A version of this article originally appeared in Rocky Mountain Writer in August 2011.
Synopsis: a perfect fit
by Janet Lane
I should never have touched the dress, but the tailoring was exquisite, the design flattering. Heart skipping with anticipation, I entered the changing room. I searched for a zipper but found none. Odd, I thought, given the small-waisted style. Doubts cooled my hopes. I have wide shoulders and a woman’s hips, and it wasn’t looking good.
I lifted my arms and slipped the dress over my head. It stuck on my shoulders, so I squirmed and wiggled until the dress was half on.
Breathing heavier, images of mutating hornworms came to mind, but I remembered the lovely draping effect of the skirt and found renewed resolve. I pulled the hemline down and a seam ripped. What kind of pretzel did the fashion manufacturer think I was? I pulled harder.
I conceded to the dress. It would ruin whatever hair style I had, any way. I reversed my efforts but the fabric, wedged so tightly on my body, wouldn’t budge.
I was stuck, trapped in a prison of tight, unyielding black fabric. The lining was as strong as any straight jacket. I couldn’t see. Sweat broke out in my armpits, not perspiration, ladies.
A knock at the door. The dressing room attendant. I swallowed and found my voice. “Yes?”
“Having problems in there? Can I help?”
Like most women, I’d rather submit to blood withdrawal before admitting I needed help in a dressing room. “No, thanks. Just ... checking different angles, that’s all.” Oh, sweet worry, I thought, if only to have access to some scissors. $189 (before the sale) or not, it would have made an interesting scarf. Recalling my Lamaze classes, I took some hoo-hee breaths and continued extricating myself.
Yes. I escaped. And bought it. I’d ripped my way into a purchase, after all. I sew, so I added a zipper, something the designer should have done if he weren’t an evil woman-hater. It has since become one of my favorite dresses.
What, you may say, does any of this have to do with writing?
I’m reminded of this experience when I try to write a synopsis. I enter them with the highest of hopes and optimism, believing that this time the words will flow, that I will be more able this time to condense a 400-page story into two pages. I’m afraid, but lured by the prospect of owning a strong marketing tool for the novel I have labored so hard to write. It never fits without pain, suffering, and a dose or two of terror, along with embarrassment when the critiques arrive. It always costs more, in terms of time and brain damage, than I ever anticipate, and in the end it doesn’t fit exactly right. It always takes another adjustment and more hard thinking.
And if I stay with it, it becomes, like the dress, an asset worth the effort.
Just think. Isn’t it wonderful that the synopsis generally runs one to eight pages, and the novel runs three to four hundred? Such a better ratio than the other way around!
It’s spring, time for an attitude adjustment. A synopsis is a wonderful thing. Here are two reasons why:
1. A clearly written synopsis is an excellent selling tool.
We can write the most memorable story in the world, but if we can’t communicate what the book is about, we can’t sell it. Unless we’re prepared to visit New York and physically visit all the editors and agents and deliver our spiels orally, the synopsis is our representative. We want that representative to be knowledgeable and dressed to impress.
2. A clearly written synopsis is an excellent writing tool.
A synopsis is so hated because it points out, with a glaring spotlight, those areas of our book that are unclear, undeveloped, missing, inconsistent and/or just plain wrong.
A dear friend compared writing a synopsis to sticking your freshly washed face into one of those well-lit magnified makeup mirrors that reveal all the pores, wrinkles and zits.
Using this analogy, this is a unique chance to re-make ourselves, to erase the imperfections before going out into the publishing world.
Synopsis. It’s confining, seemingly impossible, terrifying, challenging, embarrassing and time-consuming. But I challenge you: complete one on your current project and you’ll see for yourself the magic it can work for your novel.
Multi-published author Janet Lane writes women’s fiction and historical romance set in 15th century England during the so-called “Gypsy Honeymoon” period. She launched her “Romancing the Tome” column in RMFW’s Rocky Mountain Writer twelve years ago and has been contributing to it ever since. Janet also blogs on craft and the writing life at www.janetlane.wordpress.com