Synopsis Writing: or, Why I Would Rather Scrub My Toilet With A Toothbrush

I have sent SPECIAL DELIVERY to three betas; one has returned his comments, one is mid-way (or so?) through, and the other just got the email this morning.  I’ve read through it twice for surface editing and have fussed with bits of scene to deal with issues Beta One discovered which I agree are worth investigating.  I’ve told Dreampress I have this story, they’ve said they’d like to see it, and please send it with a synopsis because they use it for a lot of things.


If there were a "get out of synopsis free" card, every writer in the world, I suspect, would dive-bomb for it, and there would be blood on the victor’s hand.  Once I get into a synopsis, I actually enjoy it, but the moment of beginning to write one is worse, in my opinion, than the blank page before you start the novel.  At least for drafting I get to tell my Virgo side to go suck on something, because THIS IS ART, GODDAMN IT.  Even when it’s time for editing and she comes out with the rubber gloves and a scrubber, the stuff is already there, fluid and strange and beautiful in its mess.  Synopsis?  Fuck.  I need the Virgo here, and I need any and everybody I can find to get this albatross up and flying.  

The first terror of the synopsis is trying to figure out how to say in 6-12 pages what it just took you 60-100k to say; you immediately think, if I could have said it in six pages, I’d have written a short story!  But of course it must be done, and so you sludge on, trying to boil your baby down to the bones.  And that’s the second terror, and for me it’s the worst.  It’s the moment where you find out if there ARE bones.  Never mind that you called the story done.  Never mind that it felt right or that it looks pretty.  In the synopsis, you find out how much of this is structure and how much of this is just fat rolls and extra feathers.

That’s how it goes for me, anyway.  I never like writing the meandering stuff that starts, "Sam is a nursing student in Middleton, Iowa, who isn’t happy with his life."  God, I’m already yawning.  I want to find the heart of the thing.  I want to find the soul, and the spark, and I want to SELL IT.  That’s the part that’s diciest in this venture: just because Dreamspinner bought HERO doesn’t mean they’ll want this one.  I’d love to be optimistic and just dash this off, assuming it’s already sold, but would it not be the eighth circle of hell to undersell this and LOSE the surest sale I’ve got?  In one way, the pressure is off, but in another way, the pressure is even higher.  I WANT to sell it to this publisher.  Which means I want the synopsis to sell my book.

Which takes me right back to the blank page.

There are a zillion articles on the web and in books on how to write a synopsis.  Everyone has a formula.  Everyone has a method. Me, I have to just do it.  I start with my own amalgam of all the methods I’ve ever read burbling in the back of my mind, add a dash of panic and then stir in some Heidi Hysteria, and off we go. It’s the mini-version of writing the book: I worry about whether or not there is plot.  I worry about whether or not it makes sense.  I worry about pacing and character and development.  I worry about both how they come across in the synopsis and whether or not the actual book itself is as sound as it should be.  I also delete many, many paragraphs that sound great and flow nicely with the synopsis but do not actually happen in the story.  At some point I will unquestionably cry, even if I don’t think I’m upset.  And then, if the old patterns continue, all of a sudden it will gel, and I will gasp, and then laugh, and then I will hug it in euphoric bliss.  

Then I will come back in a few hours and edit furiously, no longer blinded by whatever weird high got me through to the end and convinced me it was fine.

That cycle will repeat a bit until either I get tired or it feels done, and then I will try not to look at it anymore until I send it, at which point I will deliberately not think about it until I have to.  I didn’t even know where the synopsis for HERO was on my hard drive; when I found it, I started reading it to see if it would give me ideas, and after a few sentences shuddered and thought perhaps it would be better to just never open that again.

I guess if I have any method it is to be as honest and as clear as I can be about what my story is, go back and try to erase the obvious Stupid, then eventually surrender and admit that I write novels instead of synopses for a reason and hope for the best. Undoubtedly I will chronicle the joys and pains of writing a synopsis for SPECIAL DELIVERY (you know, the story I despaired had any plot at all?) in my twitter feed over the next few days.  Feel free to follow along or run away screaming.  

6 Comments on “Synopsis Writing: or, Why I Would Rather Scrub My Toilet With A Toothbrush

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