Recently, I was asked to write a plot outline of my current work-in-progress, for an editor who had read the first half of the manuscript and wanted to see the entire arc of the story. My joy and excitement lasted until I sat down at my computer to write it.
Just kidding. Sort of. Of course I was still very enthusiastic about the request, but writing a synopsis is one of the most tedious writing exercises in existence, at least for me, and part of that is because it’s a task that won’t ever go away. I’ve written synopses before, and fondly imagined that it would get easier. I don’t think it does. After slogging through mine, assisted by lots of loud music, I turned it in, and wondered if there was a better way to go about it.
I went into research mode (actually, that might be my normal mode) and tried to find out if there are some handy tricks to make it simpler. Writing a succinct and thorough plot outline, which captures the tone of the book and the personalities of the main characters while remaining as short as possible, can be pretty difficult. I wanted to find a piece of life-changing advice that would make this rhino-sized task into something more along the lines of the itsy-bitsy spider. Except, not creepy like a spider. (I would like to take this opportunity to remind any spiders who may be lurking near computer screens – and plotting various demises and regional takeovers – of our pact: I leave you alone if you leave me alone. Thanks).
I did not find that life-changing advice, unfortunately, because that would probably require the assistance of a generous fairy godmother. I did find some tips, but I think synopsis or outline writing is fated to never be one of my favourite things. Maybe someone else will be luckier.
So, in no particular order, here are some of the bits of advice I gathered:
Make every word count
Edit and polish your synopsis, eliminating unnecessary words. Do not mention the name of incidental characters or details of minor side plots.
Read the synopsis for specific things
Read once with a focus on plot, making sure that the conflict and resolution is clear. Read again for character, making sure the motivations and relationships are understandable.
Use the chapters to help summarize
Try to summarize each chapter in one or two lines. It might help you look at the plot as a whole, without getting bogged down with details. I have not tried this, but I will next time.
Use active voice
A synopsis is always written in third person and present tense, but make your prose sparkle by writing in an energetic voice that carries the tone of the story.
Write more than one synopsis
Sometimes, a one page synopsis will be requested. Sometimes it will be 3-5 pages. Maybe you won’t get a length description at all, and will end up sending a synopsis that’s too long. (Yeah, I did this). If you write a detailed three page synopsis, and then whittle a copy of it down to one page, you will be covered no matter what length request.
Remember that, like everything, it takes practice
I’m really counting on this one. I’m not really proud of any of my synopses, and hopefully one day that will change. If anyone else has a special talent for writing a synopsis, please share your secrets!
Links for further reading on the subject:
Pride & Prejudice Image Source: http://tianevitt.com/infographics/