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.
WHY WE HATE THE SYNOPSIS
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 I’m friendly with more than a few unpublished writers who won’t enter a contest that requires them to submit a synopsis.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?