David Guymer, best selling author for the Black Library, the Godfather of Gotrek and Felix has kindly written a guest blog for us. This is part three.
The hard part – or doing it again
That story went on to become The Tilean’s Talisman and I’d intended to show the synopsis I’d written as an example of how one should look but, written in the dank mists of 2011 as it was, I can’t seem to find it.
It was probably terribly embarrassing anyway, but luckily there’s no shortage of synopses around here. As a booby prize, here’s the synopsis I wrote for a short story Prince of Souls, which, though it was commissioned and written, unfortunately never actually got published:
A party of dark elves have hit upon a necropolis complex in the sands around the dead city of Numas. The group is led by a witch, Jorhag, who is driven by the obsessive desire to possess the second part of a periapt that originated from this place. The elves are no ignorant grave robbers that disregard the threat posed by the guardians of such a place and with them is a sorcerer whose duty is to avert the attentions of the pyramid’s sentinels. With the sorcerer duly occupied, the party enter the great pyramid.
The POV of Apophas himself is fractured and distorted to reflect his cursed, disembodied form. It is all pain, darkness and simple awareness. He is drawn towards Numas by thoughts of the elf woman, sensing a strong soul that might please Usirian and lift his curse. Even so he resists, the pain of returning to the city of his birth, the cradle of his curse, is near overwhelming. The dark elf sorcerer senses his approach but can see nothing in the shimmering heat of the desert. The prince bursts from the sands and flays the screaming elf to his bones. The sorcerer’s soul goes to Usirian, but this was not the one and Apophas must continue.
With the sorcerer’s death his spells and the pyramid’s guardians begin to awaken, forcing Jorhag and her followers into running battles with skeletal warriors and ushabti. Even in her haste she follows the hieroglyphs that guide her to where her treasure will be found, uncaring for the spilled blood of the retainers and corsairs that accompany her. They fight through to a magnificent chamber, walls and pillars of solid gold raised in honour of a gleaming sarcophagus. Jorhag traces the hieroglyphs with a long, sharp fingernail. Something about a curse, about spilling the blood of one’s own kin. This is magic she understands. She has one of her screaming warriors lashed to the sarcophagus for sacrifice.
At that moment comes Apophas. The chamber fills with the fizz of repeater crossbows as the scarab lord bursts apart and reforms, eviscerating a sneering elf in one corner of the room before breaking apart and reforming to sow havoc elsewhere. Jorhag ignores him as the lid of the sarcophagus is tossed aside and a withered mummy emerges. Around its neck is the second half of Jorhag‘s jewel. She snatches it and makes to escape but Apophas closes. There is a fight and she falls, dead. Apophas feels a muted, resigned sadness to find himself still in the world, still cursed. The Tomb King reclaims the lost half of his periapt and Apophas dimly recognises his father, King Tephi, murdered centuries ago by his hand. Never feeling so cursed, even in the throes of his own death, Apophas’ body disperses, to continue his eternal quest.
It was an awesome story if you ask me. It was the first time I did actual research. If you call getting a picture book of pyramids from the library “research”.
Which I do.
You can probably tell that there’s nothing particularly scary about a synopsis – it’s simply a straightforward and complete telling of what happens in your story. Don’t leave anything out. Don’t try to leave the editor hanging as you would a reader. If there’s a twist, include it in your synopsis. The hard part is keeping it trim while including everything that has to be in there. That’s an art form of its own and something that you, and me, will have to master with re-writes and practice.
You might also be called on to write a summary, which you can think of as the essence of your story distilled into a single paragraph. Here’s the summary I wrote for my second Black Library story The Karag Durak Grudge:
The Book of Grudges of Karak Kadrin tells of the fall of the outpost of Karag Durak and of the maiming of the Dwarf Thane, Grimnar Half-handed, as he valiantly battled the rat-kin warlord, Queek. Such was the Thane’s courage that day that the skaven were driven back, allowing many doughty warriors to escape with their lives.
With the Dwarf’s abandonment of the mountain keep, Queek’s mission that day was a great success and much warpstone and glory were showered upon him. But long has the rage within him burned over his defeat in single combat to the Dwarf, Grimnar, and long has he plotted his revenge. After many years, he receives the news he has been waiting for: Grimnar has left the Slayer Keep to reclaim the lost treasures of Karak Varn. Seizing on this golden opportunity, Queek hurriedly assembles a force and races to the seeping ruin of Karak Varn, eager to face his old foe once more to prove once and for all that the dreaded Queek Headtaker suffers no equal.
Ok, so that’s two paragraphs.
I still get anxious about these things, truth be told. Whatever I compose is always too long, scant in detail, lacking in nuance, less good than one a real author wrote, but they’re as important to an established writer as they are to any aspirant newcomer and so I keep working on perfecting the style. I’m not there yet by any means, but at least I know what I’m shooting for.
Be complete but be succinct. Shorter is always better.