Monday, July 27, 2009

Loathing, Unadulterated Loathing

The title of this blog is from a song in the musical Wicked, called "What is This Feeling" (Loathing). I love this musical.

The picture is from South Park, a show that I am not such a big fan of, but I like to have a pic at the top of my posts and I thought this was appropriate to my topic today.

And that topic is the dreaded, disgusting, and perhaps sometimes even deadly(?): SYNOPSIS.

I don't think I am alone in my feelings towards the synopsis. In fact, a few weeks back during one of my regular Work in Progress Wednesday postings, I wrote one little sentence about trying to tackle the synopsis beast, and then I want on to write about a whole bunch of other non-synopsis related things. The funny thing is that in my comments a bunch of people latched onto that one sentence about the synopsis, usually agreeing that they found the synopsis to be a repellent form of the written word as well.

Ever since then I've been meaning to write a post about the synopsis. This is not one of those posts with tips and tricks on how to write a better one. Nope, sorry. I have Googled my way up and down the Internets looking for the secret to easily (as in a method that does not include regular intervals of me banging my head against my desk) writing a synopsis that doesn't totally suck, but if such a secret exists it is harder to find than the Holy Grail.

So, lacking tips, I am instead going to whine, moan, and generally say mean things about the synopsis (Seems unfair since the synopsis doesn't really have a way to fight back, except by existing and making my life miserable... which is actually a rather effective strategy. Oh, synopsis you are a worthy foe.), and invite you to join in too.

But first, a short history of the synopsis. This history is closely linked to the history of storytelling itself. Whether it was the early epic stories such as The Odyssey or Beowulf, one of the first plays written by Thespis, or even the cave drawings on the pyramids in Egypt - there was this conversation:

PERSON #1: (Probably a guy, because we all know how things were back then, but if you'd like to imagine a woman in either of these roles go right ahead.) I just saw/heard/read/ the most amazing story!

PERSON #2: Oh, yeah? What was it about?

And thus the synopsis was born.

Of course, we are familiar with this conversation because we have played the part of Person #1 and Person #2 (although hopefully not at the same time, because then you're just talking to yourself) many times in our lives.

Clearly, the synopsis has a necessary place in our lives. That, however, does not mean that I have to like it.

The truth is that I have struggled with the synopsis since my middle school days when I had to write book reports. And later when I was in film school and spent a semester as an intern at a production company in LA and had to do coverage on screenplays, I still struggled to summarize the main plots and characters of a story. And now when an agent requests the synopsis for my novel and I have to boil my story down to two (okay it went over onto page three) pages, it sometimes feels like mission impossible.

At the end of the day, I think my relationship with the synopsis is similar to my toddler son's relationship to silverware. While he can see the function of a spoon and fork, and he understands that other people like mommy and daddy prefer to use them, for himself, he just doesn't see the need, especially when he can get the food into his mouth with his fingers just fine. Similarly, I understand the reason the synopsis and why other people might see it as a useful tool, but for myself I'd rather just stick to a short blurb and if I want more of the story I'll just gobble it down whole, thank you very much.

So, what about you? Any other synopsis haters out there? Come on over and kick it around with me for awhile (Kind of like that scene in Office Space where they all beat up the office printer. *sigh* That's a great scene.). Or if there is anyone willing to stand up and sing the praises of the synopsis, I would love to hear that too. Maybe it could even soften my hardened heart to think more kindly of it next time.


  1. HAHA and now it will officially be stuck in my head alllll day long....

    for your hair, your face your clothing!

  2. lol I hate them too. Congrats on getting it done though. It's great that the agent requested it and I've heard agents say that they don't care how well it's written, just tell them what happens. :-)

  3. I guess you could liken it to the dreaded "Tell me about yourself" question at a job interview. With the synopsis you are not only selling yourself, but selling your story as well. How do we trim ourselves down to a few words on a page when we are so much more. I haven't gotten to the synopsis point yet so don't know if will love it or hate it. I guess I should try thinking about it like I would a resume and present the most relevant points.

  4. My my hope and guess is that even if we turn in a so-so synopsis, that if our sample chapter is stellar, an agent or editor will overlook the synopsis. Of course we should still try to get the best points and drama of our story into the synopsis, but I'm hoping its not a make or break the deal kind of thing.

  5. I share in your loathing. Not only do agents/publishers want a bare bones summary of the story, but the synopsis is also supposed to convey the voice, tone, etc. of the book. All that in a few pages?

    Jody, I agree with you about the sample chapter, but sometimes you get to submit only query and synopsis, no chapter. That's painful.

  6. Ewwwww! That's what I think of the synopsis. Well, I can think of a few other things, but they're not very nice.

  7. I think you're in good company. I don't think I've met a writer who would say they enjoy writing a synopsis....if I'm wrong, well, then it won't be the first time. The synopsis really makes me sweat, to be quite honest. I hope Jody's right, and that if our sample chapters rock, maybe editors/agents will forgive us for a less than perfect synopsis. We can hope, right?

  8. HATE writing the synopsis!

    You're not alone. In the contest I just judged, the synopsis was the worst to judge too.

  9. *raising hand* I admit it. I am a fellow synopsis hater. Glad to know I'm not alone :D

  10. You bet I hate the whole synopsis process!

  11. I'm not so much of a synopsis hater, but I think it's hilarious when I remember all of the summaries I had to write in my elementary school reading class.

    One whole page? How am I going to come up with one whole page of what this story was about?

    Oh, if I'd have only known. :-)

  12. Oooh, I clicked over here because of the Wicked lyrics. It totally fits a synop! :)

  13. *Hides under table.

    Did someone say synopsis?

    Great post btw.