Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Sinfully Sadistic Synopsis Experiment

First of all: ANNOUNCEMENT!

Your good friend and mine Justine Dell is going to be a guest blogger here on TheQQQE tomorrow. She is going to post an ACTUAL query letter of hers that ACTUALLY garnered a full MS submission request along with a little of her own analysis and a bit of my nonsense thrown in for fun.

Please mark your calendars or set up reminders in outlook because Justine is a kind and VERY helpful person who deserves some recognition for her willingness to readily assist others in their quests for publishing glory. Also her query is pretty damn good and is a great example of how to hook an agent.

Anyway I'm going to do something a little different today in preparation for her guest post tomorrow. My synopsis is still pretty bad even now after I have learned a lot about this whole process. But it used to be even worse.

Today I will post the synopsis I included in one of my early query letters. The letter itself was one of my standard early ones. Wrong/too many genres listed, astronomical word count, no hook, no plot, no characterization, funky comparisons to other authors works, awkward explanation about why a novice writer can still write a great book ... you've all seen it before so I'm not going to post the whole query letter part today.

May 11th, 2009






Matthew M. Rush


Lee is a troubled young man from a broken family. His mother dies when he is ten years old and then his father is suddenly incarcerated for her wrongful death. Then the boy’s family is sundered further when his aunts and uncles tear him away from his older sister and force them to live apart in different parts of the country.

I can't believe I said "apart in different parts". Duh.

The book begins with the prologue or introduction by setting up the location of a reform school that young Lee has been sent to and then introducing the other students who have arrived at the same time as him and who will become his peers. They are a diverse bunch of young men and women who have been sent to this place for many different reasons. Almost immediately the group dynamic begins to become complicated but also interesting and well defined.

I do this a lot in my writing, adding clauses like "and who will become his peers" which are totally unnecessary and often even redundant to the rest of the sentence. If they arrived together and are of a school age like the MC then obviously they are his peers. Then the last sentence is all tell no show.

The first chapter is a flashback to Lee’s early childhood. It describes how he was treated for being a chronic bed wetter by receiving a tonsillectomy because he was suffering from sleep apnea as well as receiving several other humiliating treatments and some psychotherapy. It also describes how Lee was a very shy and not an incredibly socially successful child but how he delighted in things like the beauty of nature and being in the wild but also how he was a fast and loyal friend to those he did grow close to. Then his mother’s tragic death occurs and Lee is left wondering what is to become of him.

This is not terrible but of course all that early back story had to go because of the pure length of the MS.

Then the story returns to the reform school and tells how the group of new students is assigned to work in the wood corral for the first several months of their attendance and is not allowed to take any traditional classes. They begin to discover hints of strange and wonderful things going on at the school as well as finding some very interesting architecture that exists within the campus.

Again with the redundant clauses. Working in the wood corral probably makes it obvious they're not allowed to attend classes. Another last sentence that is all tell.

The third chapter flashes back again to Lee’s life with his aunt and uncle in Minnesota and describes the hardships he endures while living under their roof as well as some of the trouble he gets himself into at school. It ends when he is kicked out of their house and sent to live with a friend of the family. Then the book returns to the present and describes a two-man saw tournament that is held in the wood corral on campus, Lee and his Japanese friend Miyamoto just barely miss winning the tournament. After that Lee is caught out of bounds with a female student from his Peer Group and the chapter ends as he worries about his punishment.

This is why writing a synopsis is SO hard for me. There is a fine line between a Table of Contents and a this happens then that happens kind of thing. I imagine it's okay for a synopsis to not be super colorful, but I think it has to retain a little of the voice. This has none.

Lee ends up working for the groundskeeper and after building a softball diamond and raking the sand inside a Zen Rock Garden to resemble a pond during a rainstorm he begins to feel less apprehensive and comes to appreciate the things he is learning at this strange and wonderful school. After finishing the Rock Garden he is taught the ancient art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and before being taken off his punishment has to perform the rite for the Master of the School. He is very nervous but ends up passing with flying colors.

That paragraph is okay. Just okay.

The sixth chapter flashes back again to Lee’s life as he is sent to Boarding school in Tennessee. It tells how he excels academically but once again ends up mostly as a loner. He begins to get into trouble and is eventually expelled for possessing alcohol within his dorm room. When the story returns to the present Lee and his Peer Group have graduated from the Wood Corral and are allowed to begin taking classes. They soon find out that there are almost no traditional academic classes at this unique reform school.

This got cut too. Too many words.

The first class they attend is East Asian Calligraphy where they learn about Chinese Hanzi characters and their Japanese Kanji counterparts. It is only hinted at that they will eventually be able to use the art to create scrolls with magical properties. Then they attend a history and anthropology class, which is followed by their Aikido lesson, in which there are introduced to the mystical concept of Ch’i or Ki. After that they meet the Sensei of their Kenjutsu class who is a stern man that teaches all the students at the school the martial art of fighting with a weapon, primarily the Japanese Sword known as the Katana.

History got cut too. Another reason I struggle with synopsis writing is that I am so long winded that it is really difficult to include any descriptive or voice specific writing like metaphor or simile without making the synopsis over long. I'm still working on this.

In the second half of the book the students are begun to be taught Yoga and Meditation and they learn to further harness the cosmic breath energy which is known as Prana in Hinduism, Ch’i or Qi in Chinese Taoism and Ki energy in Japanese Buddhism. The first chapter in the second half of the book describes a class in which they paint a traditional Tibetan Mandala Sand-Painting which is a beautiful tool that they use to assist their meditations.

Passive voice. One culture would probably suffice. The Mandala got cut too. I liked that part but again: too long.

Then they build a Medicine Lodge and attend a Native American Sweat Lodge Ceremony in preparation for their Wilderness Challenge which is a journey backpacking into the mountains in Western Montana. The book goes on for several more chapters as they trek out into the wilderness and without giving away the ending it should suffice to say that they encounter many dangerous and exciting things in the wild and end up barely escaping with their lives.

I had no idea at the time that a synopsis is actually supposed to give away the ending. In fact declaring the resolution to the conflict in a way that entices the reader is sort of the key to the whole thing.

Her reply:

This is not for me, but thank you for the look.

That's it. No Dear Matthew, no From REDACTED. Nothing extra. No fat to trim off the bone.

It might seem cold but I actually like this reply. It wastes no one's time. It does not apologize for itself. Sure it's a rejection but it's honest and quick, and hell let's face it ... I see enough rejections that short and sweet (sour) like this is a blessing. Not painless, but certainly less painful.

Anyone have any questions or comments about synopses?


Ariel Swan said...

You are inspiring me to share my own synopsis...though I am fearful... eek. You are breave to put it all out there. I am Following by the way and thanks for stopping by my blog. I look forward to reading more of yours.

Ariel Swan said...

Brave not breave

Matthew Rush said...

Thanks Ariel. Try the All Things Feedback board at Nathan Bransford's forums. It's a great place for ... feedback.

JustineDell said...

Hmmm...have you redone this since then? I would really like to see a new one. My fingers are itching to give you some advice ;-) Not that I know what I'm talking about either, though.


Matthew Rush said...

Not really Justine, it hasn't seemed necessary lately, but I'll try to patch it up and throw it up on NB's forums ... maybe this weekend.

Jen said...

Yay for guest blogs!!! Those are the best!

I love reading these! I am excited that I'm a few days away from finishing my first draft so right now querying sounds way to distant and quite daunting at the moment. Though being able to read some of yours gives me a good take on what could possibly happen!

Bish Denham said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog, Matthew! I have become a follower.

Matthew Rush said...

Thanks Bish, much appreciated.

Jen, when you do finish your MS and feel like you're getting close to being ready to query make sure you go post your query letter over in the Everything Feedback board over at Nathan Bransford's forums. There are some very helpful people over there.

Then, once you have a great query, send it out and get a request for your MS, you can come and do a guest blog here so people can see how awesome you are and what a great query looks like.

Tracy said...

You are a brave, brave man to bring your synopsis into your experiment as well. If queries are the devil, than synopsis are Satan Spawn.

Awesome idea about Guest Queriers!

Matthew Rush said...

Thanks Tracy, and you're right. Queries are to cauliflower as synopses are to brussel sprouts.

Falen said...

i am really really looking forward to querying. BUT am totally dreading writing a synopsis.
It seems so boring

Matthew Rush said...


Querying is exciting but can be frustrating too. Synopsis writing sucks, at least for me. There must be some out there who are good at it though I'm sure. Try the forums.

Shelley Sly said...

Looking forward to Justine's guest post. She's a sweetheart.

I've been skimming older posts as well as reading these newer ones, and I just want to thank you for posting these, Matthew. I have my share of query blunders, and I think we can all learn from each other's experiences.

Matthew Rush said...

Shelley, you're right to look forward to it, it's gonna be great. Justine is a sweetheart, and she's been really helpful to me and several others both in blogging and with feedback over at NB's forums.

Thanks for skimming, I can totally understand why you didn't say reading ... because so many of my posts are so darn long!

beth said...

Oh, I hate synopses. Hate them. But, yanno--I do actually like having a rough synopsis BEFORE I write as a guideline--then it's easier to stay focused, and then the synopsis is already there in its rough format.

Angela said...

Real queries are the best! It is so nice to see a rlive example of what caught someone's eye. :)

Matthew Rush said...

Hi Beth and Angela, thanks for stopping by.

I did have an outline for my novel, and it helped a lot while writing. But it's been hard to go from that to a synopsis that works. Stay tuned for updates that include better versions.

And Angela, thanks for pointing that out. That's one of the big reasons I decided to do this blog, because concrete examples can be much more helpful than vague advice.

Please come back tomorrow, Justine's post is gonna be awesome!

Susan Fields said...

Thanks for sharing your synopsis and what you've learned. I'll be gearing up to do that for my current wip in the next month or two (I hope!)

Matthew Rush said...

You're welcome Susan!