Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Don't Fear The Synopsis!

The dreaded synopsis. Just the word can strike fear the in hearts of the strongest writers. I've seen a synopsis described as all sorts of evil things, including parsel tongue that only Slytherins can speak or understand. Unfortunately 99% of the publishers out there require one, and they're nothing at all to fear.

The synopsis is basically a condensed version of your story. It starts before you write it. Or it should, unless you're one of those rare beings who simply sits down at your keyboard and begins to flesh out characters without names or a GMC, and a plot without at least a basic idea of where it's going.

Most of us, at the very least, pick our characters, name them, and write out their GMC before we begin. Right there you already have the building blocks for your synopsis. You use GMC as a roadmap to write, and you can also use it as the foundation for your synopsis.

A synopsis is your story in condensed form. Just as GMC is a very basic outline of what your character wants (G=goal), why she wants it (M=motivation), and what's standing in her way of getting it (C=conflict), it's also the outline, if you will, for your synopsis.

For my debut Siren release, HIS MAJESTY'S SECRET, I had to provide a 300 word max synopsis. Obviously you can expand this to more words if the publisher or agent doesn't specify a word count limit. Some ask for five to ten pages. But when you're short on word count, you have to be able to summarize your story in miniature, and there's no reason you can't this if you plan ahead of time.

This synopsis is actually less than 300 words. The book is over 70,000 words and has a very complicated plot. It takes place in an alternate universe that mimics our Medieval period:

**When his half-brother Austin declares himself King, Crown Prince Dalmas of Ashdowne is forced to flee his castle or be put to death for treason. On his way to the house of a banished courtier who has a diary he needs to help prove Austin’s claims are false, he and his valet prevent the imminent rape of a young woman, killing Castle Guards in the process.

Fleeing a forced betrothal to Count Sagremor, who has already had three wives hanged for a crime they didn’t commit, Ravenna LoPresti of Wythmail finds herself an unwitting accomplice to murder of her would-be rapists, and a reluctant companion to Dalmas on his journey to find the truth and win back his rightful crown.

Their journey doesn’t end when they find the diary, for Austin and his Guards chase Dalmas, and a Royal Proclamation declares a price on Ravenna’s head as well.

As their lust and love grow for each other, they must first cross into the kingdom of Enfield to seek the help of Crown Prince Galatyn, then journey to the Wastelands to find the banished Council member who has the final proof Dalmas needs.

Dalmas will need an army to storm the castle and defeat Austin or there is no future for him and Ravenna. Ravenna has been falsely accused of murder in an effort to force her to return to Wythmail and marry the Count.

Galatyn’s army comes to Dalmas’s aid and the group set off for the castle, but Ravenna is captured by Austin’s Guards and taken directly to him, where she learns her father and the Count fabricated the murder charges.

Having defeated Austin and taken back his rightful place on the throne, Dalmas proposes marriage to Ravenna and she accepts.**

Start with the basic GMC or hook for each character. Summarize each in no more than a couple of sentences. I started with Dalmas because this really is his story. He's just found out his cousin is actually his half-brother, and because of the convoluted laws of his Kingdom and the fact Austin was born two days before Dalmas, if Austin's claims are true Dalmas is not the Crown Prince. He has minutes to flee the only home he's ever known or be put to death by Austin for treason.

Then I summarized Ravenna's plight. She's on her way to the portal near the castle to escape into the world of Outsiders - our world - because she thinks it's her only chance at freedom to choose her own life. She runs into trouble and Dalmas comes to her rescue, but in her eyes all she's done is trade a forced betrothal to a man who's already had three wives put to death for crimes they didn't commit, for a journey with a Prince who's running away and refused to leave her behind because he doesn't trust her.

The plot involves secret lists, a diary both Dalmas and Austin need, infant swapping and murder. What I did was hit the high points - the ones that are crucial to the resolution of the conflicts these two face.

As to the ending, YES an acquisitions editor or agent needs to see it. A synopsis is NOT a query letter or a tease. This isn't the place for "what-if" questions or "can they find true happiness" prose. It's basic, to-the-point, no-nonsense, and it always gives away the ending. Don't confuse it with a blurb, which definitely needs to intrigue and tease the reader. A synopsis is for an acquisitions editor's eyes. They want to see that you have viable goals, motivation, conflicts and an ending that makes sense to those.

Like I said earlier, if you've done a GMC for each character, you have the basics already. In Dalmas's case his GMC was this:

G: To find the proof and win back his Crown
M: Austin has forced him from his castle and falsely stolen his birthright
C: He's forced to bring Ravenna along on a dangerous journey and is falling in love with her

See how I tied all that into the synopsis? This is one of the things Dalmas works through as the book progresses.

Here's Ravenna's GMC:
G: To flee her world through the closest portal so she doesn't have to marry Count Sagremor
M: He's had three previous wives killed and is only after her father's money
C: Crown Prince Dalmas of Ashdowne saves her from rape but then forces her to come along with him on his dangerous journey

I've included the horrible revelations Ravenna is forced to deal with in the synopsis when she's taken back to the castle by Austin, because they're crucial to all she's been through with Dalmas to that point.

I hope this has helped take the fear away a bit. And really, if you can't summarize your story in a few hundred words, the problem may not be your fear of writing a synopsis. It might be that you don't have a cohesive story to begin with. Doing a GMC for each character before you begin isn't only useful for writing the synopsis. It gives you a roadmap as you work through the book. You can have more than one GMC for each character. Dalmas had three and Ravenna actually had four. For the synopsis, I simply picked the one for each that was at the central core of the entire story.


  1. Synopsis is a word that makes me break out in a cold sweat. Stomach churning, teeth grinding, I think child birth is easier than writing a sharp, concise synopsis! I hope practice makes it easier, Carolyn. Thanks for the GMC ABC's! Great post. :)

  2. I used to fear the synopsis until I started using a synopsis as a second step in creating my stories. I used Snowflake to do the GMC and character analysis and it spits out a start on the Synopsis which I expand on for the story. Still, they are hard. You obsess and obsess over the best words to catch an editor or agent's attention. Enjoyed your post.

  3. Thanks. I can always use help with synopsis writing.