If you are a fiction writer who hopes to become published, chances are you’re going to have to write a synopsis of your story. In fact, since many published writers sell their next book/books to their editors via a synopsis, chances are, if you stay in this game long enough, you’re going to have to write a lot of synopses of a lot of stories.
You can let this fact drive you to distraction or madness or drinking, or you can choose to make peace with the synopsis process, which tells you something about how I’ve spent my writing time this past week. First, as I’ve been heads down in one manuscript for so long, I needed a little refresher about synopsis best practices, so of course I turned to the InterWebs. And was immediately inundated with Way. Too. Much. Information. So, next, I dug through some old notebooks and rediscovered some sources I’d found helpful in the past, including guidance for writing a one-page synopsis on Pub(lishing) Crawl and some really good do’s and don’ts to remember from Jane Friedman.
But somehow, I was still stuck. I’m an outline kind of girl. Anytime I’m writing non-fiction (which I consider a synopsis, because it is a description of a piece of fiction, ergo, not fiction in and of itself), I start with a skeleton. So while the do’s and don’ts are helpful reminders to check once I’ve completed the synopsis, they’re not so helpful with the set-up, which was where I’d stalled. The Pub(lishing) Crawl guidance was much more my speed, with a list from beginning to end of what to include. Except it’s based on the hero’s journey approach to fiction. While, yes, my hero has a journey which I could (mostly) stuff into this format, it’s not how I planned or framed my story, so it’s not a good fit.
As so often happens, when I took a step back from the problem – in this case, to visit with family and eat too much turkey – I had that aha moment. I wasn’t comfortable building my synopsis around the hero’s journey because that wasn’t the story structure I’d used. I had used an escalating 4-act structure, with the turning point at the end of each act propelling the story into the next act, until the final climactic showdown followed by a brief (kind of fifth act) denoument. Five acts. Five paragraphs. Five paragraphs, which would likely fit on my target of one page.
Like many writers, I cut my compositional teeth on five-paragraph essays, so this put me in familiar territory. I opened paragraph one with my thesis statement (overall theme of the book, in this case women’s friendships), used paragraphs 1-4 to summarize what happens in each act, and closed my ‘essay’ with a summing up (tying up loose ends with the denoument). With a solid structure and summary in place, I could then go back and layer in all those ‘do’s’and edit out the ‘don’ts’. And then edit again. And I’ll have to edit yet AGAIN, as I have some long paragraphs so am still trying to trim that puppy down to a one-page, single-spaced document that does justice to my nearly 400-page manuscript.
Have you written a synopsis for your WIP? Are you at that dreaded point of knowing it has to get done? What are your tips for boiling down your 100k+ masterpiece to a 1-2 page synopsis?