Why is it so hard?
- Because you know your story too well.
- Because your characters are special snowflakes, with problems too complicated and important to fit in one sentence blurbs.
- Because you've carefully built multiple subplots and if you ignore one, its feelings will be hurt.
- Because if that character wasn't important, s/he wouldn't be in the story in the first place, for the love of...
Turns out, Disney mass markets them to children.
|In just a five-minute sweep, I rounded up |
all these print versions of the story--
and we as parents did not purchase a single one.
And lots and lots of books.
"Cars" is a two-hour movie with at least sixteen fairly important characters, yet Disney has managed to condense it, and not just once. They've created eighty-seven thousand varieties, from three to thirty pages long, but every version has one identical element: We focus on Lightning McQueen.
The shortest versions are almost literally, "Lightning comes to Radiator Springs. Mater wants to be his friend. At first Lightning is a jerk, but then they become BFF. The end." Slightly longer versions add in Sally, the love interest; a little longer adds Doc, the grumpy but wise old race car; even longer adds Lightning's obsession with the Piston Cup; and God help me, if I have to read the 30 page almost word-for-word version again...
Anyway. My point is, every version gets the most basic plot point across: Lightning learns to be a friend.
In your own one-page synopsis, you want the same thing: Main character changes from A to B.
Longer versions can elaborate on that process, but even the longest synopsis is rarely more than 5-6 pages, so you don't have room to deviate far from the central character arc. If you've lost your main character by the end of your synopsis (she says from personal experience), you've gone astray, either in the synopsis itself... or possibly in the manuscript.
But let's assume it's just a problem in the synopsis. After all, pinpointing that center is hard when you've spent months surrounding it with layers of metaphor, foreshadowing and other fanciness. What do you do?
Since those of you without four-year-old boys may not have watched "Cars" every day for a year straight, let's use a familiar story: Snow White. It's a fairy tale with a dozen important characters, significant backstory, and set in a historical fantasy world complete with magic. Can we sum all that up in seven different ways?
|"Mirror, mirror, on the wall,|
who's the sparkliest of them all?"
- A girl from an abusive family finds solace in the love of a stranger.
- Seven small diamond miners take in a mysterious girl.
- A cautionary tale about the dangers of tainted foods.
- A woman's mirror drives her to murder.
- A hunter must decide between his duty to the government and his morals.
- A girl with an annoyingly high-pitched voice gallivants through the woods and is punished with imprisonment in a glass coffin.
- A necrophiliac prince finds true love.
|Please click to expand this. I love it.|
I'm not saying you should misrepresent your story. If you've written a romance, you don't want to query it under the wrong genre (because while "dystopian" might catch an agent's attention, discovering you lied is a one-way ticket to rejection, or at least makes them think you don't know what you're doing).
But your approach helps to give even the shortest synopsis a taste of your story's setting and voice. So if you want to query your psychological thriller, go with #4-- but if your manuscript is quirky, you might choose #6.
Still frustrated? Try writing ridiculous versions of your synopsis, pretending your story is a mystery, a comedy, a zombie story (hi #7!), or even a fairy tale. You may happily discover new themes in your work, and you may unhappily discover some problems. But somewhere in there, you'll find the core of your story.
Need more help? Check out the synopses of your favorite movies on IMDB, or look up your favorite books on Amazon, Goodreads and the like. You can also find great tips on writing a synopsis in Kaitlin's post at YA Highway
ETA: Darn it! A day late and a dollar short, but here's another funny "What Disney Princesses Teach Your Daughter" graphic.