Spotting Plot Problems: Write Your Dreaded Synopsis

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
If you are anything like me, you put off writing your synopsis until the last possible minute. After all, a synopsis is pure hell to get right and you don’t need it until you’re ready to submit. At least that’s what I used to think before I realized what a useful tool a synopsis is for spotting various problems in your book.

When you write your synopsis, you include your main character, what she wants, and why whatever it is that she wants is a big deal. You write about who or what stands in her way and what she does to get around this road block. You address theme and setting. You do all of this in a way that shows how it all fits together unless, of course, it doesn’t.

Because a synopsis distills your book to its essence, sometimes it is easier to spot potential problems in the synopsis than in the book as a whole. The glorious best friend that rules chapters four through six and is oh so funny but somehow doesn’t fit into the synopsis might not really have a role to play in the story beyond lightening the mood. The hero you describe as a loner but never spends even five minutes alone isn’t going to convince anyone that that is his true nature even if that’s what is essential to the climax. Tension that doesn’t escalate, goals that are reached without any trials or tribulations, and a setting that is too vanilla to put into words all become obvious as you try to craft a synopsis.

The synopsis can help you spot these things so that you can fix them and the sooner you can fix problems with your book, the better. That said, I’m not going to try writing my synopsis before my first draft. I’m a bit of a pantser; although I create a sketchy outline before I write the emphasis is on sketchy. I need that first draft to firm things up and get a feel for my characters and my setting.

Writing the synopsis after my first draft will help me identify the weak spots and holes in my story. Once I’ve spotted them, I can set about fixing them in my rewrite. After that, the synopsis of my final story should be a snap. Right?


Sue Bradford Edwards teaches our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next section starts on January 5th.


Margo Dill said...

Dreaded is the EXACT word to describe writing a synopsis. But I agree if you do some of these things that were supposed to be done AFTER you are finished: writing a synopsis, writing a query, writing an elevator pitch BEFORE you write or during the drafting process, your novel is usually better. I have at least been doing the 2 sentence hook early on. But I can't make myself do the DREADED synopsis yet. :)

Karen Cioffi said...

Writing your synopsis really does help you find problems in a story. After writing a synopsis I've found areas I could actually improve in my story. It's kind of amazing how condensing the story helps you see it clearer.

Renee Roberson said...

Good points here. I always dread the synopsis too but now I have a different way of approaching it. I'll have to try these suggestions out on my latest WIP and see if it helps!

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