Writers Tricks of the Trade ISSUE 1, VOLUME 9 - Page 40

interested in a synopsis longer than a few pages. While this post is geared toward writers of fiction, the same principles can be ap- plied to memoir and other narrative nonfic- tion works. W HY THE NOVEL SYNOPSIS IS IMPORTANT TO AGENTS AND EDITORS The synopsis ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense. A synopsis will reveal any big prob- lems in your story—e.g., “it was just a dream” endings, ridiculous acts of god, a category romance ending in divorce. It can reveal plot flaws, serious gaps in character motivation, or a lack of structure. Or it can reveal how fresh your story is; if there’s nothing surprising or the plot is hackneyed, your manuscript may not get read. The good news: Some agents hate syn- opses and never read them; this is more typical for agents who represent literary work. Either way, agents usually aren’t ex- pecting a work of art. You can impress with lean, clean, powerful language (Miss Snark recommends “energy and vitality”). Synopses should usually be written in third person, present tense (even if your novel is written in first person). For mem- oirists, I recommend first person, but first or third is acceptable. W HAT THE NOVEL SYNOPSIS MUST ACCOMPLISH First, you need to tell the story of what characters we’ll care about, which includes the protagonist. Generally you’ll write the synopsis with your protagonist as the focus, and show what’s at stake for her. Motiva- S PRING 2019 tion is fairly critical here—we need to un- derstand what drives this character to act. Second, we need a clear idea of the core conflict for the protagonist, what’s driving that conflict, and how the protagonist suc- ceeds or fails in dealing with that conflict. Finally, we need to understand how that conflict is resolved and how the protago- nist’s situation, both internally and exter- nally, has changed. If you cover those three things, that won’t leave you much time for detail. You won’t be able to mention every character or event. You’ll probably leave out some sub- plots, and some of the minor plot twists and turns. You can’t summarize each scene or even every chapter, and some aspects of your story will have to be broadly general- ized so as to avoid detailing a series of events or interactions that don’t materially affect the story’s outcome. To decide what characters deserve space in the synopsis, you need to look at their role in generating conflict for the pro- tagonist, or otherwise assisting the protag- onist. We need to see how they enter the story, the quality of their relationship to the protagonist, and how they might change, too. A good rule of thumb for determining what stays and what goes: If the ending wouldn’t make sense without the character or plot point being mentioned, then it be- longs in the synopsis. If the character or plot point comes up repeatedly throughout the story, and increases the tension or complication each time, then it definitely belongs. T HE MOST COMMON NOVEL SYNOPSIS MISTAKE P AGE 35 W RITERS ’ T RICKS OF THE T RADE