Write a synopsis before you write the novel
I almost titled this post The Importance of Plotting, but really it is simpler than that. And I don’t want to turn off pantsers! 😉
I mentioned on my Facebook page last week that I’d finished the first read through of After the War, book 1 of my dystopian series Friends of my Enemy. This is the first stage of my editing process and I was pleased to really like large portions of the writing. I actually pantsed quite a bit of it and found plot lines I needed to develop or add in clues earlier in the novel. Nothing too difficult. But before I jumped into that, I realized something else.
I didn’t know what it was about.
Seriously. Reading it, I like the characters. There is more of a romance element in it than I expected. But it isn’t a romance and that shouldn’t be the central theme. So what is? In one sentence, what is the synopsis? I couldn’t answer that.
I think the reason my mind stuck on this question was because of two things. One, I had just outlined the plot for book 2, Battle for Europe. It had gelled in my mind so well that I actually wrote paragraphs for each chapter of the novel, and I was only in the first quarter writing wise at the time. I know the crises, as well as the aftermath that alters everything. But I couldn’t say the same for book 1. Without knowing what book 1 was about, I couldn’t even tell you for sure what its crises was. There were many potential crisis I could develop, but which was the crux?
And the other reason is I am working on the synopsis of Stories from the War, a collection of short stories that occur before After the War. If you hate writing synopsis, you must check out this post from Michael Wells. With five easy steps, you can create a 20 word synopsis. Simple as identifying the hero, the situation, the goal, the villain, and the disaster. After that, embellish to create something riveting. Or simply use those 20 words to guide the creation of your novel.
To me, that is becoming the key: a clear theme to the novel. I’ve gone from being a pantser to a plotter, to something in between that varies by book and week. But right now, I can tell you the short synopsis to everything I’m writing. Which means I know what the crises will be and I can put in that tension before reaching it. Even if other plot lines develop and I need to tweak the beginning, the foundation will be solid.
But I didn’t have that with After the War. Mostly because it was a re-write of a former novel and I thought I was simply cleaning up a prior novel… until it grew into something more at the end of book 1 (and spawned two more books!). And partially it was directionless because I didn’t think about how powerful it was to know the purpose of the novel, especially when outlining a trilogy. Knowing what book 1 accomplishes, then book 2, and how book 3 builds and wraps up the story arc is a great feeling. That hadn’t been on my radar before. I’m still a new writer and learning (thinking often about the tips my previous writing courses never outlined or mentioned. Someday I’ll make a writing course of my own…). I don’t like to waste time when I have so little to spend on writing. Now I have a tip to keep things moving!
So where does this leave After the War, besides in need of more work than that first read through suggested? Well, as this things happen, knowing what book 2 was about, I managed to figure out what book 1 is about. It is about the Lady Grey. She is part of a duo that saved Europe during the war. But her position is tenuous and there are some who don’t think she is needed any more. So how do you get rid of a war hero? Well, it helps if they aren’t considered a hero anymore…
Now I know the plot and am working on bringing it to the forefront. The edits, and the story, make a lot more sense for both the book and the trilogy. This is the technique I plan to use when writing from now on. The synopsis is not the last thing to be written. It should be the first, especially for a series. Whether I pants from there or plot every chapter, at least I have a direction. Hopefully I won’t ever finish a first draft read through and find myself thinking again “Nice story, but where was this story heading?”