Make Your Synopsis IntriguingUgh.
Yeah, I know. Everyone hates writing a synopsis, so don't feel bad if you do too. You can take comfort in knowing that chances are, your synopsis won't be any worse than everyone else's synopsis. But on the other hand, what if your synopsis is better than the others? What if it is not only good, but intriguing? Won't that give you an edge in the competition?
I'm assuming here that you've already got a synopsis written. If not, get busy. If you're having trouble there, go look up Alicia Rasley's synopsis workshop at http://www.sff.net/people/alicia/ or Lisa Gardner's at http://www.rosecityromancewriters.com/synopsis/index.html
But here you are, looking at it and it bores even you. You know it's not going to enchant a judge or editor. Your story is a good one. So why doesn't that come out in your synopsis? Let's look at some things that might make it better.
Just like your story, your synopsis needs to open with something intriguing that carries the essence of your theme. I think it's a mistake to go overboard with a big shocker, or to be funny when your story is not a funny one. But find something that makes the reader want to read further. Look at your opening line in your manuscript. Can you find a way to pirate that into your synopsis opener? Or could you re-state your story theme in one sentence? Here's my opener for HIS MAJESTY, THE PRINCE OF TOADS:
Sometimes it takes more than a kiss to change a toad into a handsome prince.
Right away you know it's a take-off on the Frog Prince, and humor is a part of the story. There's even a hint of the conflict to come because you know just one kiss isn't going to do it this time.
Your resolution is as important as your beginning. Once you've found your intriguing opener, think of how the story resolves, and ask yourself how you can carry the same theme to create a strong resolution that ties up the whole story. Here's the ending for my Toad story:
What they share together is more important than her security and independence, for His Majesty, the Prince of Toads has become the Prince of Sophie's Heart.
Now you have the foundation. But filling in the middle is just as hard. But notice how the ending above pulled in the problem Sophie had to resolve before she found her true love? There's the true conflict -- Sophie's need for security that she could not trust to anyone else. Sophie is really the center of this story, but my hero also has a great deal of work to do before he can accept that Sophie really is his true love.
Conflict, not words, is what propels your synopsis, just as it does your story. Make the middle of your synopsis about the conflict. But also make it about the uniqueness of your characters. What makes this story and its hero and heroine unique? In a synopsis, you can tell instead of show, because you are summarizing.
When Captain Lucas Deverall returns from the Peninsular War to succeed to his deceased brother's title, he grudgingly decides to take back his wife. But even before he learns the circumstances of his inheritance, he encounters her at a New Year's gala. Shock sets in as he realizes the most beautiful woman in England is the same gangly, calf-eyed chit who tricked him into marriage six years before.
That's not how Sophie remembers it. She wishes fervently she'd had the sense not to scream when the drunken scapegrace crawled into her bed at her Uncle Harry's house party. True, she'd had a secret tendre for the handsome wastrel, until his scathing denunciation of her after their forced wedding. Then he went off to war without even consummating their union, and for six years she heard nothing from him.
Now the toad offers her forgiveness in exchange for his presence in her bed? Revenge comes more to mind.
Notice that Lucas's point of view of the conflict is immediately followed by Sophie's. If I were just explaining from an objective point of view, Lucas would look pretty bad. That's because he was immature and wild before he went off to war. He comes back changed, but that one incident is etched into his mind. This is the external conflict. But it's the internal conflict that really fuels the story, and it's their inner needs that keep them from relinquishing their old grudges. They have their minds made up about each other. That can't change until they accept the truth about themselves, and that's the real story. The rest of the middle deals with both the external conflict, Lucas's attempt to use his charm without losing his heart to win Sophie over, and Sophie's attempt at revenge, to steal Lucas's heart and break it, just as he did to her. But their interaction wears away their defenses and forces them to see themselves and each other as they really are now, no longer as they once were. And so they must change, or they will lose everything they truly value.
I said earlier, it's not words that fuel the synopsis. But that's not entirely true. My synopsis is a longer one because I chose to use extra words to give the flavor of the story. I chose to show rather than tell several points I might have left out, but I kept them because of their unique flavor. I could have told the entire thing in a page, but I didn't want to leave out the unique interaction that shows character growth in little steps of revelation.
Ask yourself what is the tone of your story. My story is a battle of wits and wills. It's light and humorous, yet with a deep understory as contrast. Wit obscures the depth of insecurity and tragedy both hero and heroine have suffered, and it demonstrates how they have learned to cope with life. But it also keeps them from growing into the next vital stage of their lives. So my synopsis has to reflect the wit of the story. If this story were darker, with its plot hanging on drama, my synopsis would have been written completely differently. So think about your word choices. What words carry the tone of your story? Be sure they are in your synopsis too.
I think the biggest problem most writers face with their synopsis is trying to tell the entire story in just a few pages. They end up with a bare bones skeletal outline that actually sounds like bones clattering along. But how else can they do it?
One problem is the wooden sentences that come from hacking down the plot to minimal words.
This is really two separate problems. First, the sentences start to have identical structure. Short, with subject then verb, and almost the same length. If you spot this, it's obvious you need to find ways to vary the structure. But the real problem is buried beneath the words. What you're really doing is trying to tell each point of the story. And yes, it's hard to pick out what points have to be there and what ones need to be left out.
What I'd suggest is finding words that generalize. Can you condense a section that describes an interaction into one fairly simple sentence. Instead of "He says she can't blah blah, but she says blip blipp", try "He persuades her to bleh bleh". Words like "persuade" or "convince" can work miracles. Find ways to say there is a disagreement over something instead of describing the entire conflict.
The same is true for your black moment. Condense it to generalities, but at the same time be sure you tell how this major change in your story occurs because of action by the hero and heroine and not anyone else. In my Toad story, Lucas makes the decision to help Sophie work through one of the most difficult times in her life by making his own major sacrifice for her. He might lose his leg to help her, but he runs the risk, not just because he loves her, but because she desperately needs his help to work through her own devastating dilemma. And this changes everything between them. So I can't just run this inner and outer conflict through a few sentences. It needs to be showcased for the drama it is.
Lucas, desperate to ease her pain, recalls the pure and perfect moments when they skated on the Serpentine, and he takes her to the estate's frozen lake. Sophie skates fiercely, aggressively, expressing the things she can't find words to say, advancing, then retreating, like Sophie herself. Even though excruciating pain in his knee warns Lucas he risks the loss of his leg, he joins her in a wild dash across the ice in the moonlight, that changes to a graceful dance like the flight of birds, and back to a gritty race, draining the last dregs of their energy.
And when you reach your conclusion, tell it in terms of how the hero and heroine have changed, so that they can now make choices they could not have made in the beginning of the story. This is the most intriguing part of your story, so give it full power through your choice of words.
(Oh, and did you notice the long, flowing sentences that mimic the graceful flow of skating over ice? Yes, that was deliberate.)
Choose the words that generalize, yes, but make them strong enough to carry the action. Tell your external conflict in general terms, but emphasize the turmoil in their hearts, and let the drama of internal conflict drive your synopsis.
Beginning, middle, end. Sounds simple. But getting it right is perhaps the hardest job we writers face.