Friday, June 10, 2011

I Love A Synopsis With Guest Blogger: Jane Toombs

Meet author Jane Toombs today at the Book Boost!

She's here to discuss the dreaded synopsis...


Because I’m a plotter, I have to admit I don’t dread writing a synopsis. In fact, I have to write one or I can’t start the story.

Did I always write this way?

No. Here’s what turned me from a sit-down-and-write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants one to a plotter.

My agent sold my first gothic to Avon with no problem. Ditto with number two. But number three not only didn’t sell to Avon, but didn’t sell anywhere. I had no idea why.

Before I could embark on another story, the agent received a request from a packager for an author able to write a gothic featuring Sagittarius for his Zodiac Series. The agent called me and asked if I could send a partial for the packager. I had to ask him what a partial was. When he told me the first three chapters and a synopsis, I then had to ask what a synopsis was.

His reply was one of the best description of a synopsis I’ve ever heard: A brief outline of the book told in story from.

That sounded easy enough, and once I struggled through my first synopsis, I found the first three chapters a breeze to write. So I sent the partial to my agent and in what seemed a remarkably short time, he called me back to say the packager went to contract.

Whoa! You could sell a book by writing only three chapters ad a synopsis? Up until then I assumed one had to write the entire story.

Well, if this was true, I’d certainly write partials first from now on. I sold several more gothics this way before it dawned on me that maybe I could find out what was wrong with that third book by writing a synopsis for it. Another revelation--I couldn’t because it wandered all over the place. So I wrote a totally new synopsis for the story, rewrote and it sold, Even got my one and only review of it in Publisher’s Weekly--a good one.

That was when I became aware that I needed guidelines when I wrote or else I might wander too far from the plot. Never mind that I wrote and sold my first too books without a synopsis. The third one taught me a valuable lesson.

So why are synopses so intimidating to some writers? How hard can it be after you’ve written a book to do a synopsis for it? Ah, but if they’re being asked for a synopsis ahead of time when they’re true seat-of-the-pants writers, I can understand doing this might kill the story they for them. Or, perhaps they truly don’t know what’s going to happen in the story in concrete enough form to write a coherent synopsis. Because we certainly don’t all write the same way.

Pantsers have said to me that if they’re forced to think through the story before they start, then they lose all interest in it. I can understand that, even though I’m one of those writers who needs synopsis guidelines to keep from veering off track. This does not mean I don’t deviate from the synopsis, making side trips now and then when it seems right to do so. But I always have the synopsis there to come back to so I never lose my way completely.

Yes, I understand a pantser’s dislike of synopses. But what I don’t understand is why writing a synopsis seems so difficult to others who aren’t true pantsers. Listen, you guys, a synopsis is not a rigid tool that can’t be deviated from and even changed if something isn’t right. All the publisher who asks for one wants is some idea of what the story will be about, and how the author is going to bring it to a logical conclusion.

You don’t need to pile on a lot of details, just give some idea of how the hero and heroine--plus the villain, if there is one--are going to solve the problems you will create for them in the story and have a happy ending, at least for now. If a murder, tell briefly how the detective or hero figures who it is and how the bad guy is brought to justice.

If you don’t know yet how some of the problems will get worked though just glide over it, saying that they solved the problem. And always remember that if the ending is logical for a reader, no one will care if you wind up with an entirely different ending that you originally thought--and had put in the synopsis.

So don’t dread doing one. Remember, it’s a brief outline of the story you intend to write and no one cares if you wind up writing it somewhat differently, as long as it will make sense to the reader when you come to the end.

A Note from the Book Boost: Thanks for joining us today, Jane. I like your attitude about writing a Synopsis. I enjoy writing them as well. Great tips for all!

Want more Jane?

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1 comment:

Linda Andrews said...

Love the article, Jane. To me, writing the synopsis is so hard because I tend to include too much detail. Of course, I never write it until after the books, so maybe that's why.