I live in one of those towns–you know the type. It’s the kind of place where beautiful people bustle between their high-paying jobs, their perfect kids’ soccer games, and their tanning booths, rented, of course, by the month, not because there’s any chance a stray cloud might obscure the sun, but for the same reason they do everything else—because everybody else does it. It’s a place where women don’t so much get old as increasingly surprised; a town where nobody sleeps—until nine p.m. Sharp. Except me, that is. I was on a case, and it was a tough one. What I needed was a synopsis. Not just any synopsis, but a synopsis for an intricately plotted novel of ambiguous genre that hosts a huge ensemble cast. I checked with all the usual sources but came up empty. After more dead-ends than I could count, it dawned on me just how dangerous a synopsis in the wrong hands could be. Since in as little as one page, a good synopsis reveals the entire plot structure of a novel, the last thing an author wants is for such a potent little spoiler to be generally available—and therefore, as I was finding over and over again, generally they are not. You see, from my perspective a synopsis differs from a novel in one very important particular: I’d read novels before—a lot of them. I had a good idea what made one tick. Not so for the synopsis. After being led astray by one too many red herrings, I was forced to finally admit I was in this one over my head. It was time to call in the Chi-town expert.
I might have known. She was a dame, and a blonde one at that. She went by the name of Beth Anderson, and she had a way with words that made it clear, in no uncertain terms, where you stood and just exactly why it was that she was the expert. In three easy steps she blew the case wide-open. I was instructed to start by writing, in one sentence, what the book is about. Next, I was told to describe, also in one sentence, the bare-bones essential action of the beginning of the novel. Finally, I needed a sentence describing the essential action of the ending. This skeletal beginning provided just the framework I needed to build in turn, first a one-page, then a three-page and finally a six-page synopsis. Not only did this process peel back the plot layers to reveal the novel’s intrinsic structure at its most basic level, but it also helped me understand the relative importance of various subplots. By the time I was done, I had a whole new appreciation for the structure of my novel. I had to give her credit; this dame really knew her stuff. But, hey, don’t take my word for it. Check out her advice for yourself:
Here’s the first sentence of my synopsis for Practical Phrendonics, crafted using Beth’s advice:
In a world where magic is Heresy, Practical Phrendonics chronicles the ramifications of a seemingly minor series of Heretical incidents as they escalate out of control, ensnaring not just the perpetrators, but also the investigating Inquisitors and a number of not-so-innocent bystanders in an epic conspiracy that threatens ultimately both the Crown and the Church itself.
The rest, I’m afraid, will have to remain a mystery.