I don’t know why it takes me so long to learn certain things. I’ve been writing and rewriting my novel synopsis, but for some reason it just wasn’t reading as it should. Before you say, “Well maybe you’re being too hard on yourself,” it’s important that you know I had my synopsis professionally critiqued. In my editor’s feedback she noted huge chunks where I had back story that added nothing—in fact the back story took away from the power of my voice and story overview. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what I was missing or how to fix it. Then, thankfully, the light finally came on.
Where I think a lot of us rookie writers go wrong is in telling the background of why the events in the book happen as they do, but we forget to actually tell the events themselves. By that I mean, we frequently will tell why our protagonist is wounded or searching for something missing in their lives or scared etc, etc, etc, but we fail to tie those feelings to the action sequences in the book.
See if you can spot the differences between the first example, which reads as a synopsis should, and the second example, which needs helps. “While Sarah sits on a boulder in front of the elephants at the San Diego Zoo she mulls over how to confront her new husband Brad about the bronze lipstick she found on the collar of his blue buttoned-down dress shirt. Last week she braved trying a new shade of taupe lipstick and, once again, he laughed until she wiped it off, tears streaming down her chubby cheeks. Three months ago she found a pair of thong underwear in his glove box and now this. He’s cheating and she’s not going to play the fool like she did with her ex.”
A rookie writer might write, “Sarah’s first husband cheated on her and often belittled her by poking fun at her weight and her short mouse-brown hair. He liked to wait until she was dressed for work and walking out the door before criticizing her, knowing she’d never have time to rush to the bedroom and change outfits. All of his verbal jabs and constant name calling hurt Sarah’s feelings and made her angry, but underneath it all she was afraid of leaving him for fear she would never be good enough for another man. She thought no one would ever love her. How could they when she was so hippy and unfashionable? But Brad was different. He used to love her curves and handles, but now it seems he barely notices her.”
Can you see the differences? If you look at the examples I’ve used you can, for the most part, derive the same information without providing the back story. In the first example we see Sarah actively doing something—sitting in front of the elephants mulling over what to do about her new husband. From the description we know a few things. One—he teases her often because once again he laughs. Two—his laughing hurts her because she braved a new shade of lipstick. Three—she’s overweight because of her chubby cheeks. Four—we know there have been other signs because of the thong underwear in his glove box.”
In the second example the same information is given, only this time in past tense (remember the synopsis should be written in third person present tense). It took me forever to see and understand the nuisances of one approach over the other, and I have to say, it’s not an easy thing to master. If you have any tips or suggestions on how to write a solid synopsis, please be sure to share then with all of us.