I think that pretty much sums up my experiences in the novel-writing process.
Way back when, when I was querying Holy Fudgesicles, I have to admit that I hated writing a synopsis so much that when looking down the list of agents in my genre on QueryTracker.net, I’d skip over anyone who wanted a synopsis and I’d only submit to agents looking for sample chapters. Finally I decided that limiting my scope in such a way was a terrible idea and I went out and wrote a synopsis of my novel.
And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a writer.
Imagine reading a book and having to write a book report summarizing it in one page–even a short 54,000 word book like mine. Then imagine your grade being based not only on your summary, but also on your ability to convey the narrative style of the novel while summarizing all important plot elements in that one page. But that’s not all. In order to get a passing grade, your summary must also be enticing enough to convince your teacher to take time out of her busy schedule and read the book.
All joking (or whining) aside, writing a synopsis of the finished novel was actually a very good thing to do, and I’d suggest it to all aspiring novelists.
And not just for querying purposes. I fact, the process I used for writing the synopsis helped improve the novel.
I started by reading the novel again a chapter at a time and writing a 2-3 paragraph summary of each chapter immediately after finishing it. Then before moving onto the next step, I read this summary over a few times looking specifically at the story structure and plot. This helped me find a few things I needed to change, mostly along the lines of continuity or pacing.
The next step was to take all of the 2-3 paragraph chapter summaries and condense them into a single paragraph for each chapter. This also helped in the revision process by showing me the most important event or purpose of each chapter.
The final part of this process was to take the single-paragraph chapter summaries and condense them into a single page synopsis. I dare say this was the most important thing I’ve done for the novel. By shrinking it into one page, the theme of the novel popped out at me. A theme, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t even realize was present, until I reached that point.
So with the first draft of the synopsis done, I put it aside and reread the novel looking at the newly discovered theme. I didn’t have to rewrite much, but I was able to make enough changes to really make the theme stick out.
After that, I sat down with the page-long synopsis and rewrote it in a way to make the “voice” of the story show through and (hopefully) make it more interesting to read. In other words, I tried to make it less like a book report and more like a short story.
In the end, while I may not have been 100% satisfied with the synopsis I had written, it was enough to get a full read request from a publisher, which eventually led to a publishing contract.
And you know what? As intimidating as it can be to write a short synopsis, I’m doing it again. This time, it’s for a YA fantasy novel that is not yet ready to query. I’m pretty much half-way between the first and second revisions, and am going though the same steps I mentioned above.
This has been great for my revision process and is really helping me work out the problems with the plot. All six million of them.
So if you’re stuck on your novel revisions, go ahead and try writing a synopsis. See if it helps and leave a comment to let us know how it went.