The definition is simple: (n.) A general view, or a collection of heads or parts so arranged as to exhibit a general view of the whole; an abstract or summary of a discourse; a syllabus; a conspectus.
So, it’s a précis, right? A condensed version of that book you’ve just written. And what could be easier than just saying in 500 words what you’ve already said in nearly 100,000? I mean, if you’d thought at the very outset of this whole ‘writing a book’ kerfuffle that all you had to do was deliver a nicely-rounded 500 words story, then you could have done it, right? Right! So then – tah-daaaaahhh!
This is the Fifth time I’ve been faced with a Synopsis. And although it doesn’t feel any easier and I still get a severe attack of the Dreads, I have to admit the way I handle them IS slightly less traumatic. Like everything else I do, if I think about it too much I prevaricate until it starts to grow green mould, so I bash it out feverishly and then sit back, exhausted. If it goes over to a 2nd page (single-line spaced) then I change the margins by 1cm. Oh, I’m a master of illusion, me! Then I read it through again. And if it's STILL too wordy, then...
Well, this is where cunning comes into play. If I’ve used two or three words, where ONE has to exist, then that’s used instead. And, using another little trick I like to call ‘Extreme Hyphenation’ -if it can be, then it is. Hyphenated I mean. And now a hyphenated word eludes me. Bugger examples…
And then I let some other nice person(s) read it. Someone who doesn’t actually know what the story is about, and if they get to the end and it all makes sense then that’s basically that. BUT if they start to turn the paper over looking for more information on the other side, then scratch their heads AND frown, there’s going to be a bit more editing to do.
‘So why did she go to the graveyard and what happened to the guy who got shot in the street?’ you might be asked. And that’s when you have to start deciding what’s important and what’s not. Does an Agent really need to know that the MC mistakenly went to the graveyard (like you do) – even if it DID turn out to be one of the funniest/heart-wrenching/prosaic scenes of your whole novel… well, do they? Is it really integral to the plot? And why on earth haven’t you mentioned the really important part when the anti-hero gets what he deserves?
This is SO not a time to protect either your darlings OR your ‘little darlings’. There must be no airs of mystery about your synopsis. You can't be shrouding it in silk and fine, tempting danglies. This is where Gok Wan would have you stripped to your cellulite with a mirror at angles you didn’t even know you needed angled mirrors for; where your bottom lip starts quivering and you know you need to start shaving – words off I mean. It’s cold turkey time and there’s no getting out of it.
I leave mine to simmer for 24 hours. Seriously, when I came back to my Synopsis earlier on, after my own day of rest, I was deleting darlings, adding flashes of brilliance and even started to realise the whole story had deeper meanings and sub-texts I never even noticed before.
That’s either what a crap night’s sleep will do for you; a day spent doing paid non-rocket-science-based work (aha… Extreme Hyphenation!) or angrily making pastry using the rubbing-in method when it’s flippin’ well Valentines Day!
But you get the idea. Right?