Frustrated Writer’s Guide to Synopsis Writing

23 Dec

I’m so excited that FBunny asked me about how I write my synopsis in the previous post. It’s a huge compliment to think I have any knowledge around this whatsoever.


So, in return, I’ll be honest.


I STINK TO HIGH HEAVEN at writing them. I’m so bad at it, that one of the BNW friends told me I’d one day teach the must-see workshop on synopsis writing because she’s sure there’s a corollary between how bad you are at something, how hard you work to learn it and then —-muuuuuuch later —- how great your workshop is.


Let’s flash back to last summer *insert Wayne’s World didlelelt didlelelt here*


I wrote the book. I liked the book. I was finishing the book so I’d love the book. I needed a synopsis.

I read Lisa Gardner’s 10 session FREE workshop on it.

I read Kathy Carmichael’s Cheat Sheet.

I read all the articles on Charlotte Dillon’s Writing A Synopsis page

I listened to workshops.

I read that chapter in every craft book.


I then failed MISERABLY at writing the synopsis. So bad that I put it off until my CP came to visit. I will always remember the scene with the two of us sitting in the reading room of the library with her saying, “I’m not talking to you till your done with that” and me trying to write it with frustrated tears rolling down my cheeks.


I’ll admit, the hardest part was knowing what not to write. The book I was working on has several themes woven tightly together one a bunch of levels, is telling more than one story and has two major story lines (deity thru myth and the actual story story) and is the beginning of a series that involves a war of epic proportions on both planes……so, how the heck was I supposed to boil this down.


I reread everything above and finally wrote one. It wasn’t great, but I thought it wasn’t HORRIBLE (what comes right before horrible?) and started sending it out. I honestly believed that if you read the first 3 chapters you’d say, wow, this book is great, the synopsis, eh – but it’s obvious she just can’t right a great synopsis.


I am here to tell you, no matter how many agent blogs I read saying that’s the case, it isn’t. I don’t know if people feel the need to say “I just rely on the writing and the synopsis is so I know the story is cohesive and has a solid ending”….how many times have you read something like that?  Well, I believed it. Now I believe that’s one of the Publishing Myths. You need to have a decent synopsis.


If you read the last post about Agent Hunting, you saw that one of my favorite rejections was an agent telling me what was wrong with my synopsis and that she liked what she read, but was passing because she wasn’t sure the story was going to support itself. Well, the points she made were very true for the synopsis — but when I checked with my readers about how they felt about her points as concerning the story, they didn’t line up. So I used her feedback to begin examining my synopsis.


At this point, I’d been away from my ms for about 4 months. I’d been working on something not related to that world and really digging in somewhere else. So, when my CP came to do our read thru (we read allowed to each other our final draft — this is great for a bazillion reasons, but this blog’s about synopsizing 🙂 )


So, this is what we did: We read aloud for a certain number of pages (it was a lot) everyday, and then I just wrote down what happened. Without all the pressure of themes and “but they need to know this for book 4” and I want them to really understand the character, I just wrote down WHAT HAPPENED. And I’ve gotten some decent feedback about my synopsis. And so this is what I’ve learned for me – I need the distance to be able to look at the overview and stop saying “but it’s all important.” — It better all be important or why the heck is it in the book….but to understand the story, what needs to be in the synopsis? That’s what goes in. Everything else can get explained when they call to discuss your book and sign you 🙂

6 Responses to “Frustrated Writer’s Guide to Synopsis Writing”

  1. ceylanthewriter December 23, 2008 at 7:33 pm #

    Sounds like good advice.

    Don’t worry about the synopsis thing. Due to the fact that we writers come up with the story, it is harder for us to look at it analytically. It seems like you have the hang of it though.

    Stay positive.


  2. briaq December 23, 2008 at 11:03 pm #

    Thanks Ceylan — I’m finding I need to “let it go” to be able to synopsize it. So true about it being our story and looking at it analytically. It almost feels like we should just get a group of writers together and pass the MSs to the left and say, “here – you write the synopsis for this one.”

    If only 🙂

  3. December December 24, 2008 at 11:07 am #

    This is a fantastic resource! Thanks. Not to actually do it. I’m trying to not whip myself up into a panic about it, but dag nabbit its tough.

  4. briaq December 24, 2008 at 5:31 pm #

    It is tough – don’t panic. This is one of the tings that I can honestly say, “If I can do it, just about anyone can.”

    I’d rather just write the book 🙂

  5. Celise December 26, 2008 at 11:04 am #

    I thought writing a short story was hard, but writing a synop is right up there. LOL. When I was doing the agent thing, I went back and just basically summarized each chapter. Trying to reach the high points. And I wrote it as if it was my character. Mine is a series as well, written in first person/present tense, so, like the story, I let Draven do the telling.

    I agree with Ceylan (which is a fabutastic name, BTW). It’s hard to step outside your work and analyze it. It’s like trying to write a self-evaluation (which I have to do on an annual basis at my day job), which can totally. suck.

  6. briaq December 26, 2008 at 5:41 pm #

    So true – I find that working on something else lets me get the distance I need to write the synopsis. It’s funny that distance is needed to write something indept, *snort*

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