Guest Blogger Vanessa Kelly with Giveaway

We’re delighted to have Vanessa Kelly as a guest blogger. Her latest book, SEX AND THE SINGLE EARL, has one of the best titles I’ve seen, and it’s getting fabulous reviews. And she’s giving away a signed copy to one lucky commenter! I’ll post the name of the winner in the comments tomorrow morning.

Vanessa Kelly

If there’s one thing most writers can agree on, it’s that we would rather poke ourselves in the eye with a stick than pound out a synopsis. Writing a synopsis can make our palms sweat, our stomachs curdle, and our brains go into lockdown. Most writers I know put it off until after the manuscript is finished. Sadly, that strategy won’t work if you need a proposal in order to sell the book in the first place.

Being such imaginative folk, writers come up with all kinds of creative reasons for avoiding the synopsis. It’s boring drudgework, it stifles the muse, it doesn’t showcase voice, and it doesn’t reflect the splendor of our fabulous manuscripts. Ask any one of us to come up with a reason, and you’ll probably get at least four or five.

These attitudes manifest themselves in a variety of ways—one of the most interesting is in the number of writing contests that now no longer require entrants to write a synopsis, or no longer judge the synopsis if it is included. I’m friendly with more than a few unpublished writers who won’t enter a contest that requires them to submit a synopsis. Personally, I think that’s a shame. Learning to write one is a vital part of the publishing business. Sooner or later, most of us will have the opportunity to sell on proposal, and you can’t sell on proposal unless you know how to write a good synopsis.

Why, then, do we fear the synopsis so much? I think it goes much deeper than the reasons listed above. I think the real reason we hate writing the synopsis is because it forces us to think hard about our stories and our characters—and to do it early in the game. In order to write an effective synopsis, we have to ponder the intricacies of plot, and how plot serves the story’s purpose, theme, or intent. We have to precisely define our characters’ goals and motivations. We have to identify our conflicts—internal and external—and do it in the space of a few pages. Doing that is very hard work, especially since some writers (myself included) often can’t articulate elements like theme, internal motivations, conflicts, and goals until many thousands of words into the manuscript.

How in heaven’s name, then, are we supposed to do it before we even begin writing the book? Well, because we have to. When I first started writing, I always did my synopsis last. Now I write the damn thing first. This was driven by necessity since my editor often asks for only a synopsis as the basis of approval for my next book. I had to learn to plot a book and write a synopsis from scratch, without the benefit of a full manuscript to fall back on.

Frankly, as difficult as this task is, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This process forces me to think about my story in terms of themes, turning points, GMC, and character arcs. Before I even start I must identify and distill those elements which will help me to write a fast-paced, exciting story, full of conflict and emotion. I don’t think I’ll ever learn to love the synopsis, but necessity forced to me face my fear and make it—albeit reluctantly—my friend. I don’t know if this works for everyone, but it sure did for me.

So, what do you think about writing the synopsis? Is it friend or foe? What obstacles most stand in your way to writing an effective synopsis?

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14 Responses to Guest Blogger Vanessa Kelly with Giveaway

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    Vanessa, thanks for blogging with us. For me, synopses are foe. I don’t hate them, but I certainly don’t like them. I’m a pantser, so I prefer to write mine after the book is done, and then I pass it to my brilliant CPs, who make it better. :)

    Of course, when I sell, I’ll be happy to send in my synopsis ahead of time instead of writing the entire book. Well, maybe not happy, but it’s part of the job, and I’ll do it.

  2. Cynthia Eden says:

    Hi, Vanessa! I think SEX AND THE SINGLE EARL was awesome! Loved it! :-) And I’m with you on the synopsis. It might be painful, but it is necessary–and sometimes, it’s really helpful for me to plot out the story in advance, especially when there are multiple plot-lines that twist.

  3. Thanks for having me on, Edie! I think we can all agree that we’d rather do something else than write a synopsis. But now I see it as a really effective tool in my writer’s tool kit.

    Cynthia, that’s so nice of you! Glad you enjoyed SATSE. I totally agree that writing a synopsis before hand can help you avoid plotting pitfalls.

  4. Kath Calarco says:

    So many variables in seeking publication, all the very nature of the beast. I’m sort of okay with synopsis writing, especially after taking Laurie Schnebly’s (eek – hope I spelled that right) synopsis class, which boiled it down and made writing one more palatable. Of course, now that I’m okay with writing them, I no longer enter contests that formerly requested them (which is pretty much the reason I first learned how to write one, lol). Isn’t that always the way? :(

    Best wishes for great success with your newest release!

  5. *waving to Edie, Liz, Michelle and LaDonna* :)

    Hey, Vanessa!!!! You KNOW how much I love, love, love your title, and I really enjoyed your excerpt of the book (you sent some in for the Spring Fling conference). Can’t wait to read the whole novel!

    As for the synopsis…sigh. I find them hard to write but so very necessary. I follow Blake Snyder’s “beat sheet” when trying to construct the plot of a new book. For me, having a spine like that is really helpful–it ensures there’ll be an underlying structure and I won’t just go off on weird tangents for 400 pgs…LOL. Still, they’re never easy to get down on paper and I’m always relieved when I can start the actual drafting of the story. ;)

  6. Hi Kath! Laurie is a great teacher, isn’t she?

    Hi Marilyn! Yes, the inspiration goddess really struck when my hubby and I came up with that title, didn’t she? I’ve heard great things about Blake Snyder’s technique, although I haven’t used it. Must have a look at it. Is there a reason why you prefer his over other ones?

  7. cories says:

    Hi! Great take on writing synopses. And “Sex and the Single Earl” was a fun read!

  8. Hi cories! Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed my sexy earl!

  9. Jane says:

    Congrats on the new release, Vanessa. As a reader I wouldn’t know the first thing about writing a synopsis. I didn’t realize until recently how many authors hated writing them.

  10. LaDonna says:

    Great having you with us today, Vanessa! :smile: Hmmm, the ol’ synopsis quandary. Well, I’m a pantser gal, and write them after the story has made it to the computer screen. I have written them and lived to tell the tale, so that’s good. And occassionally, I’ve actually had some fun while doing it. Always great. :smile:

    Selling on one, and then trying to stay on chart would scare me more than anything. I really have to figure that one out one day!

  11. Thanks for stopping by, Jane! For most authors, a synopsis is the bane of our writing existence.

    LaDonna, I bet you could write one before, too!

  12. Edie Ramer says:

    Congratulations to Marilyn Brant! You’ve won a signed copy of Sex and the Single Earl!!!!

  13. Edie~thanks so much for letting me know!! Yay!

    Vanessa~I’m delighted. :) And, as far as Blake’s beat sheet, what I love so much about it is that it makes intuitive/hero’s journey sense to me, but it’s also very visual (he shows how the 15 beats relate to films we’re familiar with in Save the Cat Goes to the Movies). It gives me enough guidance to make sure I’ve got the key points covered, but I don’t feel I have to go into great plotting detail–a sentence or two for each point is enough–so I still have a lot of freedom to change things as I write the story.

    Happy Friday, everyone! ;)

  14. London Mabel says:

    I outline before I start a story, but I have to re-do the synopsis at the end anyway because of course things change along the way. And yes, I do find them hard. I’ll have to try the Blake suggestion.

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