novel · second draft · synopsis · third draft · writing

Writing the synopsis

As if finishing a novel wasn’t a taxing enough task there waits an even harder ordeal once it is done. Taking the ninety thousand words already written and then collapsing it into a couple of pages in a way that sums it up briefly, gives a sense of the style, themes, plot and character and doesn’t make it sound like a horrendous waste of time. Tough.

My first attempts at writing the synopsis were painful. They read like a list of bullet points in paragraph form. Each time I tried to cram in so much detail that they became over-long and extremely boring. Several times I started again but it was hard to know what to put in and what to leave out. Putting in every plot point was obviously wrong but leaving them out felt disingenuous and unrepresentative. I think I finally figured out the solution; the synopsis I currently have lurking on my hard-drive – unpolished though it is – seems much more concise and readable.

So what I did was concentrate on the character arc. Plot is mentioned but it is not the focus. Instead the emotional journey of the protagonist and how it affects him forms the bulk of the synopsis with the the plot points that drive the character development taking a secondary role. Maybe this should have been obvious from the start; I always intended to write a novel principally about this mans personal journey but with a strong enough plot to give the writing drive and pace. The novel is essentially a high-concept piece, so it makes sense for the synopsis to concentrate on that initial high-concept. Before I had any of the plot, mystery and twists I had the idea of a man who has died and is grieving for himself. Seems a shame not to use that simple focus as the focus of what needs to be a simple piece of writing.

I guess different types of novels would require different types of synopsis, but in essence I imagine this basic principle holds true. That if you find the simple kernel at the center of your novel that is probably the thing the synopsis should focus on, almost exclusively. A lot of writing advice I have seen talks about the need to be able to sum up a novel in one sentence. In fact it was this idea that led me to abandoning the novel I was working on before and looking for something with a simpler focus. That old novel couldn’t be summed up in one sentence, at best it could be summed up in three, all competing with each other to be the main theme. The synopsis for that one would have been nigh on impossible to write.

Writing a novel is an adventure. But getting it ready for submission is an endurance test.

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