Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Synopsis?

Maven Jacqueline BarbourNot me!

Call me crazy, but I actually like writing synopses. There's something cathartic about jotting down those broad outlines of the story. And I heart writing them a thousand times more than hooks, query letters and, worst of all, log lines, all of which will probably give me fits for the rest of my life.

Back in my school days and during my brief life as aspiring academic, I never outlined a paper until after I'd written the real thing. If a teacher required an outline be submitted before the paper, then I wrote the paper, wrote the outline, turned in the outline, then turned in the paper. Because until I wrote the paper, I could never predict what I was going to say until I actually said it. And I had to write the paper in absolutely linear fashion, from the first line to the last. Until I was ready to write the introduction, I couldn't write any of the rest of the paper.

And that's pretty much how I write fiction. I have an overarching idea for the story and often have bits and pieces of scenes and dialogue worked out in my head, but I have to approach everything in strictly linear fashion and I never know what comes next with any real certainty until I've written what comes before.

Then how can I write a synopsis for a one hundred thousand word book, you ask? Well, when I start a story, I do have a pretty solid vision of what I need to write a synopsis. I know my characters' internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts. I know what the main turning points in the plot are and more or less where they'll occur. And without all the details to get in the way (the actual book), it's pretty easy to write a summary of the major elements, because those are the only things I know about the story when I start.

So what's my problem with synopses? Following the darn thing once I get it written! I have no trouble writing the synopsis out of the gate. The trouble is that the story that flows out of me too often bears only the vaguest resemblance to the synopsis I wrote. Darn those details!

YOUR TURN: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Can you see the broad outline of the story before you write it, or do you literally fly the whole way by the seat of the pants (a la Maven Carrie, who just thinks what the worst thing that could happen next is and goes with it)? Either way, do you hate synopses? And what makes them so darned hard?


Bill Clark said...

If a teacher required an outline be submitted before the paper, then I wrote the paper, wrote the outline, turned in the outline, then turned in the paper. Because until I wrote the paper, I could never predict what I was going to say until I actually said it.

I'm with you, Jacq! Guess that makes me a pantser, right?

Sometimes when taking exams I would decide where I wanted my essay to end up and write the last sentence (mentally) first. Then I would start with a topic sentence postulating my conclusion, and proceed to get from here to there. It never failed to get an A - the teachers thought I was so brilliant! (hehe)

But that was regurgitating other people's stuff, not my own. I'm still a pantser when it comes to my own stuff.

CM said...

There are four words I think of when I think about the darned synopsis.

Hate, hate, hate, and--oh, yes, that would be: hate.

I hate writing them before I have written the book. I hate writing them after I have written the book. I hate writing them while I am writing the book.

I would not write them with a fox. I would not write them in a box. I would not write them with a spoon. I would not write them on the moon. I would not write them here or there. I would not write them anywhere.

Jennifer Linforth said...

Pantser. I tried plotting. It just confused me...

I used to hate the synopsis. I believe I once said I wanted to dangle the man who invented it by his ankles off a very high bridge. (could have been a woman... so don't shoot the writer. I am an equal opportunity synopsis killer)

They do get easier with practice. Now I write them when the book is about 95% complete... then maybe I do some plotting to help me see the end.

I call my pantser ways creating a 'skeleton' of my story. I write out the bones of it (major scenes) then go back and add all the connective tissue.

So far it works. Now, don't get me started on back cover blurbs...

Celeste said...

I laughed at what you said about writing the paper before the outline. Teachers who used to required this, because it was part of the writing process and must be followed for you to make any sense at all always annoyed me. Because I would usually get an A on said paper, having done exactly what you said you used to do! Write the paper, write the outline, then pass in the outline, then the paper! Retarded!

With fiction, I do find it helpful to write the synopsis out at some point during the actual story writing stage. But, like you, I have to be careful of doing it too soon, or all the pleasure of writing goes out the door for me. I usually write close to a hundred pages before starting a synopsis, and by that time I at least know which threads I'm weaving together!

Just last night, I set out to write this scene where my hero and heroine would have a fight over something that's been building between them. She's usually such a spitfire, and I could totally picture her lighting into him and raking him over the coals. BUT when I wrote it, she was so hurt, all she could do was cry :( It turned out much more powerful and sexy that way, and her reaction affected him much deeper than if she'd called him names. Minor turning points can be hard to predict!

lacey kaye said...

I'm actually ok with writing synopses, too. One of the things I like about our storyboards is that -- oh, wait. That was going to be my blog tomorrow.

*looks shifty-eyed*

Erica Ridley said...

I can story board before I write b/c I have the freedom to move the sticky notes wherever and to have a scene that just says "Chaos ensues". I can't write a synopsis in advance because I don't know exactly how things will play out. Although, writing a synop ahead of time would definitely be a useful skill to learn!

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