Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Major Synopsis Mistake

There's one major mistake I see in synopses for romance novels, and I see it again and again. It's enough to make me want to scream from the rooftops. What is it?

First, let me ask you this:

Do romance readers pick up a romance to find out something like who killed Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick? No. They go to the mystery section for stories like that.

Do they pick up a romance to learn all about life in Regency England? No, they can go to the reference section for that.

Do they pick up a romance because they have secret yearnings to be Navy SEALS or covert operatives? No, they can read Tom Clancy or his ilk, or training manuals, if that's what floats their boat.

People pick up a romance novel because they want to read about two people falling in love with the promise of a life-long committed relationship despite the obstacles from within (internal conflict) and without (external conflict) that stand in the way.

The key thing there is falling in love. Readers want to see the process -- how the heroine can go from thinking the hero's an arrogant jerk to wanting to spend the rest of her life with him. How the hero moves from thinking she's a fool who doesn't have a clue to believing his life will be empty without her.

This process is what's different from one romance to the next, because it's happening to two different characters, with different goals, motives and backstory, in every book. This is the thing that makes one romance novel different from the next.

Yet what do writers consistently brush off and treat as if it's a minor point?

That's right -- the falling in love.

There will be the story set-up (the meet, the introduction to the characters). There's action -- murder, mayhem, war, famine, pestilence, hurricanes...and then something like "On the run from the mob, Joe and Sarah fall in love."

But but BUT...why do they fall in love? What is it about Joe that Sarah finds unique, that sets him apart from every other man she's ever met? Why exactly does she fall for him? How does she go from feeling he's a jerk to lover to partner-for-life?

The same goes for the hero. What is it about the heroine that's different from every other woman he's ever met? Why her? What is it about her that attracts him? And I'm not talking lovely face or shapely form. There has to be something that appeals to his heart, not his lust (at least after the first meet).

To simply say your characters fall in love is to dismiss the main reason a reader picks up a romance.

But, you protest, I may only have two pages! How can I do that?

It can be done, because I've seen it done. It took two sentences. Yet I absolutely knew the writer had a handle on the idea of the developing romance.

So sure, have characters with fascinating lives. In fact, please do. Have all sorts of woes and mayhem beset them. Please. But if your story is supposed to be a romance?

Show me two people falling in love.


Kimber Chin said...

Hhhmmm... do you actually have to say they are falling in love?

I'm hoping I show it (by the actions of the hero and heroine) but I never actually say 'look here, they fall in love.'

'Course I may be the world's worst synopsis writer also.

Margaret Moore said...

You don't have to use any particular words in a synopsis. You can show the progress in any way you choose -- as long as I'm shown a process.

It may be a given that the main characters will end up in love (after all, we are talking a romance) but the whole point of the story is how they get there.

Louisa Cornell said...

Okay, now I have to go back and read my synopsis. I THINK I show this in my synopsis, but I never really looked at it that way. Thank you, Margaret! Printing this one out for future reference AND telling my CPs to check it out!!Thanks for boiling it down to its most basic element!

Michelle Styles said...

If it is a romance, the whole spine of the story is the growing emotional relationship between hero and heroine. The synopsis is for higlighting the spine of the story...
So I have to agree if you do not show the growing atraction, then you risk saying the story is something else. Everything has to feed back to the spine.