Posted by: Kerry Gans | August 21, 2018

3 Story Uses for a Synopsis

Many writers hate writing a synopsis. It’s hard, distilling an entire book down to a page or three. Many people who write novels, such as myself, are not blessed with the gift of brevity. So trying to get the plot, characters, and emotion of the story down to its essence, and then write it in such a way that the reader feels it, is an epic undertaking.

We all know that the synopsis is a marketing tool. That’s its main purpose (and also, I suspect, why we writers have such trouble with it). But there are other uses for the synopsis—story uses. As counter-intuitive as it seems, painting smaller can help us see the larger canvas. A synopsis can show us problems with:

Plot Holes

Plot holes can get lost in 80,000 words, but in a synopsis, they can jump out. By realizing there is no connective tissue between two plot points, you can save yourself a lot of revision later. Also, it helps you check on the internal logic of the story. If your plot sounds like this : “And then…and then…and then…”, make sure it works if you substitute “because…because…because…” Each point should be grow out of a plot point before it, creating a strong cause-and-effect latticework for your story.

Lost Subplots

Sometimes we have subplots we laid at the beginning of the book that we kind of forget about as the main plot gets going. Although a synopsis usually doesn’t include subplots, one done for story purposes can, and seeing a subplot vanish will force you to revisit it and see if it’s needed. Alternately, if you find that your story sprouted some subplots midway, you can then go back and lay the groundwork for them earlier in the story.

Character Arcs

Condensing the story is a great way to see if your character is growing the way you want them to. Do they end up where you wanted them to, and does the story logically lead them there? Look at the language of your synopsis. Is it passive? That may mean your character is not driving the plot, but being driven by it. For example, in my last synopsis, my character “let” and “allowed” things to happen to her. That passive language showed that she was not making decisions or perhaps she didn’t have clear enough goals in those areas.

So instead of waiting until the book is done and polished, maybe we should write the synopsis after the first or second complete draft. A condensed version of the story (which is for our eyes only), can highlight some large-scale story issues for us at a point in our process when it is not as hard to fix them. And (bonus!) we then have a rough draft synopsis to work with later, when the story is more polished.

Can you think of other story problems synopses can reveal? Do you ever use them this way?


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