Saturday, October 11, 2008

Synergy

Before you all jump into NaNoWriMo in November, you might consider putting together a synopsis for your story this month.

I will say upfront that synopsis-writing is probably the most dreaded job requirement of the professional writer. Condensing one hundred thousand words into ten or fifteen pages of concise paragraphs for an editor is a bit like trying to count then describe the freckles on a redhead to a blind person only willing to listen to you for five minutes max. But if synopses were easy and fun, we'd write them instead of novels.

With all due respect to the organic writers out there, I advocate writing the synopsis before writing one word of the novel. For me, it organizes my thoughts and reassures me on a couple of levels. I know if I can write an effective synopsis, I know the story inside and out. The folks in NY may not like synopses any more than writers do, but the standard book proposal remains a synopsis and the first three chapters (although once you've established yourself as a professional, editors are usually okay with just a synopsis.)

One of my oldest tricks to make synopsis-writing a little more palatable is to write one for another author's book that I love or have read many times. I also use synopses for nailing down annoying/lengthy story ideas that won't get out of my head. It helps get the pesky stuff that I don't have time to write out of my head, and I always feel good dropping a full synopsis into the idea file.

Some links to check out:

Charlotte Dillon's Writing a Synopsis page has tips, samples and about fifty links to other synopsis-writing resources on the internet.

This article on Pam McCutcheon's how-to, Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A Step-by-Step Approach, shows completed examples of her prelimnary worksheets from the book.

Down at the bottom of this article on synopsis writing from Where the Map Ends is an interesting five-paragraph formula for writing a very short synopsis (spiritual warfare, I like that phrase.)

PBW posts opn synopses: Synful Trio, John and Marcia tackle The Synopsis, and Novel Synopsis-o-Rama. I also wrote this workshop article on writing a synopsis a few years back, and it's still the way I write them today.

Anyone have any questions, suggestions or problems with synopses? Post them in comments.

17 comments:

  1. Okay, you've officially hit spooky. *g* I was just discussing this topic with a friend today. I was having problems writing the synopsis for a partial I'm putting together. I have to know the general gist of a story before I can write it in synopsis form. The final piece popped into my head while I was driving to the dentist--a dentist I've never been to. I'm sure she appreciated me rushing into the office, screaming for a piece of paper...before I even said hello. LOL!

    I did explain later. Turns out she and her daughter are voracious readers. Harmony immediately enveloped the office. Life was good. :D I still haven't written my synopsis yet, but it just got a lot easier. :)

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  2. Thank you for the helpful links PBW!

    I do have a question. Your example synopsis in the Novel Notebook is lengthy, where as most of the examples I've seen elsewhere are shorter. Is this just a matter of difference of opinion in what is needed and what is not or does length of a synopsis vary depending on genre/where you're planning submit to?

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  3. I don't generally write synopses, but when a sudden inspiration hit a couple of months ago, and I was in revisions for another story, I wanted to get it down.
    I surprised myself by writing a 15-page synopsis, complete with worldbuilding, characters, plot, etc.
    But when I sat down to begin the thing a short time later-NOTHING.
    For the first time EVER, I couldn’t think of an opening. Thought. Pondered. Tried different approaches. Left it. Came back another day. Fretted. Fumed. Fussed.
    NOTHING.
    Is it possible to synopsize the heart right out of the story before you even start writing it?

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  4. I did something like a synopsis last month for Nano then set it aside to stew.

    But... now the story's changed; hopefully into something better.

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  5. This is remarkable timing. Thank you so much for this! I have finally reached the point where I need to start looking for an agent for my very first novel. Which means I need to put together a query letter and synopsis. I was going to start the how-to research this weekend. Thanks for saving me some trouble. You're the best!!!

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  6. I will say upfront that synopsis-writing is probably the most dreaded job requirement of the professional writer.

    Can I hear a big Amen?

    I hate writing a synopsis. Hate it. Abhor it.

    However, thanks to some friendly advice, I conquered my current synopsis hurdle a few weeks ago. :)

    I'm an organic writer, but I'm learning to appreciate plotting out a book in advance...saves time.

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  7. Oo. Love the Map Ends link, thanks! You can never have too many synopsis tools.

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  8. Lynn, thanks for all the great resources about creating a synopsis.

    I'm more successful with NaNoWriMo when I write into the mist. However, when it comes to marketing, you have to have a synopsis.

    Lynn
    Authors Tools Blog

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  9. Jordan wrote: Okay, you've officially hit spooky.

    Okay, but I'm not wearing white. It's after Labor day. Lol.

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  10. soleilnoir wrote: Your example synopsis in the Novel Notebook is lengthy, where as most of the examples I've seen elsewhere are shorter. Is this just a matter of difference of opinion in what is needed and what is not or does length of a synopsis vary depending on genre/where you're planning submit to?

    It really depends on author style and publisher guidelines. I tend to write fairly long synopses (although I'm not the most long-winded, I've heard Suzanne Brockmann's average about 85 pages in length.) I've had publishers ask me for one-page synopses and I've done them with no problem, but they read more like cover copy; I prefer to give a complete overview so if the editor has any problem with the story we can fix it before I start writing.

    When you're preparing to write a synopsis, first check to see if the publisher(s) you'd like to pitch it to have any guidelines on synopsis length. If you have a specific editor in mind, you can also ask around and see if any of the writers working with her/him know if s/he prefers a certain length.

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  11. raine wrote: Is it possible to synopsize the heart right out of the story before you even start writing it?

    If spontaneity and making the writing journey through the story is an integral part of the creation process for you, I think too much pre-planning can derail your enthusiasm. I'm not an organic writer, yet I avoid pre-planning lines of dialogue because I've learned if I let them happen spontaneously on the page while the characters are active in my mind, they come out fresher and more realistic.

    The big downisde with not writing a synopsis (which I'm sure you know)before you write the book is that you generally can't pitch the novel until after it's finished. It make result in you writing more than you sell and having a lot of inventory on your hands.

    I never recommend messing too much with one's process, but you might try some alternatives to the traditional synopsis-before-book method. One way is to do a brief verbal pitch over the phone (assuming you can get an editor willing to listen) with just the highlights of your idea. The other is to discard the formal synopsis altogether and instead write a brief outline, teaser, overview copy or something that doesn't leech the joy out of the creation process for you. That's going to require some experimentation, and you may not get every editor to go for it, but by trying different forms you may hit on the one that compliments your process instead of wrecking it.

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  12. Jaye wrote: I did something like a synopsis last month for Nano then set it aside to stew.

    But... now the story's changed; hopefully into something better.


    Sometimes they just need to percolate. I think a lot happens on a subconscious level with us that affects the story; the longer we let it stew, the more that subconscious gets to work on it. Which is why I never chisel a synopsis in stone, even though I'd really like to. :)

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  13. d. wrote: D. said...
    This is remarkable timing. Thank you so much for this! I have finally reached the point where I need to start looking for an agent for my very first novel. Which means I need to put together a query letter and synopsis. I was going to start the how-to research this weekend. Thanks for saving me some trouble.


    You're welcome. :) Good luck with the agent hunt.

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  14. Shiloh wrote: I hate writing a synopsis. Hate it. Abhor it.

    However, thanks to some friendly advice, I conquered my current synopsis hurdle a few weeks ago.


    Excellent. ;)

    I'm an organic writer, but I'm learning to appreciate plotting out a book in advance...saves time.

    I really wish I could come up with a method of pre-planning that works for organic writers. Unfortunately I think I'm too bound up by my compulsion to organize to offer much in the way of help.

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  15. charlene wrote: Oo. Love the Map Ends link, thanks! You can never have too many synopsis tools.

    True. :) I really liked that Pam McCutcheon link; it's cool that they put her sample worksheets on the web -- never seen anything like those, and they look like they could be very useful.

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  16. The other Lynn wrote: I'm more successful with NaNoWriMo when I write into the mist.

    I love that line. Thanks, and welcome, Lynn.

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  17. I'm still working out who done what and why :D. But after two years of drought, nano is beckoning.

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