The S-Word Again

So first, a project update–yes, I’ve been working on my summer edit. I’m about ten chapters in, and it’s going well, if a bit slowly. Not because there’s a whole lot to mark up–a relatively small number of pages actually look like the one in the photo–but because, well, it’s summer. There’s a lot going on. But I don’t want to let Bare Knuckle Writer down, so I am plugging away.

However, the sad realization struck me the other day that once I finish this editing pass, I’m going to have to write a synopsis. I could wail and moan a bit about that, but I won’t, because it is part of the writing process (well, if you want to submit your work anywhere, it is) and simply a Thing That Must Be Done. Instead of griping I thought it would be more productive to offer some advice on writing one.

I’ve found that there are two things about writing a synopsis that I really find difficult. One is starting. The other is holding the whole novel in your head in the proper order, so you can distill out the important bits. Fortunately, I’ve hit on one method that effectively deals with both these problems.

Note: if you are an outliner, you probably don’t have either of these problems. You already have the bones of your synopsis in your outline, so you just need to flesh it out. I might hate you a little bit, but I digress.

Since I never have an outline that’s an actual outline before I start writing (I might have pages and pages of story notes, but that is not an outline that’s of any use in creating a synopsis), I’ve learned to outline as I go. I’ve mentioned before that I use Writer’s Cafe Storylines for this. I write a scene or chapter, and either when I finish it, or at the end of the writing day, I create an index card and jot down just a couple of sentences about what just happened. I note where the scene or chapter takes place, and who is present. If I have multiple storylines/subplots, I might have cards going for each of those, too. I do the same thing for the next scene or chapter, and the next, etc. If I go back and insert a missing scene, I insert the appropriate card(s) for it, as well.

In this example, I have three rows of cards going. The dark purple row is the scene-by-scene breakdown. The light purple row tracks which characters appear in which scenes. (That helps avoid that “whatever happened to character X?” question.) The green row tracks the time and setting of each scene. Each column is a scene, and the black headers show me where the chapters break. (I have the wrapping option turned on, so that’s why you can see a second set of colored cards.) You might also note that some scene cards bear a checkmark–those are the ones I’ve marked up in this editing pass. I can see my progress at a glance.

So, the outliners out there are probably wondering how this helps me write the story–it doesn’t. But what it does do is twofold: it shows me at a glance an overview of the arc of the storyline (very helpful when I start revising), and later, it gives me a jumping-off point when it comes to writing a synopsis. Because I can run a report in Storylines and export the information from the cards that I want, and I have a rough outline of my synopsis. All the important stuff is there…because that’s what I’ve jotted down on the cards. The bones are good.

The rest–well, the rest is mostly rewriting it in coherent and well-formed sentences, and polishing it until it’s intriguing, explanatory, and shows the editor that you’ve got a solid story told in an engaging fashion. Yeah. That’s the easy part.

Note: You can use this method perfectly well via the low-tech method of real paper index cards, too. But I’m a big fan of Writer’s Cafe and all the other things it can do as well.

Nests, Noise, & Vacuuming (or, Writing Rituals)
Review: 1222
Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I feel your pain. It is why I have BECOME an outliner.

  2. Hmmm…in retrospect, this describes the lengths I will go to to AVOID becoming an outliner… ;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *