As with all phobics, I try to avoid the things I fear. Twice I’ve emailed my editor partials without having written the synopsis. Each time I prayed she’d love them so much she’d buy the story without knowing how the story ends. Each time I had to face reality when she said, “Love this! Is the synopsis finished yet?”
Who did I think I was-Stephen King?
Unless you’re like Susan Colebank-whose love of the synopsis makes her the type of author I thought was an urban legend talked about in hushed whispers in the back of bookstores-read on to find out why the pain is worth it.
1) I thought it’d be easier to just write the whole book instead of struggling to summarize it in a few pages. For my second book, Revealers, I got the thumbs up on my partial from my editor and then spent two and a half weeks working on the synopsis-all the while grumbling about how I could’ve written three new chapters in the time it was taking me. I was ready to give up and finish the book and skip the synopsis all together, but I’m very glad I didn’t. After my editor read the synopsis, she fired back twenty questions and concerns. We talked, and I ended up changing some big plot points. If I’d written the whole story first, I would’ve had A LOT of revising to do. As it happens, I made some quick fixes to the synopsis to change things my editor didn’t like, instead of rewriting the last half of the book. Revising is part of the business, but I was thankful my synopsis made the process much easier.
2) It’s OK if some of the things in your synopsis don’t make it into the actual story. Part of my fear about writing a synopsis came from worrying that if it’s in the synopsis, it has to be in the final manuscript. That’s a big commitment to make. So much of our stories change and evolve as we discover new things, characters and scenes while we write. I reread my Revealers‘ synopsis and there were a lot of things that didn’t make it into the first draft-even the ending was slightly different. My editor told me that happens a lot. Hearing that from her made writing the synopsis for my next story a little easier. I didn’t feel the pressure to get it exactly right, and it allowed me to generalize more and not get caught up in little details that don’t need to be in a synopsis.
3) Being forced to think the story through makes the writing go faster. Now it can be argued that a deadline makes the writing go faster, but having my Revealers synopsis done–even though I strayed a bit from it–definitely helped me crank out half of the book in six weeks. (Yes, I had plenty of time to write, but I highly recommend not getting a puppy three months before your book is due-trust me, the kids will not help out as much as you think they will, and they definitely aren’t as invested in keeping the new rugs as clean as you are!) Sure, having the whole story planned out ahead of time doesn’t sound as romantic as letting your muse whisper the story to you as you go along, but when there is poop to be scooped, that preplanning pays off.
4) It gets easier the more you do it! Writing the synopsis for my next book was hard, but not as hard as the one before. There’s a learing curve. I did start out with four pages that only covered what my editor had already read, but I stopped myself and went back and trimmed-the final result came to to three pages. To paraphrase my editor-write it all down, and then put it away for a bit. At first you might think that everything needs to be covered, but with time it’s clear that the big chunks of subplots don’t need to be mentioned.
5. So my editor liked my synopsis for book three-no twenty questions this time. I asked her if I’d made a better attempt, or if she was just resigned to the fact that I don’t do a great a synopsis-she said “I think it was a combination, but the synopsis this time was more streamlined/tighter.” Yay!