Sunday, July 20, 2008

Writing Challenge: the Dreaded Synopsis

all rights reserved, Aaron Paul Lazar 2008

What's the hardest thing you've ever had to write?

All right, come on, now. You know it's not that novel. Or the apology letter to the nerdy kid you bullied in high school. Or maybe the I-forgive-you letter from the nerdy kid to the bully. It wasn't the last chapter of your masterpiece, or even the first chapter. Those things, though they can be murder, are also fun to write. Aren't they? In a semi-masochistic way?

Think hard.

What about your query letters?

Sure. They can be brutal. Trying to squish everything into a one page brilliant piece that not only summarizes you, your writing credentials and your current book. And on top of that, you need to capture that famous agent's attention in a millisecond so that he or she picks up the phone to nab you right on the spot.

Okay, that's a challenge, to be sure.

But the hardest writing assignment of all is the book synopsis. Whether it's a 50 word back of the book blurb, a 175 word teaser for an ad, or a full three page summary intended to snag a potential publisher - it can take more massaging and editing than any well-crafted paragraph you've ever had to pen.

I recently had to put together a few versions for the pre-pub promotion of MAZURKA, the fourth Gus LeGarde mystery. We needed several different lengths, and each was torture.

Tip: One of the toughest things to accept is that you cannot possibly represent all of your key themes in a 50 word blurb. You have to pick and choose and wrestle regarding which theme to highlight.

Sometimes it helps to start with the full synopsis and chop from there. Choosing your sweetest strings of words and hottest points. Keep paring it down until you reach your word goal. Then go to work with your critique partners, tweaking until your fingers bleed.

One of the key elements in this exercise, of course, is to step outside yourself, stop churning in the water, and swim to a lifeboat. Your writing pals know the story. They can help you lop off words that don't matter and retwist your sentences to shine. I had lots of help with these from SW and Marta, this time around. See what you think?

MAZURKA: A Gus LeGarde Mystery

50 words:

Join Gus and Camille LeGarde as they chase down a family secret with the potential to change European history. When Gus's brother-in-law is framed for a neo-Nazi’s murder, the couple is plunged into a cat-and-mouse game where the stakes are lethal and the future of Europe hangs in the balance.

175 words:

When Siegfried receives a puzzling invitation to visit an ailing relative in Germany on the eve of Gus and Camille’s wedding, their honeymoon plans change. Siegfried – Gus’s socially challenged brother-in-law – can’t travel alone, so they gather the gentle giant under their wings and fly to Paris.
After luscious hours in the city of lights, a twist of fate propels them into a deadly web of neo-Nazis. A bloody brawl on the Champs Élysées thrusts Siegfried and Gus into the news, where a flawed report casts Siegfried as the Nazi leader’s murderer, sealing his death warrant.
While Siegfried recovers in a Parisian hospital, Nazi terrorists stalk Gus and Camille. Hunted and left for dead in the underground Parisian Catacombs among millions of Frenchmen’s bones, they barely escape.
Siegfried is moved to safety at his aunt’s in Denkendorf, where he learns a shocking family secret about Chopin’s steamy past. The calm is soon shattered, when the threesome is plunged into a cat-and-mouse game where the stakes are lethal and the future of Europe hangs in the balance.

See how much I had to cull in the short version? We know nothing about Chopin, the Catacombs, or any of the other massive twists that take place in the story. Nor do we get to be enticed by the dazzling European details. But - that's the challenge. To pick and choose. And try to grab a reader the first time he or she picks up the book.

I'll bet many of you have had to agonize through this. If so, post your short synopses below in the comments section.

If not - why not try? It's a good exercise. Shoot for something from 50 to 175 words, and post it below. Be sure to include your book's title and contact info if it's already on the market.

Good luck. And when you squeeze a few minutes or hours of writing into your day today - write like the wind!

- Aaron


joylene said...

I hate writing a synopsis. Thank you for doing this, Aaron. And your novel sounds fascinating. If I was an agent, I'd of jumped on it.

Kim Smith said...

You make it sound fantastically simple and you did an awesome job, thanks Aaron! You are my inspiration!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, Ladies. You are very kind! But it is not simple at all - oh no. Such a challenge to me. Without great friends, however, I could never have done it. The power of connecting has all sorts of ramifications, from friendship to tough love writing advice, to support in hard times. We all need each other and are very blessed!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

By the way, I reposted this on at:

Tons of synopses were subbed and reviewed, if you're interested!