Love Your Synopsis

8 Jan

I have an announcement: I no longer hate writing synopses. I’ve been meaning to share how and why with you since I was shown the light, but as my last post details, things have been super insane since then, and I didn’t want to half ass it. So now I bring you my very first ever pseudo writing advice post–and only because it’s not my own advice:

Writing A Synopsis is Awesome. No, really.

At the half of this year’s Context I got to see, I took a workshop on rewrites from the wonderful Diana Botsford (who is currently in Antarctica omg holy crap!). If you ever see her at a conference, I don’t care if it’s halfway around the world, go. She may have saved my life–or at least what little sanity is left to me.

She passed out some worksheets, all of which you can find here under the “Development Worksheets” heading if any of this interests you. (And yes, I did ask her if I could share this resource with my friends. It’s on her public site, but still, my mama raised me right.) The idea is that they help you dissect your plot and character arcs and recognize how they intertwine and if they’re moving along properly. This in turn sharpens your focus on the rewrite.

Part of which is writing a synopsis–said bane of the writer’s existence being nothing but a distillation of your plot and character arcs, and therefore a rewrite tool in itself. I have good news: filling out these worksheets quite literally writes that hateful object for you. In particular I’ve used the “Character Development”, “Plot Development”, and “The 1-Liner” worksheets for my last three synopses and, I shit you not, they weren’t painful at all. Hard work, yes. But rewarding rather than frustrating.

In the case of Resurrectionists–the book for which I took the workshop in the first place–these worksheets reminded me who, exactly, my “hero” is and focused me on making sure all tributaries ran directly into his–er, river. God I’m bad with metaphor. Anyhow, my point is that it was a 120k book that needed cut down to 90k, with four points of view and a truckload of historical data to parse. And this worked. (Nope, not even close to perfect. But so, so much better.)

In the case of the recently-subbed vampire project, I filled them out and had a synopsis in less than an hour, then did a final readthrough with a sharpened focus. I’ve been working on that book for almost ten years. It’s the story that wouldn’t shut up. And I finally think I got it right.

And I just now filled them out for one of the romance projects as I consider a final readthrough before first submissions. Short, sweet, sexy–and I don’t mean the novella, I mean the synopsis.

Now, with the “Character Development” sheet, naturally every character needs one, but the MC’s will make for the synopsis. There’s a place for Goals, Motivations, Conflicts, and Resolutions/Growth–and all of these four categories are divided into Internal and External. Because as all writers know, those two are most often different, and  equally powerful in their own ways at driving the character–who drives the plot. So you fill in each section in one or two sentences–she was very clear that any more reduces efficacy significantly, and I can testify to that!–and voila.

Same for the “Plot Development”* sheet, which takes you through six stages of the plot. (Though a note on that: The Ordinary World starts it out. She was quick to point out that it’s “ordinary” to the characters in the story–but probably not to the reader. Right.) One or two sentences in each of those and bam. Combined with your character arc, you have an outline of your synopsis in front of you.

It sounds incredibly simple–but that’s just it. It’s not simple in our heads. That’s why the synopsis is so goddamn frustrating to write. But jotting down this stuff in the worksheet makes you realize it’s really not so convoluted. You cut the fat naturally, and if there’s room, you have the clarity to stand back and add the embellishing brushstrokes in at the end.

The other sheets there are also cool–but most of you have probably seen a distillation of the “heroes journey” before. Which is helpful as a general guideline an educational tool, but also complicated and specific in a way. The two I mentioned really break things down into component parts FOR you.

And “The 1-Liner” sheet–hell. Who doesn’t suck at elevator pitches?

So this is how I’ve learned to love my synopses–writing them, using them, even submitting them is far less harrowing now. Yeah, I know not everyone will love this. Maybe it’s for the crazy anal-retentive list-makers among us. (If I thought it really meant anything, I’d say it’s the Virgo in me coming out.) But it’s worth a shot, right?

Now, of course there was a lot more to this workshop: dialogue strategy, slicing and dicing, sharpening character, making details pop, etc. etc. etc. But the synopsis is a problem that I see making my friends universally miserable, so I figured there might be a call for a useful post from me, for once. There it is. Godspeed, and all that. Now you can be sure I love you!

*The “Plot Structure” sheet is a diagram of this one, by the way, and also really useful as a visual for clarity.

Now playing: Arctic Monkeys – Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend
via FoxyTunes

7 Responses to “Love Your Synopsis”

  1. Mary January 8, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    You know I love me some worksheets. But sometimes they can become so bloated that I get lost in the plot and become frustrated. Love that these are no-fuss and to the point. Thanks for the heads-up – I’ll give it a go!

    • Katey January 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

      I hope it helps with the synopsis stress. I feel SO MUCH BETTER myself.

      The simplicity of these ones does require a LITTLE bit of explanation, but I hope I covered that okay up there.

  2. Meghan January 8, 2011 at 10:54 pm #

    <3 you so very, very much.

    Also –

    It’s the story that wouldn’t shut up. And I finally think I got it right.
    For what it’s worth, I think you did, too. I loved the early rambly drafts and all, but when I read this last one I had seriously DA’MN! moments seeing how you’d sharpened the whole thing.

    And given my own bloated (though sadly unfinished) pet projects that won’t shut up, that respect is more like worshipful awe.

    • Katey January 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

      That is a real relief to hear. You’ve been there from the very beginning, when I really didn’t have a thought to letting other people read it (that only came after the fanfiction, which came after the original draft) and so you know better than anyone… including me.

      Though I do have a bound copy of that first draft. I’ll open it some day. When I’m strong enough :D


  3. Cate Gardner January 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    So printing out those worksheets and if the synopsis is indeed simple when I come to it, I’ll set up an altar in your and Diana’s honour.

    • Katey January 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

      Oooh, an altar! Definitely let me know if that ends up happening :D

      Seriously though, I hope they help. And if anything about them seems weird, let me know. Like I said to Mary, there was a lot of explanation that went into the worksheets, and I think I managed to distill it up there… but I am no teacher. and Diana Botsford–yeah. She totally is.

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  1. Nano Part 1: James Prep | KV Taylor - November 1, 2011

    […] I discussed these a little after a workshop on rewrites and how they can own your synopsis for you, once upon a time, but I got them from the marvelous Diana Botsford, and you can too. As one of my favorite TV […]

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