August 14th, 2017

Getting Your Fabulous Characters into Your Synopsis

Suzanne Purvis

I’m thrilled to be back at Writers in the Storm to share a few more tidbits about building a successful synopsis. In fact, you can build a Sizzling and Scintillating Synopsis.

I know the mere mention of a synopsis sends many writers to tears. And I’ve found the perfect antidote: Writers’ Tears.

Yes, there’s a real Irish Whiskey named just for us.

Alas, only available in the UK and Canada. 🙁

So instead of leaving the country and slurping gallons of whiskey, you can use all your writerly expertise and build a synopsis that matches your extraordinary book.

Last time I was here, I provided a few helpful synopsis checklists, some info about adding voice, and ideas showing how to keep your synopsis tight and trim. You can check it out here.

Today, we’ll delve into getting your interesting, intriguing, unique characters into the synopsis with as few words as possible. Because don’t those darn synopses often demand a low word count?

Most of the time, a sizzling synopsis will begin with an introduction to your absolutely phenomenal main character. After all, the characters are the interesting vehicles that tell your story. And they’re the piece of your story that agents, editors, and contest judges usually want to hear about first.

The simplest way is to provide your character’s name (which in itself can be intriguing and interesting) and then add 1, 2 or 3 descriptive words or phrases that differentiates your character from any other girl, boy, woman, man, alien, dog, etc.

And hopefully with these descriptors you can show why this character is the perfect character to tell your story.

For instance, from the movies. . .

Rocky Balboa, a down-on-his luck, small time boxer

A unique name, (Rocky Balboa)

an interesting occupation (small time boxer)

and a hint of conflict (down-on-his luck)

 

Here are a few examples of character introductions from students in my class. . .

From Lauri Corkum’s WIP The Prism Protocol.

DANNI WALTERS, a disgraced and discarded CIA operative. . . 

Lauri sets up the conflict with just a few words, and she used great alliteration with disgraced and discarded.

 

From Becky Rawsley’s WIP Merlin’s Children.

TESS BOWDEN, a seventeen-year-old student is a self-confessed science-nerd and magic-sceptic who has the unwelcome ability to see demons.

Becky’s WIP is YA, and often I recommend adding in the main character’s age or grade to show the genre.

Look at the conflict for this character.

She’s a science nerd, magic skeptic, but can see demons. Wow.

And look at the title Merlin’s Children.

Tess is going to be wrapped up with magic and Merlin; yet, she’s skeptical of magic and believes in the facts of science.

Seems like the perfect character to go on this journey.

 

We’re not yet looking at what the character wants or why.

That comes next.

For now, all you want to do is get that irresistible character(s) on the page.

According to Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook . . . 

“. . . a multidimensional character will keep us guessing . . . we are more likely to identify with them .. . because there is more of them to see.”

With your descriptive adjectives, you can add that multidimensionality in just a few words. It’s not impossible. 🙂

So, in your synopsis, you’ve introduced your main character, then you’ll share your setting, your plot points and of course, your ending. But along with your fabulous character, you’ll want to make sure you show your character’s arc. Don’t worry it’s not as daunting as it sounds.

Character Arc

If you cover these next stages in your synopsis, you’ll show your character’s arc.

First Stage:

At the start of your story, WHO is your main character? What kind of person is he/she?

What is his/her approach to life?

And you’ll show this with your interesting character introduction.

Second Stage:

Describe how your main character is thrust into a situation where he/she is pressured to change.

This is usually shown with your inciting incident.

Third Stage:

Does your main character decide to take a leap of faith and change? Of course they do. Show the how and when.

Does he/she adopt a new approach or take some uncharacteristic action? Or does she hold true to who she is and become more entrenched in her attitude or approach?

Fourth Stage:

At the end of the novel, is the main character better off because of the choices he/she has made? Does the reader feel he/she has done the right thing? Or in the case of a tragedy, the main character could be far worse off.

If you include these four stages in your synopsis, you can’t help but show your character’s arc.

Hopefully, these suggestions will make it easier for you to write a synopsis without tears.

And if you’re looking for more help, check out my September class at Lawson Academy — The Sizzling, Scintillating Synopsis

Feel free to share your intriguing character intro in the comments or ask any questions regarding writing a sizzling synopsis.

Suzanne Purvis is a transplanted Canadian living in the Deep South, where she traded “eh” for “y’all.” An author of long, short, flash fiction for both children and adults, she has won several awards including those sponsored by the University of Toronto, RWA, Bethlehem Writer’s Roundtable, and Women Who Write. You can find her work in print anthologies, magazines, ezines, and ebooks. www.suzannepurvis.com

 

 

 

41 comments to Getting Your Fabulous Characters into Your Synopsis

  • Brilliant! I’m of the theory that synopsis, though painful, don’t have to be dry as dust. You just showed us how. Thank you!!!!

  • Thanks, Suzanne. Once again, I’m struggling with a synopsis so your post has come at exactly the right time. Loads of useful instruction!

  • Good news! Writers Tears can be found in Philly! My daughter sent me a picture of the bottle with a subtle suggestion about it perhaps helping my writers block. Great post, and helpful as always.

  • I found a wine called Writer’s Block. I still have the empties on my bookshelf.

    One thing I don’t miss after going indie is having to write the synopsis. The back cover copy and different length blurbs/descriptions for the sales channels are challenges enough. Your first two tips can be adapted to the “stop with the hook” requirements of marketing copy.

  • Great post! I have two manuscripts I’m submitting, and I just finished writing the synopsis for both. They are both dry as dust. I had a terrible time writing them. I tried using my author’s voice, but I couldn’t. Both of your posts couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you. You have found the perfect balance. Thank you! I know that they will better!

    • Thanks for commenting, Joyce. Writing a sizzling synopsis is a skill. But a skill that’s easily learned. You can write sizzling prose for your story, and with easy step-by-step instruction you can get your fabulous voice into the synopsis. You’re a skilled writer. Glad I could help out.

  • Your information is not only “user friendly,” it’s the gift that keeps giving! Your helpful hints get the brain going in the right direction and are great for writing synopses and blurbs and taglines…

    • Thanks for stopping by, Sandy. You’re so right that a scintillating character introduction can be used in all kinds of marketing. Glad I could get your brain pointed in the right direction. 🙂

  • The dreaded synopsis. I love your movie comparison, and the simple straight forward approach you give us. Keep breaking it down for us! I appreciate you and all your wisdom. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for reading, Robbin, but no more DREADED synopsis. Remember it’s a sizzling, scintillating synopsis. 🙂 I’m just kidding. I know how many writers dread synopsis writing. Glad I can help.

  • Beverly Turner

    This comes at the perfect time for me. I have put off writing the synopsis for my WIP as long as I can. But with your tips, I’m going to jump in. Thanks so much.

  • Brynn Spears

    Great tips for taming this ugly beast we call the synopsis. I like how you have broken the process down into stages. This small-steps approach makes a seemingly unmanageable task truly manageable.

  • Great synopsis tips and I love Becky’ Rawsley’s Tess character. (Shout out to my friend Becky :))

  • Mary Bailey

    After reading your article I will be able to write the dreaded synopsis after many, many attempts. Thank you very much.

  • Becky Rawnsley

    Thanks to your teaching and encouragement in your class, writing my synopsis was practically painless and actually a whole lot of fun – I can totally recommend this class! Now I just have to finish the darn book – do you do a class on second draft edits? 😉

    PS Hey there Debbie – thanks for the comment 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by, Becky. Your book needs to be out there. You’ve got the synopsis and I offer Revision Boot Camp, coming up in October. Finish that darn book would you. 🙂

  • Writers Tears is available online. I’m not much of a drinker but I had to have this whiskey for the name alone. I assure you, one tiny sip and you’ll be able to write a synopsis!

  • Fae Rowen

    Thanks for the online shopping tip, Lorraine. I was talking to a friend about a trip we’d like to take to Ireland and I told her I wanted to bring back a bottle of whiskey. I think she dropped her phone, since I don’t drink.

    And Suzanne, thank you for making it look easier to write “the dreaded synopsis.” I can almost believe Becky saying it was fun. Almost…

    • Thanks for stopping by Fae. A trip to Ireland, with the bonus of bringing home Writer’s Tears? You have to go! And I know it may seem impossible, but we really do have fun building that sizzling synopsis. No more “dreaded” allowed. 🙂

  • Thanks for reading, Robbin, but no more DREADED synopsis. Remember it’s a sizzling, scintillating synopsis. 🙂 I’m just kidding. I know how many writers dread synopsis writing. Glad I can help.

  • Thanks for your article, Suzanne – and The Sizzling,Scintillating Synopsis class at Margie Lawson’s last year. Not scared at all, anymore. In fact love the challenge. Oh and if you venture further south, and across a bit, Writers Tears is available in Oz.
    Cheers, Wendy.

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Happy to hear you’re not scared anymore about synopsis writing. Yay! And whoo hoo, another reason to come to Oz–visiting you and Writers Tears. 🙂

  • Thanks for these reminders of your wonderful Sizzling, Scintillating Synopsis class. If readers have not signed up for the next class, Do. Not. Hesitate. Suzanne takes you by the hand and leads you through the process. Painless and (who’d have thought?) fun!

  • Victoria Marie Lees

    When a high school counselor informs Victoria, a mother of five young children, that her oldest child who is learning-disabled should not take regular ed classes in high school, should not go to college, Victoria confronts her own fears and begin college herself. Victoria tries hiding from Inferiority’s taunts throughout college. Most times, it doesn’t work.

    Thanks, Suzanne, for this excellent post. I’ve shared it online. I’d be interested in what you think of my character above.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Victoria. Thanks for sharing the post, and thanks too for sharing your character and story.

      You’ve done an excellent job letting us in on the story’s plot and the conflict your main character is facing. What you could look to add is something more about Victoria. From what you’ve given us all we really know is she’s a mother of five young children and one of them has a disability.

      One thing I share in class is in the synopsis be sure you share your character’s last name, without one, it’s almost like they’re only half a character. 🙂

      Next, you could share some adjectives that describe Victoria. Is she young? Is she divorced? Happily married? Is she a high school drop out and that’s why the inferiority taunts? Maybe she’s middle-aged and frumpy?

      Remember Becky’s science nerd, magic sceptic who sees demons and is going to have to deal with Merlin? Just with those adjectives the reader can tell there’s going to be conflict.

      So I’ll just make some stuff up 🙂 and add to what you have to give you an idea. (my adds in all caps–no yelling 🙂 )

      When a high school counselor informs Victoria SMITH, A HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT, RECENTLY DIVORCED, STRUGGLING-TO-MAKE-ENDS-MEET, mother of five, that her oldest child who is learning-disabled should not take regular classes in high school, and should not go to college, Victoria confronts her own fears and begins college herself. Victoria tries hiding from Inferiority’s taunts throughout college. Most times, it doesn’t work.

      By adding in the high school dropout, recently divorced, struggling-to-make-ends-meet the reader can guess some of the “fears” you mention and can imagine why there are inferiority taunts.

      Hope this gives you some ideas and thanks again for sharing.

  • Victoria Marie Lees

    Thanks so much for this, Suzanne!

    Actually, Victoria struggled in school as well, although not to the degree of her daughter. No one believed in Victoria’s desire to attend college when she was signing up for high school classes. She was told by her father that she wasn’t college material, and she believed him. Victoria wanted to make sure her daughter knew she had someone who believed in her college desire no matter what Victoria had to do to make it possible.

  • […] Compelling characters are one way to draw readers in and get them hooked. K.M. Weiland gives us 4 ways to write a thought-provoking mentor character, James Scott Bell has the ingredients of a great series character, and Suzanne Purvis shows how to get your fabulous characters to shine in your synopsis. […]

  • I just completed the Writers Digest Conference Pitch Slam, and 2 agents asked for my synopsis, which I intended to rewrite anyway. You’ve just given me a great new method. Thanks.

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