By The Hilt

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Emerson

What’s It About?

So you write a novel.  You sit back and proudly display this mass of text and feel a great surge of triumph wash over you.  Excited, you go to tell your friends and family (and maybe even coworkers and acquaintances) of your accomplishment.  They congratulate you, and then they ask, “So what’s it about?”  If you’re anything like me, this question will stop you dead… but not right away.

Me: Oh, it’s medieval fantasy!  It’s about these two guys… who fight evil…

And then I realize (or rather, remember) how bad I am at giving a synopsis.  It seems like to no matter what, when you summarize the plot of a fantasy novel (and many other genres too, really), it just comes out sounding really lame and juvenile.  Even if it’s really not.  Again and again, when I try to summarize the plot of a fantasy novel to someone who doesn’t read fantasy, it ends up sounding like a children’s story.  Now, I will admit that I am particularly bad at giving/writing synopses, but I’ve never been fond of synopses as a whole.  They just never seem to do the work justice.  Teasers end up sounding hokey or just plain bad instead of luring a potential reader in.

And that’s not the only problem with synopses; some of them don’t even accurately describe the contents of the novel.  Again, this seems to be especially true with fantasy… or perhaps this time it’s simply due to my disproportionate exposure to that genre (it is my favorite, after all).   I recall, on a few occasions, finishing a book and then reading the back of it, only to stare at it in confusion, thinking, “That’s not the book I just read.”  Those ones really make me wonder; did the author and publisher and editor (and everyone else involved) really fail to catch that?  Or did they notice and think, “That’s fine.”  Either way, that’s really strange.  The synopsis is a marketing tool, essentially, a small tidbit whose sole purpose is to lure potential readers into buying and/or reading the book.  So would it not be in the best interests of those who want to sell the book to make it accurate?  (I am thinking particularly here about books whose synopses sound like something worse than how the book turned out.  I suppose if the book sucked and the synopsis sounded like a better book, that would at least make sense on a marketing level… except I’m pretty sure that would then be false advertising, and thus illegal.  Maybe.  Silly rules.)

However, the synopsis is somewhat indispensable.  Unless you’re J.K. Rowling and wrote something as amazingly famous as the Harry Potter books, you need some way to let the reader know what’s contained in those thousands of words of text.  Readers, those fickle creatures, needs something to draw them in, or else they will scatter to the four winds without so much as cracking the cover.  …Unless it’s a really pretty cover.  Let’s face it, we’re all pretty prone to picking up a book with a cool-looking cover.  Still, it’s better not to bank on that.

So, anyone have any tips for writing a good synopsis for one’s own story?  What are your thoughts on synopses?

Write always,

E.S. Hilt

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4 thoughts on “What’s It About?

  1. Funny you wrote about this – I was just looking at some library books today and noticing that the book jacket synopses sometimes don’t match the book content.
    But synopsis are hard because they are short – and writers just get too involved with the story and are afraid of leaving something out…it’s hard to write briefly and concisely.

    • It is hard to be brief and concise, and yet…
      I don’t usually have a problem with being brief and concise, yet for the life of me, I can’t write a good synopsis for my own stories. Then again, maybe that’s it right there – I guess being “too close” to the story could be causing the problem.
      Thanks for the thoughts!

  2. ginaray on said:

    What can I say about synopsis or book proposals? I’d rather slit my throat than have to do one, or explain what the book is about. Do you think it stems from when we were in school, and having to do a book report on a book we didn’t read, but were supposed to? Sum up in two paragraphs,class, what the book was about…chirp…chirp!

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