For years, I thought you wrote the synopsis after your book was written. It’s then that you want to start submitting to agents/editors/publishers. So you sit down and struggle to tell your 300-page novel in five pages or less.
For me, the word struggle doesn’t begin to cover it. What do you include and what do you leave out? Is the sub-plot important? What about the secondary characters? It almost takes me longer to come up with a synopsis than it did to write the story.
And then there’s the logline, which is another subject. To be honest, I wrote and published several books before I knew what a tagline or logline were. In case you are wondering, here is one definition: A “tagline” is a short, clever sentence or phrase somewhere on the book’s cover that should pique a potential reader’s interest enough to flip the book over and read the blurb (a one or two paragraph description of the books’ contents). For example, the tagline for A Question of Time is “In time, there are infinite places to hide a king.” A “logline” is a two-sentence plot summary. Readers don’t see loglines; your write them for agents or publishers to give them a quick idea of what your book is about. So they need to be carefully constructed, too.
So many ways to condense your book!
But now I have learned you should write your summary first. And before you do that, you should sit down and write an outline. As a pantser, or one who starts writing with only a vague notion of the book’s plot, this was a revelation.
Oops, doesn’t that make me a plotter?
Maybe not. It doesn’t mean I have to fill three binders with notes or put sticky notes all over the wall behind my computer, or create a story board with pictures and descriptions. It’s more like a road map. We all download directions from MapQuest or type in our destination in the GPS before starting a trip. It doesn’t mean you can’t take a side road or detour if you are so inclined. (If you use a GPS, you will be reminded constantly how to get back on the main road.)
In the article, “Plotting Boot Camp” by Amanda Renee (Romance Writers Report, May 2016) the author outlines the steps you need to take to arrange goal, motivation, and conflict in your story. Renee states that she takes her cues from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat when she creates her “beat sheet.”
You can find numerous references to beat sheets, but simply put, there are specific places in your story where certain things must happen. Must is the keyword, because to miss one beat is to have things begin to fall apart.
I decided I would try this method, mainly because it works so well for others. I’m already almost 6,000 words into the story, so I may have to backtrack a little. It’s worth it if I reach the end and everything fits, there’s a happy ever after, and no loose threads or plot holes.
So by looking at the synopsis as a kind of literary GPS, I can take up my story and go forward, hopefully on the right road. And, I may just take a side road or two to see what it’s like.
Because at heart, I’m a pantser.