Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stuffing an Elephant into a Bird Cage or How to Cram an Entire Novel into a Synopsis and Not Go Crazy

A few weeks ago I chatted with my agent on the phone for nearly an hour. It was a good talk. She had attended the big book fairs during the spring and it was good to finally catch up with her. I was thrilled to find out she is currently reading The Tale of the Vampire Bride. We discussed the book and its sequel at length. She feels strongly that this is my next book that we should pitch and I agree. I especially enjoyed it when she laid out what she felt were the strong points of the character, plot and the narrative. It validated what I already felt about this particular book.

"Is there a second book?" she asked.

I told her there was a second and possibly up to three more after that.

Then she said the words I feared, "Send me a synopsis for the second book."


"Okay," I said, my mind whirling. "Uh...but I don't know how it ends."

"Write what you know," she answered.


Happily, the next day I had a "Matrix" moment and it was as if my entire novel was downloaded into my brain in a second. I suddenly had all of it, beginning to end. But I still had no idea how to shove that entire story into a synopsis.

I put off the synopsis for nearly a week as I cruised the Internet for advice on how to write one. I have failed utterly in writing a synopsis before. I just couldn't imagine successfully writing one this time. In fact, this task seemed more daunting than even writing a book. It felt like I had been asked to stuff an elephant into a small birdcage. How the heck was I going to compress an entire book into ten pages or less?

Finally, I hit on the blog of Karen Harbaugh. Part of the way down the page (as you scroll) is a section called "Karen Harbaugh's Index Card Method of Writing Synopses." Reading over the post, it utterly made sense to me. I broke out my hot pink index cards and a purple sharpie and started scribbling.

After two days of furious typing, I had my synopsis. I didn't even fill the cards out all the way before I knew exactly what I wanted to write. I sent it off to my test readers, tweaked some things per their suggestion (adding time frame, explaining a plot point a bit better) and sent it off my agent.

What did I hear back? She liked it! She thought it had some really great stuff in it. Yay!!

So now I'm working on the next synopsis I owe her. I'm using the exact same method, but also utilizing yWriter as well this time. I'm writing a summary for each chapter in yWriter in the chapter tab. When I'm done, I'll just export the synopsis using these chapter summaries (I love yWriter) and revise from there.

Have I conquered the Synopsis Monster? Not yet, but I have a better handle on what I'm doing now.

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