Saturday, January 14, 2012

Synopsis and Outline: don't leave home without them.

Since my personal work has slowed down quite a bit, website is redesigned, new blog layout, etc, I'd like to share a few writing lessons I learned while working on my latest book. To see current and planned projects, visit the Brain.

The first lesson, the meaning of a synopsis and an outline. Like a lot of writers, I also believed I didn't need a synopsis or an outline. I can just sit down and write a whole book, outlines are for sissies! And then I learned...

I began thinking of it this way, a synopsis and outlines are like filing cabinets. The point of both is to create tools that allow me to organize ideas and write a completed book.

The idea for a potential story comes first, then a 1 paragraph synopsis, then a 1 -2 page outline. It's more than the creative process. It's the process of making ideas into something tangible, something real, and more than just a thought jostling around in my head.

Lesson learned: Outlines are not ideas. They're just a way to organize ideas.

To be brutally honest, I know that there's no way in living hell I would have completed a whole thriller novel without writing an outline first. I strongly suspect this is where aspiring writers fail to finish their project and give the wrong impression of themselves. I know I did that, I'm writing a book! Well, no, it's not finished... I can't tell you what it's about and... um... yeah.

Seriously, write an outline. It will save you so much grief.

Here's another winning point. Having an outline first, allowed me to have much more fun writing the book. It may seem like a contradiction, but it's true. Being organized meant having more fun than just making up BS and hoping (foolishly) that it all makes sense in the end.

I'll put it another way. I've tried to write a total of 4 novels. The one that worked and completed, is the only one where I wrote a full outline first. That's proof enough for me.

Now, about the synopsis. That did take me a bit longer to learn than outline writing. A synopsis should be about 3 sentences, 5 max, and summarizes the whole story. You say, impossible! Yeah, I thought that, too. A whole book, before it's written, in 3 measly sentences?!

Here's why the synopsis should be written first. Once a manuscript is complete, even as only the first draft, it's very difficult for any author to be objective because they see all the connections and can't separate. Every author who truly cares about their work will lovingly craft every single word. And that's the part agents/publishers DON'T want to know, and frankly, neither do the readers. All anyone wants to know is, is it a good story? Does it make sense? Why should I read?

See? The answers are a total of three sentences.

I've read and studied a lot of articles about synopsis writing, and a lot of them were both useless and confusing. It's actually very simple.

Sentence 1 - Introduce main character, setting and purpose.

Sentence 2 - Present the conflict in the story. No conflict? No story.

Sentence 3 - How the conflict is resolved.

Sentence 3 took me the longest to understand. It's not the ending of a story, it's not the resolution, it's how the conflict is resolved. I didn't have to give anything away, just present a choice the character makes, if they choose one or the other, there will be resolution. That's all.

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