How I Came to Not Hate Synopses

Synopsesesssssss, we hates them! Curse them and crush them!

But then I had to write two in a row, with no time to procrastinate. I still don't like them, but I no longer fear them. Why?

Because I found an algorithm.

STEP #1: Plan the story. Or write it, in the case where you're writing a synopsis after the draft. Either way works, but writing the synopsis before the draft makes it easier to condense things, I think.

STEP #2: Write the Crappy Synopsis. Just write everything that happens, in whatever order you think of it. Always telling, never bothering to show unless you happen to think of it that way. Always remember: no one will ever see this version.

STEP #3: Make a list of Main Events. Use the Crappy Synopsis as a guide. Just write a sentence or two per event. Try to pick events that are critical (and skip events that are merely transitional), but don't worry if you get too many.

STEP #4: Make a list of Condensed Events. In a new document, take the Main Events list and condense it. Delete every event you can (meaning the synopsis still makes sense without it). Combine the events that you can almost-but-not-quite delete into other critical events.

REPEAT STEP #4 until your list is about as long as you want the synopsis to be. For me, that's usually 2-3 pages. Keep in mind that what appears "critical" in novel form may not be necessary to understand the synopsis. You can cut a lot more than you think you can.

Then again, I like cutting better than adding.

STEP #5: Write the Friggin' Synopsis. Use the Condensed Events List as your guide. This is usually the hard part, but for me, by the time I got here, I was mostly turning each list item into its own paragraph. It was like magic.

STEP #6: Revise. Make it sound good. Make it flow. Add voice where you can.

And that's it! Will it work for you? Heck, I don't know. All I know is my agent liked both of my synopses and now I don't have to write one for a while.

Hm, maybe that's why I don't hate them at the moment.


Taryn said...

See, the reason I hate synopses is not that they're hard to write. They're simply tedious and usually boring. The tedium comes because you have to go through your manuscript at least once, and manuscripts are long. The boringness comes, becomes, well, they're usually dry. So, yeah, your method is simple and straightforward . . . but it doesn't fix the fundamental problems that make me hate them.

Adam Heine said...

Fair enough, Taryn. Though neither of the synopses I wrote have an MS to go with them (I haven't written them; it's possible I may never write them). Problem solved ;-)

There's not a lot that can be done about the dryness, but there are teeny, tiny bright spots here and there in my synopses where voice comes through. I love those spots :-)

Matthew MacNish said...

Writing a series is how you really screw yourself into having to write these dreaded things.

Michael Horvath said...

I hated writing mine because I was afraid that it would be so bad noone would want to read the book.

Authoress said...

1. If the MS isn't written yet, do a beat sheet first, then use that to write the synop.
2. If the MS is written, use SCRIVENER (program of champions) and make sure to type outline notes as you go. Then, use the outline feature and follow your notes instead of the MS to write the synop. I will nevernevernevernevernever write another synop without Scrivener's outline feature. :)


Angela Brown said...

So I think I got the steps amid my various chuckles, guffaws and giggles. You don't hate the crappy, friggin' synopsis, but you're borderline there fella.

As for me, well, I'm still afraid. Very, very afraid.

Sarah Ahiers said...

It's the making it sound good part that i struggle with, because the making it sound good part requires more words and then the synopsis starts to grow. Le sigh.

Nancy Thompson said...

Writing synopses is difficult. I wrote 4 for my novel for querying purposes, starting with the longest then editing down for shorter versions. I started by writing individual synopses for each chapter then editing it down or up, as necessary, then combining and editing for voice. But in the end, when my publisher asked me for a 300 word synopsis for publicity purposes, I used one of my queries. I had 27 of them, so I knew I had the story boiled down to perfection. That really helped.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I've discovered synopses are easier to write before I've written the darn book. Also, I cheat and tell myself I'm writing a query because I'm twisted and actually really love writing queries.

Whatever it takes!

Matthew MacNish said...

I hope you know I link readers to two people when they ask me how to write a synopsis. You, and Nathan Bransford.