Synopsis Crisis

Synopsis crisis 1Today I began the task of writing the synopsis for my now completed manuscript.

I’ve read books, articles and many, many blog posts on how to write a synopsis.  I know it’s more about what you leave out than what you put in.  I know how long it should be… um… between 1 and 5 sides of A4, depending on whose advice you take.  I know that it needs to not be a blow-by-blow account of what happens next, and next, and next.  I know it needs to be about character, inciting incidents, conflict, tension and emotional progression; and it needs to show that I know how to plot – and how to write too.

All that, it’s all very well.  I get it.  And I’m an intelligent woman (don’t argue…) with a good grasp of the English language and an intimate knowledge of the subject of this synopsis.  So what could possibly go wrong?

Well… I sat in front of my PC this morning and the words that spewed on to the page were a confused, desperate ramble around my plot.  Tangled, like a plate of angel hair pasta, a mass of fragile threads jostled for attention.  But there was no sauce and it was all very, very claggy and dry.

One thing was abundantly clear about Draft Number One; if I were reading it, I wouldn’t be reaching for those first three chapters.

At least I know it’s crap; self-awareness is a strength, I tell myself. But it’s only a first draft, so I’m not going to get discouraged.  No, really.  I’m not.  I’m going to print it out in double spacing with big margins.  I’ll scribble on it and chew it over for a few days, and perhaps the right way to tackle it will surface (maybe around 4:00 in the morning).

I know there are things that need to be worked out. Whilst my timeline is a snug single week in the life of my characters there are intricacies in how those characters’ stories weave together, impact my protagonist and move the plot forward.  I’m going to have to decide which of these need space in the synopsis, and which do not – there isn’t room for them all.  Then there’s my ‘big reveal’ scene, an intense mental battle between two characters. At the moment, it is dispatched in a single line.  I may only have 500 words to play with, but I feel it deserves more than that.  Or maybe I’d just like to think that because I bled all over the carpet for weeks writing that darned scene, I’m going to force anyone who reads my synopsis to appreciate the time and effort it took.  I don’t know.

I’m sure I’ll get there – I’m a writer and a marketer after all, so I should be able to cope with a synopsis. Right?  I just said I’d give you a feel for what’s happening in my head now the book is written and the selling game begins.

So here you have it – synopsis crisis, day one.

23 thoughts on “Synopsis Crisis

  1. I know nothing about this but the most intriguing thing about what you wrote concerning the actual novel is that your novel takes place over one week only. Is that any help? ( second is the mental battle) I’m following your progress. Hooray for Freshly pressed. P.S. Another way to go may be not to work on the draft but start over, after all, it’s just 500 words.

    1. I’m so delighted there are people like you ‘out there’ following my progress. Yes, my timeline is compact which might lead you to think a synopsis would be straightforward. Sadly, this is not so. 🙂

        1. Not sure yet. Killing my character was traumatic at the time, but I knew it was the right thing. This synopsis thing needs great care – the stakes are high.

  2. If you get really stuck, (and this is just my own experience, it may not work for you) don’t think about it being a synopsis, just write about it as if you’re writing a letter to a friend. Don’t think about length or plot or any of that stuff, just tell your ‘friend’ what it’s about. Might work. Good luck, anyway.

    1. I like that advice! It would also better communicate my writing style. It’s a great way to think of a synopsis – a letter to a friend. Thanks for sharing – I’m sure I’m not the only one grappling with the synopsis challenge who will appreciate a different perspective.

  3. I feel your pain. I have a similar issue with an essay to apply for PhD candidacy. The big picture stuff seems easy in comparison to the last push to call something finished. I am a therapist by day and I see it a lot; once I am finished, I will be judged! You’ve made it this far playa’, which is a buttload farther than most of us that can’t even say the manuscript is finished. Get it done!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement/kick up the a**, whichever that was! 🙂 It all feels close enough to touch now and I’m not planning on letting this synopsis thing throw me off course.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Bill. 🙂 The day job gets in the way of progress rather more than I would like, but I’m moving forward.

  4. The hardest thing for me about writing a synopsis was giving away the surprise ending. I just couldn’t do it and hinted broadley instead, but stopped just short. I feel your pain.

    1. Yes, it’s tricky. For months and months writing is all about holding back on the information you give your reader. for me, editing was about looking at what was left and taking even more out. There is real power in withholding – tension, greater satisfaction, page-turnability (is that a word?). But when it comes to publishers and agents, it’s the exact opposite. You have to give it to them, surprise endings, big reveals, twists in the tail – everything. The thing to remember is that they’re *not* your readers; they’re your sales and marketing team. And if you want a sales and marketing team on-board, you have to make sure they understand everything that’s great about the product. Good luck with your writing – I hope you blog about your progress, because I’m ‘following’ you!

  5. I always wonder how can we have EVERYTHING in our minds and still… It is SO hard to make things make sense when turned into printed words. I am sure you will get there. The hardest bit is done! Walk around the block, breath fresh air, make a cup of tea and turn on your pomodoro for 25 minutes… Well… This is what I would do! Good luck!

    1. Thank you! A walk round the block sounds like the one for me 🙂 It does help, when you need to get to the heart of things, to be outside.

  6. Ugh. I dread writing my synopsis. I struggle just to tell people what my novel is about. How much detail do I give, which parts are the most important, do I give any of the surprises away?

    I’m sure it will come to you, probably at 4:00 a.m. like you mentioned. Brilliant ideas always seem to come in the shower, on a walk, while driving…

    1. I’m no expert on synopsis writing (yet…) but one thing everyone seems agreed on is that, yes, you give the surprises away! 🙂

  7. Sometimes it helps to look at different approaches to a task and see what you like. I’ve found several approaches to query letters that I liked (and were successful), and doing a quick Google for “successful synopsis” pulled up a bunch of stuff at writer’s digest.

    You’ve done the hardest part in writing and finishing a novel. (Congrats!) You’ll do this too!

    1. That’s a great idea, Dani – it makes total sense to check out ‘successful synopsis’ rather than just ‘synopsis’. I wish I’d thought of that! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    1. I admit, I’m having a tough time of it. I had in mind to aim for around 1,000 words, and then produce an edited 500 word version, since some agents prefer something shorter. Thank you so much for the link – four excellent workshops, especially the one on synopses. I will read and inwardly digest and I hope other people find the link useful too. Thanks for sharing!

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