Saturday, March 10, 2007

Saturday Surprise... FinDaBoo

This month historical author Michelle Styles brings her brand of wisdom regarding the dreaded synopsis and how it can actually help you, the writer!!!

Using a Synopsis

The four things that every writer requires are determination, desire, dedication and discipline. Without those four Ds, any writer is going to find it hard to finish the book. Part of having the discipline and dedication is being able to admit when you are stuck, when suddenly that lovely idea and premise becomes less appetizing to work on than changing cat litter or cleaning the toilet.

I admire those writers who can write into the mist without a synopsis and finish the book. I will freely admit that I can’t. I need to have some sort of road map for when the mist swirls so thickly that I can’t see my hand in front of my face, let alone think about the next word! And my road map is my draft synopsis.

There are many ways to write a synopsis. Whole books are written about the joys and dubious pleasures of writing a synopsis. This article is not about that, it is about how I use my synopsis to help me finish the book. Suffice it to say that if I had not written a synopsis for the first book I finished, I would never have finished that book. It gives me the confidence to know that there may be an ending and it helps to keep me focussed on the main arc of the story. I sincerely believe that it helps me write faster and helps keep me focussed on the structure of the book

I tend to write the first draft of my synopsis, when I have finished the first three chapters. There is no coincidence that this is the place where the mists come down most thickly. Before then, I might have a rough outline and some notes on characters written in my notebook (I use black moleskines for working away from my desk as they are my little luxury and I am less likely to lose them), but it is with my first draft of the synopsis that I begin to pull my book together. It is not my polished synopsis, but a rough draft. It always includes: the setting, internal/external conflicts, evidence of growing attraction, black moment and resolution and has the basic shape of the synopsis I will turn in.

In other words I sit down and plot. Plot is not a four letter word. It is discovering what is needed in my opinion at that moment to make the hero and heroine achieve there happy ending. For example what five things have to happen in their relationship for them to get to the happy ending?

After finishing the draft synopsis, I generally find that the mist has cleared and I can write. I know what my general plan is. The draft synopsis then gets lost among the debris of desk and I stop referring to it. However, inevitably, I get stuck again. I then take the synopsis out, reread it, and laugh. Could I have really thought that would be a good idea? Certain things are bound to have changed. Other ideas will no longer work, but I also think – ah that is where I wanted to go. I revised the synopsis, and away I go again – working towards the happy ending.

Sometimes, I even assign chapters to actions in my synopsis, and think – if I can get up to chapter eight, then I know I will get to write a love scene. Or I look and think – I better plot chapters 12 -14 more fully because there is no way I can make that scenario stretch for that number of words. Or I look at the synopsis, and think that this may be a road map but it sure isn’t the one to the one I am on. I then rewrite the synopsis, using the information I now have.

Some people find outlines work for them. And I do use brief outlines, but I also always work with my synopsis as I am writing the story. What this means is when I do reach the finish of the book, I do not have the synopsis to write. It is no longer an obstacle. With synopsis as with any other writing, it is far easier to fix a bad page than a blank page.

If you are finding it difficult to finish your book, sit down, draft a synopsis and you may just rediscover the magic. It works for me and perhaps it could work for you.

Michelle Styles is currently hard at work finishing her seventh book for Mills and Boon Historicals. Her third book for Mills and Boon Historical, Sold and Seduced is currently available from the Mills and Boon website and will be in retail in April.

Her first book for Harlequin Mills and Boon Historical, The Gladiator’s Honor, is one of the finalists for the Romantic Novelist Association Prize 2007. And we'll have lots more about that wonderful award come April!!!


  1. I love the cover for Sold and Seduced! It's beautiful.
    I must admit, I too, don't have a synopsis until I've written those first three chapters. I think it's because the first 3 write very quickly and then suddenly, my mind goes blank.

  2. Thank you Nicolette. I think the cover is beautiful as well.

    All I know is without writing a draft synopsis after the first three chapters, I doubt I could finish the book. I start with outlines and character sketches, but it is really after the first three chapters that I pull the thing together and start seriously thinking about how the book is going to actually work.

    As I said by starting to work on my synopsis then, and keeping it to the guidelines -- I write a one page one these days, instead of spilling over into two -- it makes it much easier when I could to submit.

    Bad pages are easier to fix than blank ones.

  3. Hi Michelle,
    I'm late seeing your post...caught up in "March Madness" [college basketball playoffs].
    Thanks for the tips on ways to use the synopsis. I the end of ch 3, I panic...maybe this post will help!

  4. I'm late too but Michelle, thank you for giving me back my sanity!

    I'm a newbie but I've been feeling my way to discovering what works for me. I have many "first three chapter" stories that may never be finished. Since that wasn't working, I then stressed about not knowing how to plot. (Surely, there was a right way. If only I could find it!)

    Finally, I discovered that it's okay to put the synopsis before the manuscript. Got further (farther?) then before, maybe 10 chapters but then I got stuck again.

    I now realize that my process may be circular. First three chapters, while they're fresh and burning to get out, followed by first draft of synopsis, more chapters, revised synopsis, some revision and more chapters, etc., until I finally reach the end.

    I'm glad to know that such a process works.

  5. Patrica and Carol -- thanks for posting.

    All I can say is that it works for me. Try it and see if it works for you. I also figure once I hit 100 pages I hit the point of no return, I have to finish the book because I have invested the time in. There is a certain thrill and satisfaction about finishing. You have got them to the end.

    There is no one right way to write a book.

    Best of luck.