Synopses

While putting the finishing touches on The Amber Ring these last couple weeks, I figured I’d also better throw together a full synopsis for it.

Synopses are kind of a drag.

Not because they’re hard to write – I’ve had more than my fair share of practice summarizing.  It’s because they’re not always easy to keep exciting.  Maintaining something of the flavor and tone of your work while drying it up to its basic elements can be a frustrating task.  I’m certain there are numerous others who can give better advice on the subject than I can, but since I’m here, and so, ostensibly, are you, I’ll go over some of the things I like to keep in mind.

There’s no real easy, short-cut way to approach the whole process, but here are a few points to ponder:

 

Tip of a fish

Synopsis Considerations

 

  • A synopsis is typically a two-to-eight page summary of the entire work – the big twists, the ending, everything (important).
  • The editor or agent you’re submitting to might have a specific requirement as to what constitutes a page, but if not, double-spaced 12-point Courier New with one inch margins is a good place to start.
  • The first paragraph is often best utilized in setting up the chief protagonist – who she is, and how she got to where she is when the story begins.  If you already have a pitch line, it might fit nicely in here.  The remaining paragraphs will then recount the events that constitute the story in the order in which they are presented.
  • At least to start with, only include details essential to understanding the main plot; subplots can be added in order of precedence if there is room left in your alloted space and it would make the summary stronger on the whole.
  • The manuscript to synopsis event space ratio can be wildly inconsistent.  Some scenes may take half a sentence, some half a page, depending on how much plot-essential material they contain.  Some scenes can be omitted altogether.
  • Use strong, descriptive, succinct language (because it’s that easy, right?  (>^-‘)> ).  Word economy is paramount.
  • It’s O.K. to be a little conversational; it can help to engage the reader.
  • If you need some ideas on summarizing, look up recaps for TV episodes, or pull up your favorite films on Wikipedia and read the plot sections.  These usually constitute what amounts to synopsis copy.
  • If you’re really stuck on a blank page, you can try zero-drafting (or better yet, dictating if you have speech-to-text software) your initial go by describing the story, stream-of-conscious, from start to finish as you would a good book or movie to a friend.  You can always edit the result up or down as needed, or scrap it and try again.
  • Cheat.  If page format isn’t directly specified, and you’re aiming for a certain length, tweak the margins and line spacing (but preferably not the font) to your advantage.
  • It doesn’t hurt to conclude the synopsis with a poetic statement that encapsulates some important thematic element from the story’s ending.
  • Have someone who has not read your work take a look at the finished synopsis, and ask them if the story when presented thus is easily followable, makes sense, and is free from superfluous material.

 

Ultimately, a synopsis just serves as a quick overview of a story’s plot to ensure that it’s coherent, original, and interesting.  It doesn’t have to be as brilliantly executed as the manuscript, but anything you can do within its limits to show off the promise of your work will surely be a point in your favor.

 

Bene scribete.

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Reindeer Drama

So the other day at my sister’s place, while scrolling through Netflix in search of something ridiculous to watch, we stumble upon this curious item:

 

Niko 2

 

We initially click on it because we think we’re looking at a two-headed reindeer (alas, it was only a small reindeer being ridden by a smaller reindeer).  But then.  But then!  We read the description:

 

On Christmas Eve, young reindeer Niko’s world seems shattered after his mother remarries and he’s blamed when his new stepbrother is kidnapped.

 

I don’t even…  Reindeer drama?  What?  How could we not watch this?

Anyway, it gets better.

It turns out that the eponymous Niko can fly because his real dad is Prancer.  Prancer.  Do you get what that means?  One of Santa’s magical caribou couldn’t make his reindeer marriage work, and is now an every-other-weekend dad.  I can’t get over how starkly…modern that notion is given the context of a kids’ Christmas story about flying reindeer.  And the giant “2” on the cover tells us there was a movie before this one – was it about little Niko suffering through his parents’ (one of whom, once again, is Prancer!) messy reindeer divorce?  I like to imagine so.

The movie begins with Niko returning home from a visit with his dad to find that his mother has shacked up with her new cari-beau (…O.K., that was awful).  If that weren’t enough to dump in a kid’s lap overnight, the new guy has a younger son of his own, and mom is already pregnant with another.  Yet this isn’t even a wicked stepparent thing – the stepdad is a really nice guy.  Am I seriously watching a mature portrayal of split-family dynamics in a reindeer cartoon?

Niko himself is grudgingly adorable (even with his strangely reptilian nose).  You’d think, being the only flying reindeer in his herd, that he’d be a typical acceptance-craving misfit protagonist.  But, no.  Enjoying solitude, he envies the life of a hermit he meets, and actually utters, in chipper earnest, “I wish that nobody knew I existed.”  Yikes!

 

Some reindeer

That’s pretty f-d, kid

 

The central conflict is mostly forgettable (aside from its own strangeness), involving a wolf who for some reason lives in a high mountain cavern with a bunch of eagles who for some reason carry her around and are her devout servants.  This wolf, we learn, wants revenge on Niko for apparently having killed her brother in the first film (I presume as a way to lash out against his parents’ split-up).

The film is Finnish, and while the visuals were expectedly not on par with the Pixar/Dreamworks standard, I’d place them only one tier down.  There was some interesting detail (the reindeer, while still hyper-cute-ified, looked more like actual caribou than any other animated reindeer I can think of), the wingless flight physics were oddly amusing, and the mouth-sync looked to be re-rendered for the English dub.  No one could seem to agree on how to pronounce the names, though.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this; I suppose I just enjoy incredulity.  So should you watch this thing?  I don’t know.  But yes, you probably should.

I’ll leave you with five more things you should know about Niko 2:

  1. I feel like it takes place in a world where humanity has disappeared, but the reindeer have taken over running Santa’s shop because they don’t know any other way of life.
  2. When you finally do see Santa, he is wearing a starry-night cape.
  3. There is an ermine (not a particularly endearing ermine, but an ermine nonetheless).
  4. For some reason, Niko learns how to go starship-style warp-speed at the end.
  5. All of this is about an animated kids’ magical flying talking Christmas reindeer movie that was actually made, and exists, here on Earth, in this reality.

 

Bene scribete.

Letter Palettes

A while back, I talked a bit about what you might consider when naming characters, and today I thought I would follow up by expounding specifically on the topic of pulling words out of your—well, making them up.

Letter Palette

Uh…

 

When concocting names for characters, places, or objects, we tend to favor certain sounds.  Where we gravitate is mostly informed by the language(s) we speak, and what we’ve come to associate with pre-established words and names.  Certain phonemes build specific impressions in our minds, and we rely on this context to put together fitting verbal symbols for whatever we’re assigning them to.  Whether or not this is typically done on a conscious level, identifying and mapping out your preferences (both general and circumstantial) can be a useful endeavor.

For instance, my general letter palette would look like this:

 

+

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A C D E I K L M N R S T J O Q V X Y Z B F G H P U W

 

The first column represents what I feel are the most benign letters, and I use them fairly indiscriminately.  The second contains letters that I like at certain times, but aren’t as ubiquitously usable.  The third holds the letters that I tend to avoid.  When my intent is to give a name a rough or unpleasant edge, however, these preferences easily operate in reverse.  The initial and terminal letters of the word will be particularly prone to these guidelines.

Now, this chart is pretty simplistic, containing only letters from the English Roman alphabet and not taking digraphs into account, but you get the idea.  I’m calling it a letter palette (as opposed to a simply phonetic one) because visual aesthetics are also a consideration – sounds can often be written a number of ways, and their appeal can be tweaked as such.

Making a general purpose palette for yourself can be an enlightening exercise, but they become particularly handy when tailored for specific sets.  If, for your story, you need to create a distinct culture with its associated terminology and members’ names, planning out a letter palette for it can help you quicken the process while maintaining a consistent feel.

 

So, do you find yourself with particular letter preferences?  Could you define your own general palette?

 

Bene scribete.