The Synopsis or the “Calculus Just Is” Moment

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post for RWA Online’s blog that I still find useful for my own personal writing benefit. I thought I’d share it again here on my blog.

Synopsis From Hell

I despise synopsis writing. I’m a pantser, and I’d never written a synopsis BEFORE finishing the book. But a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of needing to write a synopsis for a book where I’d only written 50 pages.

Writing this synopsis was ten times worse than writer’s block. All I could do was sit at the screen and wonder what to put on the page. I know how to write a synopsis, when the book is already written. That’s easy for me, but how was I supposed to write one BEFORE I’d written the ending. Now I had written about 50 pages of the book, but it still didn’t help me much figuring out what to include in the synopsis. Sure I had an “idea” of what the black moment might be like, but what else did I need?

Outlines – Fault Lines

I don’t follow a formula, outline, etc. when I write. Words just flow out of me, and then I go back and edit. But you can’t do that with a synopsis. Think of it as being a map. A map for what direction the book is headed in. I’d never drawn a book map before, so I went surfing on the net. I figured, hey someone out there has an idea for how to write a synopsis.

Now you’d think Google or Dogpile would yield tons of results on how to write a synopsis. Umm, no. Either I wasn’t spelling synopsis correctly or there the knowledgebase was running a little dry. But then I found her!

Alicia Rasley

She had this wonderful article on the three acts found in a book.

So here I was reading the article, and suddenly it was like being in calculus class. If you’ve ever taken calculus, you know that understanding it requires you to accept the fact that “it just is.” A concept I found difficult to grasp until two weeks before the end of the semester. The lightbulb came on! It was wonderful. I could finally accept that calculus just is.

I share that with you because when I was reading Alicia’s article, I had one of those “calculus just is” moments. Here it was in black and white. Everything I needed to go into my synopsis. Alicia had laid it all out for me. The result was magic for me. I took the headings from Alicia’s article, and opened a document in Word, where I listed the primary points from the article.

Initiating Event
External Conflict Emerges
Antagonist Shows Up
Conflict Rises
The Reversal
The Point of No Return
The Dark Moment
The Climax
The Resolution

Under each header, I wrote a brief blurb, scene, explanation for the action that occurs under the header. I did this for each one all the way through to The Point of No Return or it might have been Crisis. I can’t remember. Anyway, I’m thinking, WTF do I do now??? For two days I couldn’t write another word. I was in the dark about how to finish the damn thing. Then it hit me. Why not work backward! I had a basic idea of how I wanted the book to end, so I essentially worked my way back to get those last scenes in my head.

The Resolution

In the process, I wrote one of the best synopses I’ve ever written. Now the process outlined above may or may not help you write a synopsis, but as I tell my kids, you have to at least try it. If you don’t like it then you eat or do something else. While it might seem like a formula, it isn’t really. It’s just a list of the necessary ingredients that have to go in a book and the writer has to add in those same ingredients to a synopsis. It’s taken me five long years to have my “calculus just is” moment when it comes to synopsis writing, but now that I have, it’s going to be a lot easier from here on out.

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About Monica Burns

A bestselling author of erotic romance, Monica Burns penned her first short romance story at the age of nine when she selected the pseudonym she uses today. From the days when she hid her stories from her sisters to her first completed full-length manuscript, she always believed in her dream despite rejections and setbacks. A workaholic wife and mother, Monica believes it’s possible for the good guy to win if they work hard enough.

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