Synopses: Love the Burn


Writing synopses sucks! There is no two ways about it. They are evil little Gremlins that live to make you feel stupid and your family to wonder if you PMSing or going through “the change.”

A synopsis is, according good old Merriam-Webster, “a condensed statement or outline.” Sounds simple enough, right? Ha! Write one. Within a half-hour, you’ll be Goggling the height from the nearest window to see if it’s a long enough of a drop to render you unconscious–and therefore incapable of completing your synopsis–but won’t kill you.Baby crying

Whereas your actual manuscript can have moments of bliss when everything just flows, synopses rarely do. A synopsis is a “bird’s-eye view” of your story. The whittled down plot of your three-hundred-page book minus the sub-plots, minus the plot layers, minus the romance line (unless contemporary romance, according to Camy Tang), minus the characterization, minus the emotion…

Minus the will to live.

Okay, that’s being a little dramatic, but you get the picture. They are tough.

Right, now I am having trouble with identifying which of two beginning elements in my story is the inciting incident. The first one is important to the mystery, the ball that gets everything going, but isn’t the catalyst that sets Pandora on her external journey (external goal), i.e. find the mythical killer. The second one directly causes Pandora’s external goal for the book, but I worry that it is too far into the story to be considered the inciting incident. See what I’m talking about? Problems. That’s why I’m writing this and not my synopsis.

And that is the problem with a synopsis. It wants you to label everything. Writing is art; art isn’t labelable.

So why even do a synopsis?

Because it wants you to label everything.

peace_hands By having to label everything thing major in your story (and forget the rest), a synopsis can help you find holes in your plot or character’s internal growth (or lack of).  It makes you take a hard look at your story structure and look at it from a completely different mindset than when you actually write the book. For me, I’ve discovered having a solid, strong synopsis before I write the first draft is really important. First, it helps me to know beforehand that it’s not entirely a piece of crap and, therefore, gives me the will to actually write it. Second, it helps root me deeper into the story and gives me a sense of control (important for a control freak like me). And third, by having all the major plot issues already worked out, it frees my mind to focus on the emotions of the story and characters, and it frees my subconscious to work out any issues I hadn’t resolved in the synopsis like subplot issues.

A synopsis can be a very important tool, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy one to use.

Professional authors write synopses. Plotster or panster. Before the book or after. They do.

So I’ll tell you the same thing I tell myself when I sit down to write a synopsis: “You better pull on your big girl writer pants, get to work and love the burn.”

(In a future post, I’ll talk about my synopsis process.)

10 thoughts on “Synopses: Love the Burn

  1. I don’t really mind the synopsis. I think for one of the reasons you said – it helps find plot holes. I just make a list of my scenes, eliminate the sub plots and go. Good luck with yours.

  2. Mine tend to be very boring and dry, but I just go through and list the important moments in the story in a kind of linear fashion without trying to bring anyone but the main characters into it. The very first synop I ever had, someone else wrote it. That was pretty sweet. I had to rewrite it because I changed a bunch of plot stuff, but I just pulled from what was already done.

    I think the worst bit about this is they’re just so uncreative. Here’s a novel full of laughter and tears and hope and romance and here’s a dry, boring paper about what ti’s about. It’s not even book report fun.

  3. I enjoy writing the pre-draft synopsis/outline that helps me hammer out my plot, but I’m just getting my first taste of the synopsis as a sales tool. It’s a different creature. The most frustrating thing for me is the lack of clear guidelines on what the synopsis should be. I read so many articles yesterday while working on my synopsis, and the one thing that became clear is that different people expect different things–different lengths, different styles, etc. There’s no way to make everybody happy!

  4. I’m with you, Amanda, I dread the synopsis almost as I do writing a blurb. I do a general summary of the story about the time I start it (usually after about the first chapter). But the formal one–I put off until absolutely necessary. There are courses that do go into synopsis writing and lots of blogs, etc., but the different styles vary so much, it’s frustrating. Good luck with yours, though. You’ll do great 🙂

  5. I’M trying to use Cathy Yardley’s techniques for Rocking Your Plot (Revision, etc.) because she keeps things reasonably simple and implements a little wit in her books. But still, her workbooks (templates) frighten me. My mind utterly repels all attempts to organise. It switches off, jumps away in denial. I’m left slack awed staring at the fill in the blanks areas and want to weep. Needless to say, synopses give me nightmares. Loved reading about your frustrations 😀

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