Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Write a Synopsis When?



I’ve heard and read that writing a synopsis for a story before writing the first draft can sometimes be helpful. Last week, as I carved out a synopsis for an almost finished work in progress (sculpting a slab of granite with a butter knife would have been easier), the wisdom of writing the synopsis ahead of the story made more sense to me. If I had some sort of synopsis sketched out based on my original intent for this novel, I would have had a launch pad of sorts. Believe me, I would have killed for that last week.
photo by Clarita at www.morguefile.com

I am also wondering if sketching out a synopsis ahead of time might be a way of outlining or feeling out if a story idea has enough potential to morph into a full fledged novel. A pre-story synopsis might help a writer figure out her intentions for a story, maybe help her figure out the merit and meat of an idea, along with its perimeters. Yet, without the commitment. The story could still change during the writing. After all, what a writer needs to craft a synopsis is what he or she needs to put together a first draft: The protagonist and his or her goal, the antagonist and his or her goal, the protagonist’s internal or emotional conflict, his or her flaw, and the setting.

Okay, I know that there are many writers that work out the story while writing. I am impressed and amazed by this, by the way. And yes, each writer must figure out the way that works best for his or her story and muse, but maybe sketching something out ahead of time could be useful and motivating, even if just as a warm up exercise. 

What do you think? Are you scoffing at this idea? Or is it, at least, a little bit intriguing? Or, maybe more than a little bit intriguing? Do tell! 

46 comments:

  1. I think that writing a synopsis is great to do before drafting, but because I change my drafts so often, it ends up being an exercise more than a reliable source I can hand to an agent when I finish. Still, as a plotter, I prefer to write synopses over queries any day!

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    1. Ah yes, I'd much rather write a synopsis than a query any old day, Emily. : )

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  2. I am of the very naughty kind and write before I know how to end the story! LOL!!! I'm a panster! The synopsis comes after the story is written (or during, or never!LOL!).

    But if each to their own and whatever works best for the writer and the story! Take care
    x

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    1. Each to their own is right, Old Kitty. As long as that story turns out, right?

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  3. I don't scoff at the idea at all, but as I start with the merest shred of an idea, or just a character, that outlining or synopsizing before I've started writing just doesn't work for me. I tend to develop something of an outline of where I've been when I get to the middle, figuring it will be that much easier to finish the synopsis when I get to the end. And if I get stuck, I will try to use it as a way to plan ahead and get me going again, but it doesn't always work. I am not much of a planner.

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    1. Very interesting, JeffO. So many different and wonderful ways to work.

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  4. hello--saw you on my daughter-in-laws blog--adrienne proctor----i am a writer that gets some kind of feeling or inspiration and just sits and writes---i just go where the story takes me--interesting blog!

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  5. Thanks, Lynn, and welcome! I am fascinated by the write where the story takes you style. Probably because my stories always back me into a corner when I try this. : )

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  6. Yes! I think that's a great way to plan out a story, and yet still have wiggle room for the characters and plot to do their own thing and veer off course a little (or a lot). At least you have a basis that way. Thanks for the reminder to do that when I get to my new novel in earnest, and start plotting it!

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    1. I think I'm going to try this pre-novel synopsis exercise, too, with the next project, Carol.

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  7. I am not a "Pantser" so your idea definitely appeals to me. While I already do an outline before starting a first draft, a synopsis would give a bit of "meat on the bones" to my outline. Thanks, Cynthia!

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  8. I nearly break out in hives when I have to write a synopsis, but I have to admit it helps flesh out the major transitions of my stories. I used to be a dedicated pantser, but with each MS I plan more and more. Of course, that doesn't mean the story can't take on a life of its own and lead me to places I never imagined. That's the magic of the process, right?

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    1. Absolutely, Leslie. I've become more of an outliner with each manuscript, too. And yet, the stories always take on lives of their own.

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  9. I wrote a short synopsis for two books that haven't been written yet. They are the second and third in a series. The first book is completed. I really had to think about direction, and it took that one book (the first book) to a place I never imagined. Fun stuff.

    I did leave wiggle room.

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    1. Very cool, Loree. It's great to read that this pre-novel synopsis exercise works.

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  10. I think the writer who does this is brilliant, because any help you can get ahead of time is wonderful when it comes to the dreaded synopsis. I've done it before, but it never ends up being the actual book. At best the first part of it. Oh well. :D

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    1. You get major points for trying, LIsa. ; )

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  11. The more I write, the more I think this is a fabulous idea. It really helps I think.

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  12. It is a way of outlining. Author Janette Rallison does that, writes (usually) a single page synopsis of her books before she writes them. I'm always worried about outlining with too much detail because I inevitably change things that then mess with what is to come.

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    1. Interesting to read about an author who already does this, Donna. Thanks!

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  13. The most I can manage is an elevator pitch that put in my header. Everyone has to find what works for them, and I'm amazed how different we all are in our process.

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    1. It is fascinating how different writers work, isn't it?

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  14. I'm an outliner, so I know a lot of the info BEFORE I write the first draft. I don't write the synopsis because I HATE writing them, and I know my wip will ended up being changed (despite the outline). Why waste time doing something I hate and will only have to write again??? :D

    Can you guess that the synopsis is the last thing I write before I start querying? :D

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    1. That's exactly how it's always been for me, Stina. I despise writing a synopsis. Ah well. : )

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  15. Being the plot/outline chick that I am, I tend to do some of that early on. Even though I hate writing the synopsis, I try to have a beginning, middle, and end in mind.

    They change drastically of course during the revisions.

    I have to admit though, I had to write a synopsis for a workshop when my WIP wasn't finished, and it actually HELPED me in the end.

    However, I still believe the synopsis is EVIL. :)

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    1. LOL, Karen. But I agree--writing the synopsis, as painful as this can be, does put the novel in perspective.

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  16. I save synopses until the end, but that's just me because I don't like writing them!

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  17. I think writing the synopsis, and also the query, ahead of time can be very helpful. Since the synop hits the high points, there's still plenty of room for pantsing, and also plenty of room for changes.

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  18. I'm of two minds. When I get a story idea I usually know where I'm going with it, but not all the details. Somehow, I write the synopsis after. However, in the class I teach, I encourage writers to plot properly and get that synopsis written.

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  19. That's funny, J.L. Do as I say/teach, not as I do? : )

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  20. I'm intrigued, but not sure I could do it. My plot evolves as I write. I do have a critique mate that writes the pitch or logline before she starts and I think that is a stellar idea for testing marketability.

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    1. Writing the pitch ahead of time is interesting, too, Shannon.

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  21. I don't write a synopsis in the beginning, but I do write a story outline, so I know what happens in each scene. it makes it easier for me to write the story:)
    Happy weekend!
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  22. I'm not scoffing at this at all! As a matter of fact, with my current wip, I took James Scott Bell's advice and wrote the log line before I wrote the novel. It really helped me keep focused.

    I will be writing the synopsis soon, and I think you're on to something. Even if it's like a roadmap!

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    1. Thanks, Julie! James Scott Bell is my hero. ; )

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  23. I'm considering this. Writing the synopsis first could tighten up my plot as I tweak my outline.

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  24. Exactly what I've been thinking, Medeia. ; )

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  25. Yes I can so see where you are coming from. I have read that some authors always start their novels with the last line and that way they know where the story is headed. It makes so much sense. Great post.

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  26. Thanks, Madeleine. Starting a novel with the last line is interesting, too.

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