Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about entering Harlequin’s Killer Voices competition with the first page of a novel I’m working on. Today, I’m happy to report that not only did I get selected to advance to the next round of the competition (Yay!), but I was also able to get a 3-5 page synopsis describing my plot and characters in to my editor on time (Whew!).
As an aside, I love the fact that entrants have each been assigned to a given editor’s “team.” That means, besides having teammates to cheer on, I can refer to “my editor” in posts like this. Technically, I suppose I can’t claim to have an editor since I don’t have a contract, but I prefer to overlook that technicality for the moment. 😉
Anyway, writing a synopsis of my novel in progress has been quite a learning experience for me, and I hope my readers don’t mind if I talk a little about that in this post. (Sorry if you do mind. For anyone experiencing book review withdrawal, allow me to direct your attention to Megan Besing’s review of The Pelican Bride by Beth White; it sounds fantastic!)
Okay, I promise, no more asides… I think.
Since writing a good synopsis has the reputation for being particularly challenging, the prospect of writing my first synopsis was a little, um, daunting at first. I had a week in which to write it, and I spent the first half of that week researching what was expected in a synopsis and hammering out kinks in my plot. My early attempts at synopsizing were thwarted by some remarkably convoluted explanations as to why particular details had to occur in a particular sequence. Which stopped me cold. Yuck!
I wanted to focus on action and emotion, not the nitty gritty details. I realized I had to back up and allow myself to tell, rather than show. Ground breaking, right? It was for me. I think “Show; don’t tell,” has got to be the most commonly offered bit of writing advice out there, or close to it, so telling felt a little unnatural. But I told myself to get over it. And when I gave myself permission to tell, the process got a whole lot easier.
I also realized that Act Two of my plot as I originally envisioned it really was a little convoluted, and if I couldn’t explain it succinctly, then maybe I should rethink that part. I got out some three by five cards, wrote plot points out on them, spread them across the dining room table, and started rearranging.
That and beating my head on the table, but we won’t talk about that part. 😉
I thought long and hard about which plot points were essential, pivotal moments for the characters and their relationship, and which ones were moveable or expendable. In the end, I removed one plot point that didn’t really make sense and moved two other plot points to different locations within the narrative. With those minor changes, everything else fell naturally into place.
After picking my jaw up off the floor, I ran to tell my husband that my plot wasn’t broken anymore, so he would no longer be asked to stare at a jumble of three by five cards with me. (Have I mentioned he’s incredible? He really is. And back to the point….)
Once I had the sequence nailed down for my plot, I found to my delight that the synopsis flowed. I wrote systematically from beginning to end, just telling the story, one step at a time, leaving out nonessential details. And when I reached the end, and my synopsis was two pages too long, I went through again, looking at each sentence to see if it was really essential to understanding my story, or if it could be removed or shortened. When I was done pruning, I set it aside for a day, read it through, and discovered that I liked it. And breathed a big sigh of relief.
I’m glad to have that synopsis done, but I think I’m hooked. Forcing myself to write a synopsis of my novel before writing it, really helped me distill the plot down to its bare essentials and get a better view of how the various pieces interact with each other. As a result I think I have a much better understanding of my story, and it will be stronger in the end than it might have been otherwise. Frustrating as the process was at times, I’m fairly certain I’ll be doing this again with future novels, whether I have to or not.
Does that mean I’m crazy? 😉