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This Writing Life: Writing the Synopsis Alongside the Book

21 July, 2010

I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on a novel for which I’ve started writing a synopsis. Now, the novel stands at about 15k words out of a projected 100k or so, so this isn’t a synopsis to sell a completed book. Instead, I’ve written it as a means to help me understand the structure of the novel – where it’s already been and where the rest of those 85k words are going to go.

I started off by, quite simply, summarising the parts of the novel that I’ve already written. This came to about a page and a half of loosely written but fairly detailed plot details, reminding me of what I’ve already included and how each of the individual plot strands starts off. From there, I’ve simply added a series of bullet points as to how the plot will progress, in order, each one following on from the last. The number of bullet points written so far will probably take me up to 30-40k in the actual novel, and as I write it, I’ll go through and turn those short phrases into detailed paragraphs, properly reflecting the novel and not just what I planned. I’ll also keep adding to the bullet points, as I work out the next piece of story.

This is, in reality, an extension of how I usually write a novel: starting off with a beginning, an ending (in this case a major action set-piece that ultimately solves the main problem in the book) and a handful of ideas for what I want in the middle. In this case, I started with about twelve points, in a list, some of them relating to the main plot and some to sideplots. Some are as simple as ‘character X’s backstory’, or ‘Y arriving in the city’, whilst others are more detailed.

Effectively what I’ve done is take the points that I want to incorporate into the story early on and turned them into the bullet points at the end of my synopsis, putting them into the order they’ll appear as scenes. So, ‘Y arriving in the city’ might have been extended to become ‘Y arrives in the city, penniless and with pirates chasing her. She seeks out an old friend, Z, who offers to hide her’. This isn’t actually one of my points, but you get the idea.

My hope for this synopsis is that it’ll help me both plan out where the story is going and so help me keep writing at a decent pace, and be a simple reference for what I’ve already written. Finally, summarising both already written plot points and ones I’ve yet to write will help me understand them both – and the novel as a whole – better.


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