In which we come to week three, where Practical Meerkat talks about How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love my Synopsis
Start a group of writers talking about our jobs, and sooner or later someone will say “oh god, I hate writing a synopsis.” This isn’t a newbie fear, either – people with a dozen or more books under their belt will still approach the synopsis phase like a five year old being forced into the bath: they know they have to do it (the Parent/Editor Says So) but they’d rather being doing the fun “getting messy” part of writing-the-book, instead.
The synopsis is often confused with the outline, but actually quite different. Where the outline is your roadmap from Start to Finish, a synopsis is the condensed, comprehensive version of your story, a brief (relatively speaking) summation of everything you want to say, used to sell a publisher on a project. And yeah, the thought of trying to get 100,000 (or more) words into a clearly-stated and yet enticing package of around 1,000 words is…challenging.* Not to mention that, if you’re one of those people for whom once the story is told, it’s done, the thought of writing a synopsis can give you brain freeze.
Don’t panic. Don’t stress.
Here is a truth, and I want you to repeat it out loud to yourself: “My editor does not expect the book to adhere to the absolute detail of the synopsis or outline.”
Yes, your synopsis is an important selling tool, and it should be as complete and detailed as you can make it. But the book you think of may not be the book you finally sell. The book you begin writing may not be the (exactly) the book you finish and hand in. Stories change and grow in the making. This is normal, and your editor and publisher know this. Short of telling an entirely different story, odds are good that minor or even largeish deviations from the original proposal won’t be noticed**
So don’t feel that whatever you write at the beginning must be detail-perfect, or that any deviation will be punished (or even noticed). Nor is it necessary that a synopsis follow a particular form or style [I once had a panicked writer tell me the story over the phone, while I typed the details up, to meet contract requirement for “detailed synopsis”].
So relax and, instead of worrying, have fun with it. Put into it all the enthusiasm that you feel for the project, the same excitement you feel about the story, the characters, the setting. Give a sense of what is exciting and engaging about this story, where it will take them and what emotions they will experience in the reading.
That is all your editor will remember, when the book is handed in.
*disclaimer: I am among the few who actually enjoy it. This may be due to my years in marketing, or I may just be a mutant
**if they are writing copy from the proposal, however, you may encounter problems. It is a kindness to everyone to keep your editor informed of major name, gender, or plot changes
Next week: Signings, Booksellers, and ego-bruising.
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy. Her first collection, DRAGON VIRUS, will be published by Fairwood Press in Spring 2011. For more info check her website , her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman) And yes, her nickname really is meerkat