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    Writing Wednesdays: Synopses

    My latest question from the peanut gallery was about how I write synopses. Or at least, I think that’s what it was about: the entirety of the question, actually, was, “Synopsis?” :)

    I’ve talked about writing synopses before at least once, in depth, as part of the Great Plot Synopsis Project (warning: that contains the entirety of the (2 page) synopsis for URBAN SHAMAN, and is therefore spoilery). However, that was written in early 2008, and I have Changed My Process since then.

    Specifically, in fact, I’ve changed it in the past couple of years. Some time ago–maybe while writing MOUNTAIN ECHOES–I had an unusually good writing go, because I had an unusually solid idea of what I was doing. The same thing had happened with the Inheritors’ Cycle books, in fact, and I began to have a sneaking suspicion that having a thorough outline might be…*good for me*.

    But I used to think that thorough synopses would suck the joy out of writing the actual book. Where’s the mystery! and all that. And, I mean, I knew my process: I would write to roughly the 1/3rd mark and hit a wall. I’d go back and revise, and make my way up to the 2/3rds mark. I’d hit another wall, and revise. Then I’d finish the book, so by the time I reached “the end”, I usually had a pretty darn solid draft.

    Except on those three books, that one Walker Papers novel and the two Inheritors’ Cycle books, I really hadn’t hit those walls. I’d really kinda just blown through them, because I knew where I was going. So for four out of my five most recent books I’ve gotten more serious about the process, even though frankly, I hate synopsising.

    MAGIC & MANNERS didn’t have an *exhaustive* synopsis, not the level I’ll be talking about next. OTOH, I was following (in large part, anyway) the plot of one of the most successful books ever written in the English language, so, uh. I didn’t really need to break that down too much.

    But STONE’S THROE, BEWITCHING BENEDICT (an as-yet un-contracted-for straight-up Regency romance) and REDEEMER have all been synopsised within an inch of their lives. In all three cases I’ve relied heavily on my brainstorming group, and REDEEMER is going to be the most interesting test of this process, because it’s going to be, by a considerable margin, the longest of the three.

    STONE’S THROE and BENEDICT were both in the region of 70K and had synopses of around 3K; given that the synopses I’ve sold on and used as my jumping boards for the past decade were generally around 1500 words for 100K books, that’s quite a jump in detail.

    (The one book of the five most recent that I didn’t do a really thorough synopsis on was, incidentally, a miserable writing experience. It went through five painful drafts before I got to the end, and although it seems to work I’m still not strictly convinced it does. :[)

    So I’ll talk about REDEEMER now. :)

  • CEMurphy


    MAGIC & MANNERS is off to the editor. I’ve lined up a copy editor, the cover artist is working on the cover art (as she can; poor woman broke her arm!), and I’ve got a couple people I need to talk to about book layout. I also need…to think about what I’m doing with ISBNs, and I need to grit my teeth and delve into the Ingrams system, as I don’t see myself suddenly being flush enough with cash to hire someone to deal with that for me, much as I’d like to.

    I see that my prediction three weeks ago was that the next month is going to be full. of. revisions. MAGIC & MANNERS, a straight-up Regency, an Old Races short story, and my nephew’s book all need revision. Between revising I’m going to be writing the detailed synopsis for the second Regency and for REDEEMER, which I had hoped would be my March writing project but which is realistically going to be the April-May project.

    Well, I’ve done the REDEEMER synopsis and I’m really happy with it. I’ve decided I’m not dealing with the straight-up Regencies right now, neither revising the first nor synopsising the second, because there’s essentially no profit in it at this red-hot moment. If I’m smart–if I remember–I’ll revise that Old Races story tonight and send it off to its commissioner.

    I *do* intend to revise my nephew’s book, because it’s over a year late now and I haaaaaaate that, but if I’m really lucky it’ll only take 10 or 12 days and I may actually be able to start on…oh, no, I won’t. Not really.

    I was gonna say, maybe I can start on REDEEMER before EasterCon, but no. There’s 2 days off from school next week and 2 weeks off at Easter, so realistically it’s not gonna get started before the 13th. Not unless my nephew’s book actually only takes a handful of days to revise, instead of the more likely couple weeks.

    Well, that’s fine. Man plans, God laughs, all that. If the revision takes a couple weeks maybe I’ll go ahead and write the second Regency synopsis after all. :)

  • Writing

    We have synopsis!

    I *just* about finished up the REDEEMER synopsis last night. In fact, I called it done even though I knew there was more I could put in. I thought it was primarily emotional storyline stuff and probably wouldn’t make *that* much difference to the synopsis as a whole, but in a fit of Covering All Bases (I guess) this morning I decided to go ahead and put those bits in.

    Somewhat to my surprise, what happened with the addition of those 400 words was the whole thing suddenly came together in an unexpectedly cohesive manner. I’ve pulled all the plot threads together, and I think I’m actively happy with the shape it’s all turned out to be. There are a lot of seeds for future plot lines, assuming this does well enough to justify writing more in the Redeemer Wars, and I’m really looking forward to plunging into the actual writing.

    I’m really *interested* to see how the longer, more exhaustive synopsis pays off. I’ve spent about 15-20 hours on this and ended up with a Proper Synopsis of 7400 words. Last year I spent about 10-12 hours on a 3K synopsis for a 75K book; the entire project, including the synopsis, took about 70 hours to write. (It was, granted, a *particularly* frothy book.) So I’m very very curious to see how this goes, and will keep you posted. Because I know you’re as interested in the gritty details as I am… O.O :)

    In the meantime I’ve been talking with cover artist Lindsey Look about the cover, which has been LOTS of fun. It’s up on her docket in the relatively near future, so, well, frankly I’m basically already dying to do a cover reveal, and it’s not even in sketches yet! :)

    ytd wordcount: 93,200

  • Writing

    still synopsizing

    I’m still working on the REDEEMER synopsis. I’d been living in this magical-thinking place where I thought I could the half-worldbuilding-totally-SPLAAAH synopsis I was roughing as the Actual Synopsis, since I wasn’t going to have to send it to anybody.

    Turned out I can’t, even if it’s *not* going to anybody else. It was too chaotic and unstructured, so despite the fact that I’ve got thousands of words of worldbuilding & synopsis, I’ve now got…thousands of words of new synopsis. I did about 8K–actually, including the *original* synopsis, more like 9400 words–of worldbuilding/synopsising/brainstorming questions (and that doesn’t even count the responses to peoples’ thoughts on my brainstorming filter, which adds another several hundred words; call it 10K total, probably), and I’ve converted about 3K of that into solid, useable synopsis. :)

    I’m actually finding it rather interesting that I’m obliged to do this, er, Properly, even if it’s basically For My Eyes Only. It’s totally not fair, but it’s interesting. *laughs* (And another TooMUSH alumni who is working toward publication says her takeaway from this is that I’m teaching her she’d better not slack on learning skills like a good synopsis. :))

    I’m definitely gonna count all of this toward my YTD wordcount, though, because ye gods, this is a lot of prep!

  • CEMurphy

    two steps forward…

    I’ve been working on my detailed synopsis for REDEEMER this week. It’s going pretty well, actually: I’ve done about 5k–well, I’ve probably written 7 or 8K, including random thoughts about worldbuilding and stuff–and I’ve opened it up to my Brainstorming Filter, which–I’ve always brainstormed with Ted and my friend Trent, but previous to STONE’S THROE I’d never done *much* brainstorming outside of them. I needed help with STONE’S THROE and opened it up to a small group of friends and writers (don’t ask, I won’t put you on it), and had so much fun brainstorming I’ve been making it a more regular feature of my writing.

    This, combined with the detailed synopsis that comes out of it, is a great boon to the forward motion of a book. If I’ve done it right I’m not hitting any snags while writing, which means I’m far more likely to hit my max possible wordcount (around 2K) in an hour, which…well, helps, obviously. Maximises writing time, which is great, and makes the 10-15 hours spent wrangling the synopsis well worth it.

    So yeah. That’s going well. Two steps forward.

    One step back: my agent reports there’s sufficient editorial backlash against post apocalyptic dystopic young adult books that nobody wants to buy my own such book, which is…not surprising, but disappointing. I was hoping it was good enough (because it *is* good) to get past the fact that editors (if not readers & fans, because I haven’t noticed anybody stopping with THE HUNGER GAMES or DIVERGENT) are tired of it. Editors were tired of urban fantasy in 2003, too, when I sold URBAN SHAMAN; UF was On The Way Out in editorial opinion, but readers carried it along for another decade before starting to hit any kind of real fatigue. So that’s too bad, because I did like it a lot and would have liked to have told that story. Ah well.

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