If Walls Could Talk: Suffering Through Synopses

M.H. Norris

Most people know that, as a writer, I tend to be rather spontaneous. At the same time, I like to have a plan when I’m being spontaneous.

Sounds like I’m contradicting myself? Well, perhaps I am.

I’m working on an entry for a contest and, as part of the entry, I have to have a synopsis. This isn’t my first time dealing with synopses, in fact I’ve done several. But over time it doesn’t seem to get any easier. In fact, my inner writer seems to rebel at the idea.

Why should I have to know, before I even begin to write, every single thing that’s going to happen?

I change my mind all the time.

Potentially, you can change your story from what you submit. I always worry, since the publisher accepted that idea—but changing the story might change that.

I hate synopses. I feel like they limit me as a writer. I know, I know that there are people who swear by them, and cannot begin a project without either that or an outline (or both). But me? I love the idea of going in with an idea and no outline and being surprised at what happens. And hopefully, my readers will be surprised alongside me.

That’s not to say I have no idea what I’m doing when I start a story. Remember the contradicting thoughts? I like to have a vague idea of where I’m going, but I don’t necessarily want a map to tell me how to get there.

But for the sake of being practical and because James likes for me to include advice here, let’s talk synopses for a bit.

Synopsis are not query letters

When you first venture into the world of writing you quickly discover that we have a language of our own. Terms like query letter, synopsis, CV, credits, and bios quickly become apparent.

And often, when you’re submitting a short story for an anthology, you find they want a synopsis, a query letter, and/or a sample of your work.

In a query letter you often out a summary in but it is nowhere near as comprehensive as a synopsis.

A synopsis helps publishers see your passion

I have to give it to synopses. They are useful for seeing if someone thought an idea through. You’ll know going in that the problem is indeed solvable.

I’ve had some trouble with figuring out where to go with a story and I have to grudgingly admit that maybe with a synopsis I wouldn’t have been stuck. That doesn’t mean I like them though…

But if you are passionate and creative with your synopsis, publishers are going to notice. Don’t write something you’re not interested in for the sake of a publishing credit—it’s not worth it.

Know you can change it

Publishers, generally, are buying the idea—not the general execution. You have room to expand and play.

The synopsis is a chance for you to sell your story and as a result it should not be taken lightly. Take your time, put in the effort, and give your story its best chance.

Synopses have their place in the writing world. And speaking of, I need to get back to mine…