How Tackling the Dreaded Synopsis Helped Me

The dreaded synopsis.

Yeah, I said it.

I mean, who decided to curse the humble writer with the necessity of creating such a diabolic thing? I haven’t met anyone yet who enjoys writing them, and most people I speak to don’t know how, or struggle to get something decent on the page.

There’s a lot of information out there on how to write one. My issue has always been not knowing how to organize my ideas. What do I include and what do I leave out? When an editor someone asks for a 1 page synopsis and my book is 75k words, how do I whittle it down without missing something important???? Isn’t everything important???

Well, yesterday I gave the thing another shot but only because I had to. Someone had posted that a publishing company publishing big names was accepting submissions and guess what? They require a synopsis.

From the film Psycho

From the film Psycho

So, I searched the Internet and found some great articles, which I will list later. The difference this time, I think, is that these articles broke down the process step by step, added essential bullet questions to focus the thought processes, and added a checklist to be used before the final draft. I pulled what I needed from them and then started to build the synopsis. Cutting the manuscript from 75k to 1.5K was actually much simpler than expected once I applied the tips/notes to a synopsis I’d written years ago. I ended up with something that is the closest I’ve ever had to a decent synopsis.

But that’s just the beginning. Some of you know that I don’t lay out my stories from beginning to end before I write them. My stories and books are exploratory for me, and I like setting out with nothing more than the barest of information to see where I end up. I rarely take notes, and if I do I almost never look at them again. They serve mostly to answer some problem or to clarify an immediate issue. Some people like a cluttered desk, I prefer a cluttered creative mind. To me, once something goes down on paper, the idea loses their luster. So I just take things one step at a time, teasing and developing threads and inspirations as they come. That said, retracing my steps and making sense of what essentially came from chaos is a major challenge, and that’s where the synopsis is a game changer.

It’s amazing how a story that was crystal clear when it was written can fade over time. As I wrote the synopsis for The Purple Morrow, the foundation of the trilogy became clear to me again. As I responded to the questions about the characters’ main conflicts, wrote summaries for the key players and their motivations, defined the stakes, and wrote about how the story concluded, it was like digging through mud and laying hands on a precious stone. In fact, I was relieved to know that despite being born of clutter, the overarching plot and subplots were clear throughout the three books. For example, I was able to see their birth and growth from book 1 to 2 (Wolf’s Bane). Also, the process revealed plot-lines that need development as well as outright plot holes that needed to be dealt with in book 3 (Berserker).

So, what do you think? What’s your take on synopsis writing? What resources have you found helpful? You can post links below to help others visiting the page.

Resources:

Jane Friedman: http://janefriedman.com/2011/10/25/novel-synopsis/

Fiction Writer’s Connection: http://www.fictionwriters.com/tips-synopsis.html

Writer’s Relief: http://writersrelief.com/blog/2013/01/5-common-synopsis-mistakes-that-fiction-writers-make/

Thanks for reading!

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About Dyane

Dyane Forde’s love of writing began with an early interest in reading and of words in general. Writing has been a life-long passion and she writes all types of things, from short stories, novels, flash fiction and poetry. Dyane writes to communicate, meaning that writing becomes a means through which she seeks to connect with people on a level deeper than intellect.
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6 Responses to How Tackling the Dreaded Synopsis Helped Me

  1. So you are the author of Wolf Bane! I was going to use that title for the third book in my Wolves of Vimar Series until I did a search and found that it had been used. Good to meet you. I won’t use your title, so don’t worry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dyane says:

      Hi! Nice to meet you too! Yes, I later discovered that the title had been used before but often with different spelling. Thanks for your message and good luck with your books. 🙂

      Like

  2. Drew Briney says:

    Of course, every good query and every back book cover needs a synopsis so we can’t avoid creating them – the question is, do we discover them after we write our book or do we create them from the beginning? Like you, I’m mostly a discovery writer but I like to have a general outline of a book before I start writing so I don’t get too far off track and have to rewrite a dozen chapters to get back on track. A great pitch/synopsis can help keep you on track if you don’t like to outline as well.

    I think it is valuable to have an outline/synopsis/pitch/logline from the very beginning for another reason as well: Sooner or later, you’re going to need it to sell the book – either through and agent/editor or through your back book cover. Having time to reconsider and modify your synopsis can be very helpful in crafting a lasting pitch that is more engaging to readers.

    However, it seems to me that some stories come with great loglines/synopsis/pitches and some don’t. Sure, with some clever thinking, every book can have a good synopsis that can engage a reader but some story lines naturally come with a power punch to underscore a very unique idea. Unfortunately, a great synopsis and a great pitch can pave the way for an only mediocre book. So personally, I think they have value both before and after but at the same time, many agents/editors seem to place too much emphasis on them.

    Like

    • Dyane says:

      Really good points, Drew, and I agree (now that I’ve got a decent synopsis written and can see the benefits) that having one at the beginning of a project can greatly cut down on errors and rewrites later on. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Do you have any tips or suggestions that work particularly well for you?

      Like

  3. andreablythe says:

    Great post and hank you for the links! I was working on a novel last year and stalled out entirely. And I’ve been thinking about writing a synopsis in order to get a clearer sense of the whole, so that I can hopefully come around to finishing the thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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