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. ^-^