agents / neurotic thinking / novel / story / synopsis / The Blue Jar / writing

Synopsiphobia Smackdown

So, an agent has asked for a synopsis that reads like a book jacket. I’m not to give too much away, but to sell the story.

I feel the same way about a synopsis as I did about an outline in school.

But anyway. Here is my dumb idea of the day. Let me rephrase that. Here is my idea to toughen my skin.

I’m going to post my little book jacket attempt here. I’d love some feedback. (Yep. Love!) The usual grammar and typo mistakes pointed out. Does it sound compelling? Should it be a little longer? What else might I add? Subtract? You know…tell me that vague inexplicable thing that I want! (You can do that, can’t you?)

So. Here it is: The Blue Jar

Two best friends, Fran and Chesnie, 16, fear the same thing—Chesnie’s older brother Charlie. They both know his violence and his need for control.

Fran wants to forget everything that happened the night Charlie gave her a ride home. Chesnie wants revenge for that night and many others, and she thinks she knows how to make her brother suffer. She steals the blue jar, a sentimental, precious object, from Charlie’s room and goes with Fran into the woods at midnight. With magic Chesnie learned from her grandmother, Milla, the girls cast a spell to get what they each want, but while Charlie ends up in the hospital, his anger and impulses remain intact.

The girls move in with Milla, a midwife and potions-maker, because she is the only adult who believes them and keeps them safe. Safety, however, fails to solve everything as easily as they expect.

Fran bewilders her boyfriend who won’t give up on her no matter how she rejects him. She ignores her parents whose marriage is ending. She underestimates Chesnie’s need for revenge and where it will lead—from a safe haven to a house of prostitution, from desire to violence.

Thank you.

23 thoughts on “Synopsiphobia Smackdown

  1. Pingback: Opinion Kind of Wanted | The Fairy Tale Asylum

  2. I like this, but I wonder if I like it enough to want to read the book. I think it doesn’t convey the excitement and danger that must exist in the story. A book jacket is very different from a normal synopsis, I think.

    Also, I’m not sure a person should be called a thing. Instead of “fear the same thing” you could write, “share the same fear.”

    • I like the change to “share the same fear” but then I ended up deleting the whole thing. Thank you for reading though! I just don’t know what I am doing.

  3. I agree with Miriam. Without obviously having read the book, my feeling is that this jacket synopsis probably doesn’t do the book justice. It feels a bit like “This happens, and then this happens, and then this happens”, whereas really you should probably be hinting at what is going to happen in a more mysterious way; the detail of how and why doesn’t matter here. It’s a book about magic and danger and we should feel that magic and danger in the synopsis. For instance, rather than saying that they steal the blue jar from the brother and then go into the woods to cast a spell that they learned from the grandmother to help them get what they want, and then they move in with the grandmother but it’s not as easy as they expect etc – maybe something more like “Can a blue jar and an ancient family spell provide the answer? Or will it lead the girls into a world of fear and danger that they couldn’t possibly have imagined?” (not exactly that because what I’ve written there is a bit naff and cliched, but just to give you an idea of what I meant!). I think less is more here.

    Hope you take this as constructive and not as a negative criticism!

    • I totally take this as constructive. That’s what I need. While I changed it quite a bit, I did decide to go with the question opening. Still not sure about it, but thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful response. It helps.

  4. I like it the content and flow of information. I think it could benefit from more compelling language. The phrase “move in” (with Milla) conveys no urgency at all, but since you included their moving in the blurb, I expect it does have urgency. You might use the word “flee” instead, for example. And Charlie’s impulses and anger remain intact, but that seems too passive for what I imagine is a really dangerous situation. How does this affect the girls? The way it’s phrased I picture him lying in a hospital bed, being really mad, and I know this isn’t what you mean.

    Otherwise, I think this is pretty solid. Good job.

    And now I am off to the dentist.

    • Oh, dentist. Hope that went well and pain-free.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’ve cut most everything out in the rewrite. Don’t know if it is compelling, but this may take a few rewrites to get right.

  5. I think you’ve done a good job including the essential elements. But I think it needs to ‘hook’ me more. I don’t get a sense of what kind of genre this book is, and I think that’s important to convey in a synopsis. If it’s a YA, it should read as such, to attract that reader. Also, try to infuse more of your ‘voice’ into it. The writing should be just as compelling in a blurb (or even more so) as the writing in the novel.

    Hope this helps. Synopses are hard to do, they’re never much fun. Best of luck!

    • Thank you! Yes, this book jacket thing has been hard to do. Harder than it should be, but I seem to have too much psychological baggage to deal with. Hoping after a few more rewrites I’ll get it right!

  6. I’m surprised an agent asked you for a synopsis that reads like a book jacket. What I’ve always heard was the book jacket, with the hook and leaving a bit of mystery, was to be insterted into the center of a query letter, and that the synopsis was supposed to be a drier summary of what happens, with the ending revealed. I would think your effort leans toward the latter. I’m sure in most cases it would accompany a query letter, with a hook and more intrigue built in, right?

    • I was surprised too, but these days, the industry is filled with surprises. With any luck, if I do get it wrong, she’ll ask me to work on it. She has read most of the book, and so she knows most of the plot anyway. Well, we shall see.

  7. well, you asked, so here are some thoughts:

    1) Your first paragraph is wasted real estate. You could dive into the second paragraph, “Fran wants to forget everything that happened the night her best friend Chesnie’s brother gave her a ride home. ”

    2) Why does it matter that she steals “the blue jar” or that it’s a “sentimental, precious object”? I’m assuming those are necessary criteria for the spell to work, but those details are not essential here. I’d delete the third sentence entirely.

    3) I’d also delete the appositive about Milla “a midwife and potions maker”. Nonessential.

    4) Not sure where you’re going with the boyfriend and the parents. This feels like trying eat a plate of spaghetti on a first date — messy, strands everywhere. Are these subplots so important that they drive the novel? Then give them higher billing. If not, they don’t make the jacket blurb.

    5) Finally, the last sentence could be tacked on to the end of the preceding paragraph, “… as easily as they expect, as Fran underestimates Chesnie’s need for revenge and where it will lead.” Do we need to know that a brothel is involved? Is it essential?

    Pare this down to what is essential. I don’t think you’re there yet, but it’s a promising start.

    • I did ask! Thanks for those thoughtful and spot on comments. The more I read it, the worse it sounds–my writing, not your comments. And I’ve tried a dramatically shortened version, cutting most everything. It is presumptuous to ask, but would you have a go at the new version (in the next post)? I figure I’ll need several rewrites before it works even a little.

      • Please don’t start disliking it because of the comments! I admire your fearlessness in asking for comments, and I would not have commented if I didn’t admire your work as well.

      • I don’t think the comments are doing it. The comments are good, and make me feel like I’ve at least done something. And I’m not fearless at all! Just really wanting to get this right.

  8. I’m looking forward to reading the next version of your jacket synopsis! This one DID make me feel there was a lot of action and emotion in the book, although it didn’t make me feel the action and emotion as I read the synopsis — if that makes any sense!

    I’ve been told that the best way to do this is with the three-sentance seed:

    Who are the main characters and what is the conflict?
    What action does the main character take?
    What threatens the success?

    Then you add just enough to each of those sentances to bring the humanity to life.

    Example: Fran and Chesnie take refuge with Milla, the only adult who believes them, the only adult they can trust.

    Again, I’m really looking forward to reading your new thoughts on the synopsis!

  9. Marta, I loved this book when you sent it to me a year and a half ago, but I don’t remember enough details (I read 4 books a week) to adequately comment here. But, it’s pulled up on my reader RIGHT NOW and I’ll send you “my” version of a book jacket by the end of the weekend. I agree all around with those here, less is more. This version seems too tangential and I got lost halfway through; and I READ the book. But, I know it’s hard for you b/c your blood, sweat, and tears are in there and you want your future readers to see how damn multi-faceted and promising this story is. I saw the following post and liked the synopsis better.

    SO HAPPY you found an agent who is saying “more please”.

    Smooches!

    • Oh, Sophie, you do make me happy. And I feel better when you stop by. Thank you for reading my book! And your thoughts are always appreciated. It is so hard for me to have any perspective on my own work. Sigh.

      • OH! We have a friend who used to be in the NY publishing industry and as I’m re-reading The Blue Jar I’m keeping in mind his sticking point on whether or not a book could sell. It went (for example … and I’m pulling this out of my ass), “The Blue Jar is This is Graceanne’s Book meets the CW’s The Secret Circle.” He always said a book ought to be described as This Well Known Thing meets This Other Well Known Thing. That way agents and publishers could immediately relate to it and figure out what bookshelf it ought to go on.

        I’m also trying to read it as a YA book to see if it fits. Yup, I read some YA and a LOT of sci-fi, fantasy, druidic pathways during modern times, and urban paranormal. I read all the classics – both national and international when I was younger. Now I read to escape and imagine. My 11 year old son and I are almost done with book 2 of The Hunger Games trilogy and Can’t. Get. Enough. Yeah, I sorta like dystopian societies, too. George Orwell did that to me.

        Anyway, love you, too. Keep that This Meets That thing in mind, ok? It might help.

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