The Perfect Novel Synopsis

The Perfect Novel Synopsis

I’m entering Pitch Wars at the end of this month (next week, yikes), so of course I’m working on my synopsis. Trying to nail that balance of summary and style. How do I convey the emotions of the book while keeping it to one page in length? Which characters are REALLY the most important ones here? Is Comma, when used as the name of a guild of assassins, singular or plural?*

*This particular grammar question is, for the record, killing me. “Comma try” or “Comma tries”? It’s an organisation made up of multiple people, but it’s only one guild. I SUFFER.

Anyway, I’ve made a few attempts. Some have been better than others. But honestly, I think I’ve nailed it.

Let me tell you about my disaster child, Isabel Ryans. She’s a mess. A complete disaster. This girl wouldn’t know a healthy coping mechanism if it danced naked in front of her. Nope, she just straight-up kills people.

Which is, y’know, one way of dealing with your feelings. I’m not saying it’s a good way, but it seems to work for her. Unfortunately, it also gets her into a lot of trouble with at least two separate guilds of assassins, and also the police. Smart, Isabel. Try therapy next time.

Under these circumstances, the sensible thing to do would be to take the deal you’re offered (the one that will, y’know, SAVE YOUR SKIN), negotiate for every inch they’ll give you, and accept that if you’re gonna kill people you should probably be affiliated with the guild that raised you, instead of just running about with a knife willy-nilly.

(The relationship between Isabel and her guild, Comma, is basically that one vine: “Show me what you have” “a knife” “NOOOO”)

But has Isabel ever done the sensible thing in her life? OBVIOUSLY NOT. Because she’s a stabby disaster child. I warned you about this. Nope, Isabel more or less tells Comma to shove it, because she’s doing this alone. She wants to go to school (weirdo). Be normal (overrated). Make friends (good luck with that one…). Being a baby assassin is gonna make all of those things kind of tricky.

I’ll give her this: she’s probablyright about that part. But being a non-affiliated murderer is… not actually that much better, kiddo. Just so you know.

Sadly for Isabel, being a walking catastrophe tends not to mean a quiet life. She attracts bad luck like overcrowded bookshelves attract dust that then torments their poor dust-allergic owner (me). She also attracts enemies. I’m not saying that has anything to do with the fact that she just KILLED a dude but honestly? Probably not unrelated. These things tend to go together.

Anyway, she’s been poisoned. Welp. Hard luck.

The city where she lives sucks at free healthcare (no doubt a relatable problem for my American readers), so Isabel is more or less screwed at this point. Obviously the guild would know how to deal with this, but in case you forgot, she sent them away! Rudely! With profanities! (Gentle reader, there are many profanities in this book. There is also MURDER and if you have more of a problem with Isabel dropping an f-bomb than with her knifing a dude at the tender age of sixteen, your priorities are whack. Seriously, sort it out.)

Can she earn the money? Unlikely. She’s already paying rent with stolen cash because morals are overrated and her parents are terrible (having their bank accounts depleted is the least they deserve). Will her new, wonderful friends be happy if she joins the guild and starts killing again in return for medical care? Nope. That’s a one-way road to isolation and sadness.

So, can she survive this alone? I’m afraid, friends, that the answer to this is simple: absolutely not. This poison is bad.

Like I said. Walking catastrophe. Human disaster. Deeply screwed-up traumatised teenage girl raised to kill people, now with a target on her own back. Isabel Ryans is a mess.

(As you may have guessed, this is not ACTUALLY my synopsis. Mostly because it doesn’t tell you the whole story. But I like it a whole lot better than the real one…)

I’m still inviting questions about uni life in response to my last post! I haven’t had any yet, so if you’re hesitating, please go ahead and ask to save me from the embarrassment of a failed idea.

11 thoughts on “The Perfect Novel Synopsis

  1. The singularity or plurality of organisations depends on two things: which English you are writing in; and what you are actually referring to.

    American English treats organisations as singular under (as far as I know) every circumstance.

    British English treats them as singular or plural depending on whether one is referring to the organisation as an entity or the totality of people who comprise it. For example, “Parliament (the entity) is based in London”, but “Parliament (the group of MPs) are planning to debate that”.

    Other English usages depend on how English came to be spoken there and which sort(s) of English are most commonly heard.

    1. UGH WHY IS GRAMMAR SO TERRIBLE. I’m probably going to stick with singular in the synopsis, because I feel like it’s less confusing (and most of the mentors are based in the US, so I guess it would look correct to them). But that British English usage does explain why I’m struggling so much, because I *knew* I’d seen both in different circumstances.

      1. It’s a clarity vs. simplicity conflict. Having the rule in BrEng can save the need to spell out which meaning one intends but does also add another thing that could go wrong.

        As you say, picking usage that will suit the majority of one’s target audience is a sound approach.

  2. Pardon me as I have never done a synopsis, but should your opinion about the main character be allowed in the synopsis if you make the character sound thoroughly unlikable? I could not laugh at the synopsis as I was too busy looking for a way to like or at least feel sorry for the character. Why would I want to read the book? If I have this all wrong then please pardon my ignorance regarding a synopsis.

    1. Nah, it’s a good question! Obviously this is a joke synopsis and the real thing has a lot more context and emotions to the character’s actions, but truth be told, Isabel isn’t intended to be likeable. She *is* intended to be sympathetic, because frankly she is the way she is due to truly terrible circumstances and it’s kind of hard not to feel sorry for her, but likeable… not so much. I’m hoping the sympathy/pity are evoked enough by the real synopsis and opening pages. That said, I’m mainly trying to appeal to people who like murderous antiheroes and tend to root for the villain, because people who want the protagonist to be Good™ will probably not enjoy this book, haha. She is not good. She’s traumatised and making poor life choices, and she’s more or less completely amoral due to how she grew up.

      1. Ah, much like Lisbeth in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. Lisbeth had a terrible life and you could really sympathize with her or at least understand why she did the horrible things that she did. Not a very likable character but definitely a strong one.

        1. Yeah, exactly. I haven’t read that book, but that sounds like the effect I’m going for. It also helps that Isabel is contrasted with a few characters who seem actively worse than she is, making her seem more sympathetic by default.

  3. I love this synopsis! I usually don’t like morally grey characters but you have made me want to know more about Isabel, vicious mess of a person. Good luck in Pitch Wars!

    1. Thank you, that’s good to know! It’s always a gamble when your protagonist is a violent antihero — some people are immediately put off by it, so it’s a relief when someone isn’t…

  4. That was truly a hilarious synopsis, and I think I might actually want to read the book. I like reading books with flawed characters and Isabel definitely has that. One of my favorite books has several flawed characters that do stuff that make you want to yell at them for making stupid decisions, but then again, what else could they do? Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, that’s really good to hear! I sometimes wonder how much audience a violent antihero has, and it’s good to know there are people out there who are interested…

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