Nov

29

2011

squeezing out a synopsis

Filed under: writing | Tags: , ,

For the first time in my life, I’ve written a synopsis when I haven’t written a word of the actual book yet.

It’s good to try these new things, I think, but I won’t lie to you: it’s been painful. It’s taken me two days, and many times in those two days I’ve felt as if I’ve been battering my head against a stone wall whilst crows of doubt lurked overhead, waiting to eat the choicest bits of my brains.

So many of the things that give a story richness and depth come to me as I write the actual words: the scene-setting, the intertwined symbols, the layers of emotion, the voices of my characters, not to mention the little funny details or extra dramatic oomph. And for me, that’s a big part of the joy of writing. This synopsis (and it’s still a first draft at the moment) feels like a skeleton without any flesh on it. I’ll have to attempt to add sinew, muscle, blood and skin as I revise the synopsis draft.

However. It’s been a really useful exercise for me in structure and planning ahead. Though it’s longer than a single page, I followed (more or less) the synopsis formula I’ve posted here, plotting events on a three-act graph and making sure that each event raises the stakes for the characters. For once in my life, I’ve figured out the secret twist before my own characters have (shock horror!).

The idea behind this is that it might help me to structure the book better at the scene and character arc level as I write it, and avoid my usual missteps, especially at the beginning when I tend to write and then delete 10,000 wrong words. I think it will be an interesting experiment, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

I do think that every now and then as writers, we have to be open to trying new processes. It can, maybe, push us in new directions, challenge our abilities and lead to something fresh.

Are any of you pantsers who have tried to write to a synopsis? Or plotters who have tried to just fly off into the mist? What was it like for you?

(Edited to add: @MsAlisonMay reminded me of a useful technique I’d mentioned on the course I taught a couple of weeks ago—highlighting different parts of your synopsis to see what you need more or less of. Here, backstory is green, plot is blue and emotion is yellow.

I can see that I’ve got emotion covered, but maybe I want to work on that plot aspect a little bit more. Thanks, Alison!)


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  1. Agreed, it’s always good to try new things (which can help develop your skills, as long as you also recognise that if it doesn’t work for you, it simply means that your process is different and not that you’re a failure – those crows definitely need shooing away!), and I’m fascinated by other people’s processes.

    As you know, I’m a planner :o) I have experimented, but the last time I tried to pantster it I spent two weeks doing nothing but playing online word games so I avoid that blank page. At that point, I realised the process wasn’t going to work for me – it froze me, instead. As soon as I sat down to tinker with an outline, my hero and heroine gave a sigh of relief and started talking to me.

    It was an interesting experiment and I’m glad I did it, because it reinforced that I’d found what works best for me: having a very good roadmap up front (and permission to divert if something better develops).

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    • I also find it fascinating how differently people work, Kate. Obviously your planning works really well for you but for me, I normally want to break out in hives at the mere thought.

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  2. Thank you Julie. Copying and pasting all your synopsis posts.

    PS just read your newletter and love those 2 Christmas jokes. Didn’t get the first for ages!

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  3. I had to write a synopsis when I wrote a trilogy with two other authors. It’s painful for a pantster like me, but I know the discipline is good for me. It makes me think ahead, see the potholes and rocks and sort them out before I start writing. I’m just about to embark on a story that is all in the air and I know I should sit down and work out where I’m going. Right now.

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    • I’m sorry for your pain, Liz, but it’s hugely reassuring to know that you find it difficult too.

      Reply

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