There are certain words that make most writers break into a cold sweat. “Synopsis” is one of them.
Until recently, the thought of writing a synopsis would send me into fits of, “screw this, I’m going to become a unicorn farmer.” After all, I’m a pantser, I can’t possibly write about a story I have only a vague idea about.
The first time my agent asked for a proposal that included the first 50 pages and a synopsis, I panicked. Full out, hyperventilating into a bag of gummy bears panic. Once I was done with the gummy bears (and post-gummy Pepto Bismol), I sat down to write what needed to be written.
It was, my friends, a writing-life changing moment!
Here’s what I learned …
1) A synopsis is a brainstorming tool.
When a story idea nestles in my brain, I have various bits and pieces but no idea how they fit with each other. I’ve tried character sketches and scene cards and three-act structure diagrams and pretty much every how-to out there. None work for me. What works for me, is letting the ideas marinate until the story comes together. I open a word document, type “chapter 1” and work things out as I get there.
So, the idea of writing about a story that was still forming, was slightly south of crazy. First time out was indeed painful. But at one point, I stopped agonizing over knowing what was coming, and let ideas jumble out of my brain. I’ve written before about mind-mapping. Free-flowing with a synopsis is just connecting the dots, where the dots are the branches of the mind-mapping exercise.
By not stressing over the structure, I can play around with ideas. I fantasize where the story could go and I don’t limit myself by rules or expectations.
2) A synopsis is not your novel.
In writing the synopsis, I’m telling my story’s story. I’m looking down at the game-board for my story and guiding the characters along the chutes and ladders. I’m writing from a different POV, and from a different level of intimacy with my story and characters. I don’t worry about whether the story has a sexy first line or a plump middle. I’m not focused on hooks and perfect phrasing.
By not agonizing about wordsmithing the content, I allow the ideas to pour out of my mind and settle onto the game-board as they see fit.
3) A synopsis is not your GPS system.
It doesn’t have to get you to a specific spot, just in a general direction. Sometimes you land on a chute that takes you one way, sometimes it’s a ladder that takes you in the opposite direction. And that’s okay. The point of the synopsis is to give the agent/editor/you a sense of the story’s purpose.
With a synopsis written, my next step is to storyboard the chapters. Before I start to write a chapter, I review the synopsis and what I’ve done in the previous chapter, then sketch out what the next chapter will look like. Sometimes the synopsis is on the money, other times, the chapter that needs to be written is completely different from what I thought would happen next.
The synopsis acts as a prompt, which can be a godsend on days when that blinking cursor tries to hypnotize the words right out of my brain.
The best advice I was given about writing a synopsis: “Relax.”
My advice to you: “Try it.”
I’m still a free-soloing pantser. But I’ve also discovered the joy of a synopsis sanity saver.
Okay, tell me … are you camp synopsis or would you rather walk on legos than write one? For those who are camp synopsis, do you have any other tips for writing them that will help nudge a reluctant synopsis-writer?
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Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world where she spent roughly sixteen years working in the space industry. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a member of the Tall Poppy Writers, and a quarterly contributor to the Writers In The Storm blog.
She’s the author of Carousel Beach (May 2018) and The Distance Home (May 2017).
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