Guest – Karen Frisch – The Dreaded Synopsis: Last Things First


We’ve got a wonderful guest blogger today. Please welcome Karen Frisch.


Many writers say they dread writing a book synopsis so much they’d rather write the entire book. Once we find a technique that works we make it a habit, like being a plotter rather than a pantser. Sometimes I’m even a plodder, studying each tree rather than looking at the forest, struggling to find the right words before completing a scene.

I generally assume it will be easier to write a synopsis once the story is finished. All the answers should be there. All I have to do is come up with two synopses, a long and a short.

But since when do our stories cooperate to make our job easy? As I was writing the synopsis for one novel I found challenging in spots, the description of the story seemed awkward. When I read it from the perspective of an editor who would be judging the story by the synopsis, I found flaws in the development of the plot. I had outlined the story first but waited before writing the synopsis.

That’s when I decided there’s something in the process of explaining things in brief that makes the synopsis worth having during the writing process. It emphasizes errors in logic that aren’t always noticeable when you’re writing the story.

It’s the chicken and the egg question. So which comes first?

Multipublished in numerous genres, author Jo Ann Ferguson uses a chart to keep track of events chapter by chapter. For mysteries it allows her to monitor suspects until they are either ruled out or revisited. For my latest mystery I’ve adapted Jo Ann’s chart to reflect various aspects of the protagonist’s life. I haven’t completed the full synopsis in advance as Jo Ann does. (We’ve already established that old habits die hard.) But having some idea of what comes next allows me to maintain a balance between my main character’s professional and personal life, making her more human. With the chart to keep me on track, I expect to reach my destination with fewer major changes once I’ve finished the story. It’s a road map that shows the way not only to the end but helps to create the synopsis painlessly at the same time.

When I’m in plodding mode and need external stimulus to move the story along, even a partially written synopsis is helpful. If I can’t proceed because the pacing has changed, the suspense doesn’t seem sufficient, I need to raise the stakes, or I’ve veered off track, the synopsis frequently offers a solution and silences nagging doubts. It might seem like putting the cart before the horse, but it saves time and aggravation in the long run.

While I’d love to modify my habits, writing is difficult enough without changing what already works. But I’m willing to experiment. Since I’m used to writing the synopsis afterward, I try now to develop the story and synopsis simultaneously. Even if one springs ahead of the other, by the time I’ve finished the novel the synopsis is also close to being done. Either way, I’ve saved myself some grief while staying a step ahead—and I feel much less dread about the synopsis.

Karen Frisch is the author of Lady Delphinia’s Deception, published by ImaJinn Books in March 2011, and Murder Most Civil, published by Mainly Murder Press in 2010. Both are available through the publisher or at Amazon.

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