Ever read something and go, “What the heck was that about?” And then you go to Wikipedia and they have that nice section called “Plot.” When writing your own work, using Wikipedia as a refresher for key story events when you’re neck-deep in editing isn’t really an option. Unless you are one of those elusive published authors, in which case, I am jelly and good on you. So, guess who gets to write the synopsis…
The first step to writing a synopsis is having a mostly-finished book. I read in a post by Marissa Meyer that writing the synopsis before the book will just end up making the summary read more like a outline. You what’s boring and unhelpful? Outlines.
After having that mostly completed book, I went through chapter by chapter and wrote the key events. In weaving a story, if you can’t tell someone what happens in which chapter, well you might have messed up a little. In strong narratives that are character-driven, things should be happening all the time with some breathing room. It’s a very fine balance that I’m questioning whether or not I’ve achieved it on the daily.
I then strung these little chapter summaries in paragraphs divided according to the three main sections of my novel. Because I’ve been heads down in my own book during my free time for weeks now, this process took a relatively short period of time. The long part? The editing.
For the editing part, you have to think about what makes a good synopsis, which to me, means plot, characters, and a very brief discussion of themes. In another post, Maria Vicente discusses the elements of a good synopsis. Since the synopsis isn’t for you, you have to make whoever’s reading it care. I struggled the most with introducing characters, of which I have so many that I have an entire spreadsheet on my computer of everyone who’s named in the book. I had to narrow it down to my three main POV’s and the companions that help them drive the plot train the most and ensure that their tales are adequately summarized and equally important. This step has actually helped guide my editing and what events need to be fleshed out as part of editing.
I drew a shoddy bell curve of the introduction, rising action, and conclusion. It’s completely skewed left, but that’s normal, I think, for fantasy novels, since world-building happens throughout, but it happens the most in the beginning.
In a synopsis, there’s a fine line between giving away the ending and providing the conclusion. The simplest example I can provide is the love story where the question is, “Will they or won’t they?” I think a synopsis can provide the answer while still leaving much to be desired. How did it happen? Where did it happen? How am I entertained along the way? Just because a the mystery is solved, doesn’t mean I don’t want to stay along for the ride.
Keeping in the spirit of that brevity, you have to write your synopsis as if you get paid much more for fewer words. Mine clocks in at just over 400 words, so about a page. This piece, to me, isn’t a pitch, so it doesn’t have to be punchy. It also helped me realize just how much happens over the course of the 250-page manuscript.
Why did I take an afternoon to write a synopsis? Because I was having technological difficulties with my device, so I took the time to really understand what my story is getting at. And I’m hoping whoever I’m sending my synopsis does as well.