Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Feedback? For A Synopsis? Are You Crazy, Jake?

Synopsis Series: Part 11

Finding Weaknesses In Your Synopsis

Just like any first draft, your synopsis is not going to come out perfect. Unlike a novel, its not going to take re-writes and multiple drafts (hopefully!), however it will need some tweaking, particularly the first time you attempt a synopsis like this.

The first thing to do is to read through and look for weaknesses. Ask yourself the following questions:

- What haven’t I researched? What have I assumed?
These will be either factual or societal, and you might not realize they are a problem, because you might be clinging to ‘common knowledge’ or stereotypes that are just plain incorrect.

- Where have I not filled in the details I should?
Despite my best efforts, when I finish a synopsis I usually go back and find places I have written stuff like: “He solves the problem.” Without outlining how he solves the problem. Sometimes without even outlining what the problem is.

- What scenes are unnecessary or no longer fit?
Sometimes, by the end of the book, stuff has become redundant, or we realise we need to let go of a scene that serves no real purpose. Do that now.

- What scenes have we left out?
Sometimes as you read through at this stage, you will realize there is information readers need, or character growth that needs to happen, which is not in the synopsis. You may need to add a new scene in.

Strengthening Your Synopsis

However more important than finding weaknesses is strengthening what is already there. To take your novel from ‘good’ to ‘great’, you need to go through, plot point by plot point, and make every element stronger and more emotional. Raise all the stakes and find ways to make them more personal and heart-wrenching.

Your plot may already be good, but you can probably find a bunch of ways to make it even better. EG: maybe your plot is about the pilot of a plane who was crashes in the wilderness and has to make her way back to civilization. Its a story of woman against nature.

But what if the plain was carrying medical supplies to a remote outpost where half a dozen children are dying of bronchitis? What if the medicine survived the crash and she has to take this bulky kit with her, as she tries to survive the hostile wilderness? The stakes go from her life, to the lives of half a dozen children.

What if one of the children is her daughter? What if she promised to be home for her birthday, which is only two days away? What if she is curled up in a dug out, with wolves circling in the darkness, losing her toes and fingers to frostbite on her daughter’s birthday, imagining her dying daughter getting word that the plane went down, that her mother is not coming?

See how the stakes can always get higher? More heart-breaking? More emotionally intense?

Everywhere you have narrative traction, stakes, motivation, goals, barriers, etc, find ways to make them more. Make them bigger. But don’t make them random. They all have to fit together cohesively into the plot and be personal to the characters and make sense.

Getting Feedback On Your Synopsis

Really Jake? Feedback on a synopsis? Yes. I want you to get feedback on your synopsis. However this is the time you really need and experienced hand to give you feedback. Someone who knows about the publishing industry, someone who knows a lot about narrative structure and style. (If you ever get really stuck for synopsis feedback, email me and we can negotiate an editing fee.)

You want your beta readers looking for weaknesses. You want them looking for problems. And you want them looking for anywhere they don’t understand what is happening, or WHY it is happening. Because all of that SHOULD be in your synopsis. Unfortunately, it won’t be. Even with detailed synopsises, there is still often a lot of stuff we leave in our heads and assume is implied by the synopsis.

But guess what? If you do that in the synopsis, you’ll do it when you write the novel too. So suck it up, clarify all the things your beta reader I unclear on, and give it to them again to ask if you have fixed all their concerns.

If you have any minorities or even just people from a gender or culture you are not a part of, you should also give it to several of people who are in that group, for a sensitivity read. I like to think I am pretty aware of social issues and sexist tropes, but even I get caught out. Sometimes its really dumb stuff, where I should have seen it and known better. (EG: in a recent novel, all my healers were women.)

Don’t be defensive if you get caught out or called on this stuff. Just say: “Shit, how did I miss that?” and FIX IT.

Finally, It Is Ready

Its done. I bet you were starting to think I was never going to say that. However I promise you writing a novel with this technique will be the quickest first draft you have ever written. And it will probably be the best book you have ever written too!

And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.

1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire
7. The Skeleton Of A Novel
8. The Meat & Flesh of Your Novel
9. The Fur and Feathers of your Novel
10. Planning Scenes That Make Writing A Breeze
11. Feedback? For A Synopsis? Are You Crazy, Jake?

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