Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rules I Broke: The Perfect Synopsis

There were at least 5 rules I broke yet still garnered some pretty cool attention to my novel: agent, publication, film representation – which I’m very grateful for. One of those rules I broke had to do with synopses. Wow. From what you’ve probably heard, you might think all that synopsis stuff is the bomb, the end-all-be-all, the selling point of your novel.

It’s not. Perish that thought from your mind. If you don’t believe me, in an interview we conducted with her, even Literary Agent Beth Miller expressed that authors sweat synopses too much. Feel free to search our archives, using her name to see the whole article.

Is a synopsis important? You betcha. But in this posting and my next, I’d like to allay the most common fears associated with synopses.

More than likely, you are familiar with two types of synopses. First, we have the dreaded long one. This type could range anywhere from two to ten pages. There doesn’t seem to be a standard, so you wind up researching the publisher or agency to see what their requirements are. But this isn’t a problem ‘cause you got plenty of time, right?

The second is the query letter / book jacket synopsis. These vary as well because you’ll run into industry pros who want stretched out versions.


Even though that last comment suggest sarcasm, I really do love writing any synopsis. I hope you do or will also. After all, you ARE a writer and I want to empower you.

Today, I’d like to tackle the long version and throw a fact out there that will set you at ease at the starting line. My agent didn’t require a synopsis with the submission.

Perhaps I should have done more research for this posting, but I doubt the acquiring editor or film agent looked at my long synopsis. I can attest, though, that my literary agent, who went through my manuscript with a high-powered microscope and required that I provide a long summary for pitches, did not make one tiny suggestion for my synopsis and I can assure you that it was far from perfect.

So relax.

There is a method for writing them and I believe Pam McCutcheon wrote the best reference for doing so as far as I’ve seen. It’s entitled Writing the Fiction Synopsis. Learn it and you’ll just about have it down.

But let’s say you follow her book, write what you feel is a sparkling synopsis, and have someone look it over only to thrash it. Well…feel free to modify the summary if you want, but don’t let the fear of something ‘wrong’ keep you from shopping your novel.

The key thing is voice. Show who you’re pitching to that you’ve got style. Put the pizzazz in there. Of course, don’t show off too much—just like you shouldn’t in the manuscript—but this is a glowing opportunity for you (if they read it) to parade your talent. Use it. Have fun. Even though a synopsis has to ‘tell’ the story, it doesn’t have to be worded like a 9th grade term paper. Then it’s really a matter of waiting for lightning to strike because you can kill yourself by constantly modifying your pitch literature and it doesn’t guarantee anything. So enjoy the ride.

Here’s the first page of the Tattoo Rampage synopsis. In it, I enjoyed typing these bits: exudes, stitched, citing, and discolored solar flares. I patted myself on the back for using ‘daylight’ instead of ‘sun’ (because I’d just used to ‘son’ and didn’t want the readers to repeat that sound even if they were reading it in their minds). I hope you get a kick out of playing with the words in the run down of your story like I do.

After two years of grieving over her husband’s murder in the line of duty as a Dallas police officer, real estate broker EVANGELINA MARQUEZ-JAMES does something wild for her conservative upbringing. She gets her first tattoo. The image, suggested and stitched by her friend since middle school ROWDY MYERS, is of a super heroine created by an obscure comic book artist who disappeared in combat of World War II. Although Evangelina has never followed comics and definitely has never heard of the SABRON QUILL being inked into her leg, she nonetheless loves the determination and strength that exudes from the tattoo character.

Rowdy refuses payment for the services rendered, citing their friendship. Evangelina believes he has other motives, possibly romantic. Although there has always been mutual attraction between them, she’s not ready to see anyone yet. But to offer something in return for the exceptional art work, she invites him over for a cookout.

That same day, Evangelina picks her son ANTHONY up from school and feels nauseated in the daylight that is discolored with solar flares. She has no fear of needles and Rowdy, always meticulous, keeps his equipment clean, so it can’t be hepatitis that ails her. But when she gets Anthony home, she drops to the floor unconscious.

Master chess player and serial killer ATTICUS GURLICK earned the nickname of ACID when he killed a guard during his first prison sentence. Covered in skin art, his most prized tattoo is of a warlord creature that was drawn by the same comic book artist who created the Sabron Quill. Acid can transform into this creature and give life to his other tattoos who then serve him. With supernatural strength and the powers to appear anywhere, Acid seeks a sketchbook penned by the father of the Sabron Quill world.


1 comment:

Julie Luek said...

Dave, I appreciate your "break the rules" insights-- I think it's important to remember the rules but be willing to back what we do with our heart. It seems to me that this very quality has propelled you to success.

I recently had a friend who just made a cold call to a publisher about her idea for a book. They liked it and asked for the first 50 pages, which she gave them and now has a contract. No query or synopsis. She didn't know the rules. She just knew what she wanted to share with the world. I realize that's probably the exception, but life is often about the exceptions.