Writing Synopses and Getting Over Yourself

I’m a fairly new writer with very little experience, if I’m going to be completely honest, so this opinion may change in the future, but: I think I’m an outliner.

It makes sense. Before I decided to really give writing a go, professionally, I spent six months simply reading about publishing. Everything I could get my hands on, all day, erryday. I learned all the details I could, because before I dive into something I prepare. At work, when I code, I don’t just dive in and code. I circle the problem, eye it from every angle, think about the best way to solve it, read up on relevant libraries to find the best function with the best implementation and the least amount of code to get what I need done. I spent a year just browsing properties before I even thought about finding a realtor.

In retrospect, it was silly to think I might be a pantser.

One of the things I had to work on in my novel was funneling my too-large cast into a smaller pile. Cut the people who don’t matter. If someone has a name, make sure they’re important. But now I have to make sure that, at the end of the day, I have a cohesive book on my hands. So I’m compiling all the details into a synopsis.

Synopses are not easy. But I found a way to make them easier to start: write them as if you are speaking them. Simply narrate the story on paper, just like you would relate it to a friend. I started trying to write a more-formalized synopsis, like the kinds I read online when I googled “synopsis example.” But between being focused on getting the details of the plot down, figuring out what’s important to put in there versus what would just make it too damn long, and giving it some form of cohesion, writing in a voice that wasn’t naturally mine was just one more thing to add to the pile. And since this was a synopsis for myself (and my two wonderful friends who are ever so patient with me) I didn’t have to sound formal.

I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy to let go of what the final product “should” be and just putting down what was in my head already. There was a little bit of this:

Then I got hungry and it looked a little like this:

But it’s cool, I got my shit under control, and I wrote some shit down. And once I finally let go and got over myself, I wrote my entire synopsis, in one night. Just like I speak. Except perhaps slightly more manic.

For example:

So now he’s all woe and angst, wangst, and she’s like, hey asshole, weren’t we onto something? I kept being onto something while you were out being Ranger Rick. And he’s like, I don’t understand that reference.

… actually no, that’s pretty accurately how I talk when I get going.

But yeah. I got past thinking it had to look like a final product, and clung to the fact that this can, indeed be a rough draft. It doesn’t have to be flawless. It doesn’t have to be polished. If details don’t work out, that’s okay. That’s the point of the synopsis anyway, to find out what details just aren’t working out. It’s very freeing to allow yourself to write however you want. And it’s productive, especially for writing-output that doesn’t need to be in a specific voice.

An entire novel synopsis, in one sitting.

The joy of a synopsis is that you, and someone else, can get a high-level view of your book, and find the plot issues. Like “You have two villains, but one of them isn’t really necessary, so just cut that one person.” And “But wait, you say this here, and that there, and these two things totally contradict one another.” You get a level of beta reading without having to write the novel out, and without having to tear up swaths of a novel to fix the issues. High reward for relatively low cost.

And you can use synopses even if you’re a pantser. I’m using this synopsis as an after-the-fact editing tool. Thing’s written, now I’m fixing it.

So yay, I think this novel is kind of coming together. Sort of. Maybe. One step at a time, I’m going to pull this thing into a readable condition that other people might want to someday spend money-dollars on, hopefully. And it’s hard. There’s a lot of self-doubt. A lot of crying under a desk with a bottle of whiskey. It’s challenging to see the end-goal so far off, and to keep running at the horizon without gaining any ground. But books are built one word a a time, right? So you just gotta…

… keep moving forward.

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  • I’ve done a couple of these now, to moderate success, and I can say that it does get easier. It becomes rote, like you have an inner ad-man with an immense stable of bullshit platitudes that can just as easily be trotted out about a breakfast cereal as a novel. It’s a process or talent you develop, like figuring out how to submit applications for academic grants – good dividends for a pain in the ass, but it’s a pain in the ass you learn to navigate.

    However, writing a synopsis will probably never be fun, because a synopsis never manages to capture the spark or element of a novel that makes the novel what it is. It’ll always be, to some extent, a bill of parts.

    • geardrops

      I certainly hope it gets easier. Having never written one of these… man. Ugh. What a pain. If this was part of my submission packet, I’d be rejected, for sure.

  • Luna Flesher Lindsey

    I’m editing my second novel now, on the read-through stage.  At the end of reading each scene, I write out the key things that happen.  At first, I got hung up on my use of present tense.  Then found that lots of people write summaries in present tense.  I also notice, both in outlining and in after-the-fact summary writing, I use “Then Sandy gets pissed”, a lot.  I try not to think, “Shouldn’t I be more specific or use some synonyms?  She’s not pissed, she’s distraught or jealous,”  But no, the reality is, I’m writing this synopsis for me, so I can get through the rewrite.  I know what I mean by “pissed”, so I’ll keep on using it. 😀

    At the end, I’ll paste all the summaries together, and they’ll read like something a coherent story synopsis.

    • geardrops

      Yeah, exactly! I had that exact problem! “I’m using this word too much.” “Shouldn’t this be more descriptive?” Unnecessary stress we put on ourselves.

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