Tuesday, February 12, 2013

When Do You Write Your Synopsis?

Writers talk a lot about the synopsis and how to write it. Most recently we at Chiseled in Rock published The Dreaded Synopsis by Terry Wright and Synopsis: A Perfect Fit by Janet Lane.

I have written seven novels. One was published only in audio. Two were published in hardcover, mass market paperback, and e-book. One manuscript needs a major rewrite and is probably destined to sit on a shelf forever. The other three are in various stages of writing, submission, and/or revision.

I'm a pantser, a binge writer, and I do not edit or revise as I go. Not necessarily desirable, but I've learned to deal with it. It took awhile, but over the years, I developed a synopsis-writing process that works for me. Here 'tis:

Before I begin the real writing of a novel, I use my basic idea to churn out a narrative outline. It's not a chapter outline or even a chapter-by-chapter plan, but I end up with a vague idea of my story line and characters.

Over the next few days (or in one case, years) I write and write and write until I finally have 65,000 to 70,000 words with somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 words to go.

I stop writing and read through the novel from page one, writing a chapter-by-chapter summary as I go.

At that point, I plan the remaining chapters of my novel and include them in the summary. This is where I also jot down notes regarding needed revisions.

Then I write, write, write until I've finished the first draft of the novel.

When I move into the revision stage, I change the chapter summary as I change the novel.

When I finish the book, I also have a completed long, detailed synopsis. Agents and editors don't have a uniform standard for the synopses they request with queries or initial submissions, so it's wise to go ahead and prepare a couple of shorter versions, including a one-page, single-spaced summary. They typically require a lot of rewriting as I pare the story down to its bare bones. I don't want to be caught churning out a variation at the last minute.

So when do I write my synopsis? I begin when I'm about 80% of the way through my novel's first draft and I continue revising it as I revise the manuscript. The shorter versions are crafted from the completed long synopsis.

Now it's your turn. When do you write your synopsis?

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By Patricia Stoltey, who is currently in the process of creating that first draft synopsis from a first draft manuscript that is about 80% complete.




10 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - What an interesting idea - to write the synopsis as you go along. I really need to try that as I have generally written mine after the novel's finished. I think doing it little by little like that gives the synopsis more 'spark.' Thanks for sharing!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The synopsis is the last thing I do and it's painful. No wait - dividing the manuscript into chapters is the last thing I do. That's easier.

E.J. Wesley said...

I've just started using an approach similar to what you've detailed here, Patricia. (Brief chapter sketches after I've drafted 2/3 of the story.) Hoping it helps me finally get a wrangle on the flow/pacing of the story.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Margot, for me it was a matter of having much of the work done ahead of time so I wasn't faced with this giant task at the end.

Alex, I can't even imagine writing a whole novel without dividing the chapters as I go. That's how I decide where to put the tension and the cliffhangers.

E.J. -- doing it this way has certainly helped me with the second draft rewrites.

RichardK said...

My situation was somewhat unique when I delivered my first manuscript. The book was already done, but needed revisions. Only after I finished the last edit did I go ahead and write up the synopsis. However, the agent wanted 50 pages of the second story in the series, so I needed to whip up a synopsis for that one as well, even though I wrote just 50 pages.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Richard, a request from an agent for the synopsis of a book not yet written would be a lovely problem to have.

Karen Duvall said...

It's so interesting the variety of ways writers write their synopses. Thanks, Pat, for posting this informative blog.

I write the synopsis before I write the book, but I write at least the first three chapters before I tackle the synopsis. This gives me a feel for the characters' voice and tone of the story because that needs to carry over to the synopsis. The synopsis is like a short story in and of itself, so it needs to mirror the novel as a standalone narrative.

As I write my beginning 3 chapters, I'm thinking through the plot so that when I'm ready to go at my synopsis I have a fairly cohesive plan. I write about 3 pages, double spaced, then pair it down to 2 because my agent says editors rarely read beyond that. Also, it's what my Harlequin editor requires in a proposal. When you sell a book on proposal, you need to have a solid synopsis prepared.

Patricia Stoltey said...

That's very helpful information, Karen. It would be really nice if we could forget that idea of a long 7-8 page synopsis forever. Now I wonder if anyone asks for that anymore.

Alana White said...

I'm working on the next book (after The Sign of the Weeping Virgin) in my Renaissance Italy series and after writing a long first draft (just "they do this," "they do that" ) and then trying to harness those pages, narrow them down into specific scenes and chapters, I'm writing the synopsis. I find this helps focus the bones of the story in my mind...what is this "really" about, and so on. Anything to shorten (I hope!) the writing time.

Alana White said...

I'm working on the next book (after The Sign of the Weeping Virgin) in my Renaissance Italy series and after writing a long first draft (just "they do this," "they do that" ) and then trying to harness those pages, narrow them down into specific scenes and chapters, I'm writing the synopsis. I find this helps focus the bones of the story in my mind...what is this "really" about, and so on. Anything to shorten (I hope!) the writing time.