When writing fiction, ensuring that your characters’ actions and motivations feel natural is key to telling a relatable story – or at least one that doesn’t have your readers shaking their heads in disbelief. We can only take so many plot contrivances before we lose the ability to take a narrative seriously. But does that mean everything in a story should unfold in a strictly realistic manner?
It can be a tricky balance to strike. Minimizing the required suspension of disbelief is a worthy goal, but it’s also important not to use realism as an excuse for bad storytelling. After all, real life isn’t often that interesting, and things not happening as they usually would is the gist of what makes a story worth telling. No one excitedly calls up a friend to explain how normal of a day she had.
The premise and certain major plot points of a story may not always be particularly realistic, but if they are in service to a theme – a powerful driving force in narrative by which reality is not bound – then that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We can usually swallow a few unlikely coincidences for the sake of poetic meaning, especially when they can (and should) still be grounded by the details surrounding them and characters’ reactions to them. It’s also good to keep in mind that when people complain about unrealism, what they’re often actually harping on are stereotypes and clichés, ironically because they are, much like reality, regularly encountered. What they truly want to see is something fresh and different.
Internal consistency is imperative, and reality is a good base model for how events might unfold in a given scenario, but don’t let a singular pursuit of realism steer you away from weaving a cohesive narrative. If being unrealistic tells a better story, then tell the better story. We’re all just making stuff up, anyway. (>^-‘)>
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:
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.