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Revisions and the Dreaded Synopsis

Monday, July 16, 2007

Now that the first three chapters of Ransome’s Honor are in good shape, I started working on writing a complete, detailed synopsis of the novel this weekend—as a lead in to writing the series synopsis—so that I can get it out to my agent this week. This is one area of writing that really wasn’t covered in my grad school program. We were just expected to figure out how to do it.

I hate writing synopses. At least synopses that are meant for other people (like editors) to read so they know what my story is about. I don’t mind writing them for myself as I’m starting a project so I know the general direction I’m headed (I’ve already done this for the second book in the series, so all it needs are a few minor tweaks). I don’t know why writing the synopsis for a novel I’ve already finished the first draft of should be so hard. But it is. The only good thing about it is that most editors and agents agree that the synopsis, while it needs to reflect our writing and storytelling skills, isn’t going to be the most scintillating piece we’ll ever write.

I did something with this manuscript that I did not do with Happy Endings Inc. When I first sat down to start the second draft, I just started revising, adding, cutting, etc., into new chapter files, as I did with HEI. But then I got into the fifth chapter and was adding new material which I came to realize wasn’t going to work. I needed a better handle on all of the plot points of my story—especially since I was cutting a POV character as well as introducing another POV character much earlier in the story (it was her POV introduction I was having an issue with).

A while ago, I shared the storyboards I put together for this book—with images of the characters and settings and costumes. I had done this chapter-by-chapter and could pretty much remember what each chapter was about by looking at the storyboard. But I needed more information this time. I needed to know what each scene was, what happened in each scene, and whose viewpoint it was told in. So I created scene cards: one PowerPoint slide for each scene, color-coded by viewpoint character, coded by which chapter/scene it is in the original draft. By using the “title only” slide layout and typing the scene description into the title box, I was then able to export the scene descriptions into Word (using the “outline” format). So, you’d think writing the synopsis would be easy, right?

Wrong! It’s one thing to have a sentence or two that describes the scene to me, the author. It’s a totally different exercise to make it understandable to someone completely unfamiliar with the story. Plus, it’s a completely different writing style than what I’m used to: present-tense verbs and “telling” rather than “showing.” Not to mention, this story totals more than 120,000 words. How do I boil that down to seven or eight (double-spaced) pages?

So, that’s my writing goal for the next several days—to get this synposis written and, in the process, revise the structure of the story to cut about 20-30,000 words to get it under the 100k limit (preferably around 90k).

So what’s your process for writing synopses and preparing to revise a first draft? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about revisions or synopses?

8 Comments
  1. Monday, July 16, 2007 12:52 pm

    I have yet to finish a full novel manuscript. In revising short stories, the best advice I’ve had was to read it like a reader, i.e. try to read through the manuscript as a reader would. Preferably aloud.

    Cynthia Reese did an excellent workshop on revisions on the eHq blog a couple of months ago. It can be found here

  2. Monday, July 16, 2007 12:57 pm

    I hear ya, Kaye! Looking at other people’s stuff is so much easier, probably because we’ve got distance and we’re not attached. I wish people could just jump in my head and see what I see because it’s all there. Getting it down on paper is tough.

    My best tip is to give your synopsis, when you’ve got it done to the best of your ability, to another book reader or writer who has no idea what your book is about. Have them use Track Changes or all caps and type in right in the synopsis any time they have a question or are confused.

    I had a writer friend do this for me a couple years ago, and it was like the light bulb going off for me. Not only did I learn where I wasn’t clear (seemed clear to me, lol), but I learned when I was concentrating on too many little scenes instead of the overall arc of the story.

    Hope that helps. Have fun with the thing.

  3. Monday, July 16, 2007 3:33 pm

    When I sit down to write a synopsis, I have this horrible feeling that I’m trying to hork down a watermelon in a single bite. So I break it down by writing a chapter-by-chapter outline. Then I try to hook the information together in paragraphs–one paragraph per chapter. After that, I polish, pout at how hard it is, and polish some more. This whole writing thing was a lot easier when I didn’t know what I was doing!

    The best advice I’ve heard about writing a synop.? Like taking a vile tasting medicine…it stinks, but you feel better after you do it.

  4. Tuesday, July 17, 2007 11:18 am

    I write it this way:

    1st paragraph intros the heroine with her goal, motivation, and conflict.
    2nd paragraph is the same but for the hero (if it’s not a romance, same idea, different characters.)
    Then paragraphs for the three big turning points of the story.
    Black moment paragraph.
    Resolution.

    LOL, mine come out short then I have to flesh them out to include connections between the turning points.

  5. Tuesday, July 17, 2007 11:19 am

    PS–I’m not an expert, so I actually might be doing it all wrong. Please someone, tell me if I’m off!

  6. Tuesday, July 17, 2007 11:28 am

    Synopsis…oh my. Do you want to know the hell I went through trying to get mine approved the beginning of my second term? You can’t include it all in a synopsis, yet my mentor had all these questions that she wanted answered. I finally seperated the questions from the synopsis, sent her detailed descriptions of how it was going to work (as best I knew cause I hadn’t finished writing at this point and wasn’t sure exactly where my story would lead me) and then wrote my synopsis. I can’t say it’s my favorite part of writing :) I went to a workshop at my writing conference in May on synopsis writing. I really liked it. They suggested writing your one page synopsis first, then working out from there – to a two page, then a three page, then a four page.

    She said this way you write your one page with all the important info and then when you expand it you’re doing just that you’re expanding. You’re not losing any vital information. When you work backwards trying to reduce a four page synopsis to a one page she said you usually take out info you need. It was really good. I have the notes she handed out. I can scan them in and send them to you if you want them.

  7. Tuesday, July 17, 2007 12:02 pm

    Georgiana’s method looks like a good way to get started. Then it can be expanded, per Jennifer’s comment, as needed. Thanks for some good suggestions, gals!

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