Sunday, March 6, 2011

And then the first guy said to the other guy...

On Friday Katrina wrote about how writers get past the hard part in their stories. I sobbed quietly in the comments that I was facing my own Waterloo – the synopsis. Now I’ll sob a little louder.

I use a working synopsis as part of my writing road map. I’d love to be able to send that out to agents and editors, but it’s not suitable for public consumption.

So I used it as a starting point, then I kluged in copy from the synopsis feature in Scrivener. It got the story from A to Z, but used way too many letters to get there. I think I might have used a few numbers and random symbols too. I had to face facts -- this thing isn’t going to write itself while I watch Top Chef and eat Cheezits.

It’s hard to strip our own stories down to essentials. A common strategy is to pretend you’re explaining the plot to a friend. Good advice – but there are pitfalls. Most of the time, when a friend recounts a plot of a movie or book, it’s neither interesting nor coherent.

“And then the hero discovers that the bad guy was actually the stranger who helped him in the first scene! Oh wait, did I forget to tell you about that?”

Most synopses have a “you had to be there” kind of flatness, despite our best attempts to layer them with crackling voice and writing.

I understand why editors and agents want them. They might love the first chapter, but if the plot falls into a thousand messy pieces, they want to know before they get to page 248. So I’m working on my synopsis – procrastinating a bit. Maybe a lot.

In the meantime, Top Chef this week was really awesome. I’d tell you what happened, but you really have to see it yourself.

Useful advice from:

Nathan Bransford

Absolute Write

What's your best advice for a writing a synopsis? Who do you want to win Top Chef? (I'm rooting for Carla. Who else?)


  1. The best advice I've come across on writing synopses:

    Beth Anderson's "Writing the Tight Synopsis"

    And Carla for the win! Hootie hoo!

  2. I read that too -- not a tight description on writing synopses :) but it has a lot of great info on how to do it. Thanks!

  3. I've had other authors argue with me about this, but I think most agents expect synopses to be dry. I've only had them requested a few times, and always with pages, so I completely agree with what you said - the synopsis is just to make sure you have enough to fill out an entire book.

    I read good advice from Kathleen Ortiz:

    Good luck!

  4. Oh yeah...I hate writing a synopsis. They do tend to come out flat and boring, no matter how hard you try to make it otherwise. I'll have to go read those articles you and the other commenters linked to :D thanks!!

  5. Thanks, Erica! I sure hope my synopsis can be dry because it definitely isn't juicy and delicious.

    One strategy that some writers use is avoiding every situation that requires a synopsis. ;)

  6. I'm in the same boat right now. And hating it.

  7. Oh... I shudder at the thought. I tried recently and failed miserably. I decided to take it on after I finished my rewrite.

    Good luck!


  8. I keep a very lean synopsis as I write. It's broken down by days and then I list the main events for that day and the chapter(s). This way, if I need to make a change or an update, I can find the chapter easily. It also helps when I need to have the character say something happened x days ago.

    Not sure if this will be useful when I finally go to write my whole synopsis.

    The CRITTER Project and Naked Without A Pen


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