“Synopsis” or “Like Juice Concentrate, Literary Style”

I’d planned to dedicate my writing time, today*, to working on “a brief outline or general view, as of a subject or written work; an abstract or a summary” for my most recently-drafted novel. And yet here am I, not writing it, but writing about writing it. “Procrastination!” you may cry. But keep in mind that to put off writing this blog post would also be procrastination. So since I’m really darned whether I do or don’t, here, and doubly-darned if I go with option three (“don’t write either one”), let’s count the fact that I’m writing at all as a victory for discipline and get on with the post.

            Now, just so we’re all on the same page, when I say “synopsis”, I am not using the word interchangeably with “blurb”. A blurb is “a brief publicity notice, as on a book jacket”; y’know, that little teaser on the back of the book that lays out the book’s concept in give-or-take two paragraphs, hoping to entice the reader to explore the story in full. I’m not talking about give-or-take two conceptual paragraphs. I’m talking about condensing the entire plot of a several-thousand-word book into one to three pages. And that is not easy, my friends – at least, I’ve not found it so.

            I think part of my problem is that I have a hard time going halvsies. (Like, with anything.) I can toss out a few sentences that get the main idea of the story across, or I can say, “Well, here, just listen. Chapter One…”, and hope you’ve got nothing to do for the next five hours while I play audio-book. But to squeeze a novel into two pages? To abridge? I’ve always felt rather affronted by abridged books, you know, or when movies on TV cut out scenes to make room for more commercials. If a thing’s worth experiencing, is it not worth experiencing in full?

            But I guess I understand the synopsis’s use in the literary world. I mean, if you were an agent or a publisher, snowed in with non-stop author queries all day long, would you rather have to read through a thousand novels, or a thousand summaries of novels? Unlike the first few pages of a book (which, no matter how exciting or well-written they are, can only convey so much of the story to come) a few-page synopsis gives you everything – beginning, middle, and yes, the end, too. (The synopsis is no place for cliff-hangers.) So if you’re planning to send your book out through traditional publishing channels (as I am), you’ll want to have a synopsis handy.

            I’ve heard some recommend that you write the synopsis even before you write the book, as it’s a useful tool in clarifying to yourself where exactly the story will go. While I do prefer to plan the story’s course to some degree (it’s a plotter thing, you’ll recall), laying down a full synopsis feels a bit micro-managerial to me, so I’ll generally save it until the end. The one partial exception to this was my first NaNo novel, “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”, where – as insurance against getting stuck mid-November – I wrote out a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. In rhyme. A twenty-three quatrain synopsong. All very fun, but I still had to do a proper synopsis afterward.

            And I still have to finish the proper synopsis for my latest novel. …After I shovel the snow-covered driveway. (More necessary procrastination, I justify!) Fellow authors, in the audience: What’s your experience with synopses been like?

            *This post was actually written some days earlier, so I’m presently free of snow-shoveling duties. ^-^

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6 thoughts on ““Synopsis” or “Like Juice Concentrate, Literary Style”

  1. Okay, so I am (still) new at the author thing, so I guess I should look into a synopsis, as well. I do know many people who outline their book before they start to write; outlining works for them. However, I am a card-carrying pantser so I am just doomed. But I don’t mind; frenetic, tangent-driven writing works for me.
    Oh yes, in my opinion, we never procrastinate, we simply re-prioritize! (I’d do anything to get out of shoveling snow!)

    • Given how my stories like to skew away from their outlines anyway, I personally am probably better off delaying a detailed summary until after the tale’s been told. Come to think of it, my outlining process feels like pantsing, so I guess I’ve a bit o’ the best of best worlds. (:
      Re-prioritization: A far more attractive term, and justly applicable a good 50% of the time!

  2. I’ve found synopses to be a pain in the (pick a body part). It takes quite a while to work yourself up into the right state of brutality to be able to look at a paragraph explaining the story and ask ‘Does the publisher actually need to know that right now?’ Finding the balance between getting enough of the story in to interest whoever is reading your synopsis, but leaving out the bits that you want to put in simply because they’re really good is a tricky one.

    • True from start to end. When I turned my first draft of the synopsis over to my writing buddy, she couldn’t even figure out how to properly critique it until I’d cleaned out the mess of details that simply didn’t need to be there. (“But… it happened!” “But is it vital?” “…I guess not.”) There’s a whole different set of eyes you’ve got to put on for synopsis- vs. novel-writing, and I’m kidding myself if I think I’ve fine-tuned it yet. But in another sense, writing is writing, which means this aspect of it, too, can be improved with practice. (To which I say, “Thank goodness.”)

  3. I find that setting a strict word count limit really helps (well, kind of, it makes you incredibly angry at times) to focus you on being as concise and efficient as possible. You’re right to emphasize the differences between the synopsis and the blurb, although frankly I find writing the blurb more enjoyable, even though it’s much shorter.

    • A strict word-count does sound like a quite helpful/infuriating tool. I’ve been a tad loose with that, so far, my aim no more precise than “two-ish pages”. I’ll keep the word-count idea in mind for my synopsis’ revision.
      I, too, find the blurb more fun to write. While there’s still the challenge of saying much with little, you’ve only got to hit the most intriguing points, as opposed to having to feel out which secondary and tertiary points merit mention and which are just bogging the summary down.

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