Tackling the Not-So-Dreaded Synopsis

It happened quite by accident. I’m not the genius Angela Hunt, award winning author and speaker, proclaimed me to be, two years ago at a writer’s conference. Okay, so maybe I can figure out how to un-jam the paper towel dispenser when there’s a line of women with dripping hands. But that’s not what this post is about.

Where was I? Oh yes, Mount Herman Christian Writer’s conference. Not actually there yet—preparing for it. I polished my first three chapters. Wrote an engaging query letter to the two editors I most wanted to meet. Filled out the paperwork for my application. Then stared at a blank Word document for nearly an hour—paralyzed by the task of cramming my 100,000-word masterpiece into two pages of single-spaced summation.

If you’re planning to attend a writer’s conference this year, you may be there now, as the deadline for submission races toward you. Are beads of sweat forming on your upper lip as they did on mine?

I started my first awkward sentence. Passive of course. “HANNAH GRIFFIN is . . . ” Backspace. Backspace. Backspace.

I glared at the flashing cursor, feeling that I now understood how it got its name.

It winked back in a familiar way. Like it had a secret and if only I thought hard enough—

That’s when I remembered my first submission to an Inspire critique group. I’d already been critiquing with another group, and didn’t want to start from the beginning. I attached my juicy chapter seven to an email, addressed it to a list of strangers, and stared at that same cursor.

How could I just press send? Without knowing what had already transpired, the story might not make sense to these critiquers. They couldn’t love my characters if they didn’t know my characters. As a remedy, I pounded out a quick here’s-what-you-missed. I wrote fast and like most beginning writers I told rather than showed what had happened in the first six chapters.

My eyes focused back in on that blank page and I swear the cursor grinned at me. I opened up that old email.

Before HANNAH GRIFFIN can begin grieving the loss of her twin brother, ANDY, at the Battle of Lexington, her father, JAMES, gives her an urgent charge…

Ctrl-C. Ctrl-V. The first quarter of my synopsis—done!

With new inspiration, I tackled the second quarter, pretending someone new had joined my critique group and needed to be caught up before reading a submission to my next exciting chapter. Section by section I wrote, explaining to an imaginary peer what they needed to know as they joined my “already in progress novel.” In less time than expected, I had a synopsis that earned good reviews from the agents and editors who reviewed it.

Take heart, if you find yourself fact to face with that mocking cursor. Try a little role-play. Find that first gateway chapter, the one that propels your heroine headlong into the story, then tell your imaginary friend only what she needs to know for that scene to make sense. Try it. It’s genius.

Take a few moments to post the opening sentence to your synopsis. I’d love to hear your genius!

About Julie Williams 1 Article
Julie works as a freelance writer and editor. She serves as art director and typographer for Inspire Press. She writes historical fiction, dabbles in allegory, and is trying her hand at fairy tale. On most Fridays, you can find her at Disneyland.