There are those who say writing the query and/or the synopsis of the novel is harder than writing the entire novel. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I’ve always hated writing synopses. I stopped minding queries when I realized I didn’t need to pack the whole novel into a paragraph, just supply enough of a teaser to make someone want to read more. But synopses? Well, the point of the synopsis is in fact to summarize the entire novel, and no mistake. That’s why synopses exist. Plus, I hate giving away the ending, and there’s no way around it in a synopsis.
So, along with many, many other writers of my acquaintance, I was a synopsis-hater.
But this latest synopsis I’ve been working on, I love. So what changed? And how can you set yourself up for synopsis-writing success?
Don’t rush it. I’ve spent the last six months pulling together research, and plotting, and developing characters. So now that I’m actually putting that together in an organized format, the words come easily. If I’d tried to write this same synopsis for this same book three months ago, there would have been fits and starts. Mostly fits. This way it comes spilling out, and I know how A becomes B becomes C, and it’s just a matter of how much detail to go into about each letter.
Don’t limit yourself. A one-page or three-page synopsis is a maddening thing, nearly impossible to achieve on a first draft. So don’t try to do it in one draft. Write it until it’s done, however much space that takes on the first go-around. You can always edit later. You can take it from 10 pages down to three, but in order to figure out what goes in that three, it’s better to put it all in and then figure out what needs trimming away.
Balance plot and character. A synopsis can feel like a list of events: this happens and then this happens and this happened and then that’s the end. It comes out dry and boring — and frustrating for you as the writer, because you know it’s not capturing the richness of the book. So don’t just talk about what happens. Talk about how the characters feel about it. You’ll need to have this balance in the final book. It can be incredibly helpful to see whether or not you’ve already got it organized at the synopsis stage.
And probably the most important rule of happy synopsis-writing:
Write the synopsis before the book. Seriously. It’s so much easier. If you’re a pantser and you’d rather discover things by writing them, it’s still a useful exercise to try at least once. You might discover things while writing the synopsis that you’d ordinarily discover while writing the text itself. And if things change along the way while you’re writing the book, no big deal — rewrite the synopsis later. Synopsis drafts are the same as novel drafts: you can’t edit if you haven’t written.