Writing the Fiction Synopsis--The Hunt for Stumpy in Firecracker Forest

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A synopsis is critical to selling your fiction writing. It can be fun, too!

dvitola on 5:42PM Tue, 09 September 2003

Writing the Fiction Synopsis-- Writing the Fiction Synopsis--The Hunt for Stumpy in Firecracker Forest

Writing the Fiction Synopsis--
The Hunt for Stumpy in Firecracker Forest
by Denise Vitola

Did I catch your eye with that title? I did? Good. That's exactly what you need to do when you write a fiction synopsis--grab that editor's attention and hold it like the winning Lotto ticket.

Okay, I hear the moans. Synopsis writing is not your forte. It's boring. It's not creative. It's 'gasp' selling your writing like a common...fishmonger. I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn't be that way. Writing a synopsis should be creative, unique, and above all else, fun.

I've sold twelve novels to Berkley, Ace, and TSR, Inc., and optioned five books to Hollywood by trashing the old, 'tried and true' formula of synopsis writing in favor of my own, standout style. I've taught numerous writers to use this successful method. These writers have gone on to become published authors who swear by this process of synopsis writing.

First, you must change your thinking about how difficult it is to write a synopsis. As fiction peddlers, we've heard how hard it is to create a distillation of an entire 80,000 word book. We've heard it so much that we started to believe this lie and now it's ingrained in our thoughts. Well, change it! Repeat after me: Synopsis writing is fun! This is your chance to coalesce your book into a form that is similar to a three to five page short story.

Begin by making an outline of your novel's chapters. Use one line identifiers for each section and list them in the order they appear. For instance:

Chapter 1--Ty investigates a murder.

Chapter 2--Ty interviews a cigar maker and discovers some promising leads.

Chapter 3--Ty has a fight with Gibson and has mixed feelings about their relationship.

Chapter 4--Ty visits a local smoke shop.

This outline is to be kept OFF of an editor's desk. It is for your eyes only. These chapter blurbs are to help you remember the high points of your story and to serve as a guide while you write your synopsis.

Now, I'd like to make the all-important point to this article: WRITE YOUR SYNOPSIS IN FIRST PERSON POINT-OF-VIEW. But my book is in third person, you whine. Doesn't matter. The reason for this exercise is to bring the editor as close as possible to the story in the first few seconds of reading. First person POV places the reader inside the character. There is no distance, no emotional separation.

Fire up your word processor and stretch those fingers. Spend time on the first paragraph and especially on the first sentence. You have approximately 18 seconds to interest the editor. That opening line has to blast through the reader's preconceived notions about how you write and what this story is all about. Make it exciting. Make it drop-dead glorious.

Spend a paragraph giving some background on your protagonist and the problems he must solve in his life. Create a character who is as human as he can be--even if he's an alien from another galaxy. The reader will identify with him and that's what you want most out of this synopsis.

Your synopsis should be the most exciting, romantic, dramatic, or comedic piece you've ever written. Use adjectives. Use active verbs. Tighten your writing and make it sing.

Use your writing voice. Voice is one of the most important elements to good fiction writing. Demonstrate your skill by writing your synopsis in the voice that your character utilizes throughout the book.

Take out your outline and study the chapter identifiers. These will be your guides for hitting the high points in the novel. Give each high point a line or a paragraph, and as you do, you will naturally advance the plot of your story. Pay special attention to the climax of your book and load it with excitement. The last paragraph and the last sentence should be as much a zinger as your beginning. Leave the editor wanting more.

So, I've left you wanting more, haven't I? To help you along with your synopsis writing task, I've included an example of a synopsis that I used to sell my novel, Opalite Moon. OM was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award for Outstanding Science Fiction. You are free to use this synopsis format to guide you in your writing quest.

Remember, writing a synopsis is fun!

Synopsis follows:

as told by
District Marshal Ty Merrick

After a lycanthropic fiasco that saw me almost kill a perp during his lawful apprehension, I was placed into Gibson's custody. The good doctor was to oversee a program of psychiatric counseling and make regular reports on me to Internal Affairs. He was also determined to help me overcome my aversion to the wolf. I have to hand it to Gibson; he was honest. His reasons weren't terribly altruistic and he admitted it. He was studying my disease so that he could finally convince the PHO to release him from the rotating physicians club. Which meant: He was occasionally a miserable pain in the ass, especially when I was working a murder investigation. Most of the time, he was a mild irritant, but when a case caught his fancy, he butted in. He was afraid that if I flaked like the last time, he might lose his meal ticket.

Take, for instance, our latest killer of the day: We had been called upon, again, to take a dip into the superstitious side of life by investigating the murders of three members of a family unit who were known to be actively involved in a secret sect called the Opalite.

Now, I've seen all kinds of murders and I thought nothing could surprise me, but the method of this killing most certainly did. Each brother was found naked and in positions suggesting that the murderer had spent time arranging the bodies. The medical examiner pronounced them to be Caucasian, though when they were found, the skin of their bodies had turned a bright red color. The corpses were also in an advanced state of decomposition and covered in what appeared to be a fungus. To make matters worse, the whole area stank like rotten apples. When the bodies were delivered to the medical examiner's office, they began to disintegrate like Egyptian mummies exposed to the air after five thousand years in the protective quarantine of the tomb.

At the time these murders were logged, Gibson had hand-picked my psychiatrist and he was insisting that I cooperate with her in exploring my emotions, something called the subtle body, and my damaged inner child for clues about my lycanthropy. Gibson supported this useless work while he concentrated on finding a cure for my physical symptoms. LaRue was being annoying too, by offering solutions couched in metaphysical ideology, while my room mate, Baba, kept weaving charm sacks to help his suggestions find toe-holds in my attention.

During all this, I was trying to find ways to stay warm in the middle of the worst winter cold snap that District One had ever had.

As usual, things were breaking up and breaking down. The district couldn't answer the demand for propane, electricity, and kerosene and the situation on the street was as nuts as it usually was. We called in for a bag unit more times than I want to count. We kept coming across people who'd died of exposure, because they were wrapped in their illusions and charm bags, but not much else. LaRue and I almost became victims of the weather ourselves, when his marginal driving abilities sent the Trabi skidding on ice. We were finally stopped by a packed wall of snow, banged around but just a little bruised. Still, for the rest of the afternoon, I was treated to my partner's dialogues on stalwart East German engineering and how that Communist car would go through a manure storm undamaged.

The investigation kept me moving through the freeze, warming me by warming my curiosity. The medical examiner's report stated that pesticide had been found in the victims' tissues, and from the results, it appeared to be the type of fungal poison used in the late twentieth century to eradicate locust and termite populations. The plants would be sprayed, the bugs would eat the greens, and the mold would begin to destroy the insect from the inside out. The locust would change to a brilliant red color and then the fungus would erupt through the pores, covering the body as it killed the pest. It was considered safe to mammals and had been used for decades as an effective means of protecting crops, but the poison used for these murders contained a new, unidentified compound. Gibson was just as fascinated as I was, because he couldn't figure out how such a thing had acted so quickly on three apparently healthy young men.

After days of interviewing street sages and witches, back alley oracles and soothsayers, urban farmers and ranchers, we came away with a new appreciation for the superstitions involved in growing the perfect watermelon or six-foot zucchini. When that happened, we found out about the district's tiny, Opalite community. It was a 4-H Club gone mad.

These people believed they could talk to plants.

Well, they didn't really talk to the plants, they talked to the devas, little fairy-like beings who apparently stuck to a particular piece of greenery and sent out waves of metaphysical energy to make it grow. Through the channels provided by an altered state of awareness, these devas supposedly told their human counterparts just what kind of compost was needed to improve photosynthesis production. While the person applied the appropriate manure, the devas busied themselves by realigning the frequency patterns.

Such miraculous powers didn't stem from the Garden of Eden. They extended from the Garden at Findhorn, a hippie commune of the mid-twentieth century. It was said that Findhorn was established on the rock-strewn, sandy shore on one of the isles in the North Atlantic. Nothing would grow there until after a young woman joined the group. She practiced prayer, fasting, meditation, and the occasional dance upon hot coals, all to produce an ecstatic state not unlike that whirled up by a Moslem dervish.

One day after assuming her yogic trance, she met and spoke to a deva. The fairy assured her that with proper instruction, the people at the commune would be able to talk to the beings and learn how to grow prized pumpkins. The woman convinced the people to join her in finding their own altered awareness and they actually managed to turn the rocks and sand into a lush, jungle-like miracle that fed the colony and those who were in need. The present-day Opalite claimed to be the descendents of these environmental activists and continued to practice the gardening traditions and the adherence to old superstitions.

As story book it sounds, there was a darker side to the Opalite. They were brutal people, using pain as a means to an end.

During our investigation, it also came to light that the district-operated hydroponic farms just weren't producing like they should. The locality was desperate to keep up its tax base, which couldn't be done if they didn't meet the required quota of food due the government resource programs.

So, the district started its own secret version of the Findhorn garden in an underground salt mine, hiring the available Opalite to till the hydroponic terraces and talk to the devas. It was an unqualified success. The farmers were allowed to practice the ecstasy rituals which they claimed gave them the power to commune with the subtle body of the natural world. The district went so far as to provide them with enough briquets to have the occasional race across the charcoal bed. It didn't seem right when fuel was at a premium and so many people were freezing to death.

Now, I believe in the supernatural situation of lycanthropy for obvious reasons. I wouldn't admit it to LaRue, but if presented with valid evidence, I might even go so far as to accept the rare sighting of a ghost, goblin, or banshee, but I draw the line at brownies, gnomes, and elves. Our killer was a different matter, though. If it hadn't been my psychiatrist's talk of how the subtle body is linked to the emotional and physical body, I would never had made the connection and figured out the motive for the murder.

She had a tortured psyche, and her inner child was as much of a mess as mine was, but unlike me, she had never stopped believing in unicorns, dragons, and mermaids. She relished the thought of speaking to the devas. Her problem was this: She wasn't one of the chosen descendents of the Opalite and she had trouble getting the fairies to answer her. Her presence among these secretive people was as a hydroponic specialist at the district garden. The killer knew the science of plant propagation; what she longed to know was the magic.

One day, a little voice told her just how to find it.

When we discovered her delirious plot, I was at the ebb of my lycanthropic cycle. I'd gone through a full moon seizure of such severity that it left me weak and listless. Had it not been for Gibson training me in bio-feedback techniques, I could never have called upon the wolf power necessary to contain this killer. Gathering this energy proved to be a dangerous risk, and as usual, LaRue and I were down to the last minute in catching this latest lunatic.

Our plan saw us go undercover and when Gibson found out, he almost had a coronary. The deal was dicey to the end, and as you might guess, I discovered some things about myself and my supernatural disease. And yes, I think I totally screwed up the viewpoint of my inner child, because after it was done, I could have sworn I saw a fairy.

Tutorial Comments

tat2u  2:39AM Sat, 25 October 2003

Fantastic. Thank you so much for taking your time to offer this guidance. i really appreciate it. akd

JNagyJr  7:54AM Mon, 15 September 2003

Wow. I loved this tut on synopsis writing (and now I want to buy Opalite Moon, woe is me for not having any money atm :p). Very easy to understand. (: