I finally sat down to do something I’ve been putting off for a long time. Write my synopsis. Writing the book was pretty easy. Revising even easier. Writing the query was hard, but I already kind of knew how I wanted that to look. The synopsis? Sucks. It is by far the most difficult part of writing, for me anyway. My synopsis and I have been in a Mexican standoff, just glaring at each other, daring the other to make the first move. More than anything I want to draw my weapon and take it down, but every time my hand twitches the synopsis grabs its gun first rendering me immobile, paralyzed with fear (i.e. I start writing, hit a wall, and surf the internet until I’m bored, then try it again and repeat the sad process). If you aren’t familiar with how this works, let me break it down for you.
You sit down and write a book. There are all these characters and events that come together to support your main character. Plot lines interweave and converge. Characters grow and evolve. All leading up to the climax where everything fits together. You end up with several thousand words (mine is currently about78,000), which is inevitably too many. So you send the manuscript to beta readers. They read it and, if they’re good, tell you what stinks and what works. Which characters they loved, hated, or both. You rework elements of the plot, add and remove characters, cut those nasty adverbs, and whip your manuscript into shape. Some writers go through several rounds of betas. There really isn’t a set number; you go through as many as are needed. Stephen King has said he only writes the first draft, edits, and then is good to go. (Le sigh, if only we could all write like Stevie, eh?). After all of this, you should have something you’re proud of. A book you enjoy. Thus you begin to query and hope someone else enjoys it too.
Unfortunately, some of those agents you email don’t just want a query. They want a synopsis as well. A one to two page overview of your entire book. You have to take the whole story, all the characterization, voice, growth, and plot, all 78,000 words, and boil it down to about 1,000. That means ditching plot threads and teasing out the main one. Pretending supporting characters don’t exist unless they’re absolutely necessary. Oh, and it has to flow, sound like your book, and be good enough that an agent wants more.
If this sounds easy to you, then please, by all means contact me and help me with mine. For most writers I know the synopsis is the most painful part of writing. I’ve written dozens of drafts and finally gotten one I think is coherent enough for critiques. I finally got my plot condensed into a page, only to get feedback that it lacks voice. The critiquer is right. It tells the story, but it doesn’t give the feel of my story. So, it’s back to the drawing board. I’ll take what I have and rework it some more to infuse my voice. And if it doesn’t work? If I send it out to every agent I can find and no one wants it? Well, then I’ll keep writing my current work in progress, revise, write a query, and then once again face my nemesis: the synopsis. I’ll do it over, and over, and over until I have something that someone wants to publish.
How do you handle your synopsis? Do you put it off as long as possible, or do you get it done and out of the way? How do you keep from getting the synopsis blues?
UPDATE: I think I’ve finally beaten it!…okay, I came up with something that I’m sure could be better but I’ve gotten it in pretty good shape. There are always ways to improve your writing, but at some point you have to step away. It’s like knitting (which I tried once for a brief period several years ago…it didn’t last long…for good reason). You work the yarn, knit and purl (still not too sure what that means), undo the parts you really screwed up and rework it, until you finally have something done (in my case a potholder or bookmark or in one instance a doll scarf that was supposed to be a potholder but went miserably awry). You look at it and think, “not bad, it could be better though.” Here’s the thing: the more you un-stitch (or whatever it’s called in knitting- I was seriously bad!), the more it messes up the yarn and it looks worse and worse every time you try to fix it. So it’s better to just step away. I’m at that point with my synopsis, and I’m totally okay with it!