The dreaded Synopsis. Does the word fill you with shakes and send you skittering off to check other important things like what new funnies are in your Facebook feed, whose cat coughed up a hairball the size of Manhattan on Twitter, and what companies want to sell you unwanted Viagra in your spam box? Well, you aren’t alone. Even the most seasoned of writers feel a twinge of hopelessness at the idea of crafting a synopsis. And the worst part? The Opening line.
Lucky for us, author Lee Mckenzie is here from The Write Game to share her awesome technique to nail your Synopsis opening. If you struggle with where and how to start a synopsis, read on!
We know that a synopsis is written in 3rd person/present tense. It should be in the same style as your book, so if your book is humorous or “chatty,” your synopsis should be as well. It should introduce your main characters and their conflicts, and it must weave together these story elements so ideas flow logically from one paragraph to another.
All of that is doable, but not easy. I probably don’t have to write that for those who have tried synopses, but I’ll add it in case someone reading this hasn’t wrestled one of these beasties into shape.
My biggest problem is how to start. I want that first paragraph to have “Ta da!” in it. I want the reader so captivated by my characters and their situation that they won’t stop until they reach the end. Unfortunately, if I start with an inciting event, I often wind up producing a piece that’s preoccupied with plot. The emotion, conflict, characters and how they change become buried.
I want to avoid the “first this happens, then that happens.” But how?
Here’s one strategy that helps me. I write the inciting event as if it were to be the first sentence of my synopsis, then I write my reaction to that event. Next, I delete that first sentence. Here’s what I mean.
Inciting Event: Shawna Stone’s mother abandons her, leaving her to survive on her own in Las Vegas.
Paragraph 1 of Synopsis: Shawna has spent the first sixteen years of her life in Las Vegas, learning how to dodge her mother’s sleazy boyfriends, how to separate tourists from their cash, and how to make ketchup soup. Now her mother has taken off with the latest boyfriend, leaving Shawna with nothing but a hundred-dollar bill and a bus ticket for a journey to find a grandmother she’s never met—Kay Stone.
1-The event is important to the plot, but it’s dull reading. However, if I use it as a springboard I can put my MC right up front and surround her with details of her setting–a setting that has created this girl with the “bad ass attitude” whom the readers are about to meet. IMO that does two things: it creates empathy for someone who’s not all that likable at first, and it sketches in the backstory very lightly.
2- Reacting to the event also allows me to react to the mother so the readers know her immediately. Sleazy refers to the boyfriends, but it quickly characterizes the mother, too.
3-The story pivots on meeting the grandmother, so I wanted to introduce Kay at the beginning, while keeping the focus on Shawna and her situation.
Alligators Overhead (July, 2012)
Inciting Event: A mysterious mansion materializes at the edge of the Ornofree swamp and next door to where Pete Riley lives.
Paragraph 1 of Synopsis: Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren’t your average neighbors unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town’s bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be twelve, but he’s up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn’t the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers.
1-The setting in this story is a major “character.” I wanted readers to experience the unique atmosphere immediately, so I put it into the opening sentence.
2-I wanted to establish Pete and his place in this peculiar town, but with an economy of words. I thought calling him a “bad boy” was the best way to do this; to me it made him sound like a charming rascal, but kept the tone of the book.
3-The plot turns on the reappearance of the mansion, so it had to be in the first paragraph along with those alligators that play such an important role in the story.
In these examples, the inciting event is in the opening paragraph; it just isn’t the first sentence. Whenever I did that it led me to very pedestrian and plot focused synopses.
If you try this strategy, let me know if it helps! I’m always interested in finding out if I’m on the right track.
I don’t know about you, but I think that is some of the best advice I’ve ever heard on how to start a synopsis! And, did anyone else notice how well it works as an opening line for a query pitch? *wink wink*
AND, The awesomeness isn’t over friends! Lee is generously offering 3 copies of her new Middle Grade Adventure book, Alligators Overhead, one print (US only), two ebook (Worldwide, any format!). Here’s a blurb:
Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren’t your average neighbors unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town’s bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be twelve, but he’s up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn’t the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers. Things only get worse when Pete’s guardian aunt and several of her close friends vanish while trying to restore order using outdated witchcraft. Now Pete must find the witches and stop the war. He might stand a chance if his one friend, Weasel, sticks with him, but even then, they may not have what it takes.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.