Synopsis, the Value of.

The perfect synopsis, I am told, is a one-page summary that captures the struggles of the key characters, the critical actions of the plot and the overall spirit and wonder of the story.

And that’s about as easy to do as to write good, meaningful, short poetry. Take, for instance, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

And so on for a grand total of four stanzas. That’s short and sweet.

It’s also written by Robert Frost. I’m no Robert Frost.

Another synopsis, one that I have found incredibly useful, is the fuller chapter by chapter description of the key actions in the plot.

Synopsis

The Mark of the Spider synopsis, page 1

In wrapping up the ending of my novel, The Mark of the Spider: A Black Orchid Mystery, I have consulted my synopsis a dozen times or more to remind myself of precise details.

  • Was it Bozeman or Billings they hid out?
  • Was their hideout on the local road to Sacagawea Peak or Sacajawea Peak?
  • Did the would-be rescuers rush up Old Canyon Road or Bridger Canyon Road?
  • Was the ambush triggered by cell phone or laptop? (Answers below.)

More than fifty chapters (and several years) into the story, I forgot, but I needed to get things right.

My writers group reviews submissions of two or three chapters from two members once a month. That means I can’t have them review every chapter. And my chances to submit material come up months apart. No one can remember the story lines of a dozen contributors.

So the chapter by chapter synopsis serves as a reminder of what came before. Last month, the group critiqued chapters 40-42; this month, they consented to review the final four chapters (57-57). The synopsis, six singled-spaced pages by then, really proved useful for everyone.

Even writing such a long synopsis — long being easier to write than short — it takes a lot of work to wring only the critical details of each chapter out of 1,200 to 2,000 words.

But, like the continuity file, it saves time over time. If the story doesn’t flow in the synopsis, it’s probably not working in the full manuscript either.

And that’s one more value of a synopsis.

Answers:

  1. Bozeman
  2. Sacagawea Peak.
  3. Bridger Canyon Road
  4. Come on. Buy the book when it comes out. I’m not giving everything away, although I will post a chapter or two in the coming months.
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