Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing the Synopsis Before the Book: Part One

This week, I'm sharing my synopsis writing process. It's also a major part of my plotting process because I write the synopsis before I write the book.

Books to be returned...
Photo by hashir

Writers like to divide themselves into two categories: those who plot and those who don’t. I’m a plotter. I wasn’t always one, but years ago, in an effort to write faster and tighter, I decided to learn about plotting. After all, if I hated it, I wouldn't do it again. To my delight, I tried a myriad of plotting methods and loved the end result.

Here’s why I love plotting. It forces me to understand the main points of my book before I write. When I nail those down, I have a clearer idea of how my characters will grow and the events that will shape them along the way. Plus, the saggy middle virtually disappears. With a firm plan, I write first drafts quickly.

I can’t take credit for the plotting methods I use. All of them were borrowed from other writers generous enough to share their secrets. Some were found on websites, some from word of mouth, and others through books on the writing craft. Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method made a big impact on me, and you can read all about it at Advanced Fiction Writing.

I consider the one-page synopsis the foundation of basic plotting. It fleshes out the main story points and gives you a skeleton of where your book needs to go. Depending on your comfort zone, you may wish to continue to intermediate plotting, where you'll expand your one-page synopsis to a long synopsis. If you want to get radical, go all the way to advanced plotting, where you plot each scene. Don't worry, I'll walk you through every step.

The following is based on my experiments to find the best plotting method for me. However, you should experiment to find the best method for you.

First, narrow down what genre book you are writing. Different genres require different pacing, tension, and plot development. I write romance novels so my books revolve around two characters’ journey to love. I sift through possible ideas and flesh out the main characters and premise of my book first. When I have a hero, a heroine, and a hook, I begin brainstorming their goals, motivations, and conflicts.

With these basics, I am ready to start writing the synopsis.

Join me on Wednesday for part two--the step-by-step process of writing a one-page synopsis.


  1. I'm a plotter too and usually sketch out a synopsis. I've found that usually the high level ideas stay the same throughout, but the smaller stuff changes as I write. I like having a roadmap. :)

  2. I've never tried to write the synopsis first. Probably b/c my characters like to surprise me so and I often find ideas come to me as I'm writing.

    But I like this. I like knowing the direction you're headed. Makes for a tighter novel and prob. less editing.

    ~ Wendy

  3. I've only written the synopsis first once--for my Avalon romance. And that was fortunate for me because when they requested the full the book wasn't done! But since I had the synopsis, I was able to crank out the rest of the book. Whew!!

  4. I've written only short stories so far but my next venture is to plot a novel. The way my analytical brain works best, I know plotting will be good for my writing. I look forward to part two!

  5. Good Morning!

    Sarah: Same for me. The big things don't change, but there's plenty of wiggle room for the steps leading up to them.

    Wendy: It's amazing how much my characters still surprise me even with a detailed plot before! That's the beauty of writing!

    Jennifer: The synopsis saved the day! Well, probably not. I'm sure you would have cranked it out anyhow!

    Lynn: I love trying on new plotting ideas. Hope you have fun with the process!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  6. I prefer to plot too. Having a basic synopsis helps me help my own story along and I never forget valid points in the story. Besides, when your characters say and do things you aren't expecting, you can always tweek the synopsis to make it fit, right?

  7. This is such a good post, Jill! I'm wasn't as much of a full-novel plotter with the manuscript I'm finishing right now. And I so regret it. I've really had to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I think I've got it now, but I realized I had REALLY big problems when I sat down to write the synopsis with this one. Had I done that first, wouldn't have had near the problems I had. Sometimes we just have to learn the hard way, I guess.

  8. Woohoo! Yay for plotting! I used to be a SOTP writer, but now I wouldn't dream of starting a novel without a chapter-by-chapter sysnopsis. I tried with this current WIP to write it with just a 7 page synopsis, and I had to stop and start over again after I'd fleshed out a ch-by-ch.

    I look forward to seeing your process here!

  9. This is a great practice, because once we get contracted, writing the synopsis before the story becomes a lot more common.

  10. I was going to try this with my current WIP, but once I finished plotting out each chapter, I was too excited to get started writing :) I think it's smart to make some sort of synopsis before beginning and I like your tips for starting.

  11. Sounds like you've developed a method that works well! I like the fact that it gives you a firm plan - there's something comforting about hitting the drawing board (or should I say writing board) with something definite in mind. Have a productive week! God bless!

  12. This is so timely! I just wrote the synopsis before starting on the MS for my current project. I'm finding it to be quite beneficial. Can't wait for your next post for the step-by-step.

  13. I'm not a plotter. I wish I were... it would help with not knowing what's going to happen!

  14. Donna: Absolutely! The synopsis can always be tweaked!

    Heather: Don't feel bad. Some books are just like that. I have a book I've written, rewritten, revised, and it still isn't right. I gave up on it last winter, but that stinking book won't let me go! I'm going to make that book right!

    Erica: I'm the same way! I need to take my plotting all the way with the major scenes, plus I know the plot points in between the major scenes before I'll start writing.

    Katie: A girlfriend of mine let me in on that secret a few years ago. At the time, I was still writing the synopsis after the book. I decided I needed to learn to write it before. I'm so glad I did!

    Cindy: A chapter-by-chapter outline is perfect! It gives you everything you need to put together a synopsis quickly.

    Maria: Love it! Hitting the "writing board" is a fun description and so true!

    Susan M: Yay! I find it beneficial too!

    Kristen: You can't fight the panster in you! I'm convinced we all have a natural way to approach a story and plotting isn't for everyone. :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  15. Jill, what a great idea for a series! I tried pantsing once, and it wasn't a good fit for me. I'm a loose plotter, and I also use the Snowflake method. Not all the way through, but the first several steps. Plus index cards!

    I'll be back for more of your plotting tips. Thanks!

  16. I like this approach. I haven't always used it, but when I do I find the flow of my writing seems be much smoother.

  17. You know, I think it would be a big help if I did write a synopsis first. On only one of my books did I have an outline first. As it turns out, that is also my best book. Your next posts sound interesting.

  18. Julie: You should see my friend's index card method--it's the coolest thing ever!! I'm a failure at index cards, though. I seem to lose them or get them out of order or something!

    Kara: It keeps my extra scenes in check, kind of like a dot-to-dot picture keeps the lines going in the right direction!

    Nancy: I hear you! I didn't start learning about plotting until my fifth book, and this process has evolved with each book. I find it fun!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!


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