Monday, November 30, 2009

Conquering The Short Synopsis

What I'm reading: Make Her Pay, by Roxanne St. Claire

I finished the first draft of a two-page synopsis for my mystery. I used my storyboard tracking, and it was much easier than any other method I've tried. For longer synopses, some will summarize each chapter as they write, then combine them for a rough draft of a synopsis. However, to condense 32 chapters into 2 pages, I found it easy enough to look at my sticky notes, decide which points were significant enough to include, and summarized the book that way. Had I gone with a scene by scene, or chapter by chapter summary, it would have been much longer, and probably confusing to a reader.

Since the primary focus of the synopsis was the mystery, I spent most of the time on the cop's investigation. It wasn't necessary to include every step in the investigation, so the first 10 chapters of the book are covered in 5 paragraphs, and most of the middle chapters are condensed even further. Unlike a blurb, which is a 'teaser', a synopsis is supposed to cover the entire book, the solution of the crime and capture of the bad guy has to appear, and I spent about 4 paragraphs covering those points.

The short synopsis is the answer to "What is your book about?" more than "Tell me the story." Think being able to cover it over coffee, not a six-course meal.

The short synopsis hits the high points, what motivates the characters, and what they have to gain and/or lose. There's no room for secondary characters. Some suggest you don't even name them other than the protagonist(s)—since I'm used to romance, I've always shown both hero and heroine in the synopsis, but this is a mystery. Since I have two other POV characters, I couldn't figure a way to exclude what they're doing and what happens. I have two characters at the center of the mystery: Rose and Sam, an elderly couple. Justin is Rose and Sam's grandson; Megan is their ward. I decided that I had to name them in the synopsis, because there was no easy way to refer without convoluted descriptions. It's one thing to speak of the character's sister, uncle, secretary, or what have you, but none of these characters are related to Gordon.

I don't bother naming the other cops who are involved in the investigation, or even the name of the bad guy. And in doing such a short summary, the entire thread where Gordon finally hooks up with Angie doesn't appear at all.

I'll let it sit for a day, then look at it and see if it makes sense.

And then it's time to move forward. Since I no longer have an agent, and this manuscript is an entirely different genre, I will have to start from the beginning with query letters and the inevitable rejections. But that's part of the business.

I hope everyone had an excellent weekend. Our Thanksgiving with my daughter's in laws was "untraditional" in that they were staying at a timeshare condo and didn't have much of a kitchen to work with. Plus, being on vacation, they didn't want to spend a lot of time cooking. I ended up buying a turkey the next day and cooking it so we have those critical leftovers. And I made pie. Pumpkin-apple. Recipe on request.

Tomorrow, my guest is Kimber Chin, who's going to talk about her approach to writing. We have at least one thing in common: we both know there are no rules!


Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Terry,

I find myself in the beginning phase of a new project as well. Your post interested me because of the different colored notes you used. Did you use a different color for each story thread?

Liane Gentry Skye said...

Fantastic post, Terri. I'll defintely have to use this for my companion title to Muse Struck. Thanks!

Terry Odell said...

Maggie - this is the "last" (maybe) of my series of posts on story boards for non-plotters. I used different colors for each POV character. Plot threads were incorporated as they showed up.

For a romance, I'd probably have used colors in there somewhere to track the romance vs the mystery sub-plots, but I found the 3 main POV characters enough to color code.

I wasn't beyond using a red pen or extra sticky note when I had something critical to remember, such as a plot reveal or major turning point.

Terry Odell said...

Liane - Glad it was helpful. Hope you've followed the entire series.

There's a basic "handout" on my website.

Teri Thackston said...

This is a great idea, Terry. Thanks for sharing!

Wynter Daniels said...

I've been using a similar method for my full length novels. Helps tremendously.

Carol Kilgore said...

How do I hate writing the synopsis?
Let me count the ways.
But not here. I wish you so much luck, and I hope you nailed it on the first go.

Terry Odell said...

Teri - glad to share

Wynter - it's definitely another way to organize

Carol - Thanks!

Sheila Deeth said...

I'm just starting using Snowflake Pro to work through my last two books; hoping it will help with organization and synopsis.

Terry Odell said...

Sheila, I've heard of that. But I tend to balk at anything that tells me what to do; I'm a cross between rebelling at the "this is how to do it" stuff, and being anal about getting anything at all with labels and trying to make them work. Down to feeling guilty with those travel organizers that say, "shampoo" when I want to put my hand lotion in that compartment.

Mona Risk said...

Terry, I never used a story board. I often wondered if it wasn't too much work and if the time put in that project paid off. But it semms to be quite helpful to you.

Terry Odell said...

Mona, in reality, the story board only took a few minutes, because I created the sticky notes AFTER I wrote the chapter.

No more time invested than writing chapter summaries -- less, probably, since if I'm typing, I tend to write much more than if I'm jotting notes restricted to a 3x3 square.

Joanna Aislinn said...

Hi, Terry,

I'm thinking about laying out my new story w/your storyboard idea, especially since I'm not really sure where it's supposed to go. The idea of using it for your synopsis was great. I recently did the chapter by chapter deal and initially had a nine-page synopsis--then I cut it to five for one contest and managed to make it down to two for another one. Amazing what happens when you HAVE to do something.

What could have been a Thanksgiving disaster turned out really well at my house, too. (Story on that at my blog :)

Keep posting and thanks!
Joanna Aislin
The Wild Rose Press

Terry Odell said...

Joanna - for a synopsis, it's always easier for me to add than cut, so I like starting short. I've tried the chapter/scene method and they get too detailed for what an agent or editor is looking for -- back when I had an agent, she said about 3-4 pages was fine, although those were double-spaced.

I dread the one pager, though. This one squeaks by at 2 pages, single spaced with double spacing between paragraphs. Adding a title line and header will probably kick it onto the next page.

Mary Ricksen said...

When I see those poster boards with the stickies on it my brain shuts down. I can't, how the heck do you do it?
It seems so complicated and stifling. But isn't that what makes me a panster? Ha! Great post Terry!

Terry Odell said...

Mary, I'm a pantser (or maybe a "plantser") too.

If you've followed my series, you'd know everything on that board happened after I wrote each scene. What you see here is the culmination of writing the entire novel. Go back and see how barren the board was when I did my first post.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Ohhh...synopses. Bleh.

Sounds like you nailed it. Hope it works out for you!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I've been refining it today - helps that my daughter is visiting and she's never seen a word of the book. She read the first draft and pointed out the head-scratch moments. Since that's what an agent or editor will see, those fresh eyes are invaluable.

Maryann Miller said...

Great suggestions, Terry. I will have to try story boarding. I do story beats, which is another script writing tool. It is basically a really brief outline with Beginning, Middle, End and bullets under each one. That, too could be used to create a short synopsis. And you are so right about how to focus on the main point of the story.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Terry,
Synopsis writing is really, really tough, so if you've come up with a system that works for you, more power to you!

Jana Richards

Terry Odell said...

Maryann - that does sound like a good synopsis tool. Of course that would require more than "There's a murder. Cop has to figure out who does it. He does" as my beginning, middle and end, right?