Ignore your synopsis at your peril (30/6/09)

What’s the point of a synopsis? I suppose you might think that’s pretty simple, really, that the synopsis is there to, you know, summarise the story and stuff like that. Actually that’s quite a hard thing to do; to be blunt, I find writing a synopsis a lot more challenging than writing a novel (although it is a bit quicker). What a synopsis is NOT is a summary of the plot. A synopsis is also not a dramatis personae. It is not a chapter-by-chapter summary of your story. You might think it’s one of those things, but it isn’t, even if it cunningly disguises itself as one. What a synopsis isn’t is a summary of what you want to say and nothing more. It needs to be a summary of how you mean to say it too. Remember, after all, what your synopsis is for, after all. It’s for making your agent, editor, other editors, preferably everyone in the whole world, be so convinced that the thing your synopsis is a synopsis of is so damn good that they salivate at the thought of being able to read it one day. It’s a marketing tool. In fact, when it comes down it, your synopsis doesn’t need to bear any actual resemblance to what you end up writing. By the time a manuscript finally arrives, it’s long done its job. Hasn’t it?

Well I think the answer is yes to the above. All of the above. Even the bits of the above that directly contradict each other. And while I certainly do worry about making sure my synopses are marketing tools (you have to bear in mind here that everything I’m under contract to produce has been on the basis of a synopsis and a few chapters being all there is to show) and that they reflect the tone and the style of what I plan to write, they do still, you know, summarise the story and stuff like that. Things might change a bit here and there, but quite a bit of thought goes into the story design at this stage. It’s all mapped out, at least as a sketch, and that’s what the synopsis is supposed to show – that you know the way. A map, that’s what a synopsis is to me. A really cool map that tells you how you’ll get from the start of the story to the end, and shows you just how irresistibly cool the journey is going to be. A map that always reminds you where you’re going and how to get there.

So, having extolled the virtues of the synopsis, can I know extol the virtues of actually following the damn thing. Just like I didn’t recently. Don’t look at your word count and think Hmmm… going a bit long here… Can recover that if I just skip a bit. That was just character development, after all.

No. Bad Steve. BAD Steve. Several tens of thousands of words later, Syannis the Thief-Taker does something that’s unexpectedly out of character. It needs to seem a bit off-kilter. Except it doesn’t. Why? Because Syannis the Thief-Taker hasn’t had the attention he needs to make an outburst of [spoiler deleted] seem a bit odd. Which means that the reaction of Berren, his apprentice, doesn’t work. Which makes what he was about to do next seem a bit odd. And thus the whole rest of my novel unravels before my eyes.

Bah. But like every boy scout knows, maps don’t work if you don’t follow them.

Well it’s spotted now, it’s easily fixed on this occasion and if I overrun, well then it won’t be by much and it won’t be the end of the world. It’s cost me a couple of days and a slight headache from too much brow-furrowing. It could have been a lot, lot worse. Still – note to self for the future: Write the story you set out to write, dammit.

Lots of other stuff bubbling about at the moment. Some signings, some world-building, a map (yes, you heard, a MAP!) of the dragon-realms and maybe some new stories. All on hold for now while I finish the first draft of The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice, but watch this space about a month from now.

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