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Redeeming the Synopsis

I know you hate it, but consider writing a synopsis of your novel. Not to accompany a submission to an agent—usually the only reason any of us take on this mind-stupefying task. Do it to see the holes in your manuscript.

Like many, I have long hated the idea that in order to gain agency representation, the writer had to reduce her 80,000 word manuscript to one single-typed page. Where goes the art? What about the lost intricacies of plot? So true, so true. But, over time, I have come to realize that being forced to give a “big picture” view of my novel helps me see, quite logically, what should be there but often is not.

A difference of opinion exists on what exactly a synopsis is (doesn’t it always?), but helpful to me have been the recent articles I’ve read which don’t focus on synopsis as condensed plot. Rather, they encourage a synopsis to focus on the main characters’ motivations, goals, and conflicts. Once I began to write such a synopsis, I immediately saw where the plot was zigging when it should have-if I had truly been following the needs of my main characters—zagged.

For example, in The Bone Trench, I added a major scene where the Mother Mary character is forced to relive her experience at the foot of the cross so she can face her fear that, unless she does a better job as a mother, God will again let her son die. Since this desire to be given a chance to keep her son from harm is the major motivator of this character, for this scene not to have been previously included is almost an unbelievable oversight. But it wasn’t in there until I wrote the dreaded synopsis.

As a bonus, when the time comes to actually submit the synopsis to an agent, the current one is SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING. Rather than a staccato “this happened, then this happened, then this happened,” this approach makes me actually want to read the synopsis. I find myself thinking, wonder what happens next?

One way to start this undertaking is to re-envision the synopsis. The synopsis no longer is something you MUST do. It’s a great tool you have at your disposal.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

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