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Monday, May 20, 2024

Chapter synopses

 cj Sez: I retrieved this post from my archives because I’m thinking about writing a synopsis for my work-in-progress. Yep, that’s right: in progress. 

  I read a comment that it might be easier to create that dreaded synopsis as you finish a chapter or two rather than wait until you type THE END.

  Clever idea. Write a chapter synopsis while each plot point is fresh in my mind and then I can pull it all together when the story is ended. It’s always easier for me to edit than it is to stare at an empty page and try to think of something.  Anyway, in this post, I’m going to reprise some points I've discovered about writing a synopsis.

  Since I don’t do a formal outline for my stories (gasp), I can use the synopsis as a form of outline. It will help me find any holes in my storyline. 

  Someone asked me once how I knew when I’d reached the end of my story if I didn’t know where it was going. The reason I don’t outline is because once I’ve gone through that whole process, I feel as if I’ve written the entire story. That takes away the adventure of writing for me, except in writing mysteries when I really have to plan it all out. 

  I don’t consider myself a “pantser” though. I do know how I want the story to start, and I do know how I want it to end. What I don’t know (or plan/plot) is the path the characters will take to get from beginning to end. Using that analogy, I call myself a “pathfinder.” 

  I like the excitement of finding out—as I write—what kind of trouble I can create for my characters then figure out how to get them out of it. Kind of like running a maze. I write until I've solved all the characters' problems and gotten them out of their maze, then I'm done. The End.

  I’ve talked with writers who say they have absolutely no problem creating a synopsis. Not so me. I would love to find the one I safely filed away a couple of years ago, but I do remember some of the important rules. 

  As I’ve said before, some rules are made to be broken, but first one must know what the rules are. I wouldn’t, however, advise a novice writer to break any rules when submitting a manuscript, especially if the instructions are spelled out on an agent’s or publisher’s website. And always, always use the agent/publisher instructions for font and page layout format whether for story submission or a proposal or a synopsis. 

  After typing the end to my WIP, I will tie my chapter synopses into a final form, applying the following rules (or better, "cues"):

Write the synopsis in third person, present tense. 

  Since my stories are written in past tense, I need to keep that directive on a piece of paper taped to the monitor in front of me.

Start with a hook (the character or the inciting incident) and reveal the story premise.

  I think of this as my “elevator pitch”the twenty-five words and amount of time a writer has to impress an agent if caught on the elevator together.

Concentrate on the primary story line, the turning points, and their effect (internal and external) on the characters and do this in the chronological order of the story.

  This is where writing a synopsis for each chapter is very helpful.

Include primary characters by name. Use all capital letters the first time s/he is introduced within the synopsis. Then be consistent with how the character is referred to in the rest of the document.

  For example, JOHN DOE might become Johnny for the remainder of the synopsis. Secondary characters can be described by what they do rather than by name . . . the sheriff, the teacher, the doctor.

It’s very important is to show the complete narrative arc for the primary character.

  How s/he felt at the beginning of the manuscript and how the character is changed by the end of the story.

Write in active voice. Use strong verbs and words that show emotions, motivations, conflict, and tension. 

Don’t go into lengthy descriptions and backstory in a synopsis.

Unless a character’s physical description or age is pertinent to one of the story threads, keep focused on the nitty-gritty of the main story line.

The synopsis should be written in the same tone (voice) as the novel.

  I.E. if the novel is lighthearted, the synopsis should be also. 

  It looks soooo simple, doesn’t it? One, two, three, et al., and done. Not so fast, Grasshopper.*

  Just like every other writer who’s typed THE END on the last page of their novel, I’ll be trying to cram thousands of words and hundreds of pages of manuscript into a concise document that is sometimes restricted to maybe four or five pages. Though I have read that some might peak at eighteen pages, depending on who’s asking for the synopsis.
(*The student character in the 1970s TV show “Kung Fu.”)


  Okay, that’s it for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Raising prayers for a happy and safe you and yours.


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