by Susan May Warren, @SusanMayWarren
I know that people panic about writing a synopsis. The fact is, there are many different synopsis styles and deliveries. There is no one right way – but there are few principles.
Let’s start with Delivery:
e.g. This story is about Maggie, a former Red Cross nurse who lives in World War 2 New York City. More than anything she wants to get over the grief of losing her fiancé during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but her life seemed to stop the day she got the news and she doesn’t know how to start it again. Until, one day, she runs – literally – into a man named Peter. Peter is a sailor who received a medical discharge after nearly losing his leg during the Pearl Harbor attack. He is bitter and angry – but not at his injuries, but at the fact that he let his best mate die. More than anything, he’d like to go back and save his friend. But there is no way to atone for his mistakes. Except, there is. Because Peter’s friend was Maggie’s fiancé, and there might be a miracle at work that night when they meet…..etc.
See, you’re simply telling the story from a bird’s eye view.
The second way to tell the story is to convey it as what I call a “Police Report.”
Think of the POV players as the eye-witnesses to the story, and that you have to file a report as to what happened.
You’ll start with a bio of each of them, and then let them each have their turn telling the story, each interjecting their motivations and decisions for each action as the story progresses… Let’s pick up our story and continue it with this method:
e.g. Peter can’t believe that a beautiful woman has nearly plowed him over on New year’s eve – and he’s even more horrified when she sees his injury. Probably he shouldn’t have been so rude to her – especially when he spies her later, crying. What’s a guy to do? He reintroduces himself and discovers that she’s crying over a lost love. He understands that kind of grief, and in an effort to comfort her, invites her to Times Square to celebrate the New Year. Maggie calls herself a little crazy when she agrees to leave the New Year’s Eve party with a virtual stranger. But somehow Peter doesn’t feel like a stranger. There’s something about him she finds familiar and it’s this feeling that woos her into a cab to Times Square. Maybe it’s a sign that yes, she can start over…
With this method, you are going back and forth in POV, still keeping it third person, but letting each player tell ‘their side of the story’.
Regardless of which method you use, you must always consider this: For every Action, there is a ReAction, which leads to a new Action. We’ll develop this more when we talk about scene construction, but for now, always ask: Is there a good reason (motivation) why my character reacts this way? A good reason (motivation) for his decision as he proceeds to the next action? Whether or not you have solid motivation for your characters actions will become evident as you tell yourself the story.
Now, let’s talk about tone:
You can write it in third person, past tense, third person present tense, or even first person (although this is much more rare, I’ve seen it done successfully). Regardless, the key is to keep it at a Bird’s Eye View – you’re taking a pass over the story, resisting the urge to “land” and explore key moments. Don’t skim over everything and then slow it down and tell us how the hero caresses the heroine’s face before he kisses her and declares his love. Keep the bird flying overhead and say, “Jeremy declares his love.” And keep flying. The synopsis is not a place to showcase your elegant wordsmithing (although yes, you want to make it interesting…).
So, let’s talk about wordsmithing:
After you have the synopsis written, and you’re ready to submit, now it’s time to smooth it out. Go through and add in “color” words – powerful nouns and verbs that add an emotional element to your story. Use active verbs instead of passive. Tighten sentences. Search for overwriting and delete.
Finally, if you need a roadmap, MBT uses what we call the Lindy Hop: The Three Acts simplified. Sometimes it helps to fill out these elements (for every POV character), as a rough draft to putting the synopsis on the page.
Most of all, don’t panic. Get yourself a cup of coffee and settle down to hear a great story…yours.
Quick Skills: Sketch out the Three Acts Structure, then tell yourself the story, making sure you have a motivation for every action your character takes (and every lesson they learn). You’ll use your Synopsis to help you write your novel.