Friday, May 13, 2016

Synopsis vs. Summary

So, you have a novel you'd like to write? You have a story to tell? Or maybe you have already written a book (novel or otherwise), but are drawing a blank on how to hook your readers. You do that with the all-important synopsis. Shall we begin?

Imagine that someone asks you, "Why should I read your book?" or, "What makes your book worth my time?" What answer would you give? Do you have an answer? If you do, that's great. But I wouldn't call that a synopsis. What you would tell someone about your book is probably more a summary. Which is okay; good, really. So let's draw the distinction: 

Synopsis = What goes on the back (or inner-flap) of your book cover. What people will read to see if this book is word the twenty bucks they have to spend on it. 

Summary = What you have as an answer when people ask you what your story is about. 

Why do they have to be different? Well, they don't, not technically. But imagine you and I bumped into each other at the market, and you asked me, "Hey, Zara, what's your story about?" I could answer with my synopsis, saying:

"Princess Zara Chriselda Valdus-filla has it all. She's strong, independent, beautiful and wealthy. There has never been anything that she could not handle on her own and, in her mind, there never will be. But when faced with a changing prophecy, Zara much embark on a harrowing journey to preserve Endoria from dire evil. Along the way, she begins to question everything: including herself. Why would someone like her ever need help? And if she does, will she realize it to late?" 

Okay, so I could say that. But that would make me sound, er, pretentious to say the least. And who has time to memorize their whole synopsis, right? So I won't go that route. Most likely, if you ran into me in the market and asked what my story was about, I would answer along the lines of:

"The independent princess of Endoria must go on a journey to stop some creatures called Water Sprites from poisoning the water before the kingdom goes to ruin."

Much shorter, and it leaves the asker with questions. I wouldn't be embarrassed to say that much to you. And it's just a hook. It leaves you with questions like: Why are these Water Sprites poisoning the water? Why must this princess go? Couldn't someone else do it? Is her independence important?" To which I, the authoress, would smile and tell you to read the book to find out. 

So, you need both synopsis and summary. But where to start?

I would start with a summary. After all, a synopsis is really just a fancy, dramatic, longer-form summary. So, boil your story down to one (maybe two) sentences, with only the essentials. And don't be afraid to keep some important things out of it. For instance, in the above example of one of my own stories, I mention nothing of the prophecy in my summary, only in the synopsis. I also say nothing of what much be done to get to the Water Sprites, or who, if anyone, goes with my protagonist on her journey. I leave out quite a few important things, but that is the point. It is a hook, meant to draw readers in; it's not supposed to give away all your books secrets.

A synopsis should give a sense of setting. In mine, when it says, "Princess Zara Chriselda Valdus-filla," that gives you that sense that either a.) it's set in the past, or b.) it's set in a fantasy world. But judging from the later mention of Endoria, it is made clear that this is a fantasy realm.

Also, a synopsis should give you a sense of the type of story it is. For instance, if you are writing a sci-fi romance, you should tell something of the sci-fi nature, and mention something of the romantic aspect. You don't want to mislead your readers.

You will want to introduce the main conflict of your story. Otherwise, it will seem boring.

And lastly, you want to give your readers a sense of your protagonist. I do this in my synopsis just by stating her full name-- it add a sense of her pretentious nature. You can do that in a number of ways.

Honestly, the best way to learn how to write a good synopsis is by trial and error. Start with your summary, make it dramatic, and go from there. Let me know in the comments below how it goes, and also what else you'd like me to write about to help you along your Writerly Journey.

Until then, Happy Writing!