Writers Tricks of the Trade ISSUE 1, VOLUME 9 - Page 41

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the synopsis just details the plot. That will end up reading like a mechanical account of your story (or the dreaded “synopsis speak”), without depth or texture. Think of what it would sound like if you summarized a football game by saying. “Well, the Patri- ots scored. And then the Giants scored. Then the Patriots scored twice in a row.” That’s sterile and doesn’t give us the mean- ing behind how events are unfolding. In- stead, you would say something like, “The Patriots scored a touchdown after more than one hour of a no-score game, and the underdog of the team led the play. The crowd went wild.” T HE SECRET TO A GREAT NOVEL SYNOPSIS A synopsis includes the charac- ters’ emotions. That will help you avoid the mechanic’s manual situation. Instead, in- clude both story advancement (plot stuff) and color (character stuff). Incident (Story Advancement) + Reaction (Color) = Decision (Story Advancement) C OMMON NOVEL SYNOPSIS PITFALLS  Don’t get weighed down with the specifics of character names, places, and other proper names or terms. Stick to the basics. Use the name of your main characters, but if a waitress enters the story only briefly, call her “the waitress.” Don’t say “Bonnie, the boisterous wait- ress who calls everyone hon and works seven days a week.” That’s an unneces- sary tangent. (When you do mention specific names, it’s common to put the name in caps in the first instance, so it’s W RITERS ’ T RICKS OF THE T RADE P AGE 36 easy for agents or editors to see at a glance who the key figures are.)  Don’t spend time explicitly explain- ing or deconstructing your story’s themes. A synopsis tells the story, but it doesn’t try to offer an interpre- tation. Similarly, avoid showing the “stitches” of your story; this is where you add things that describe the book’s structure, such as “in the cli- max of the novel,” or “in a series of tense scenes.”  Avoid character backstory unless it’s tied to the character’s motiva- tions and desires throughout the book. A phrase or two is plenty to indicate a character’s background; ideally, you should reference it when it affects how events unfold. If you’ve written a story with flashbacks, you probably won’t include much, if any, of that in the synopsis.  Avoid including dialogue, and if you do, be sparing. Make sure the dia- logue you include is absolutely iconic of the character or represents a linchpin moment in the book.  Don’t ask rhetorical or unanswered questions. Remember, your goal here isn’t to entice a reader.  Generally you should avoid splitting the synopsis into sections. In rare cases, there might be a reason to have subheads in the synopsis, due to a unique narrative structure, but try to avoid sectioning out the story in any way, or listing a cast of charac- ters upfront, as if you were writing a play. S PRING 2019