The Dreaded Synopsis

I suspect it is an industry standard: the 250, 150, and 50 word synopsis. It may be that some authors, occupying celestial strata I can only dream of, have a publisher’s marketing department write these. I don’t know, I have to do it myself.

The dread synopsis. I can’t be alone in cursing it. A work is technically considered a novel if it exceeds 40,000 words. Most books you pick up are probably in the 65,000 words and up range. The point is, how does one go about summarizing in fifty words a dense narrative of tens or hundreds of thousands of words? What should one highlight? What should one gloss over or ignore? Is there a central theme that resonates? What is the quintessence of the book? What hook will capture a reader’s interest?

And, given that one needs to write three synopses of varying length, what is the best practice? Should one start with the 50-word kernel and build from there? Or is it better to begin with the roomiest synopsis and trim away the excess until only the kernel is left?

Well, as it turns out, I need to engage in this exercise again. Karl Thorson and the Jade Dagger is due for release next month. That means I have the privilege of writing up these marketing synopses. What joy! 

So, how to go about it? I think I’m going to start with the 250-word version. That allows me relatively more elbow room, more freedom to include whatever I feel important. And I can procrastinate, push off the agony of paring away ‘excess’, as if there can be excess in 250 words. Shall we begin?

“From a car chase through the streets of the Cancun, to gun battles and sorcery deep beneath the Yucatan jungle, Karl Thorson and the Jade Dagger keeps the mayhem and magic boiling from the first chapter to the last. Archaeologists uncovering a lost Mayan city unearth a magic artifact, an exquisite jade dagger. An earthquake disturbs the operations of neighboring narcotraffickers, alerting the two groups to each others’ presence. An ancient sorcerer, his mercenary henchmen, and his butler, arrive to claim the artifact. When these three factions converge, Karl Thorson, ex-Special Forces soldier, now in charge of site security at the Mayan ruins, is thrust into action. Dexicos Megistos, a nigh immortal sorcerer, wants to retrieve the mystical Jade Dagger and use it to cause worldwide chaos. Alejandra Matamoros-Lopez wants to smuggle narcotics through the tunnels beneath the ruins, avoiding the notice of rival cartels. Professor May Chen wants to see if any sparks remain from her relationship with the head of the archaeological dig, Professor Jim Allison. Karl Thorson just wants to do his job, and maybe have a cold beer. Can he safeguard the archaeologists, especially the lovely Professor May Chen? Can he defeat a murderous band of narcotraffickers? And can he deprive the sorcerer Dexicos Megistos of the Jade Dagger? He’ll have to survive heavily armed mercenaries, trigger-happy narcos, and magically summoned monsters in the dark, uncharted, subterranean depths of a lost Mayan city. But if anyone can hope to do it, it is Karl Thorson.”

There we go. 250 words. Well, 249, but who’s counting other than me? So, now we trim a hundred words.

“Archaeologists uncovering a lost Mayan city unearth a magic artifact. An earthquake disturbs the operations of neighboring narcotraffickers. An ancient sorcerer and his mercenary henchmen arrive to claim the artifact. When these three factions converge, Karl Thorson, ex-Special Forces soldier, now in charge of site security at the Mayan ruins, is thrust into action. Dexicos Megistos, a nigh immortal sorcerer, wants to retrieve a mystical Jade Dagger. Alejandra Matamoros-Lopez wants to smuggle narcotics through the tunnels beneath the ruins, avoiding the notice of rival cartels. Professor May Chen wants to see if any sparks remain from her relationship with the head of the archaeological dig. Karl Thorson just wants to do his job, and maybe have a cold beer. Can he safeguard the archaeologists, especially the lovely Professor May Chen? Can he defeat a murderous band of narcotraffickers? And can he deprive the sorcerer Dexicos Megistos of the Jade Dagger?” 

There, 150. The opening line was a nice hook, but could be dispensed with to jump right into the meat of the matter. And the last bit was extra detail, information expanding on hints already provided. Prune a bit from the middle, and we’re down to 150. So, now to chop out another 100 words, leaving, I hope, only the essence.

“Archaeologists uncovering a Mayan city unearth a magic artifact. An earthquake disturbs the operations of neighboring narcotraffickers. An ancient sorcerer and his mercenaries arrive to claim the artifact. When these three factions converge, Karl Thorson, ex-Special Forces soldier, in charge of security at the Mayan ruins, is thrust into action.” 

Okay, I think that does it. We cover the three main factions, establish that this is a contemporary action-fantasy, hint at the overall plot, and introduce the main character.

What do you think?