Friday, July 23, 2010

Does anyone like synopsis writing?

I suspect there is a resounding no echoing back towards me. I've come to regard them as a kind of necessary evil. I'm lucky in that most of the books I've sold I've sold on a blurb rather than having had to produce a proper grown up synopsis. Every now and then though marketing, or my editor needs me to be a bit more definite about what I intend to write. Then it's tricky. I started off writing synopsis after the book was done but that clearly is no good when you are hoping to sell on proposal. The problem I had was that once I'd written the outline or synopsis I felt like I'd told the story and the book was done. Then I tried writing just the first three chapters and then the synopsis. That worked better although I often find the finished book isn't quite the same as my original plan.
I struggled a lot with the format of synopsis writing. I went to lots of workshops including a wonderful one by Sarah Duncan, a few years ago at an RNA conference. Now I've evolved my own set of rules. I never write one thats longer than two pages - more than that is a novella and really - who needs that? I don't describe every little incident or character - I stick with the hero and heroine and any secondary character who is key to a turning point in the plot. I make sure the growth in the character arcs is clearly shown through the plot turning points. I make sure the resolution is clear and the conflicts are clear.
Here is my original synopsis for Animal Instincts - you'll see the ending is different in the book, but hopefully this shows what I mean:
Down-to-earth Clodagh Martin is quite fond of her glamorous actress step-sister Imogen, providing Imogen isn’t actually around her for very long. So when Imogen shows up drunk on her doorstep at two in the morning with a bottle of champagne announcing that she’s come to visit for a while, Clodagh isn’t very pleased.
Staying at the Rainbow’s End animal sanctuary with a disapproving Clodagh isn’t Imogen’s idea of fun either. She would have preferred somewhere less smelly and infinitely trendier to hide. Unfortunately, a combination of debt, a humiliating public scandal involving a live TV show and too much alcohol has left Imogen with very little choice but to throw herself on Clodagh’s mercy until everything blows over.
Clodagh has enough problems of her own to worry about. The sanctuary she loves is broke and the animals she has, a foul-mouthed parrot, two gay donkeys and a goat called Mr Sheen, aren’t enough to draw in visitors. Former bad-lad-made-good property magnate Jack Thatcher seems very keen to acquire the land. He also appears very keen to date Clodagh, but she’s not sure if he wants to get his hands on her or her property. A worrying string of arson attacks and vandalism have left the sanctuary in a perilous state and she’s not certain that Jack is as reformed a character as he’d have her believe. A disastrous relationship some years before had made Clodagh very wary of getting involved with anyone again.
Co-ordinator of the volunteer helpers, Susie, is another thorn in Clodagh’s side. While her help with the animals is invaluable, her fetish for all things ‘green’ and apparently irrational disapproval of Jack are driving Clodagh mad. Jade, her colleague is more amenable and friendly.
Imogen, however, is convinced she can turn around both her own and the sanctuary’s fortunes. She decides she can resurrect her acting career and save the sanctuary by proving to the public that she’s a reformed character. Much to Clodagh’s despair Imogen sets up a series of events designed to convince the world that she’s now a dedicated and sober animal activist.
Journalist Marcus Keyes is certain there’s a story behind the new Imogen and much to Clodagh’s dismay he begins to turn up like a bad penny every time something happens at the sanctuary, either planned or unplanned.
Imogen secures a television appearance for herself and Clodagh where she announces an open day at the sanctuary. Immi also begins to date Marcus. The ensuing publicity from the television appearance brings in more money but also more press attention and not all of it is positive.
Jack finally persuades Clodagh to trust him and she tells him about her past, including her previous abusive relationship with her university tutor. In turn he tells her the truth about his father and how he came to inherit his property business.
Things take a more serious turn back at the sanctuary when the entrance kiosk is targeted for the next arson attack. Clodagh and Jack discover the blaze as they return from an evening together. Clodagh becomes convinced that the attacks are linked to a bid to force her to sell the sanctuary’s lands. The prime suspect is a building company who have bought up the neighbouring ground and secured permission to develop it for housing.
Marcus does some investigating as Immi suspects that one of the volunteers may be the saboteur. Suspicion initially falls on Susie but it is her colleague, Jade, who turns out to be the prime suspect. Marcus discovers Jade’s father is a councillor with financial interests in the firm of house builders who acquired the fields.
With autumn approaching and the peak of the tourist season almost over, Clodagh and Imogen need a last push if they are to keep the sanctuary running through the winter.
Together with Marcus and Jack the girls press on with the last event, a barbeque, car-boot sale and open day at the sanctuary. At the same time they set a trap for Jade, knowing she will be unable to resist trying to sabotage the event.
When a firework goes off inside the donkey’s pen, setting fire to the stable, Imogen, for once, puts aside all thoughts of her appearance and helps Clodagh rescue the frightened animals. Marcus and Jack catch Susie red-handed as she leaves the scene.
The press coverage of the fire helps Imogen resurrect her career and offers of work for her flood in. With the both Immi’s career and the sanctuary both safe Clodagh is finally able to see her future with Jack.
So you can see - it's sort of the same but different. How do you find synopsis writing?


Janet said...

You're brilliant at synopses. Didn't a certain new York agent once say about the synopsis of Things to Do...
"This is an excellent synopsis, one of the best I’ve ever seen." ?

susanwilson44 said...

I love the synopsis but I'm confused. Was it Jade or Susie who was the baddie?

Nell Dixon said...

See, when I wrote it, I hadn't decided. In the end it was Jade.

John Atkinson said...

Nell, it looks like you've got a great synopsis. I can't be satisfied with my synopsis. I keep picking at it making changes. A lady told me at a party one time I should be able to explain my book in ten seconds, about three sentences. She had asked what was my book about and my mind went blank! After I stood there a long spell like cigar store Indian, all I could say was romantic comedy. That didn't cut it.
Thanks for a great example

Nell Dixon said...

Hi John, the thing to remember is this is just a tool. It doesn't have to be perfect, it simply has to make sense and give a reader the gist of the story. I think the lady you met wanted what's known as the elevator pitch. It often helps you as a writer if you can think of how you'd describe your story in a few lines. It stops your plot from meandering or getting bogged down if you have something short you can refer back to.

John Atkinson said...

Nell, thanks for that. I seem to get caught off guard every time with the elevator pitch.