Monday, May 10, 2010


blog70 I’m not an outliner.

And I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had to write a synopsis for a couple of years.

But suddenly I’ve been requested to write a full synopsis and 3 chapters for a possible new series.

A synopsis…of material I haven’t actually written? Sounds very like an outline to me….only it won’t lay out the story chapter by chapter.

Seems like a good time to learn to write from an outline. :) In publishing it pays to adapt.

I’m thinking they’ll be looking for about three, double-spaced, single-sided pages. Since the book would be sold on the synopsis, before it’s written, though, they might want to see more. After I write the three pages, I’ll elaborate for a longer, more detailed synopsis, in case they want it.

Here’s my plan:

I’ll brainstorm my story the way I always do…with my first victim, then the suspects. I’ve already gotten my sleuth nailed down, so I think I’m good there. When I’ve gotten a handle on my victims and suspects, I think I’ll be ready to start writing the synopsis.

I’m going to take key points of the story as I brainstorm, and jot them down, working out the plot with my usual what-iffing. I’ll pretend I’m giving someone a long summary of the book instead of the usual elevator pitch I give folks who ask about it.

I have a feeling that as I’m dreaming the plot up, I’ll be getting subplot ideas and probably secondary character ideas. I’m going to put those in a Word file and not in my synopsis unless the subplots or minor characters tie into the main plot in a major way at the end (mine sometimes do.)

Minor character tie-ins aside, I’ll include only main characters. I’ll probably briefly describe the character-- something along the lines of “Ann asks JIM why he was near the crime scene. Jim, the victim’s emotionally-dependent only child, responded that…”

I’ll be dealing with suspects, so I’ll be explaining how they react during the investigation—if they’re evasive, misleading, etc. That’ll show, not tell what they’re like. When I name a main character for the first time in the synopsis, I’ll put it in all caps. Most minor characters will just be tagged in my synopsis-- the neighbor, friend, police officer, etc.

I don’t usually decide who did it until close to the end of the book. Clearly, I won’t be doing that this time. Instead, I’ll still have all my suspects have equal motive, means, and opportunity. I can decide at the end of the synopsis who did it, but when writing the story from the synopsis/outline, obviously I’ll write it knowing who the killer is from page one.

As always, synopses are 3rd person, present tense. It’ll tell the story in a conversational style, including the key plot points from the beginning of the book to the ending—and, yes, the ending will name whodunit and why-dunit.

With the genre I’m writing (cozy mystery), the setting is important, but not overblown descriptions of the setting. Instead, I’ll be giving a town name and a pithy description of the area. So, something like: “The story takes place in Bradley, North Carolina, a tiny town where neighbors keep a close eye on each other.”

I love dialogue.

There will be no dialogue in the synopsis.

I’ve got some ideas that I think will work. I’m going to just hunker down this week and work through them and figure out my plan for the book. This process is definitely a little different from my norm, but I like trying new things.

Have you ever crossed over and written via an outline when you haven’t before? Or vice-versa? How did it work out?