Synopsis – Write it First

Synopses, along with query letters, have to be some sort of exquisite torture invented by some masochistic person.
The countless times you’ll find people claiming that, though they’ve easily written an entire story (a big ‘yay!’ to everyone who has ^_^), the synopsis eludes them.
Or they, like me on my first try, end up with something that tries to rival the story in size. Yes, some agents/publishers ask for a longer synopsis, but the average only wants one-two pages. But that monster eight-page-synopsis doesn’t require at least the last four pages (I know, it’s hard to believe, but true).

So why is so hard for some of us?
I’ve asked this on a number of occasions as I struggled with my first synopsis. My original (and its many variations) was five pages long. I was convinced that I could not condense a story of 186,000 words to fit onto one page. I did. Single-spaced, that is. It took a long time, much re-reading, editing and a lot of fretting that I was deleting an important bit (we are our own worse critics, after all).
The conclusion I reached was this: I was trying to put too much into it. Once the story is completed we (or at least I) seem to have this need to put in every teeny twist and each minor thought. As if by doing so, we’ll convince the person at the other end why it simply had to happen that way. Somewhere along the line it’s forgotten that the story is the important part. The synopsis, while has to be coherent and error free, needn’t be quite as clever. It’s there for one purpose: to summarise the story.
Now there are many ways to write a synopsis. Some recommend writing that eight page beast and snip out what’s not required. Another suggestion is to break the story down into its chapters and then try to summarise each one in a sentence or three. Like a paragraph for each chapter. I adopted its cousin where those paragraphs were forced to do describe two chapters. Afterwards, I had one page and a bit. That’s where the editing came in.
Not everyone can do it that same way as someone else (I surely couldn’t the way most suggested), but there’s a way for every person. As long as we remember that we’re not trying to be clever. If your character has some special mark, mention it briefly. If you find yourself doing this: “insert name is marked with a insert mark which glows bright blue and they discover due to insert conflict that it gives them the power to do whatever” you’re going to need some major redoing later.
It can be simple as saying that they ‘fled’ instead of ‘ran away’. One word can be the difference between a new line or not, and if you can say it in one word, you should’ve been doing it in your story.

But I found another way that worked even better for me: I wrote the synopsis first. It was the easiest time I’ve ever had writing a synopsis. So easy, that I went and did it again for the next story.
You see, whenever I write, I know where my characters are heading, I know what’ll happen. But, before I’ve written a single word towards the novel, I’ve a brief summary in my head. And we all know what that amounts to.
How disgusted I was with myself to find there was a synopsis already in my mind, just waiting for me to write it down. Sure, I found I had to tweak it once I’d finished writing the story as some things had been altered. But the larger portion was still intact and, because I hadn’t all the little bits to worry about, it was free of all those tiny details that had originally clogged my first synopsis and made it so bothersome to do.

Why the heck did it take me fourteen years to find that out? -_-

7 thoughts on “Synopsis – Write it First

  1. It's most definitely not my version of an outline. My outlines can be sporadic, incomprehensible things that I can barely understand at times. But then, I sit somewhere in the ether between the pantser and the plotter.

    For comparison, my outline for the first chapter of 'Dragon' goes like this: “Maay meets the two dragons and is told she must accompany them.” I know exactly what I mean and who I’m talking about, but this wouldn’t be enough for others.
    Whereas, my first paragraph for the synopsis: “The dragons are declining, their females either stolen or killed. The council has sent out the order to collect the otherwise-forgotten dragon at Byron's Peak so she may be used for breeding, only to discover Maay believes herself to be human.”


  2. I've done something similar. I'm writing the pitch first! At the very least, I started out with my “agent pitch.” It'll give me a compass to work with as I write my outline 🙂


  3. This has never even occurred to me, but I'm going to give it a try. I need all the help I can get to stay focussed at the moment.

    There is an award for you over at my blog.


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