In my bid to get Answer published and thus earn big sacks of money and cool-person points, I’m currently in the process of writing a synopsis. The synopsis is important, as it’s likely the only thing a prospective agent or publisher will read before deciding whether or not to assign your manuscript to the recycling bin, and this pressure makes synopsis-writing even more painful than it would otherwise be.
Synopsising one’s own work is never easy or enjoyable. For one, the longer I spend working on one huge ambitious idea, the harder it become for me to succinctly describe it in one elegant ~400 word package. Picking which bits are important enough to include becomes so much harder, because to me, all the bits are important.
There’s also a kind of egotism involved that sets my teeth on edge. Writing a synopsis is much more like a marketing exercise than it is a work of creative writing; in fact it’s entirely like a marketing exercise, as this is the one piece of work that will hopefully persuade someone in charge of money that this big ol’ pile of words I’ve written is a marketable product.
I’m really bad at self-promotion. It does not gel with my ego. Having to describe something I’ve written as a ‘tautly-paced science-fiction thriller’ makes me feel positively unwell.
After a number of aborted attempts, all of which ended up too long, too vague or too damn boring, I have settled on a method of synopsis writing that from this point I will use whenever I am required to synopsise something.
The trick is to write as if you are writing a trailer for a 90’s action movie narrated by Don LaFontaine, that bloke off of every movie trailer ever. Somehow, imagining his voice intoning the words makes the whole exercise bearable; even enjoyable. Now it feels less like I’m writing a piece of self-congratulatory propaganda, and more like I’m writing a goddamn action movie.
Every synopsis effectively begins with some equivalent of the now-iconic ‘In a world…’. ‘In a world…’ is the perfect opening phrase, because it forces you to focus on the one theme of the novel that is most important. What is happening in the world of your novel? What is it that defines everything else that happens after that initial statement of intent? This is the heart and soul of a synopsis.
Don LaFontaine isn’t only useful for the opening line; he’s indispensible throughout the process. Imagine him narrating the whole piece. One important aspect of Don LaForntaine is that nothing he says is ever boring. If something you’ve written sounds boring when spoken with the voice of Don LaFontaine, then you’ve written something boring. Some of those words need disappear; maybe that whole passage needs replacing with one more worthy of Don LaFontaine.
This is the basis of the Don LaFontaine Method for synopsis writing. It can be expanded upon; for example, in particularly difficult times it may be worth writing whilst imagining a slow-motion explosion, maybe with a car flipping slowly end over end, probably whilst on fire. Anything that leads to feeling more like you’re writing the sort of thing that would star a pre-Scientology Tom Cruise, and less like writing a brief pamphlet on how well you have put some sentences together, should be vigorously embraced.
Having established this, it’s probably about time I stopped procrastinating and got on with writing that damn synopsis.