Write a Synopsis of Your Novel, in Two Nosebleeds or Less

Today, my desk is filled with two cats, my third mug of tea, a legal pad full mostly of crossed-out lines with a few good ones hanging out here and there, a powered-down phone, and two half-synopses of my Dwarf Airship Espionage novel, trying to find a way to paste the two together and not make it look like it was written at 3:00AM on the last day of vacation, to quote Charlie Brown’s teacher in her assessment of his Gulliver’s Travels book report. So far, things are looking good, but I’d much rather be in the middle of this book or others and actually playing with my imaginary friends, rather than writing an after-action report about their adventures. I remember too many days as a junior leader in the Navy having to stay behind on a Friday afternoon and write reports on what our division did, rather than leave the ship like my junior sailors got to. On the other hand, I remember being treated a little better, by both sides of the Chain of Command, because I wrote the reports well, so here’s hoping my Navy skills have translated properly.

Synopsis writing is an interesting beast. I don’t know how many synopses I’ve written of other books throughout my decades as a reader and writer, but it is so much easier to write about another author’s book rather than my own. In a book report, I’m happy if I illustrate the main conflict, how it relates to the characters, and the general resolution of the plot, maybe dropping in one or two scenes here and there for illustration. Writing about my own? I either feel like I’m skipping way too many details, or I’m getting caught up talking about the witty comments one character made to another and yet skipping the battle going on behind them, just because I happen to really like that line and I want to be sure that any prospective synopsis-reader sees it, because then he or she will know how clever I am, and will offer to buy all of my books, plus ones I haven’t written yet, and will send enough dollars my way to fill up my Currency Jacuzzi in my beach house in Antarctica. (It’s not crowded at all, and once you befriend the penguins, they bring you all the best herring. I call them… my herring aids. Thank you, I’ll just see myself out.)

The best way I’ve found to do this so far is to write a sentence describing each chapter. Though this can be hard for me to do, especially if I want to include something really neat that I included in that chapter, I find that if I have a good solid idea of what the chapter is about, I can usually puzzle out a way to say it in fifteen or twenty words. Then I add a sentence describing the next chapter. Then I add a sentence patching the two together, sometimes two. Then I read it and add another one, if necessary. It’s a time-consuming process but, aside from occasionally wanting to rip out my hair because I can’t decide which modifier best modifies what I’m modifying, but I wind up with a finished product. It might not be as exciting as the novel itself (at least, I hope the novel is more exciting), but it explains the course of the story, and most importantly, shows any agent or publishing representative that I have a completed book and I know enough of the craft to at least look like I know what I’m doing. At least, that’s what I hope I look like. We’ll see.

So far, as I stitch and polish the last part of a submissions package, the one “Lesson Learned” I’ve picked up from this is to write my one-sentence synopsis after every chapter as I first write it, and update it after each rewrite. I think this will make the job of picking out the truly important details a lot easier, especially during a re-write and a re-re-write. At least once on every second draft I’ve wound up deleting something I didn’t think mattered, only to find it explicitly referred to three chapters down the line. When I finish my final draft work and get back to the long novel I’m roughing out (or another story about my haplessly intrepid Dwarf spies) I’ll be able to test it out and see if it works as good as I hope. At any rate, knowing how to tell my story effectively in as few words as possible can’t hurt, even if I then wind up adding more words for protein, good fat content, carbs, and just seasoning.

I apologize. Not only am I polishing a submission package, I’m on Week Two of a new diet plan, and nearly everything I think of somehow relates to food. (Insert “eating his words” pun here…) I’ll be sure to have more news tomorrow from the editing, writing, and dieting fronts for your digestive pleasure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *