How to write a fantasy trilogy synopsis…I think

Ok, I have spent four days on this darn synopsis, (actually for a quartet rather than a trilogy). Which is ridiculous. I can write 5,000 words on a good day, and it has taken me four days to write a summary of just over 2500 words? I am now trimming it down…aargh. This has got to be harder than writing 25,000 words.

Here’s a few hints for any other poor sod who has to do this.

Firstly, if you are writing a synopsis, you have probably already got the interest of an agent/publisher. So you don’t have to worry too much about a startling grab-me hook. You have to do two things instead: make the whole story sound interesting and show the publisher/agent that you know where you are going with it. (Your ability to write good English is a given, right?)

Secondly, do NOT think that you are going to hold back the ending because “I want the editor to be knocked endwise by the twist when s/he reads the book”. A synopsis is just that: it tells the person reading it the story, in summary, and that includes the ending.

Thirdly, the problem peculiar to fantasy is that none of the fantastical bits are going to make too much sense in summary. “But the Redduner left his zigger cage on the pede…” may be a crucial incident in the tale, but it is going to mean absolutely nothing to anyone out of context. Worse, it all sounds a bit stupid. So how to get around this? In the actual book there’s a slow unfolding of how the magic works and what it does; in a synopsis you have to explain very briefly, and NOT show.

So what I do is start the synopsis with a few paragraphs under a subtitle of “The World” or “The Land” or something similar, where I describe briefly what makes this world unique and how its magic works. I end this section with a bit on the trilogy’s themes (nothing too heavy handed though. I’m a storyteller first.) And I hope to make this section really interesting because I suspect it will do more to sell the books than the truncated version of the story that follows – although that will now make sense, at least.

Fourthly, I deal with each book separately. I turf out all the minor characters and try to sketch in the bare outlines of the story, enough to be coherent, not enough to muddle. You can’t do much to show your skill with characterization, but I feel it pays to put a bit in about a couple of the most important characters. Here’s how I describe the villain of the piece: …a cold-eyed pede rider named Shanim, known for his unquestioning loyalty to Devin and his indifference to suffering, either his own or anyone else’s.

Anyway, I can tell you one good thing that came out of this exercise. I know exactly how Book 4 is going to end now. I always knew what I wanted to achieve by the end – that is, I knew the state of the world and the position of the characters at the end of the quartet – but I couldn’t quite get a handle on the climactic ending that was going to get me there, [what Russell Kirkpatrick calls “a typical Larke climax” of cataclysmic instability a la “Gilfeather”, “The Tainted”, “Havenstar” and “Song of the Shiver Barrens”].

Now I have it, and it’s a beaut.

I hate writing synopsis, but they sure do help to get your thinking straight. I am on top of the world tonight – hey, this quartet is gonna be good.

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Sebatik Island, Sabah

Originally posted in Glenda’s blog on Sunday, 11 March 2007 (13 Comments).


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