The way my new contracts are set up I have to write a brief synopsis and the first 10 pages of the book when doing proposals. I know, it sounds easy, but for me writing a synopsis is the hardest thing in the world. For my editor Anne Sowards at Berkley, all I had to do was write a short paragraph telling her the who, what, when, where and why of the book. I think she did that, because she knew no matter what I wrote in a synopsis the story would change in a very big way.
I’m a pantser. That means I just sit down and write, so putting together something ahead of time is extremely difficult for me. I’d almost rather write the book first and hand it over. That sounds crazy, but it’s true for me. My new editor, Kathryn Lye at Harlequin, is the one who wants the brief synopsis and a few pages. And she has every right to want that. She’s willing to fork over a wad of cash, she should have some idea of what she is getting.
Still, it’s difficult for me. And almost every email to her with attached proposals begins with, “You know, I don’t write great synopses, but this will give you an idea of where I want to go with the book.”
I have devised a rather crude way of putting together a synopsis, that those of you who struggle might find useful. It’s basically a bigger version of that who, what, where, when and why I did before. There are entire books written on this process, but this is what works for me.
We need to know what makes the main characters a tick.What makes them different from all the other characters in the world? What is that thing that helps identify with them? We need to know everything about them, though not all of that needs to go in the synopsis.
What is their goal, motivation and conflict? They have to want something, that they can’t have and that is what drives them to move forward. It also is what drives the story. Since I write romance, that has to be an element of the why too. Why are these two characters thrown together, and why can’t they be apart? Or why can’t they be together?
What is this thing they so desire, and what is they need to do to get it? What are they willing to do to make it happen? You’ll see bits of your plot popping up here.
Where is all of this taking place? Do they have to get from one destination to the other? What kind of setting is it? A few key details and textures can set the mood for you.
When is all of this taking place? Why is it happening at that particular moment? Is there a specific time line to tell the story. A week? A month? A year?
Once you put all of these elements together, it makes it a little easier to weave a plot around them. And you do need your four plot points, and the major arcs in your story. (Read Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” if you need help with this.) To help me plot out my stories I just started to the big arch Jim Butcher uses for his work. Someone shared this link with me http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/ and I’ve found it immensely helpful. It can really help you organize your thoughts.
Now I’m off to write four synopsis. You heard me. Four. Ugh. I can tell you they will be as simplified as the information I’ve given you above. Of that, you can be sure.