Doing a novel synopsis…

16 Mar

I have no problem telling people I’m writing a novel. It makes me sound Interesting at parties. “You’re writing a novel?” But inevitably, people ask me, “What is it about”? They want a 30-second synopsis. Or is it 30 words? Anyway, that’s when I get tongue-tied. I suck at giving synopses, and usually just say lame stuff like, “I don’t know,” or “It’s complicated”, or… I change the subject.

It’s not like I’m embarassed about my novel or anything. It’s just it’s… it’s a character-driven novel with a bit of a complicated plot, and how do you summarize such a thing? Plot-driven novels usually have a concept, or a premise. Something that started the whole writing process in the first place, something the writer is shooting for that lets him/her know when it’s complete.

My novel had no such premise at all in the beginning. It started off as a soap opera about a bunch of academics. A few professors, some grad students. But it’s not about academia. That’s just the setting. It’s about relationships. Oh! That’s another vague lame thing I say at parties. “It’s about relationships”. Gee, thanks, that cleared it up. It’s about a young woman, a graduate student, and her relationships with people–her advisor, her friends, her family members. It’s about her mommy issues and her anger management issues. But the novel isn’t just about her, it’s about a collection of people in her immediate world. Her advisor, her friends, her family members, and their issues as well.

I guess it’s about (theme-wise), self-control and people’s need to or inability to control others and themselves. But I only know that because my beta-reader writing coach told me that after she read it. Still, it gave me an idea for a title: “dis/inhibition”.

I once synopsized the novel as “it’s about a young woman who is emotionally screwed up and how she begins to learn not to be.”

That sounds so dull. Would you read a book with that blurb on the back cover?

You know, just to put this in context, if you had to give a 30-second synopsis of BtVS to someone at a party, how would you do it? Would giving the premise do it justice? “It’s a TV show about a young woman who is a Slayer, a supernaturally strong warrior who fights demons and vampires.”

Or would you instead try to concentrate on the metaphorical element of the show? “It’s a show that uses vampires and demons and other critters to metaphorically represent the various struggles of growing up into adulthood”?

Or would you give a short summary of Buffy’s 7-year journey from young reluctant one-slayer-in-all-the-world to mature woman who has struggled with power and responsibility and found a way to make peace with a life’s calling?

Or would any summary not to do justice to the fact that the story is also about her friend’s journies as well? Would you need to throw in a note about the fact that Giles and Willow also struggle with issues of power (as Watcher and Witch) and Xander also dealt with that theme as well as he learned to deal with being the most “powerless” of the group?

And that’s assuming the struggles with power is the major over-riding theme of the show. But hey, let’s just assume it is for the sake of argument. Would giving a good synopsis of BtVS require you to summarize its theme?

51 Responses to “Doing a novel synopsis…”

  1. neshaffer March 25, 2004 at 12:38 pm #

    I was mostly remembering how someone had said that the only thing keeping the gang from being facists was their lack of power.
    Phew. That’s a matter of perspective. Does Buffy make grand decisions for people in her life without consulting them? If so, she might do that for the whole world if she had the power to. But it’s not clear to me Buffy made grand decisions for people in her life without consulting them. In contrast, look at Angel, who has made decisions that effected Buffy, Connor, and others without asking for their input first. He’s what we call “paternalistic”. Would he be a fascist if given the opportunity? Perhaps, but in that loving paternalistic sense–“I care about people intensely, and I’m making these sweeping choices that will effect their lives without their permission For Their Own Good.”
    Would Buffy do that? I don’t know.

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