Snarking about synopses, Pt 2

Last month (March) I talked about the challenge of having to write a short synopsis for a ms I hadn’t even finished yet. Yes, I know: some people write outlines before they start a ms, so they know exactly what’s going to happen with the plot, and where their characters are headed. Not me. Or, not at this stage of my writing career, anyway. I generally have a heroine, a concept, an idea for a beginning and another one for the end. Even for a trilogy spanning two generations like my Dayamaarii Sehaanae fantasy trilogy, I did know exactly what I wanted my heroine, Hope, to have to cope with and triumph over, and where she’d ultimately end up. I have sat down and planned out the entire second half a book, chapter by chapter, but it kinda took the fun out of writing it. It’s a useful tool to use when you’re ‘stuck’ or writing to a deadline, though.

So anyway: back to the synopsis for my unfinished ms. I had 3/4 of it written and a vague idea about the ending. Wanted to enter the first three chapters or so in a competition and needed a 2-page synopsis to accompany the entry. Horrors! Dashed off a synopsis for what I’d written so far. Okay. Feeling quite proud. But then there’s the hitch: what’s going to happen next? 

Managed to embrace procrastination wholeheartedly by writing an entire new chapter of the ms ilo of the rest of the synopsis. Hmmm. Maybe I couldn’t actually do this. Maybe I should just flag entering this ms in the competition. Kept hearing those chicken-noises again and decided I just had to buckle down and do this. Sod it all, if I could keep to a self-imposed daily wordcount deadline and finish an entire ms, why was a 2-page bloody synopsis so hard?

It took me three days in the end. The first, to decide what was going to happen and get it down on paper. The second, to shorten what I’d written to the required length and ensure it was logical, i.e. that my character’s motivations and actions made sense, as well as moving the plot along to its (hopefully riveting) ending. And the third to tweak and ‘craft’ what I’d written.

What I learned along the way:
1. Keep at it – don’t give up.

2. Be disciplined – sit down at your computer and type, darnit!

3. As much as I might dislike writing synopses, they’re very useful tools. (“What? It took you how long to figure that out?” I hear you exclaiming in disbelief. Yeah, I know. But sometimes one just needs to learn the hard way.) It’s so easy to pick up that big fat error in your character motivation or plot when you’ve written a shortened form of your ms. The old adage of ‘You can’t see the wood for the trees’ applies: when you’re ‘in’ the writing, you miss things that become glaringly obvious in a synopsis.

4. Having such restricted page limits and tense requirements (i.e. present tense) means every word counts. Clunky sentences and overused words just don’t cut it. Distilling the essence of your ms into a couple of pages while still capturing your ‘voice’ takes skill. It’s hard – really hard to do well. And maybe having to cut out mention of a quirky secondary character entirely takes grit and determination. “But I really like her/him! He/she’s integral to the plot!” Quit whining: just do it.

So I proved I could meet this latest writing challenge: I could indeed write a synopsis (and even a short one!) for a book that was still in my head. And when I actually do sit down to finish this ms, it’ll be both limiting and freeing. Limiting because I have the last few chapters planned out and freeing, because when I’m lacking inspiration, I’ve got my synopsis to tell me where I need to go.

Is this synopsis any good, though? Who knows. Maybe it sucks and the competition judges will laugh themselves silly. Then again, maybe it does capture all the things I intended and they’ll love it… or at least understand where I’m going with it! Either way, it’s another string to my bow, so to speak. And next time I have to write one, it’s got to be easier, right?



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