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.

Names

Naming characters is an important, sometimes fun, sometimes tricky part of the fiction-writing process, and is something I alternately love and dread.  A name is a symbol that represents someone, both offering identity to those it is attached to, and in turn adopting it from them.

I find that there are generally three ways (or a mix thereof) to come up with and decide upon those monikers:

  • Namesakes.  One simple way to name a character is to do so (in part or in whole) after someone else – someone you know, someone from history, or even another character from some other work.  Such a name will probably already have strong connotations for you, and those might just be appropriate for who you’re writing.
  • Meaning.  The advantage writers have over parents in the naming department is the foreknowledge of who this person or creature they’re creating will be, and can choose a name that is symbolically fitting (or ironically incongruous).  This can be in the form of a name that’s also a word in the operative language (Will, Victor, Dawn, Amber, etc.), a word from another language, or something suitable trolled from babynames.com.  (>^-‘)>
  • Aesthetics.  Often, just focusing on how a name sounds and looks is all you need to do.  I tend to lean mostly in this direction, relying heavily on phonetics when working out what to call characters.  Sounds used together in specific ways can evoke qualities of roughness, delicacy, power, playfulness, and a number of other feelings to subconsciously color the impression of the named.  Spelling should also be a consideration; the visual appeal of different letter arrangements can have the same sort of impact.  All of this goes for whether you’re picking a common name or making up a new one (though I could probably do a whole separate post on the latter!).

 

However you end up choosing your names, there is one thing I always recommend.

 

Tip of a fishName Your Characters As Soon As Possible.

The less you’ve decided about a character, the easier it is to settle on a name.  At least that’s always been the case for me.  Sometimes, the name will even help slightly with further direction!

The more important a character is, the more true this becomes.  If you have a strong image of the character in mind by the time you start thinking seriously about what to call them, picking a name that feels right can be a daunting task.  It means you have all the more context and nuance to map to that all-important referential symbol.  It’ll seem like you have to find a name that already represents all facets of the character, rather than letting the name come to do so naturally as the character develops.

 

But what about you?  Do you agonize over the subtleties of your characters’ names?  How do you like to go about choosing them?

 

Bene scribete.