Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Synopsis as a Tool

We all have our own routines and processes when we write. Some of us wing our way through a draft. Others plan. Years go by and we learn new tricks and techniques. We experiment different ways of writing novels. We try out different methods of drafting and editing.

I'm always trying new things. For instance, with my WiP, I'm typing it in a weird font because for some reason  the voice comes out better than with Times New Roman. Of course I'll change it back to TNR before I submit, but it's fun to draft it this way.

But I did something REALLY crazy for me the other day. I actually PLOTTED out the last quarter of my WiP. I've never done this before, because I've always been a strict pantser (meaning, if you're new to writing lingo, I draft by the seat of my pants.)

I got to this point because of my lovely agent Emmanuelle. She's teaching me seriously helpful things.

For instance, when I got ready to query before, I'd polish up the manuscript, send off a few queries, and then maybe think about writing a synopsis as an after thought. But Emmanuelle has been teaching me how to use the synopsis as a tool. She has taught me to study the synopsis to find places where I can heighten the tension, raise the stakes, and also analyze character arcs.

It occurred to me (I'm slow sometimes) that this is what people do when they plot in depth BEFORE they start the novel. Technically they're taking out the guess-work and going in with a really strong story. (I still think it's possible to mess up with this, because there are always characters who don't want to cooperate with really strong story lines ... but that's a blog post for another day.)

I don't think I'll ever be a firm plotter, but I like the bird's eye view a synopsis gives me when I'm editing.

And in this case, since I was having a hard time envisioning my WiP's ending, a one-page plot plan is helping me get there. Who knows if I'll stick to it. I'm sort of a free spirit. But it's actually nice to have a plan. (I can't believe I'm saying that!)

I know I've asked before whether you're a plotter or a pantser, so I'll change the question. Do you use your synopsis as a tool? Or do you type it up last minute when an agent requests it?

22 comments:

  1. Definitely type it up last minute when an agent requests it.

    Though... for my fourth manuscript I kind of wrote a really crappy synopsis, just typing whatever came to my head about how the story might progress. I would never show it to anyone, but I guess that might count.

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  2. For this last WIP, I wrote my synopsis and my query while writing the rough draft. The query let me know if my idea was marketable; the synopsis reminded me where I'm going. I'm just now starting to query - hopefully the method will work! :)

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  3. Ahhh. Synopses. I do hate them. However, I actually do write a basic synopsis before starting to write so I know where I'm headed. I've even done chapter synopses, but I definitely have to adjust things as I go along.

    And same with Kelley . . . this isn't the kind of thing I would send to an agent.

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  4. Such a thought-provoking post! Yes, I've definitely thrown that synopsis together after the book's finished...BUT I did find that writing an actual (very brief) logline for an upcoming contest (some of you know which one I'm talking about) really helped me as I was editing my manuscript. I realized, like you said, how I could heighten conflict and exaggerate situations (in reasonable ways) to make that "unattainable goal" a little harder for my MC.

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  5. I bounce around depending on what I'm working on and how far into the process I am. For example, I'll have a general "plot" going on but I panster my way through from scene to scene.
    It also depends on WHAT I am writing. If it's non-fiction then plotting and even outlining are a must. But if its fiction then I do the bouncing thing.
    With a synopsis though, I write them at the end. Although, having said that . . . I have found that the process of writing the synopsis sometimes unveils weakness or holes in the story and can serve as a tool to go back and edit.

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  6. I'm a preacher, so writing for speaking is obviously different (and I think less challenging) than what y'all do. But I do try to come up with a synopsis before I write. It serves as a good skeleton to keep me from getting too long winded. It's interesting that if I can physically write out my one big goal, then the synopsis comes, then the rest is easy, and I have the flexibilty to leave my notes if I need to. Having a rule (synopsis) in place allows me to break it if needed without losing focus. Great post!

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  7. I have no idea how to write a synopsis yet!! AHH!! I wrote a chapter by chapter outline though, and I'm a little too dependent on it. Can't write without it for some reason! It has it's pros and cons.

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  8. Whenever I've tried writing a synopsis the story never works out that way but maybe the exercise is useful in it's own right. I'm not sure.

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  9. I came over through the Pay if Forward Blogfest.

    As to planning, I've moved to being a plotter. However, I've never written a synopsis until I needed it. I look at going into a book with a plan as a time saving device. I wrote my first couple of novels just going with the flow and it took me an awful long time to edit them properly.

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  10. Pretty cool, Amy! Ultimately, you have to go with what works for you. My usual approach was to know what major scenes I wanted to include and then write up to them, but this book, I'm much more of a plotter, and, well... It's hard. It's a bit constraining having these transitions mapped out.

    I'll be interested to see how it works out for you!

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  11. I can use it maybe, but not before I've written anything else. Every time I try to do that, everything changes as I get to know my characters. So yes, if I'm more than fifty percent into a manuscript and don't know what is going to happen, I can see the synopsis being a great tool. But normally, by that time, my characters know what they want to do.

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  12. Outlining and a synopsis are something I consider to be the go-to guide! I used to be a panster but after my first outline I've never looked back! It's needed. When That writers block somes in I can kick its butt with my outline!

    Happy Monday! Happy Writing! Congrats on joining the fun side of outlining!

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  13. LOL! Don't welcome me to the dark side just yet, Jen. :) No, I can see the value of outlining ahead of time, for sure, but I'm not sure I will always work best that way (at least in the first few drafts). But what has been invaluable is using the synopsis as an editing tool. So helpful, especially when you're a pantser! :)

    Amy

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  14. I've always been a pantser, though I did have a bit of a plot outline for my last novel. Even so, the best parts are where I never knew what I was going to do until I did it. Sadly, this means getting started on a new book is really hard. I want to know I've got something strong enough to carry my interest, but none of the synopsis I've done so far have interested me. I don't know if that's because I'm trying too hard to plot or because the stories in my head need tension. I keep trying to add more, but so far, I just get a "blah" feeling. LOL

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  15. I think having a detailed outline killed my recently abandoned WIP...that said I have to know what emotional arcs my characters will follow. The specifics of how they get there will change and change and change, but not the characters' growth. Have fun!

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  16. Welcome to the anal-retentive plotting club ;) I don't have to know everything, but I need to know all the basic things (or plot points) that happen in a story. However, as you point out, sometimes a character won't go along with a great plot, so then I either have to change my character (so that he would do what I want him to do) or change the plot.

    And yes, just a simple synopsis is a great way to see that you actually have a plot, that something happens!

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  17. I've only used a synopsis as a tool once, and I've had a hard time writing that manuscript. Once I've written the story out in short form, it takes the fun of discovery out of writing. I think that writing a synopsis after a first draft would be a great way to focus revisions though.

    I hope this works for you!

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  18. I'm a plotter, but I don't come up with a synopsis until I'm asked. I'll consider using it as a tool after reading this.

    I've never thought about changing the font of a wip. I always stick to Times New Roman. Hmmm....

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  19. That's a cool idea, actually. With the last book I wrote, I learned from James Scott Bell's books that we should come up with the one line hook and jacket copy before plotting and writing, so that it keeps us focused. So I've done that, but I haven't written the synopsis until after. I am a loose plotter, though, and have a pretty darn good idea where I'm going. Otherwise, well, it wouldn't be pretty.

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  20. It sounds like your agent is doing a good job, coaching you. :) I don't really plan on pb manuscripts or chapter books, but on the mg novel I'm doing I have a list of scenes I plotted out to include in the book. They are based on research...It's my first try at a novel, so we'll see how it works. :D

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  21. I am a tried-and-true outliner, and I do like to write the synopsis beforehand, as part of my plotting. I find it's especially helpful to write the query letter beforehand as well. It helps me pick out what I love about my story and stick to it. Of course, I fully expect the query letter to change before I send it out, but it's a great starting point.

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  22. :) I have to laugh at the term "strict pantster." I thought we plotters were the only ones with a strictness problem!
    I do wrote a synopsis of sorts for plotting, though it is nowhere near as clear as the send-to-agents version, and full of parenthetical notes to myself that would really annoy anyone else. (Like: remember this needs to foreshadow XYZ...)

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