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Overcoming the Fear of Writing a Synopsis

If you noticed, I didnít entitle this article "Overcoming YOUR Fear of Writing a Synopsis." I donít think you own the fear anymore than I do or any other writer. We all share a common emotion, one that can be summed up in one word: Formidable.

What is it about this particular piece of writing that brings out more moans and groans from writers than a room full of sixth graders getting a surprise math test?

What is a Synopsis?

Look at the word. Synopsis. Say it with me. "Sin-op-sissss." Even the sound of the word emanates dread. What is a synopsis? Websterís defines it as "a shortened statement or outline, as of a narrative. Abstract." Nothing sounds particularly evil in that definition. Letís look at it a little closer - "shortened statement or outline." Hey, look at that, "outline." Now, there is a little word weíre all familiar with. Does "outline" make you cringe as much as "synopsis"? What about "shortened statement"? Not me. Probably not you, either.

Start with a Simple Sentence

Letís start with the shortened statement. Iíll use the popular childrenís story, Lady and the Tramp, to help demonstrate my points.

What is our story about?

"Lady and the Tramp is a story about dogs." True, but the portrayal is dry and uninteresting. Would you want to just read a story about dogs? What makes this dog story different? Letís see if we can add some more information to better describe the story.

"Lady and the Tramp is about two dogs from different sides of the track."

Good. Now we know that there are two main characters. And, we know that these two characters are different in some way. Letís see if we can do a little bit better.

"Lady and the Tramp tells the adventures of an upper-class, well bred cocker spaniel and a roguish mutt from the wrong side of the tracks."

Okay. Now we have some description and a hint at a story. We know that these two distinctly different characters are going to have at least one adventure.

Describe Your Story in 25 Words or Less

So, now we need to think about our audience. The synopsis generally goes to an editor, agent, or publisher. So, we must capture their attention. Give them something to grab onto and not let go. This is where you can really get creative and meet the "describe your story in 25 words or less" challenge.

"Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel, and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks."

Whew! There it is - 25 words - exactly. Weíve just written a strong hook for the opening of our synopsis.

Every synopsis should start out with a statement that describes your story in approximately 25 words. However, donít be a stickler about trying to hit the "magic" number. There isnít really a magic number. But, keeping your description to approximately 25 words helps to focus your writing on the key elements of your story.

Key Elements - Not That Difficult to Identify

Speaking of key elements, those are what we now need to identify so that we can create our synopsis.

Wait, wait. Stop groaning. I promise weíll go slowly. Okay?

I think Iíve read every article and book written on creating a synopsis and even though every writer has their own formula for creating the "perfect synopsis," I admit that authors agree on one thing - You need to practice. So, my suggestion is that you do what Iíve done here. You find some simple stories and practice creating the synopsis for them. Once youíre able to pick out the key elements easily, youíre ready to create a synopsis for your own story.

So, back to our story, Lady and the Tramp.

First Element - Structure

The basic structure of the synopsis should be a complete summary of your story from beginning to end, written in present tense. Simple, right? So far. Letís see how that helps us with our story.

"Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks. Ladyís owners love her but ignore her when their baby arrives. The owners leave her with a cat-loving aunt who locks Lady out of the house. Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how good he has it being free from owners. Lady is caught by the dog catcher and spends time in the pound learning some of Trampís secrets. Hurt and jealous, Lady is returned home and exiled to the doghouse once again. Lady discovers a rat making its way into the house and is helpless to defend her home. Tramp helps her by getting into the house and killing the rat. However, heís accused of attacking the baby and is placed in the dog catcherís wagon to be taken to the pound. Ladyís owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and have Lady show them the dead rat."

More Key Elements - Setting, Main Characters, Conflict

Not bad for a first draft. Weíre missing a few items that would make the story more dramatic and compelling for the editor, but those can be added easily. First, we should make sure that weíve established the setting for the story and identified our main characters.

Weíll have to identify real conflict between these characters and their motivations. Then, weíll have to show the resolution of the conflict. It isnít as important to name every character in the synopsis, but you must name your main characters.

Final Key Elements - Tell Your Ending

Finally, we must make sure that weíve wrapped up our story and told our ending. Yes, thatís what I said, we tell our ending in the synopsis. You must never, ever tease editors and leave them guessing about the ending of story.

As a side note for romance writers: If your story is a romance, make sure you always establish the love relationship between the two main characters by showing how they met and why theyíre fighting against their attraction.

With that advice, letís see how our synopsis shapes up after adding these key elements.

"Lady and the Tramp is an early twentieth century story filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel, and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks in New England. Ladyís owners lavish attention on her until a new baby arrives that takes all their attention. Ignoring Ladyís needs, they go away on a trip leaving her and the baby with a callous aunt and her two Siamese cats that wreak havoc. Lady, wrongly accused of the mischievous catsí pranks, ends up in the backyard doghouse and eventually fitted for a muzzle.

Fearful, Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how good he has it being free from owners. He treats her to a night on the town, complete with a romantic Italian dinner from his favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, even though he protects Lady from a vicious dog attack, Tramp canít protect her from the dog catcher. Lady spends time in the pound learning some of Trampís secrets from his other wayward, albeit intimate, acquaintances.

Hurt and jealous, Lady returns home and is once again exiled to the doghouse. Ladyís other neighborhood dog-friends advice her to forget this scoundrel and chivalrously offer to take care of her. Tramp returns, hoping to change Ladyís mind about him. She rejects his advances and sends him on his way. Moments later, sheís alarmed that an ugly rat enters the house, but canít do anything about it because sheís chained. Tramp comes to the rescue by finding a way into the house and killing the rat before it can harm the baby. However, the heartless aunt accuses Tramp of attacking the baby and calls the dog catcher who places him in the wagon to be taken to the pound.

Ladyís owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and have Lady show them the dead rat. Ladyís friends run to stop the dog catcherís wagon and everyone is reunited after a thrilling chase scene. When the commotion settles, Tramp chooses the family life and abandons his drifting ways to stay with Lady and her owners."

And, there you have it. Your synopsis. Was that so painful?

This synopsis is rather short when compared to the longer books you desire to write. Donít let that intimidate you. The concept is still the same.

Final Advice

Editors have specific requirements when it comes to the length of your synopsis. Unfortunately, just like snowflakes, no two editors are the same. One editor requires a ten-page synopsis while another may only want two pages. My advice to you is that you follow the requirements of the editor and make sure you include enough information in your synopsis to tell your story but not so much to slow it down. Focus on the storyís development from beginning to end and make sure you emphasize the resolution of the conflict and/or romance.

If youíre having trouble writing your synopsis, donít beat yourself up about it. Go back to your story. Have you developed the plot completely? Do you understand your characters and their motivation? Is your conflict believable and resolvable? If you canít answer those questions, the problem isnít with your synopsis. If you donít understand your story how do you expect an editor to?

Good luck and remember to practice, practice, practice.

Vicki M. Taylor has been writing technically for nearly fifteen years and has recently started writing fiction. She enjoys writing stories with strong women as the main characters. When she's not writing, you can find her lurking about the many writing boards chatting with others and dispensing little pearls of wisdom from her computer in Tampa, Florida.

About "Forever Until We Meet": A woman faces a lonely life in a small town after her daughter leaves home and decides to spice up her life by letting loose on a computer bulletin board. An innocent to computers and messaging, she falls pry to a career "knight" of the computer realm. Feel her love, pain, and disappointment as she meets this man and discovers what so many others have already known, that for this man love is only skin deep. Follow her tormented path from small mountain town to sandy beaches as she finds out that to love someone you must find that love inside of yourself and then it's only short sprint to "Forever."  Coming soon from www.crossroadspub.com

Visit Vicki's Suite101 Technical Writing website at http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/technical_writing

Lady and the Tramp is owned by © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.



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