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Writing the Plot Synopsis

The matter of plot synopses or outlines is not one that's easily answered when the question is "How long should it be?"  The rude answer is "That's rather a personal question."  The other joke answer is, "Long enough to touch the ground."  The truth is, it depends.

For one thing, it depends on how you work.  Maybe you're the person who writes 100 pages of notes and very very detailed outline as you start a project.  Then your synopsis is 100 pages, and you've satisfied yourself that the book is viable and you can write it.  From that you can probably pare the thing down to conform with the editor's request.  And that's the second thing: It depends on what the editor is looking for. Some of them want five pages. Some want 10 or 20 but no more than 25.  So the real answer, then, is find out what the editor wants and write a synopsis to more or less conform.

I've sold books now on the basis of an oral description, a nine page outline, an 18 page detailed synopsis, and on 150 pages plus a brief five page synopsis of what else happens.

That said, I also find writing the synopsis to be the most hateful aspect of the process, because in many ways it feels vampiric.  It's sucking the life out of a story that hasn't been told (i.e., written) yet.  I get the same feeling of story enervation from telling people about the work in progress at conventions.  People always want to know what you're working on, but sometimes I think the story is too fragile to be taken out of the incubator. If you do it too much, you'll tire of the idea.  

Honestly, though, you look at a dozen writers' perspective, you'll find someone who just loves to write synopses.  It is, as with all things in writing, a matter of how you work, which won't match anyone else's method point for point, and to some degree you just shouldn't worry about it very much.

All the same, having said that, I'm attaching here, in PDF format, a link to the final synopsis for my novel FITCHER'S BRIDES. Having been invited by Terri Windling to write a book in her Fairy Tale series for Tor Books, I worked out my version of it and sent her what remains the most detailed synopsis I've turned in to date.  It sold the book.  But in many ways it was a structural outline both for her and for me. May it prove useful to someone wrestling with this dilemma. Those familiar with Fitcher's Brides may find the differences interesting, too...which points to the fact that, no matter how detailed the outline, in the writing of it things change.

gf out

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
awelkin
Mar. 18th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC)
I have a hard time writing synopses too, and I'm glad that editors don't seem to mind when things stray. I'd be a goner, otherwise.

So far, the only book I've sold has been on synopsis. :)

Catherine
frostokovich
Mar. 18th, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC)
Going astray
Catherine,
I can't imagine NOT going astray. On the other hand I'm not the kind of writer who has written a hundred pages of very detailed outline, checking the links, making sure everything is set in stone and solid. I'm the kind who writes an outline, then starts writing the book, and then somewhere maybe a third of the way in, has to go back and write a new outline because the original one is no longer remotely valid. Things have happened. Characters I didn't know about have turned up. A complication I didn't foresee has turned up. If I had to the outline much less the synopsis, I would be doomed.

greg
frostokovich
Mar. 18th, 2008 01:28 pm (UTC)
Plot Synopsis project
I should mention here that this post is part of the SFNovelists' Plot Synopsis Project. The opinions here are solely mine, and you can take a look at a dozen more on their related sites, listed below:


Plot Synopsis Project participant links:


Irene Radford, P.R. Frost (ramblin_phyl) http://ramblin_phyl.livejournal.com

Patricia Bray (pbray ): http://www.sff.net/people/patriciabray/synopsis.html


Chaz Brenchley (desperance ): http://desperance.livejournal.com


Mike Brotherton: http://www.mikebrotherton.com


Tobias Buckell: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2008/02/01/ask-me-a-question-was-crystal-rain-sold-as-part-of-a-series/


S.C. Butler (scbutler ): http://scbutler.livejournal.com


Barbara Campbell: www.barbara-campbell.com/inside.htm


David B. Coe (davidbcoe ): http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com


Jennifer Dunne (jennifer_dunne ): http://jennifer_dunne.livejournal.com


S.L. Farrell (sleigh ): http://sleigh.livejournal.com


Diana Francis (difrancis ): http://difrancis.livejournal.com


Felix Gilman: http://www.felixgilman.com/wordpress/


Jim C. Hines (jimhines ): http://jimhines.livejournal.com


Jackie Kessler (jackiekessler ): http://www.jackiekessler.com/blog


Mindy Klasky (mindyklasky ): http://mindyklasky.livejournal.com


Misty Massey (madkestrel ): http://madkestrel.livejournal.com


C.E. Murphy (mizkit ): http://mizkit.livejournal.com


Naomi Novik(naominovik ): http://naominovik.livejournal.com



Joshua Palmatier (jpsorrow ): http://jpsorrow.livejournal.com


Maria V. Snyder: http://blog.myspace.com/mariavsnyder


Jennifer Stevenson (smokingpigeon ): http://smokingpigeon.livejournal.com


Michelle West (msagara ): http://msagara.livejournal.com


Sean Williams (ladnews ): http://ladnews.livejournal.com
hutch0
Mar. 18th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that. I've never actually seen another writer's synopsis. I tend to make mine so detailed I wind up writing the book instead. Or going, `You know, it's boy meets girl, girl meets alien, that kind of thing. Now stop pestering me.'
Very interesting. I'll have to score a copy of Fitcher's Brides and see what changed.
frostokovich
Mar. 24th, 2008 10:10 pm (UTC)
Synopses
That "writing the whole book" scenario's not that uncommon or odd. Stephen Dobyns, Frederick Forsythe, and a host of other writers say they write 100-200 pages of structural outline before they write the actual book, and while Forsythe's stuff might feel like it, Dobyns' books come off as organic and not structured that way at all. So like everything else, if that's the way you do it and it works, then you're doing it correctly, I think.
gf
crazyeurope_lux
Mar. 2nd, 2011 05:04 am (UTC)
Кстати, frostokovich, скоро выйдет фильм Форсаж 5, советую посмотреть.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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