Synopsising: The act of trying to write a Synopsis.

The definition is simple: (n.) A general view, or a collection of heads or parts so arranged as to exhibit a general view of the whole; an abstract or summary of a discourse; a syllabus; a conspectus.

So, it’s a prĂ©cis, right? A condensed version of that book you’ve just written. And what could be easier than just saying in 500 words what you’ve already said in nearly 100,000? I mean, if you’d thought at the very outset of this whole ‘writing a book’ kerfuffle that all you had to do was deliver a nicely-rounded 500 words story, then you could have done it, right? Right! So then – tah-daaaaahhh!

This is the Fifth time I’ve been faced with a Synopsis. And although it doesn’t feel any easier and I still get a severe attack of the Dreads, I have to admit the way I handle them IS slightly less traumatic. Like everything else I do, if I think about it too much I prevaricate until it starts to grow green mould, so I bash it out feverishly and then sit back, exhausted. If it goes over to a 2nd page (single-line spaced) then I change the margins by 1cm. Oh, I’m a master of illusion, me! Then  I read it through again. And if it's STILL too wordy, then...

Well, this is where cunning comes into play. If I’ve used two or three words, where ONE has to exist, then that’s used instead. And, using another little trick I like to call ‘Extreme Hyphenation’ -if it can be, then it is. Hyphenated I mean. And now a hyphenated word eludes me. Bugger examples…

And then I let some other nice person(s) read it. Someone who doesn’t actually know what the story is about, and if they get to the end and it all makes sense then that’s basically that. BUT if they start to turn the paper over looking for more information on the other side, then scratch their heads AND frown, there’s going to be a bit more editing to do.

‘So why did she go to the graveyard and what happened to the guy who got shot in the street?’ you might be asked. And that’s when you have to start deciding what’s important and what’s not. Does an Agent really need to know that the MC mistakenly went to the graveyard (like you do) – even if it DID turn out to be one of the funniest/heart-wrenching/prosaic scenes of your whole novel… well, do they? Is it really integral to the plot? And why on earth haven’t you mentioned the really important part when the anti-hero gets what he deserves?

This is SO not a time to protect either your darlings OR your ‘little darlings’. There must be no airs of mystery about your synopsis.  You can't be shrouding it in silk and fine, tempting danglies.  This is where Gok Wan would have you stripped to your cellulite with a mirror at angles you didn’t even know you needed angled mirrors for; where your bottom lip starts quivering and you know you need to start shaving – words off I mean. It’s cold turkey time and there’s no getting out of it.


I leave mine to simmer for 24 hours. Seriously, when I came back to my Synopsis earlier on, after my own day of rest, I was deleting darlings, adding flashes of brilliance and even started to realise the whole story had  deeper meanings and sub-texts  I never even noticed before.

That’s either what a crap night’s sleep will do for you; a day spent doing paid non-rocket-science-based work (aha… Extreme Hyphenation!) or angrily making pastry using the rubbing-in method when it’s flippin’ well Valentines Day!

But you get the idea. Right?


Caroline Green said...

Love it! Love the Gok Wan analogy and the science of extreme hyphenation! Brilliant post, Debs. I do agree too that it gets easier doing the hideous things.
A little.

Helen Black said...

Great post.
Very funny, and brilliant advice. What's not to like?

Lindsay said...

Thanks, I'm going to read this out to my writing group. Like Caroline, I liked the Extreme-hyphenation. The thought of Gok Wan stripping my synopsis bare is scary but child's play compared with actually posing naked in front of cameras.

Karen said...

That made me laugh :o)

I must admit in despair I flew in the face of all the advice and ended up writing a blurb-style synopsis for mine - about 250 words. My agent assured me that as long as they like the premise of the story and the writing style they'll always ask to see more regardless of the synopsis, so it's definitely possible to worry too much about it.

(That might not be true of all agents though!)

Fiona Glass said...

Great article, thanks!

I suck at writing synopses and find the hardest thing is to make them sound interesting. Too often I end up with a deadly series of 'then he does this' and 'then this happens' and can imagine any editor quietly dropping off to sleep. ;)

Like Karen I've also used the extended-blurb approach which seemed to work quite well.

Anonymous said...

Great post:) I find writing one before i start the book really helps - then it's just a matter or tweaking and rewriting at the end. Plus laughing at how much the plot ultimately changed:)


Stephanie Bisby said...

Thanks! I found this at just the right time as I'm currently doing battle with the dread-synopsis-monster (my own bit of extreme hyphenisation there!).

DT said...

I didn't know whether to laugh or snarl in sympathy! One thing I've tried that seems to help a little is to go through my chapters and produce 3 or 4 bullets of the key events or character developments. Then, when I'm wrestling with the synopsis, I have the bare essentials at my fingertips.

Debs Riccio said...

Thanks Caroline and Helen.
Lindsay, are you REALLY going to read it out to your Writing Group? Crikey, I feel a little bit teary!
Karen, although I've heard that a 'blurby' type affair can make an Agent fling it in the bin despairingly (as it's designed to 'hook' but not spoil), I do get your point that if it's worth it, they MIGHT still ask for a looksee.
Fiona, if the blurb-style is getting TWO thumbs-up I might give it a try... Watch this space.
Sam, surely writing a synopsis at the start of a book is more of plan, isn't it? I'm scared of them too!
Stephanie, good luck with yours.
Derek, I've also heard the bullet-point chapters system works and I might give this a try too.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Currently trying to shave off that last para which takes it over the page. Now I shall have another go. And if all else fails adjust the margins - without feeling guilty.
Thanks Debs!

Debs Riccio said...

AliB - you didn't hear it from me, okay? oh and if all else fails, change the font size to 9.5, the reader will simply imagine they need to start wearing glasses!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Lovely post, Debs! :)
Here's another thumbs up for the blurby synopsis - I've had much better results from that kind than from the other. Was recently told too that it's important to get a sense of the themes of the book rather than a blow-by-blow plot outline. Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

Your secret is safe with me. Done and dusted in Arial 11!

Sue Moorcroft said...

I'm sure that at some time some writing friend said to me that she loved writing synopses.

Wish I could remember who it was ... would take her to dinner and give her my book to read, hoping she'd do the dreaded synopsis for me!

Susannah Rickards said...

LOL at extreme hyphenation.

Had a light-bulb moment today. I did a (sad little) spreadsheet of my plot and what happens in each chapter in note form, to check there were enough peaks and troughs and turns in all the right places. Then when I read it back,I realised it was a synopsis. 1,500 words long, admittedly but it did actually tell the story and have a flavour of the real story, instead of the mangled weird stuff that usually comes out when I write one. So I'm just off now to snip those words and super-hyphenate...