I was going to cheat and talk about what my friend had done when they were trying to synopsis their novel. Then I realized I don’t have to use their experience because I did the same thing and made the same mistakes. I used to hate writing synopsis. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get what the summary anywhere near the story that I had told. Either the synopsis was flat and could only summarize the story of a character who did stuff or the synopsis was great…but it wasn’t the story I told.
This morning I wrote a synopsis of Beating the Troll’s heart that took about an hour, start to finish. It was easy. I didn’t get any better at writing out what happened, but the stories I am telling now got a lot easier to sum up in a couple of pages. Being a part of a writing group means workshopping a lot of outlines. If I’d read the story in question, I saw a lot of people making the same mistake I made. Either most of the synopsis is backstory, and the whole entire novel’s summation fits into the last few paragraphs or it’s a different experience than the final product.
A lot of people have to just write their way out of the “character that does stuff” stage. The problem when writing episodic events in a synopsis is that while you’re trying to describe what happens, a lot of the complications just feel like they come out of left field. This is because the idea came out of left field. No matter how many subplots threads there are, you should be able to see a string of knotted yarn of plot. The yarn begins at the beginning, has the character an active participant in the knots in the complications, and end the story at a natural ending point. Anything that comes up in the second half of the synopsis should be included in the first bit so that when it happens, the synopsis reader can see how or why that plot idea was foreshadowed.
So the secret of writing a better synopsis is to write a better book. When everything happens for a reason, it’s easy to see the whole plot as a series of interlinked events and not just random stuff that happens to the character. I know it’s writing 101, but knowing what you’re trying to say with the piece is the beginning of the end of your synopsis. If you can’t sum up what happens on the page, it’s a pretty good indication that nothing happened on the page. The delete button is your best friend. The first time I cut out 40k because nothing happened I cried. Now I rewrite entire books just to change the motivation.
I’ve only met a couple people whose unpublished work had too many things happening. Most people have the opposite problem. When the character is an active participant and his actions cause real impact in the world, it’s a lot easier to sum up their story then when they’re stuck reacting to the actions of others. The occasional ball can come in from left field, but most actions should have the main character actively involved in the play. Synopsis then just becomes the novel’s announcer to those who can’t see the game but still want to hear the play-by-play.