Murder and Matchmaking

Murder and Matchmaking
A novel mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Pride & Prejudice

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Art of Writing a Plot Synopsis

I’ve been reading many tips on how to write a good plot synopsis recently as I’ve been working on refining my own. The general consensus amongst agents and other knowledgeable types seems to be that shorter is better.

For me, the easiest way to get to a short synopsis was to write a long one and to keep cutting it down. It's not always an easy thing to keep it short when you're talking about a novel you have poured hours into and have a great deal of enthusiasm for. However, good query letters aren't about gushing and raving about the brilliance of your own writing.

I’m still not sure I’ve made my synopsis as tight as it could be, so I’d appreciate any feedback anyone has but I thought it might be an interesting process to share.

Original Synopsis

Meg Smith is a normal, sixteen-year-old girl but her life is turning out to be anything but normal. She lives with her Mum who is a successful divorce lawyer in Orlandia, a once traditional and magical kingdom of fairy tales and happily ever afters, but the people of Orlandia stopped believing in that sort of thing years ago. When Meg’s Aunt Cassie shows up unexpectedly one evening, gives her a wand and tells Meg that she is destined to become a fairy godmother, she doesn’t believe a word of her crazy aunt’s story. However, when she accidentally uses magic to get revenge on Josh Knightley, her rival who she considers the most annoying boy at school, things start to go terribly wrong.

Her best friend Sarah blames her for causing her to fight with her boyfriend, and to make matters worse, it looks like her mum is dating Josh’s dad. Then Meg’s dad, Gill Gallant, a famous, heroic knight of the old realm, drops in during his latest book tour and decides he needs to stick around in Meg’s life. Between her father’s disastrous and embarrassing attempts to work in a series of regular jobs, and her Aunt Cassie using magic to pose as a teenager at Meg’s high school, her family are causing more chaos than any girl should have to cope with. As her life seems on the brink of disaster, Meg decides she might have to learn how to be a fairy godmother after all. But when Aunt Cassie decides that Cindy Taylor, the shyest girl in school (complete with an evil step-sister), is the perfect candidate for Meg to help find true love, it turns out being a fairy godmother is more complicated than she thought. If extreme makeovers and staging dangerous situations for Cindy to be rescued by the most handsome boy in the school weren’t difficult enough, Meg then discovers that Cindy has fallen in love with Josh. The problem is that Meg has realised she has feelings for him too. With the Halloween school ball coming up, Meg has to face her toughest decision yet as a fairy godmother. Who should get the happy ending? Cindy or herself?


Word Count = 367

Note: I wrote this one back when the novel was more or less in its first draft form. There has been some heavy editing and rewrites since then so some of the plot and characters have been substantially changed.

Second Plot Synopsis

Meg Smith is a smart, down-to-earth sixteen-year-old girl so when her crazy aunt shows up and tells her that she is destined to become a fairy godmother, she doesn’t believe her ridiculous story. However, when she inadvertently uses magic to get revenge of her arch-rival Josh, things start to go terribly wrong. Her best friend Sarah blames her for causing her break-up with her boyfriend, and to make matters worse, it looks like her mom is dating Josh’s dad. With her life heading for disaster, Meg decides she has to learn how to take control of her fairy godmother destiny. But when Aunt Cassie decides that Cindy Taylor, the shyest girl in school (complete with an evil step-sister), is the perfect candidate for Meg to help find true love, it turns out that being a fairy godmother is more complicated than she thought. If extreme makeovers and staging dangerous situations for Cindy to be rescued by the most handsome boy in the school weren’t difficult enough, Cindy then falls in love with Josh. The problem is that Meg is starting to realise that she has feelings for him too. With the Halloween school ball coming up, Meg has to face her toughest decision yet as a fairy godmother. Who should get the happy ending? Cindy or herself?

Word Count = 219

Most Recent Version of Plot Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old Meg doesn’t believe her crazy aunt when she tells her that she’s destined to become a fairy godmother but when she inadvertently uses magic to get revenge on her arch-rival Josh with disastrous results, she decides she needs to learn to control her powers. If magical makeovers and orchestrated rescue situations weren’t hard enough, the girl she’s supposed to help falls for Josh just as Meg realises she has feelings for him too. Now Meg must face her toughest challenge as a fairy godmother yet – deciding who should get the happy ending.

Word Count = 93

I think they are definitely improving as they get shorter. I don’t feel that I’ve omitted anything essential in the last one but I’m curious if there are points that people preferred about the earlier versions. I’d be interested if anyone has any suggestions about how I could make the synopsis even tighter or better.

3 comments:

Dan said...

Hi Debbie

I think you're on the right track. I was glazing over a bit reading the first 2; too many names, too much going on.

The short one held my interest and cut to the crux of the action and established the crisis points well.

Nice one.

Debbie Cowens said...

Thank you.

Matt said...

It's interesting that both the novel and the synopsis have become more streamlined! The character Gil was quite important in the first draft, and is pretty much gone from the current version?

Simpler definitely = better with the synopses. I like finishing on the personal conflict of who should get a happy ending. It's a good signal to the reader that there will be a happy ending, but makes it clear that there's going to be some strife along the way :-)