Revisions and the Dreaded Synopsis
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?