Article of the Month
 
 

        SYNOPSIS CREATION- PLOT REVISION
                     c. 2002 by Alicia Rasley
 


    Much as I hate writing a synopsis, there's no doubt that doing it before you get too deep into your story can show you plot flaws and logic lapses. So bear with me here.  I'm going to present you with a trite, bland synopsis first.  This synopsis is meant to be lousy... so don't emulate it.  The synopsis, I fear, is bad primarily because the plot it is summarizing is even worse– slow, vague, and inactive.  So in revising the synopsis, I make suggestions for punching up the plot too.  First you'll see the lousy synopsis, then my critique, and finally the revised synopsis.  And don't worry.  This book doesn't exist and will never get written. <G>

the bad synopsis

                           Romance 101
                       a young adult novel
     Sarah is in love with Brad, the Wynette High School star linebacker.  She hopes he will ask her out.  Her feminist mother Lucy tells her to go for it, to ask him out, but Sarah is too shy.

     So she tries to attract his attention in several different ways. She goes to football practices as well as the games.  When she hears Brad isn't doing well at English, she volunteers to tutor him.  As a columnist for the student newspaper, she's good at writing, and he's glad to take advantage of her help.

     She confides in her best friend Beth, who is Brad's cousin. But even with Beth's help, Sarah can't get Brad to regard her as anything but a tutor.  Then Beth suggests she write a story about the football team for the student newspaper.  Sarah focuses it on Brad and his feats in tackling quarterbacks. The newspaper editor, Jake, tells her the story is too "puffy" and tones it down in editing.  But it's still laudatory enough that Brad calls her up and invites her to come to the big scrimmage the next day to see him in action.  Sarah tells herself that this is almost a date.

     But there's no further invitation from Brad.  She realizes the subtle approach hasn't worked. So finally she gathers her courage and phones to ask him to go to a movie with her.  He says no.  Upset, she stumbles into the newspaper office, her only refuge.  Jake is there, and she confides in him.  He takes her into his arms and says that Brad was all wrong for her anyway, that only another writer can understand the real Sarah and appreciate her.  She now sees that all along, the love she has been looking for has been right beside her.
 


 
My Critique of the Above Synopsis
 

     Sarah is in love with Brad, the Wynette High School star linebacker.  She hopes he will ask her out.  Her feminist mother Lucy tells her to go for it, to ask him out, but Sarah is too shy.
     Power up this protagonist– give her a goal... and show the conflict.  Sarah will do anything to get a date with star linebacker Brad Morris... everything except ask him out.  Also bring on the hero!  He shouldn't be a big surprise.  Something like–
Jake, her boss at the student newspaper...

     So she tries to attract his attention in several different ways.
    Make events here– and take them all the way through.  Cause-event-effect.  Don't lump them all together.  Show the conflict she faces and the actions she takes.

      She goes to football practices as well as the games.  When she hears Brad isn't doing well at English, she volunteers to tutor him.  As a columnist for the student newspaper, she's good at writing, and he's glad to take advantage of her help.   She confides in her best friend Beth, who is Brad's cousin.
    Organize events for rising action.  Also look to put in more conflict.  Don't make Beth her best friend– where's the conflict there?  Make her a rival on the newspaper... because a rival wouldn't give her help without getting something in return.  Make the character PAY for each step she takes!
    Consider forcing a moral dilemma on her here– As she guides him through writing a paper, she realizes she's doing more of the work than he is... uneasiness.  Also show the effect of this action on the overall plot– She hopes he will ask her out, but instead he just recommends her as a tutor to all his friends. (unintended but plausible consequence)

    But even with Beth's help, Sarah can't get Brad to regard her as anything but a tutor.  Then Beth suggests she write a story about the football team for the student newspaper.
    Too much Beth here.  Make Sarah the instigator.  While she is covering Beth's sports beat, (follow through on that plotthread) Sarah takes the opportunity to write about Brad.

    Sarah focuses it on Brad and his feats in tackling quarterbacks. The newspaper editor, Jake, tells her the story is too "puffy" and tones it down in editing.
    Again, up the conflict here, make her work for it.  Jake, the editor, confronts her, says she's not being objective, that she needs to rethink the article and come up with a real story.  She has to "mask" her puff piece with a stronger focus on how the defense is overlooked but essential, and just uses Brad as an example.  She realizes it's a stronger story, but worries it won't further her goal.

    But it's still laudatory enough that Brad calls her up and invites her to come to the big scrimmage the next day to see him in action.  Sarah tells herself that this is almost a date.
    Consider another moral dilemma here, like: Jake tells her he needs her to cover the big cross-country meet– he can't do it because he's on the team.  It conflicts with the scrimmage.  She agonizes, but reluctantly realizes she has to do her job, and covers the meet, and runs from there to the scrimmage just in time to see the team stagger off the field.  She does the right thing and there's a good result? NO– need conflict– she does the right thing and the result is more trouble.

     But there's no further invitation from Brad.  She realizes the subtle approach hasn't worked.  So finally she gathers her courage and phones to ask him to go to a movie with her.  He says no.
    Don't blow the big scene!  This is your crisis.  First, motivate it.  A deadline will help.  She doesn't want any old date; she wants him to take her to the homecoming dance.  This gives her more motivation to overcome her internal conflict of shyness and thrust herself forward at this moment. (Put that in the beginning as her goal. Specific helps.)
    Now make it a real crisis full of sturm and drang.  Power up the setting– she can't get him on the phone so she approaches him in the hall between classes.  Put her at risk!  He doesn't just say no, he laughs at her. Then– how can you make it worse?  He yells to a friend to come over– this little nerd just asked me out! Can you believe it?

     Upset, she stumbles into the newspaper office, her only refuge.  Jake is there, and she confides in him.  He takes her into his arms and says that Brad was all wrong for her anyway, that only another writer can understand the real Sarah and appreciate her.  She now sees that all along, the love she has been looking for has been right beside her.
    Uhh, how has she earned this love? Don't let her be rescued in the end... make her work for her happy ending.  She stumbles into the newspaper office... to confront an impatient Jake. Where's her column for this week? They're on deadline– ready to go to press!  She cries that she can't do it, she's too destroyed, and he says– so write about it! Don't just whine!  And then what?  What's your big finish?  What shows how she has changed because of her experiences?

 

Revised synopsis
 

     Sarah will do anything to get a date with star linebacker Brad Morris... everything except ask him out.

     No one understands.  Her feminist mother  tells her to go for it, to ask Brad out, but Sarah is too shy. Jake, her boss at the student newspaper, scoffs when he sees her gazing enraptured at Brad's photo and tells her football players have to wear helmets because otherwise their brains would leak out.

     Sarah is determined to get a date, but in her own subtle way.  A former tomboy, she starts attending football practice as well as the games, but all she gets for her trouble is splashed with mud when Brad crashes down right in front of her and gets up, too dizzy even to notice her.

     She is forced to confide in Brad's cousin Beth, a rival on the school paper. Beth says she'll help, but in return Sarah has to cover Beth's sports beat for a week.  Beth's help turns out to be the revelation that Brad is failing English, and suggesting her as a tutor.  Unfortunately, as she guides him through writing a paper, Sarah realizes she's doing more of the work than he is.  When he gets an A, she feels guilty– but hopeful. Perhaps now  he will ask her out.  But all he does is recommend her as a tutor to all his friends.

     So she redoubles her efforts to win him.  While she is covering Beth's sports beat, Sarah takes the opportunity to write about Brad and his feats in tackling quarterbacks. Jake, the editor, confronts her, says she's not being objective, that she needs to rethink the article and come up with a real story.  She has to "mask" her puff piece with a stronger focus on how the defense is overlooked but essential, and just uses Brad as an example.  She realizes it's a stronger story, but worries it won't further her goal.

     Still, her story is still laudatory enough that Brad calls her up and invites her to come to the big scrimmage the next day to see him in action.  Sarah tells herself that this is almost a date.  But then, Jake tells her he needs her to cover the big cross-country meet– he can't do it because he's on the team.  It conflicts with the scrimmage.  She agonizes, but reluctantly realizes she has to do her job, and covers the meet, and runs from there to the scrimmage just in time to see the team stagger off the field.

     But there's no further invitation from Brad.  She realizes the subtle approach hasn't worked.

    So finally she gathers her courage and, taking her feminist mother's advice, decides to ask him for a date– the big Homecoming Dance.  She can't get Brad on the phone, and the only time she sees him in the next day is in the hall between classes.  She blurts out her invitation, and is horrified when he laughs at her. He even yells for a friend to come over and hear this– that the little newspaper nerd actually thinks she could have a date with him!
 
   Humiliated, she stumbles into the newspaper office... to confront an impatient Jake. Where's her humor column for this week? They're on deadline– ready to go to press!  She cries that she can't do it, she's too destroyed, and he says– so write about it! Don't just whine!

     She manages to write a column about the experience, turning her anguish into a comic whine.  Jake stands over her shoulder and edits as she writes, sharpening her wit so that even she ends up laughing as she reads it over.

     But the next morning, she approaches the school with trepidation, as she knows the newspaper will be out and her humiliation will be known to everyone who didn't already know it. She almost turns around, but squares her shoulder and faces the music.  There, at the school door, Jake is waiting for her– waiting to escort her in.  His presence is a comfort, especially when the students reading the paper in the hall point at her and laugh.  Then one girl– a cheerleader– breaks free of the pack and comes over and exclaims, "I loved your column! It was so funny! And I know just who that jerk is– he did the same thing to me!"

     After accepting compliments right and left, she pulls Jake into the newspaper office to thank him for challenging her to be strong.  Gratitude turns tender, and they kiss.  Now she realizes that only another writer can understand the real Sarah and appreciate her– and that all along, the love she has been looking for has been right beside her.
 
 

Alicia Rasley is a 14-year member of Romance Writers of America, a writing teacher, and a RITA-award winning Regency author. She teaches at Painted Rock Writers Colony.
 

If you like my articles, check out my interactive writing booklets and plot guidebook:

The Story Within Writing Series

The Story Within Guidebook

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Go to previous articles:

Paradox in Balance

Character-Plot Coherence

Romantic Turning Points

Individualizing Viewpoint

Multiplicity

Quick Character Motivation Exercise

Dazzling Dialogue Tips

The Submission Journey

Suspense Is More Than Surprise

Scenes on Fire!

 Beginnings, Middles, and Ends: The Purposes

 Character Motivation

 On the Brink: Turbocharge Your Opening

Tightening the Sagging Middle

Sharks in the Water: Old Scams in the New Millennium

The Publishing Journey

Lest Ye Be Judged: Contest Judging for Writers

Setting and Character Interactions

Developing the Dark Moment

The Promise of the Hot Premise

Outline Your Novel in Thirty Minutes

Subtle and Sensual

Plotting Without Fears

Structuring the Story

End Thoughts

Details, Details

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Mail to Alicia: rasley@juno.com