Writing Your Novel Synopsis – 4 Choices

I’ve spent the past few days researching what needs to be included in any good novel synopsis. I’ve read, printed, re-read and highlighted at least six or seven different articles advocating similar but just slightly different formulas for the perfect one. I have arrived at the following conclusion about these articles:

Though helpful to a degree, they’re mostly useless.

I know – you probably clicked on this blog thinking that you were going to get some great, secret advice on how to write your own novel synopsis. Unfortunately, what I know about the synopsis situation is less than what the cast of the Jersey Shore knows. About anything.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t help you and you can’t help me. If you’ll give me just a second, I think we can come to a quaint little quid pro quo.

I’ll start first. Here’s your quid: 4 Choices to Make When Writing Your Novel Synopsis

1. Detail versus Emotion: if you’ve ever checked out the synopsis of your favorite movie on imdb.com, you’ve probably noticed that the vast majority of them were faithfully recorded by some time-rich fan. Every minute action on screen is logged in painstaking detail, in order to give you the unofficial novel version of the movie, only boring. When you’re writing your synopsis, stick to the high points – the major plot beats – and describe them with emotive words. In other words, imagine you’re trying to convince a friend to go see a particular movie; you don’t give them every detail – just the ones you know will stoke their interest.

2. Cute versus Professional: Chuck Sambucchino, whose excellent blog Guide to Literary Agents is on my blogroll and is a must-read, occasionally posts articles on query letters and synopses that won agents over. Take a minute and go read some of the offerings. Notice what you find? Though there are one or two that take a “cute” approach – some sort of gimmick to hook the reader – most are straightforward and powerful descriptions of the book in vivid language that make you want to rush to the store and buy that book. Stick to the professional mode – in sports parlance, act like you’ve been there before – and save the cute stuff for inane blog posts.

3. Anonymous versus Characters: when you write, don’t forget to mention the major characters. I’d start with the main character, but that’s just me being pragmatic. In my particular book there are only 5-6 characters that really advance the story, so I make sure to include some reference to them in my synopsis. Since most synopses are written in third-person omniscient (as well as present tense), it doesn’t make much sense to put a name to a character. Unless, of course, by naming that character you ruin an important plot element. Use your head – and put a name with a face. Well, not really…but you get the drift.

4. Short versus Brief: most synopses will be right at a page long, so you are restricted with what you can say. But brevity doesn’t mean you have to be short – if you choose the right words, you can pack a lot into just one page, which you hopefully learned while writing your novel. If not, may I suggest you go back and re-edit? Like, right now? I’ll wait…

…and welcome back.

Cutting out those 20,000 words didn’t hurt so bad, did it? Now you’re ready to condense even further and crank out a first rate synopsis.
Which brings me to the pro quo part of our arrangement.

I have below three different synopses, all for my recently completed novel. I kind of like all three, but I’m willing to let democracy rule. If you would read through all three, then vote in the poll below for your favorite. Not only will you help me know what makes my book sound enticing, you’ll also take a world of stress off my shoulders as I prepare to submit to agents.

Number One:

When Bence Little’s wife and daugher are murdered at the hands of his wife’s lover, Bence is shattered. The former special agent finds himself without a purpose, a family or hope. With nowhere else to go, he returns to the last place that felt like home: Athens, GA. There, in the town known for its eclectic mix of austere academics and debauched antics, Bence rediscovers his old haunt, Nowhere Bar, and his old friend, Cozy, and begins to put his life back together. Through a series of events that has him save a rape victim, track down a drunken college kid, blackmail an old rival, and travel Florida to solve a strange series of break-ins in a ritzy private neighborhood, Bence learns that by solving the problems of others, he solves his own.

Inspired by the detective fiction of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and G.K. Chesterton, Bulldawg isn’t just a detective story; it’s a detective’s story.

Number Two:

Derailed by the murder of his wife and daughter, ex-GBI agent Bence Little finds himself without a purpose, a family or hope. With nowhere to go, he returns to the last place that felt like home: Athens, GA. There, in a town known for its mix of austerity and debauchery, Bence returns to his home-away-from-home: the Nowhere Bar, owned by Bence’s mentor, Cozy. Chance brings in a young fraternity boy with a missing car,  and Bence agrees to investigate, stumbling upon a fraternity at the center of a narcotics trafficking scheme. He also comes under the watchful eye of Det. Blake Lawrence, an Athens cop who doesn’t trust Bence’s motives. After Bence fights to rescue a rape victim named Jennifer from the corrupt fraternity, he ends up the defendant in a civil lawsuit and a target for revenge. When the lawyer suing Bence ends up blackmailed and dead, Bence finds himself in jail—and at a moral crossroads. Once he’s released, a benevolent stranger arrives with a chance at redemption on the Florida coast. Bence jumps at it, knowing he must solve a series of high-profile break-ins and his own life.

Number Three:

A masterfully concocted, intelligent and lucid thriller that marries the gusto of an international murder mystery with a collection of fascinating esoteria culled from 2,000 years of Western history. A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ. The victim is a high-ranking agent of this ancient society who, in the moments before his death, manages to leave gruesome clues at the scene that only his granddaughter, noted cryptographer Sophie Neveu, and Robert Langdon, a famed symbologist, can untangle. The duo become both suspects and detectives searching for not only Neveu’s grandfather’s murderer but also the stunning secret of the ages he was charged to protect. Mere steps ahead of the authorities and the deadly competition, the mystery leads Neveu and Langdon on a breathless flight through France, England, and history itself. The author has created a page-turning thriller that also provides an amazing interpretation of Western history. The hero and heroine embark on a lofty and intriguing exploration of some of Western culture’s greatest mysteries–from the nature of the Mona Lisa’s smile to the secret of the Holy Grail. Though some will quibble with the veracity of the conjectures, therein lies the fun. An enthralling read that provides rich food for thought. Now a major motion picture staring Tom Hanks! (with thanks to my friend Ashton Adams, who pulled this joke on me first).

And now for the poll:

CONTEST — Help a Former Student of Mine, Dustin Sosebee

Howdy – I know that some of you have already seen this link on Facebook, and if so, well, click on it again.

I’ve been privileged to serve as Youth Minister to some awesome young men and women, and Dustin Sosebee is one of those. A talented singer, songwriter, and just an all around dadgum good person, he’s been an inspiration to me since I’ve known him. Uniquely gifted with a personality and charm that melt through the common walls we all build to keep people at bay, Dustin has to be one of my all-time favorite people.

So here’s a link to a video he recorded one evening and submitted to YouTube for a contest sponsored by a local radio station. 104.7 the Fish, a Christian radio station here in Atlanta, is holding a contest to find the opening act for their Celebrate Freedom Concert, which takes place Labor Day weekend. The stakes are pretty high – the top five people with the most page views get a chance to compete for the right to be the opening act at this huge concert, as well as win some pretty sweet prizes. I don’t know the other people who have posted videos, so I can’t speak to their being deserving of the honor or not. Maybe they are. But I know Dustin, I know his heart and his life, and I am positive this is the kind of young man who deserves a chance like this to touch lives. Please help me and the rest of his friends and family give that chance to him.

Click on this page, as many times as you possibly can over the next fifteen days. He’s already at 5,500 views – help me push him to 10,000 by the weekend.

And in case you’re too busy to click on the link, here’s an embed:

This Is Only a Test…

Took a personality test or five yesterday, and got an interesting result. If you know me, read the result and let me know what you think: me or not?

The Idealist

As an INFP, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you deal with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit into your personal value system. Your secondary mode is external, where you take things in primarily via your intuition.

INFPs, more than other iNtuitive Feeling types, are focused on making the world a better place for people. Their primary goal is to find out their meaning in life. What is their purpose? How can they best serve humanity in their lives? They are idealists and perfectionists, who drive themselves hard in their quest for achieving the goals they have identified for themselves

INFPs are highly intuitive about people. They rely heavily on their intuitions to guide them, and use their discoveries to constantly search for value in life. They are on a continuous mission to find the truth and meaning underlying things. Every encounter and every piece of knowledge gained gets sifted through the INFP’s value system, and is evaluated to see if it has any potential to help the INFP define or refine their own path in life. The goal at the end of the path is always the same – the INFP is driven to help people and make the world a better place.

Generally thoughtful and considerate, INFPs are good listeners and put people at ease. Although they may be reserved in expressing emotion, they have a very deep well of caring and are genuinely interested in understanding people. This sincerity is sensed by others, making the INFP a valued friend and confidante. An INFP can be quite warm with people he or she knows well.

INFPs do not like conflict, and go to great lengths to avoid it. If they must face it, they will always approach it from the perspective of their feelings. In conflict situations, INFPs place little importance on who is right and who is wrong. They focus on the way that the conflict makes them feel, and indeed don’t really care whether or not they’re right. They don’t want to feel badly. This trait sometimes makes them appear irrational and illogical in conflict situations. On the other hand, INFPs make very good mediators, and are typically good at solving other people’s conflicts, because they intuitively understand people’s perspectives and feelings, and genuinely want to help them.

INFPs are flexible and laid-back, until one of their values is violated. In the face of their value system being threatened, INFPs can become aggressive defenders, fighting passionately for their cause. When an INFP has adopted a project or job which they’re interested in, it usually becomes a “cause” for them. Although they are not detail-oriented individuals, they will cover every possible detail with determination and vigor when working for their “cause”.

When it comes to the mundane details of life maintenance, INFPs are typically completely unaware of such things. They might go for long periods without noticing a stain on the carpet, but carefully and meticulously brush a speck of dust off of their project booklet.

INFPs do not like to deal with hard facts and logic. Their focus on their feelings and the Human Condition makes it difficult for them to deal with impersonal judgment. They don’t understand or believe in the validity of impersonal judgment, which makes them naturally rather ineffective at using it. Most INFPs will avoid impersonal analysis, although some have developed this ability and are able to be quite logical. Under stress, it’s not uncommon for INFPs to mis-use hard logic in the heat of anger, throwing out fact after (often inaccurate) fact in an emotional outburst.

INFPs have very high standards and are perfectionists. Consequently, they are usually hard on themselves, and don’t give themselves enough credit. INFPs may have problems working on a project in a group, because their standards are likely to be higher than other members’ of the group. In group situations, they may have a “control” problem. The INFP needs to work on balancing their high ideals with the requirements of every day living. Without resolving this conflict, they will never be happy with themselves, and they may become confused and paralyzed about what to do with their lives.

INFPs are usually talented writers. They may be awkard and uncomfortable with expressing themselves verbally, but have a wonderful ability to define and express what they’re feeling on paper. INFPs also appear frequently in social service professions, such as counselling or teaching. They are at their best in situations where they’re working towards the public good, and in which they don’t need to use hard logic.

INFPs who function in their well-developed sides can accomplish great and wonderful things, which they will rarely give themselves credit for. Some of the great, humanistic catalysts in the world have been INFPs.