Monday, 27 February 2012

My Synopsis - stepping up to the plate

Well, I thought, if I'm a) expecting you all to write a synopsis and b) going on about how easy and lovely the process is, I should step up to the plate and do one for you. This was the same thought I had while writing Write a Great Synopsis (WAGS - see cover image on the right), which is why I wrote a couple of sample synopses in that book.

At the end of the book, I use three of the Synopsis Spotlights from this blog, critiquing them, and then I offer this one of my own. Note that this synopsis uses phrases which denote the tone of the book, to show that the book is not po-facedly serious in voice. This is a knack you should also develop for the pitch part of your covering letter.

This is a direct extract from Write a Great Synopsis, before proofreading:

Synopsis for Wasted*, by Nicola Morgan
I never had to write a synopsis for Wasted, but I'll show you what I might have written. (Warning: major spoiler alert!) Note that this is a non-linear novel, with a non-linear synopsis which omits almost every episode. You never learn the names of any of the characters except Jess, Jack and Spike the cat, though you do learn how they interact. It is just over 600 words long, well within one page of single-spaced type, so well within the guidelines. It took around twenty minutes to write and I’d probably spend another ten minutes perfecting it before sending it out. The reason it was so quick to write is that I already know, imprinted on my soul, the core drivers of the book, and have spent a lot of time working on the twenty-five-word pitch and pitch paragraph. And that’s the key: know your book from the heart. It’s not about the linear outline but about what the story is and how it fits together into a rounded whole. I can’t remember the order of everything that happens in Wasted: I don’t need to. Nor do you. Perhaps that’s the most important lesson in this whole book: you can write the best synopsis when you have forgotten almost everything that happens and in what order. Luckily, as you know by now, I have that good old Crappy Memory Tool.

As I mentioned earlier, I only realised this (the tip about using a bad memory to write a good synopsis, not the fact that I have a bad memory) while writing Write a Great Synopsis, so I blogged about it. You might find it useful.

Synopsis of Wasted by Nicola Morgan
Jack, clever, intense and passionate, is obsessed by philosophies of chance and fate. He has good reason for such obsession: his mother died twice when he was very young, in accidents which were mere bad luck but which wouldn’t have happened without Jack. Now, outwardly strong but subconsciously guilt-ridden, he challenges luck with a coin, accepting the risks, believing that he has control. Luck brings him Jess, a beautiful and talented singer – perfect for Jack’s band, Schrödinger’s Cats. Jess is on the verge of leaving school, torn between her desire for freedom and her duty to protect her fragile, artistic mother, who is teetering into alcoholism. 

From an unusual omniscient viewpoint, the reader watches Jess and Jack as chance – or luck, or fate? – affects their lives. We see them tumble into a passionate relationship where the tiniest decisions could take them on a different route. We watch Jack grow unstable, increasingly reliant on his theories, and Jess yearn for freedom from her mother, and from her absent father whose selfishness threatens to undermine her hopes of independence. And yet they also grow strong in their understanding of their own fragile part in the world.

One night, we see Jess and Jack in a bar as chance prevents a friend from noticing an enemy spike Jess’s drink. Then we see the alternative version, when a tiny event changes – and we see exactly why, how the atoms spin differently – and the friend does notice, and prevents the drink being spiked. And then we see the author spin a coin, playing Jack’s Game, and one of those versions is consigned to non-happening. Later in the book we see a fatal car crash occur and not occur, and the coin spins again, with one of those possible worlds continuing and the other vanishing into what ifs.

Against a background of band practice and observed by SPIKE, Jess’s cat, all this has been leading up to the Prom, when Jack’s band will play and Jess will sing and hot, sweet tears will flow. And then we will watch the beach party, when chance and fire and friends and freedom, fear and vodka, Jack’s Game, passion and foolish hatred will come together in one shocking, unstoppable moment of horror and regret. 
We will then find ourselves watching Jess in a hospital waiting-room, a scene mirrored at the start of the book. She is waiting to be allowed to see Jack, lying on the brink of death – or life. She is trying to decide whether to play Jack’s Game one more time. She knows it’s wrong, has wanted to tell Jack that before, but she thinks the truth could be a whole lot worse than a fifty-fifty chance. She spins the coin as the nurse comes in and in her shock she doesn’t look to see how it lands.

The reader sees the coin land trapped vertically at the edge of the room, neither heads nor tails. Jess meets Jack’s dad beside his bed. She tries to talk to Jack and through her tears tries to will him to live. But the heart monitor begins to bleep.

Now the reader must spin a coin and play Jack’s Game to determine which ending happens – heads and death, or tails and life. But the outcomes are unexpected: the one where Jack survives is in some ways more problematic: Jess and Jack seem damaged by the fear, the almostness, the what ifs; their future feels uncertain. The one where Jack dies sees Jess become strong, resolved; sad, of course, very sad; changed, but fighting on; her mother cares for her, her father is shocked into decentness, Spike the cat curls up on her bed and, being a cat and intuitive, knows that they will survive and even live. 
Sometimes death is not as sad as we expect it to be. Everything is bearable.

ends extract

[PS - one of the pre-publication readers of WAGSynopsis said that the sample synopsis made him buy Wasted. Hooray!
PPS - and I hope you don't mind my reminding you that last week Wasted won its third award, the Scottish Children's Book Award. Still dancing!]

Write a Great Synopsis is £2.25(ish) on Amazon, and proving very popular. Which is happifying indeed.


Keren David said...

Wow, what a great synopsis. I can't write them at all, so I'm off to buy your guide.

Elizabeth Dunn said...

I enjoyed your book. The bad memory tool suited me right down to the ground

Claire Dawn said...

That was the perfect synopsis for wasted! Getting a reasonable distance from a story does make you better able to describe. It's like trying to reccomend a movie you saw 5 years ago, or trying to rec one you saw last night.

catdownunder said...

Now we really know what we have to aspire to - sigh!