Thursday, October 25, 2007

Synopsis writing - before and after

Mel asked if I would elaborate on the way that synopses differ when you write them BEFORE you write the book and when you write them AFTER. This is a new thing for me...until a year ago, I ALWAYS wrote the book and then did the synopsis. But all that changed when I started selling books and editors started wanting to know what I had in the pipeline.

The first time I wrote a synopsis for a story unwritten it was short. I even remember saying to my editor, I don't know HOW this is going to play out but this is what needs to happen. Recently I've been brainstorming more so the synopses I put together now are longer - it's just that they are a little different from a finished book synop.

To illustrate this, I'm going to give you a paragraph or two of different synopses.

This first bit is from what I sent with Hired By The Cowboy. You do get a sense of scene...he goes to his grandmother, goes to Alex, she thinks for a weekend, she screws up in the kitchen. There is less of motivation and a lot more of what actually happens in the book.

Connor goes to his grandmother to ask her to release his trust fund early. She reveals that the only way to get his trust fund early is to get married. Unattached, Connor thinks this is ridiculous, knowing he cannot find a bride and get married in time to save the ranch. That is, until he remembers Alex, and devises a scheme that will benefit them both.

He asks Alex to marry him, a temporary arrangement. He’ll get his money and she and her baby will be provided for, so she can give her child a good start in life.

After a weekend of consideration, and still sceptical, Alex agrees to a trial period at the ranch. She is not at all sure she is cut out for farm life, and after a horrible attempt at cooking, she thinks she should leave. Connor’s tolerant and practical reaction shows her how understanding he is. Out of options she takes the leap and agrees to a wedding.

Now, when I do a proposal type synopsis, I don't have that many scenes in my head. I know WHAT has to happen but not how I'm going to execute it. So those scene details are missing. I usually have between 1 and 3 scenes that I know will make it into the book, but that's all. The rest evolves from what I know of my characters and their arcs.

What does get sent though is a deeper insight into what drives the characters.

This is from what I sent my editor today...working title The Cowboy's Princess. You will notice there is no concrete scene where these things happen. It's all about the characters and their motivations, what is keeping them apart and what draws them together.

From the get-go Lucy resents Brody. He represents everything she thought she had…he knows his place and he’s happy in it. His days have purpose and he simply belongs in the world he’s created. He has the kind of home she’s been longing for, and it’s a stark reminder of what she’s lost. He’s also good at what he does…producing some of the best stock she’s seen.

She’s attracted to him right from the start, and it seems to be mutual. Yet Lucy isn’t willing to explore it, no matter how much she wants to – she already knows what a quick affair cost her mother and won’t let that happen to herself. It’s clear that Brody’s obligation is to his ranch, just like her father’s was to his country. And on Brody’s part…he’s stunned at how he’s reacted to Lucy’s presence and it makes him back off. He’s been in a relationship where things burned hot and fast and then burned out just as quickly and he won’t make that mistake again.

Now, maybe not everyone works this way, and I know there are times when I've pitched a story on a paragraph and then today when I send a couple of pages. It depends on if you're a planner or pantser. I'm lucky that the most my editor has ever said about my synopsis is a caution about watching a certain thing. It's more so she knows where I'm going with a current book and if any big holes pop up she can give me the heads up.

I hope this helps a little bit Mel. Thanks for commenting.


  1. Yes, it helps a lot. The difference I can see is that the first syn. has both external and internal conflict. More detailed as to how the internal conflict is shown.

    The second syn. leans more heavily on the internal, because honestly that may be all you know is what the characters need to overcome. Not the how.

    Got it.

    Thanks, Donna.

  2. Interesting post. I have to admit that writing the synopsis is perhaps the most challenging part for me, and so far I've only written them after completing the novel.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog!

  3. The Wet Noodle posse had a great post on synopsis writing yesterday. You can find it here.

  4. This is really interesting. I do the same thing, I think, but I never thought of it that way.

    I am very fortunate in that right now (knock wood) I'm only required to submit a blurb, sometimes in the most vaguest of terms. (Eg "I have a story about a private detective and a rock star, how about that?") One day I'm sure I'll have to write a synopsis before I've written the book and I dread it. Well done you.