distant hometown, she volunteers to accompany Ess on his mission.
He flies them both to a place in his head, following a signal in his head, a mental beacon that tells him where he has to go, and that he is going to die very soon for a very important reason, but offers no other information. They walk the last distance, Merrily at Ess’ side, and enter into the lair of a broken construct, a monstrous beast that had made a home for itself in a plain of stone spikes and dry bones. It attacks. Ess uses a sword, but Merrily pulls on a pair of brass knuckles and proves to be a competent fighter herself. Even so, Ess is hit in such a way that he is knocked into the air and is impaled on one of the stone spikes surrounding them.
Yes, Randy, I might not always comment or participate but I do appreciate the effort you make in helping our work to be the best that it can be.
Debbie, I would avoid having two names that start with the same letter and sound so similar: Cullen and Colin. When the story is really moving along it can get confusing for the reader.
Patrick Hudson says
500 years after a nuclear holocaust, a man called Corin from the icey tundra of Gore is captured by L’hel, one of few men still posessing knowledge from the past age. L’hel will use Corin and the rest of his fellow Licotians to destroy the Crael Forest and to eliminate once and for all the people whom he most hates, the Foresters.
A two week’s journey south, the City of Garnock lies ruined, abandoned. The cities of Halal and Doden, on either side of the valley in which Garnock lies, fight for control of the old empire. The only province rival to that of L’hel’s technologically fueled city is in the midst of a twenty year civil war.
Gallas and Gius, twins seperated by their grandfather and uncle at birth, the rulers of each city, live ignorant of eachother’s existence. With the stagnation of 5 years broken, the boys are sent out when more than just a handful learn of the royal heritage.
The two twins run away, drawn towards the east by something they don’t understand and so too are L’hel and Corin’s lives slowly intertwined until they meet to understand the true depth of their lives.
Urien’s, the narrator, grasp and understanding of the human condition allows him to explain his own life, his own struggles and the trechery that can be found in the human spirit as he writes his story within the pages of this book, but what of the mystery man introduced before the holocaust? What lies within his suitcase hidden within mountains? How is his story, Urien’s and all four men of such different lives connected?
It can only be explained with the simple word: one.
Thanks Randy. Your explanation of ‘summarizing sequences of scenes’ did the trick for me. I was using individual, representative scenes, and now it is much, much better.
When we submit to a publisher, do we give away the ending (I am writing suspense)or do we ‘tease’ them like your questions at the end of your ‘Mars’ synopsis?
Randy, thanks for having a scientific/artistic mind… It’s nice to have explanations for why stories work.
Thanx, Randy! Am thinking that my sequence of scenes should be the scenes of each plotline that leads to a converging point. Hopefully, it will work.
Randy, many thanks for discussing the synopsis. Writing the novel is easy. I think it’s harder to write a concise synopsis that makes an editor want to read the novel. Thank you for giving of yourself and helping others.
tentative writer says
Your website has been an amazing source of encouragement and help – thank you.
I am currently plodding my way through my first novel using your snowflake method. I keep getting hung up on a few likely-inconsequential steps.
On step 4, Expand the Synopsis:
Take several hours and expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in a disaster. The final paragraph should tell how the book ends.
I keep letting my thoughts run away with me, instead of expanding each sentence into a full paragraph, I’ve expanded each of the five sentences into 13 paragraphs with more story like detail than synopsis like detail. The perfectionist in me worries I’m barreling ahead, making mistakes, that I ought to force myself to trim out the novel-like commentary and just summarize. Is it important that I follow the steps exactly or is it a good sign I’m already embellishing the storyline?
And I thought I saw it asked here, but I think I missed the answer. How much do we give away about the ending in the synopsis? I mean, is the synopsis primarily for our own creative process? I keep trailing off at the end of the synopsis writing like I would to keep the reader’s interest, not give it all away. But if it’s part of the creative process that I hammer it all out in the synopsis…
Okay thanks and apologies for the lengthy first time comment.