Tuesday, September 22, 2015

G.A.R.: The Synopsis is Not The Enemy

As an indie author, I still need a synopsis. Yes, trad-pub folks, we author-publishers can't escape them any more than you can. Sure, my cover artist may be the only one to lay eyes on the synopsis (or not, since there are sales/marketing opportunities that occasionally require one).

But even if no one else in the world ever saw my synopsis, I still have to write one.

A synopsis verifies the plot, pacing, and logic of the story.

WUT?  I'm not talking about the one-page "short synopsis" that is essentially the hook, the inciting moment, and the ending.  No, no, the truly useful synopsis is the longer 5pp minimum one. Think of the construct as each chapter gets a paragraph. Each paragraph contains 3 sentences:

  1. The Goal of the POV character for that chapter 
  2. The Action taken by the POV character
  3. The Result/Repercussion of said action

G.A.R. = Goal. Action. Result.

You must force yourself to succinctly state what exactly the character wants, what they do, what price they pay. If you cannot do it, then there is something wrong in the story. Sometimes, the scene is too complex. Sometimes the chapter is unnecessary. If the Goal does not build on the Result of the previous one or two paragraphs, again, something is wrong with the story (probably a tangent that shouldn't have happened). Fix what is broken. Rewrite your synopsis.

There are those who include a sentence for setting and another for other characters on stage to help them track the Where and With Whom logic. If a character or a setting is only used once, then you've caught an opportunity to simplify and strengthen your story by re-staging the setting or replacing the character with one who is more present in the tale.

Writers who are aware that conveying emotion is their weakness will include a sentence regarding emotional change or frame a summary sentence with emotion.

Caution: Do not make these summary paragraphs long. Brevity is what will help you see what is working and what isn't.

This is why--even though I'm a Plotter--I always write a synopsis after I've written the story. Anything written before the book itself cannot accurately reflect what is actually going to be placed before a reader.

Synopses are not some punishment created by agents and publishers to test your mettle. If you're an author--no matter how you are published--you need to have a synopsis. You need to make sure that what you think you've communicated has actually come through in the story. You should never be in such a rush to publish that you forsake double-checking the actual storytelling of your novel.


  1. I self pub and I NEVER write a synopsis. (Don't ask me what I'm going to write about for my Saturday Whore post on the topic LOL). Different methods for different folks, clearly! Found the post very interesting though...

    1. Interesting. What do you give to your voice-actors and your cover artist(s) so they understand what it is they're augmenting without them reading the book?

    2. My voice actor reads the book first and then we discuss anything that he wants back story on (rarely). For the cover art questionnaires, I provide the blurb, which isn't my favorite writing challenge either but at least it's fairly short and I DO have to have that if I want anyone to buy the book...when I did have to write synopses for submissions, they were longer than the eventual blurb.