Early Synopses for Better Writing

Adapted from photo courtesy of Zeta under creative commons license.

.Early Synopses for Better Writing

Most of the time when the subject of synopses comes up, it’s the marketing synopsis that is meant. This is the synopsis you prepare after your book is written. Boiling your book down to five to ten pages is a task many writers dread. With the right preparation, it doesn’t need to be such a tough assignment. One of the ways to get ready for the marketing synopsis is with a preparatory synopsis.

Synopses can be great tools early in the writing process. You don’t write your book from scratch do you? You at least need an outline so you have some idea whether there’s enough material for a book.

Preparing both an outline and synopsis before writing your book can be a good way to make sure you actually have a book’s worth of material. If you’re a really prolific writer that may not be a concern. That’s not most of us. If you want to be successful at writing you need to treat it like a business. In the business world, projects go through feasability analysis before they are approved.

Even if you’re not making money from your writing yet, you can still profit from treating it as a business. By preparing outlines and synopses of projects before you begin them, you can determine which projects don’t have enough material to make a book. That can be your cue to write a series of articles or short stories instead. Short stories about a character or imaginary world are a great way to build up story material for a future book. For nonfiction, article writing builds your knowledge of a topic until you know enough to fill a book. It’s not all bad if you find out your great book idea doesn’t quite cut it.

Shorter writing assignments are one of the best ways to get started in writing. There are more ways to get short articles and stories published than full books. As your talent improves with practice, it’s easier to forget about short pieces you’re not proud of. When you write a book a year, you want credit for every one. When you write 300 articles a year, you can pick and choose which you promote.

There is some similarity between short pieces of writing and synopses. They are both in the same general word count range. Both tell the whole story in a few paragraphs or pages. Both are poor money makers on their own but can do a lot to promote you as an author.

.Learning to Enjoy Synopses

I should confess I don’t like writing synopses much myself. It wouldn’t hurt to set up a project that involves nothing more than writing a pile of synopses. The psychological effect of doing something we don’t enjoy is that we see ourselves doing the thing and our brain tells us we must enjoy doing it. Because we keep getting this perception we come to enjoy an activity more and more with repetition.

.Where Does this Preparatory Synopsis Come From?

If you like to jump straight into writing a synopsis for your book, more power to you. Most of us need to ease our way up to that level. How do we do that? We use a step by step process.

Idea Generators

First, we keep a file of Idea Generators. Idea Generators are writing prompts, past writing, and writing exercises. You can find seemingly endless collections of writing prompts using a search engine. Your past writing efforts often suggest future topics, especially journals. Writing exercises can also generate lots of ideas. As we get ideas for stories, we add it to our One Line Story Ideas file. A One Line Story Idea is also known as a theme. Since pre-book story ideas are rather crude, I don’t call them themes. That term is better reserved for the one or two sentence description that gets written after the book is done.

One Line Story Ideas

The One Line Story Ideas file is for any little idea that comes to mind, not just ideas inspired by the Idea Generator. If you see other article or book possibilities that don’t fit with what you’re writing, you add it here if it’s a one liner. These One Liners are used as jumping off points for plots.


Plots are writing ideas expanded to a paragraph or two. Any ideas you have that are more than one or two lines are added here. Plots can be as much as two pages long, but one page is ideal. Plots lead to synopses.

Bullet Outlines

Some writer’s like to add an intermediate step here – the bullet outline. A bullet outline is a point by point step through the piece of writing. You can quickly turn a plot into a bullet outline by giving each sentence it’s own paragraph and expanding on that. Bullet outlines are basically chapter titles and section headings with a few details added.

.Writing the Outline

Review your plots and bullet outlines. Pick one that looks like it has book potential. Copy it into an outline file and begin the expansion.

Turn each sentence into it’s own one paragraph description. Expand on each idea from the source document. Look for additional points, complications that will arise, and outside influences. Also develop the human interest side of the work. If it’s nonfiction, that means develop anecdotes related to the subject.

Are you finding there’s lots of material to work with or does it seem like you’re writing the whole story?

The richness of the story as you write a multi page outline will tell you whether you have a potential book or not. You may discover that you’ve written the outline for a short story or series of articles.

The outline can be as long as you would like. It’s yours and no one else will see it. I prefer developing it to about 10% of the total length of the work I’m planning to write. This is a good way to make sure you’re going to have enough material.

You don’t need to get it on the first pass. Like any writing, taking a break from your work to give it some thought is beneficial. Work on another writing project for a while and come back to the outline again and again until you find that you finally have it all done at a good length.

.Writing the Preparatory Synopsis

A synopsis is a narrative description of your book. The preparatory synopsis is a narrative description of your outline. It doesn’t need every detail and should be about one tenth the length.

You already have a file that’s one tenth the length of your future manuscript; your bullet outline. Write a version of that as a narrative, with no headings, and you have a preparatory synopsis. Wise writers will make sure the bullet outline still matches the outline before doing this.

For a better quality preparatory synopsis, read through your outline several times until you have the whole story in your head. Then, write the preparatory synopsis without looking. When you’re done, compare it to the full outline and make any fixes.

When you write a synopsis before even beginning your book, you take away much of the difficulty of writing a synopsis to submit to publishers later. You already have several short versions of your book to work with when you learn a publisher’s requirements for a synopsis to accompany your query letter.

Easy, no?

Article by Ivan Izo.


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