Monday, February 28, 2011

Synopsis Writing (or Keeping Yourself and Your Editor Sane)

Adri (@smoulderingsea) from Lyrical Press has such a perfect way with words that I had to preserve this for all time:
Synopses are fruit of the devil’s loins. Editors hate reading ‘em as much as you hate writing ‘em. Doesn’t mean you can halfass. #editortips

That said, yes, please include the ending in the synopsis. I don’t want to read 300 pages just to find out you jumped the shark. #editortips

Well, I didn't think that writing a synopis was *THAT* bad. But I know better than to argue with Adri.

For me, whenever I get lost writing my story it's time to go back to the synopsis. If the problem is that I haven't written one yet then it's time to write it. In fact, once I'm serious about writing a longer piece of fiction there are three things I need to have to keep me focused: a short teaser description (the classic elevator sales pitch or "back of the book"), a synopsis, and a chapter by chapter outline.

The teaser makes me remember, "What makes this book pop? What are it's essential elements?" The synopsis keeps clear, "How is this supposed to work? What are the basic elements of my plot?" And the chapter by chapter outline keeps me on the right track (and is also a handy place to keep notes on future scenes that popped into my head).

The good/bad news is that when the work is done I get to revisit all those write-ups because now someone like Adri wants to read them. And invariably along the way of turning an idea into a finished work a lot of things have changed. But they still serve the same function of keeping everything clear.

How do you keep your writing focused? Do you use a synopsis?

(And while we're talking about Adri, in case you missed it, Lyrical Press has a call out right now for Irish-themed novels/novellas. Gather up your shamrocks and try submitting.)


  1. Adri has it totally right. Synopses are the devil's own play-toy, no matter which side of them you're on. Only trouble is, they're a necessary evil.

    I never write a synopsis until I'm completely finished with a book. How can I? I'm a dedicated write-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser. Never know what's going to happen until I get there.

  2. @Linda G It's working for you! That's all that matters.

    When I was young thought that I was a pantser, but I definitely need structure to keep me focused. It's like what Phil Collins said about needing a metronome when he was writing rock music. Without it he would create these lovely little meandering piano bits.