Monday, January 25, 2010

Part 10: OMG the Synopsis is Attacking the City!!!1!

It's pretty much a given that if you're looking to be published, you're going to have to write a synopsis of whatever you're submitting. And the first thing that I learned on my publishing journey is that writers are scared of writing synopses. (Synopsii? Synopsises?) RWA taught me to fear the synopsis by using words like "dreaded" and "scary" in conjunction with it. They told me horror stories about how editors might base whether or not they'd read my submission on the strength of my synopsis alone. Of course they also said things like the synopsis might not get read at all. But above all they stressed that synopses are made of evil and eat babies and OMG IT'S BEHIND YOU RUN!

Right. So, as a n00b author, I was appropriately afraid of writing a synopsis for Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, and I avoided it for as long as I possibly could. When my rejection from the agent arrived, I realized I couldn't run anymore and had to get down to business. To begin, I did what I usually do. I bought a book about it. Specifically, I bought Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A Step by Step Approach by Pam McCutcheon (which if you're a writer you too can buy from Gryphon Books For Writers, and if you don't already own Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, pick that up too while you're there). I'd already taken Pam's workshop based on the book, but I figured it couldn't hurt to own the book too. Really I just love books on writing. I also love character questionnaires, plot charts, and other related writing exercises. I'll wax poetic on why I love WriteWayPro another time.

I think the problem is--and this goes for pitches and loglines and blurbs, oh my!--is that a writer's head is so full of the world of their novel that it's hard to boil it down into a few words. My mother once commented on how she was amazed by J. K. Rowling's ability to think up the million and one details of the world of Harry Potter. I told her that's not the hard part, at least not for me. My brain runs on epic when it comes to stories. I know all the side stories of all the minor characters and have story arcs that'll last over several books, regardless of whether or not I ever write those books. (I blame Star Trek and Star Wars for damaging my brain in this way.)

The synopsis is not the place to regale someone with the brilliant plans for your 12 book series. (No, I don't have a 12 book series. But then again I can think of more than a few authors who probably thought that with book one and then just kept going as long as the books were selling, even after their series jumped the shark...) It's your opportunity to explain who does what to who and for how many jellybeans, and perhaps why they did it and what plans they have for those jellybeans. And that's about it. And really, that shouldn't be scary. Unless you hadn't thought all that out. Then it's cause for "OMG, my story is made of suck!" Luckily you can usually fix that with some editing. I know as a reader I'm annoyed when a character does something for no apparent reason and you're left wondering "did that just happen? what the hell!"

So really, the synopsis is a good thing. Embrace the synopsis. Lurve the synopsis. Because what's really scary are query letters, which we'll talk next.

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