The Dreaded Synopsis

It’s not easy to distill an entire novel into a single page (two if you’re lucky), but pretty much every writer has to do it at some time in their career. Not only do a lot of agents require them along with queries, but so do many contests and paid critiques.

The synopsis’s main job is to outline the entire plot of your book – yes, including the ending. (Note: I’m describing a story synopsis here, not the synopsis part of a query letter, which doesn’t include the ending. For more info on writing those, see this post.)

There are a few different ways to break your novel down into its essential parts. There’s no right way or wrong way to do it, so long as you can find a way to condense your story.

Some people write out a description of the events in each chapter, then winnow it down to only the most important parts. (Personally I find this one can be overwhelming, as it still requires you to write out pretty much everything that happens in your novel, and then try and condense it, but YMMV.)

Other people go back their very first outlines (the ones they made while plotting) and use that to write their synopsis. There’s definitely something to be said for writing your synopsis before you write your manuscript, as far as getting to the essentials – however, if you’re like me, the story you end up with may not resemble that first outline very much by the time you’ve finished all your revisions.

My personal favorite method requires answering a few simple questions:

  • Who is your character at the start of the story?
  • What changes? (ie what’s the inciting incident?)
  • What challenges do they face? (depending on the synopsis length, you may have to go with the single largest one)
  • How does the main character win in the end?

Once you answer these, you have the bare bones of what’s needed in a synopsis. Of course, you still have to make it interesting – and one of the best ways to do that is to make it specific.

That means, when you’re answering your first question, don’t just write that your MC is “a typical twelve-year-old” (is there really such a thing?) or “the smartest girl at school.” Use a specific example. “The most exciting thing twelve-year-old SOSUKE MITSUDA has ever done is beat his older brother at Fortnite.” “When sixteen-year-old TRINITY BROWN isn’t doing homework from her college-level classes, she’s building robots out of parts she scavenges from the dump.”

(Technical notes: the first time a character is mentioned, their name should be in all caps. Synopses for children’s books should include the age of the main character. No matter what tense or POV your manuscript is written in, your synopsis should be in Third Person, Present Tense.)

The same specifics should be applied to your main character’s challenges; don’t write that “Mitali needs to stop the evil wizard before he ends life as she knows it,” explain that “Mitali needs to stop the evil wizard PHRED before he turns every firstborn child – including Mitali – into a chicken.” (Yeah, I know these are weird examples, don’t @ me.)

Once you get all your specifics sorted out, the next step is to make sure the elements of your synopsis flow logically into each other.

(My first synopsis sounded like my seven-year-old describing the show he just watched: and then this happened, and then that happened, and then this other thing happened, the end.)

To avoid sounding like a grade school book report, I suggest concentrating on the connections between events. Think about how one event affects, causes or impacts the next thing that happens. Sosuke’s life is boring until… Trinity spends all her time building robots. But when… Mitali needs to stop Phred before…

As you’re writing your specific, logically flowing synopsis, try to keep the voice of your story in mind. I know it’s hard with only 250 words, but make sure the tone of your synopsis reflects the tone of your manuscript (a synopsis for a Middle Grade comedy should sound pretty different from one for a Young Adult issue-book).

Finally, once you think you’ve got your synopsis done, see if you can find a friend or critique partner who hasn’t read your manuscript to read your synopsis to ensure it makes sense to someone who doesn’t already know the story.

Right, hope that helps make synopses a little less dreadful.

Why the First Edit is the Worst

As you probably know if you follow this blog, writing has not been going well for me these last two months. Some of that can be put down to my fibromyalgia flares but some is due to motivation.

I’m currently working on the first round of edits for my Adult Urban Fantasy WiP that I drafted as part of NaNoWriMo in November. And it’s positively painful.

But I think I finally figured out why.

When I’m drafting (especially when I’m doing it quickly, like for NaNo), I give myself permission to be messy. I leave lines, names, and sometimes whole scenes blank, rather than stop my momentum to do whatever research/effort is required to write the missing piece. (Usually I leave myself notes like: “insert funny line here” or “what happens between now and getting to the hospital?”)

And that plan works really well for drafting (for me, YMMV).

Of course, that means when it’s time to edit, suddenly I have to come up with the funny lines, or figure out what exactly did happen before she goes to the hospital. You know, the hard stuff.

I’m also left figuring out timeline questions (Should the demon attack come before or after she finds out why she’s being targeted?), how much backstory is necessary vs too much, and (in this specific case) adding a subplot.

Then there’s all the line editing: checking for typos (or the harder to see missing words – which happen a lot during my fast-drafts), making sure my character names are consistent (Hmmm, he’s named Kevin Callahan in Chapter 3, but she calls him Mr. Carruthers in Chapter 10), and that I don’t use the same word sixteen times on one page (looking at you, “had”).

On top of all of that, there’s the huge, gaping distance between the quality of that messy first draft, and the book I have in my head – not to mention books I’ve read.

Intellectually, I know those books started out messy, too. That no one writes a perfect first draft. But, (and maybe it’s due to impostor syndrome, or low self-confidence) that distance feels completely overwhelming.

Normally I love editing. When someone points out a problem (or I spot one) puzzling out the solution is just the kind of challenge I enjoy. But on this first draft, there are so many problems that trying to tackle them all in one go feels like trying to clean a room with a toddler in it.

I’ve had to do a lot of back and forth on this round of edits – I haven’t actually made it through the whole draft yet, because I keep changing things that require me to go back and alter something in an earlier chapter to keep the story consistent. Which, in a lot of ways, makes me feel like I’m spinning my wheels.

On the other hand, I can see the story getting better. Slowly. But the improvement is there.

I think what I really need to do is give myself permission for this draft to be messy too. I’m not saying I should leave blank scenes, but I need to lower my standards and stop stressing over perfection. No matter how much work I put into this draft, there are still going to be more rounds of edits (there are always more rounds of edits. So many edits!). And maybe some of the problems will be easier to see on the next pass through.

Right, off to try and whip this book into shape!



Writing While Chronically Ill

We’re barely two-and-a-half months into 2019, and already it’s shaping up to the be another dumpster fire of a year.

My fibromyalgia has been particularly bad lately: all of my joints ache constantly, with the worst pain in my fingers and elbows, making it very painful to type/write when it’s flaring.

I’ve tried to figure out how to describe the pain, but it’s such a subjective thing. My best effort is: you know the achiness you feel with a flu? Well that’s kind of like the baseline pain on a medium to bad day. The pain I feel just sitting doing nothing.

But when I actually move my joints (including the knuckles in my hands) it gets worse – almost feeling like the bones are rubbing against each other. (As an indicator of how bad things are: last week on a medium-pain day, I had to get one of my 7-year-olds to open a jar for me.)

Some days it’s bad enough that I can’t even try to work – all I have the energy to do is lie on the couch with a heating pad. Other days I can manage to type for a while in the morning, but have to give up by noon.

And some days it’s not the physical pain that stops me so much as the mental strain of dealing with it – I’m just so exhausted from hurting all the time that I can’t focus enough to think coherently (let alone write coherently).

Of course, all of these have the wonderful effect of making me feel guilty for not working, which stresses me out, which makes me feel worse, which makes me unable to work, which…well, you get the idea.

I don’t have a solution.

My doctor says there are no good treatments for fibromyalgia (the main pain pills he suggested don’t really work for me – as I discovered when I tried them for my migraines).

I feel so useless on my fibro sick days. Like I should be able to push through somehow and work anyways. Like I’m failing my family or myself by doing nothing except sleeping, reading, or watching TV. But just because the pain is caused by misfiring synapses in my brain, it doesn’t make it any less real.

I should probably look on the bright side. Fibromyalgia isn’t progressive –  while there is a cumulative effect to the pain (the longer a flare lasts, the harder it gets to push through it) my joints aren’t actually breaking down, they just hurt.

And the pain isn’t every single day – just everyday during a flare. I can still write and work when I’m feeling good.

I’m also lucky to have a family that supports me.

But some days I just wish I could get my old life back.

Of course, that’s not going to happen. Short of receiving an overnight visit from the Good Health Fairy, this is my new normal.

So I have to find a way to work with it.

One of my Twitter acquaintances who was just diagnosed with fibro got a list of some of things to help her pain (including compression gloves and a special knee rest for sleeping), so I may try a few and see if they help.

I also think I’m going to try adjusting my diet and see if that helps (not particularly fun, since I’m already on a restricted diet for another health issue) but if it lessens my pain, it’ll be worth it!

And maybe I’ll try and adjust my daily schedule as well. My pain tends to be a bit less in the morning (well, after my initial half hour or so of morning stiffness – aka waking up feeling like the Tin Man after a night in the rain), so  I can try writing immediately after breakfast, until the kids get up.

Being chronically ill sucks. Especially with an illness that’s invisible. But I’m doing my best to adjust and struggle through – because, well, what other choice do I have?

I wasn’t even sure if I should post this. Whether it would just come off as a bunch of whining. But I know other people are suffering too and I thought if my post could help encourage someone, then it’d be worth it.

(Or if any of you  have fibromyalgia too and have any advice to offer in the comments, that would also make it worthwhile!)

So, that’s what’s going with me. I promise next week’s post will be writing-related.

Monthly Check-In – March Edition

Did anyone else wonder how the shortest month of the year could feel so long?

No? Just me?

Well, as you’ve probably guessed, last month wasn’t great for my productivity. More snow days, more sick days (#fibromyalgiasucks), a whomping load of stress…yeah, not so good.

I did manage to get a few things done. I sent a handful of queries out to American agents for my MG Fantasy SHADOWCATCHERS.

I registered for the SCBWI Canada East Conference in Montreal in May.

And, I officially started revising my Adult Urban Fantasy WiP. Progress on which has been…slow. But I’ve managed to add 8,000 words so far, and I’m less than a third of the way through this round, so I consider that not completely horrible.

And, hey, it’s given me an idea for a blog post about why the first round of revisions is the absolute worst, so there’s that.

At least I managed to get some reading/audiobook-listening in.

February Reading Stats:

  • MG Fantasy (4)
  • MG UF (1)
  • YA Fantasy (3)
  • YA Sci-Fi (1)
  • A Urban Fantasy (8)
  • A Mystery (2)
  • DNF (1)
  • Re-Reads (2)

February Total : 19 (+ 2 Re-reads)

Year-to-date: 41 (+ 21 Re-reads)