Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 18, 2008

Writing a Throw-away Synopsis

Synopsis is a word that many writers speak with a grimace. What can feel more horrible than shrinking the thousands of beautiful words you so carefully laid out into a page or two? The elegant plot into something that may look formulaic?

A synopsis for others who might or might not want to read your work on the base of it is hard, no question. But a synopsis written for myself? Okay, still tough, but it can teach me something. With my nose so long near the small picture, to come up and look at the big one again helps tell me if I’m going in the right direction and moving at the right pace. It reminds me what the book is after all about, and whether the details and dialogue I’m collecting add to up to that point. While in my writing I wind out to circles and have to backtrack, collecting a few gems along the journey, the synopsis reminds me to take another look and make sure something is at stake.

I’m reminded of at-stake-ness as I reread The Hobbit. Tolkien lets you know about all the dangerous and gruesome creatures in the woods, and in case that’s not enough, reminds you of the dragon they’re heading toward. An ax hovers over all of Charlotte’s Web. The White Witch can appear anytime in Narnia and turn anyone to stone. I’m writing about a teenaged girl and things aren’t always life and death, but sometimes a wrong word or two can feel that way. Dragons, an ax, a soul at peril, all have their time to cast shadows. Even in the slower moments, I’m trying to keep that in mind.

So recently I took a break and whipped off (fast, just for me) half a page about what my manuscript was about. The good news: yay, it is about something! Or it will be. The bad news, but not surprising: we’re not getting there fast enough. So I’m back looking at each chapter, trying to make sure it somehow addresses the main crisis and moves the next scene forward. My main character has to leave home and rule a city. She’s got to live her life moment to moment, too, going through the small things that make up our day. Remembering her purpose, living in the moment. Maybe ruling a city isn’t so different than writing a book.



  1. Great post!

  2. Thanks for posting this! It reminds me to remember the big picture, and to move the story forward as I write. Something I tend to constantly forget. 🙂

  3. I’ve been thinking about a synopsis the last couple of days. I’m not there yet; I have NO middle scenes even thought of, but I’m thinking it would be a good way to go once I’m further along. I think it kind of forces you to get the cause & effect down on paper.

  4. Thanks, Carrie!

  5. Thank you! Yes, we all forget the big picture, and we all sometimes need to be reminded.

  6. Yes, cause and effect is good, but you’re right — you need scenes before you need to worry about how they’ll bump into each other.
    I’ve sometimes tried storyboards, drawing a picture for each chapter, to see if the action is properly following other actions. Good luck!

  7. I love the idea of a throw-away synopsis. Maybe if we did that more we would be less intimidated by writing an actual synopsis when the time comes?
    I guess with one of my WIP I sorta did that with my scene cards but I think you’re idea of putting it all together on the page is a good one and I’m going to give it a try.
    I’m really enjoying your process posts. Thanks!

  8. Yes, that makes sense, that if we’ve drafted synopsis(es?) before, than the one we’re ready to send, at that anxiety-ridden moment, probably wouldn’t feel so scary. Good idea!
    And glad you are enjoying thse notes. Scene cards can be great, too, of course. For me, since I can tend to getting too interior, trying to put something in a picture tells me if I’ve gotten things onto the stage. (but if you’re writing for teens, you get to be more interior!)

  9. I’m always fascinated by other people’s processes.
    And I tend to be too interior too, even for a teen. And then that scares me into thinking I’m spending my whole book just THINKING and not DOING. I think it’s a hazard of being a writer who hears voices and doesn’t see pictures.

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