The Day I Did The Impossible. Writing A Synopsis Before Writing The Book.

Posted on 10th December, 2016

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? And if you're a writer: which comes first, the book or the synopsis? If you'd asked me that a couple of weeks ago, I'd have said confidently that the book comes first - of course. How can it be otherwise? My experience has always been that the synopsis is the last thing to be written. How can you write the synopsis before the book is finished?


When I begin work on a book, I know its broad outline. I know its ending, though not necessarily exactly how I'm going to get there. A book develops while it is in the process of being written. So the synopsis can't possibly come first... can it?


It turns out it can. Last week I was asked by my agent for a synopsis of my new novel... the one I haven't yet written. Having spent most of November agonising over possible plot-lines, characters etc, and getting started on the writing, I was able to put a synopsis together, but it wasn't complete by any means. There was the character who barely rated a mention because I hadn't decided exactly what was going to happen to her. There was the parent who died... but I didn't know whether it would be the mother or the father, and whichever it was, there would be different consequences. And there was the character for whom I listed three possible endings.


Yes, I know it sounds like a complete dog's breakfast, but actually I was rather pleased with it. A synopsis, albeit incomplete - in advance of writing the book - wow!


The advice that came back from my agent was that the plot was too complicated, so why not ditch the sub-plot and concentrate on the main character and her story. Let's face it - that's advice you want to hear before you start writing the book, not after you've finished it!


Besdies, it is advice I'm happy to follow. I have known for a long time that I create huge plots. I remember the first time I did it - I was worried I might not have enough plot to make the book long enough (actually, it would have been fine), so I threw myself into some sub-plots... and the end result was a 366,000 word epic.


I made a start on the new version of the new book, knowing more about it than I'd known before I wrote the incomplete synopsis, but still not knowing the whole plot.


Then, on Thursday evening this week, I arrived home from the day job shortly after 7 o'clock to be greeted by an email asking if I could re-do the synopsis - "it has to be as strong as possible" - very quickly (ie immediately) for the editor.


Yikes. So at that point I had to put together the real thing. No room for incomplete plot strands. No chance to gloss over a character whose plot-decisions I hadn't yet made. It had to be not just complete but also written to a high standard. The real thing.


And you know what? I did it. When I sat down to write it, all I had in my head was the broad outline of the plot, but none of the nitty-gritty. By the time I finished it two hours later, I had the whole lot on the screen. Was it easy? No. Did it feel right and natural to create the synopsis before writing the book? No, it felt like pulling teeth. Is it going to make the writing of the book easier? My goodness, yes. The book may still develop in ways I haven't so far seen, but having such a clear and detailed view of the plot and the characters who inhabit it has made me feel confident about the story and eager to get writing.




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Comments (10)

Thank you, Jen - what a lovely comment. And what an interesting question - will the book change in the process of development? Actually, that is something my agent said - not to feel bound to write this exact story. And yes, I will one day blog about if/how/why the story changed. Thanks for the confetti cannon!
Well done, you! Fires 'confetti cannon' from across the Atlantic. So many writers dread the synopsis (and having to write a polished one before writing the book sounds incredibly diffIcult), but I'm glad this experience has helped you get excited about your new book.

Such an interesting post. Will you post again to let us know if the writing experience differs this time round and (big question!) if/how much the story changes direction from that which you've mapped out?
Thanks, Jan. It wasn't an easy thing to do, but, as you say, it has certainly given me a great start. It's always good to hear from you.
Congratulations on achieving what must have seemed the impossible when you began, Sue. You now have a great start to your new novel with a clear detailed outline. Good luck and enjoy writing it. 🙂
You know what, Kirsten - if you had to do it, you would. I would never have believed it was possible - and then I did it, but yes, it was difficult. Worth it, though, as I'm going into this new book with so much knowledge about it.
What a wonderful compliment, Carol, especially coming from such a successful and highly regarded saga writer. Thanks so much.
Well done, you! I would find that incredibly difficult and I'm so impressed you've pulled it out of the bag. Can't wait to read it!! xx
This sounds like a professional talking, Susanna! Well done - and thank you!
Thanks for your kind words, Louise. You're right. We do get used to doing things a certain way and changing isn't always straightforward. But, as you say, there are times when it has to be done. I do feel better about the book now. I've never before embarked upon a book with so much detailed knowledge of it.
I'm a reader, not a writer, so I think of terms of the finished book rather than the process that goes into producing it. But in terms of anybody's work, it isn't always easy to change to a new way of doing things, so I can understand why this presented a challenge. Well done for rising to the occasion!