Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we talked about the benefit of writing your query letter before starting your manuscript. In a similar vein, today I’d like to talk about flipping another idea on its head: writing your synopsis first too.
For those unaware, the synopsis is typically a one page summary of your novel’s plot from beginning to end. When you send out your query letter to prospective literary agents, many of them will also request a synopsis as well.
Again, similar to a query letter, writing a synopsis may not seem so bad… until you actually have to do it. At least with the query letter you’re supposed to not tell everything that happens and leave a little room for mystery and intrigue. With the synopsis though, you literally have to condense your book into one page. Double spaced.
Let the tears commence.
While some agents are fine with getting two or three-page-long synopses, many other specifically request one-page-long ones, so its best to have a one-page synopsis prepared. But how can you possibly set up your book’s characters, conflicts, plot twists, sub-plots, and all of their satisfying resolutions in less than a page?
It’s… it’s really hard to do. And that’s why, similar to why I recommend writing your query letter first, I recommend also writing your synopsis first, before you’ve even started your manuscript.
By the time you’ve finished a novel, you’re so entrenched in it that it becomes difficult to pick out exactly what the most important parts are. They’re all important parts to you – you wrote them, you gave birth to them, they’re all your babies!
But if you write your synopsis before you’ve even touched your manuscript, then you don’t have to worry about that. You can just work with the general idea of what you think your novel will look like. In fact if anything, it might be even difficult for you to fill up a whole page summarizing your novel, which is a much more welcome feeling than realizing you need to chop out two pages out of your already “lean” synopsis.
Writing a synopsis is like eating chocolate. It’s a whole lot easier to add it to your stomach until you’re pleasantly full, than it is to remove it from your stomach after you’re bursting at the seams.
Of course there is the obvious question: how can I write my synopsis if I don’t know what happens next in my book’s plot? The answer to that is easy: whatever is most exciting/cool/conflict-y is what happens next. Don’t know what your character should do next after they beat the badguy? Have one of their allies turn on them! Don’t know what should happen after they finally save their boyfriend from a dragon? The boyfriend dies, of course!
Those suggestions may be a little extreme, but the point of writing your synopsis now isn’t to have a perfect synopsis, it’s just to have the most general synopsis that gives the full gist and flavor of the story without going overboard. Once you’ve actually finished the manuscript you can go back and change things in your synopsis that didn’t actually happen, but you’ll probably find that – for the most part – it’s still a pretty good summary of your book.
Whereas if you’d waited until after you’d finished writing your manuscript to do your synopsis, all those delicious details you put into the plot while you were writing would’ve been fighting in your head, screaming “I’m important enough to go into the synopsis!” and would’ve made your job a lot harder. But since the synopsis is already done and written, you can ignore their cries, knowing they’re not needed in the one-page summary.
Do you need to write your synopsis first? No, of course not. But personally, I’ll take the times I’ve struggled to fill up a page-long synopsis over the times I’ve agonized about how to condense my five-page synopsis down to one any day.