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Step Five: Synopsis and/or Free Writing/Flash Summarizing
Why a Synopsis?
I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want to start the next step in the writing process by doing your synopsis! That yucky task is best saved for when the book is all done and you’re looking for editors or agents, right? Well, I can understand that line of thinking, but hear me out. In this post, I want to thoroughly explain why I write my synopsis after I plot out my outline and before I begin writing.
I am a teacher. I teach my students that when they are writing, they need to find the process that works for them. I try to show them as many different ways to go about the creative process as possible, including plotting out a story with a story mountain, creating a chain of events and then going back and creating scenes for those events, free writing to just get all the ideas out on the page as quickly as possible, character sketching, and even just jumping in and writing. I stress that some of these options are bound to come with more work later on during the revision process. I’m curious if anyone out there has other ways to go about the actual process of writing (once all the planning is done, of course!) because the more ways I can teach my students to go about this creative process, the more kids I will reach and inspire to become writers themselves!
I have come to accept that my writing process is not the most efficient. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants even when I have an outline. (Pantsing, as it is called, is not considered good practice by many published authors or agents/editors!) Then I will look at the outline I made way back when I started the project and think, “Meh, what I came up with when I let my character go off course and do what he wanted turned out much better than all this anyways.” Kinda makes me wonder why I made that outline in the first place.
Now, I am in a very interesting situation, because I outlined this novella I’m working on, and I have potential readers who know what is supposed to happen and who may very well be disappointed in me for veering off course. If I warn you beforehand that things may not go according to plans, will you forgive me when my characters realize that the story I have planned for them is much too boring? They may very well take it upon themselves to right their own story for me, you know. (Oh, and it might go without saying, but if you would rather read the story without any spoilers, you will want to avoid reading the synopsis I have included below.)
Once I have created a world, characters, and a general outline for a story, I am ready to start a process I like to call free writing/flash summarizing. (I have no idea what other people consider free writing to be like, but for me, this is how it goes.) I am going to write an overview of the major (and maybe some minor) plot points of my novella, going into as much detail as I possibly can at the moment, using my outline as a guide, so that I won’t end up with a story that is unsound structurally. But I will be as vague as possible with as much as I can, so that if I see another way to accomplish the same plot point later, while I’m actually writing, I will have more freedom to veer off course temporarily in order to be more true to my characters and make the story as best as it can be.
I know everybody does things differently, and I know that I am most likely not the only writer who takes the time to write a synopsis of a book before writing it. In a way, this synopsis is more of a summary that can become my official synopsis later. While I will format my summary as a synopsis, this is not the synopsis I would send to agents. I would make sure to revise this before sending it off, to pare it down to the important plot points and beef up the character development while keeping it under 2 pages. (Most agents don’t have time to read a long synopsis anymore, so short ones are the way to go!) But when I’m freewriting, I am freewriting and I will not constrict myself with trifling matters such as how long the synopsis gets. Also, since I am still fairly early on in my process, I will be free to revise any of this along the way. (You might notice that my characters’ names have changed slightly, and that I even added a very important character since that character creation post I did a week or so ago.)
Shout Out to the Marshall Plan
For my synopsis, my shout out goes to The Marshall Plan for Getting Your Novel Published by Evan Marshall. Not only does this book have chapters explaining how to format synopses, queries, and cover letters, but there are exemplars too! My example will hopefully help you get the idea, but without the reasoning behind it, it’s possible you could miss the subtler aspects of writing the synopsis. For example, it is standard practice to write a character’s name is ALL CAPS the first time the character is mentioned in the synopsis. There are additional similar rules like this, as well as expert tips, all explained in the book.
Also, to beef up Marshall’s book (and offer readers yet another agent’s personal opinion on writing) he included sections on writing professional-quality fiction—from how to write dialogue, action, and narrative to how to write dramatically without coming off as melodramatic—all with more examples! The book is rather old, so hopefully the rules haven’t changed since 2003. For someone who hasn’t done any research on the process of getting published, I would strongly suggest checking out this book; it is worth rereading and referencing throughout the writing process, so I’m glad I own a copy.
Tales of Elda'ri (Spoilers Ahead!)
A.C. Sutliff ________________________________________________Fantasy
(Name of agent) ___________________________________________# of words
(Name of Agency) _________________________________________ Synopsis
South for Summer (Title Should be Centered)
ELDA’RI and her brother ARRO’AY are two Sylvan Duellators (Elemental Fighters) living in Fox Hole, a small settlement located in the north of the Rainforest Realm of Sylva. They are members of Fox Clan, a clan that is mostly peaceful, with a few scattered attacks by Shadow Melders. The real threat to the Realm is in the south, where the bordering Realm, known as the Impyre, is at odds with the defending Clans over valuable resources such as food and water, which are scarce in the neighboring Fiery Realm.
Due to the constant threat, all Clans are expected to train their children at a young age to wield the elements in combat. Once the Duellators are seasoned enough for battle, and have unlocked another powerful magic, called Splitting, they are sent south to defend the Realm. All Splitters are expected to serve in this fashion, and it is time for Elda’ri and Arro’ay to join the fight.
Their journey begins at the onset of summer before the sun rises. In the foggy twilight, Shadow Melders are easier to see, because their dark forms stand out against the mist. Elda’ri and Arro’ay are accompanied by their uncle DRAKEN’EL. The Smallclan at Fox Hole is short on numbers, so the two adolescents must make their journey to the neighboring settlement of Fox Den with only one experienced fighter as a guide. The hope is that they can make the one-day trip without encountering any Shadow Melders, but sightings have been increasing recently, with sporadic scrimmages breaking out around the border of Fox Hole.
With Drake’s help, Elda and Arro bravely fend off an attack and escape into the rainforest. The narrow escape ends when a Shadow Melder attacks Elda’ri and injures her wrist, and she manages to incapacitate the creature by touching its head. Arro notices, and the two spend the rest of the day of travel trying to find some privacy to discuss how Elda was able to save herself from death. They travel across the Rainforest Realm along a Root of the Life Tree. Sylva’s Life Tree is at the center of the Realm; its branches reach high into the sky through the frozen clouds of Nebula (The Sky Realm of the Eran Dawn People).
At Fox Den, Elda and Arro meet up with RAIT’SA, a Changer of the Bear Clan, who is charged with recruiting for the southern defense. Rait’sa considers rejecting Arro’s request to join the defense, because he is green. While Arro is older than his sister, he unlocked the potential to become a Splitter after she did. Elda threatens to return home with her brother if Rait’sa refuses to let him join, and Rait’sa grudgingly agrees to admit Arro if he can pass a test in combat.
Rait’sa takes Arro to the outskirts of the settlement and thrusts him into a real combat situation to see how he fares in a fight. Arro manages to help the locals defend their food stores against a few Eran Flitters from the Sky City Nebula. Flitters have no way of growing their own food up in the clouds, and are vegetarian. So it is common for the airborne Flitters (who look like small children) to come to the surface in search of food. Rait’sa accepts Arro, and the two adolescents wish their Uncle a safe journey home and leave Fox Den by way of a Dimension Gate.
The Dimension Gate brings Rait’sa, Elda and Arro to Bear Clan’s major dwelling of Bear Cave. There, the group meets up with four other new recruits: JEEL’IN of Jaguar Clan, BLY’TA of Badger Clan, COMFRE’YA of Coyote Clan and HAWTH’AN of Hawk Clan. Sylva is a very large Realm with many Clans, all scattered around the vast Rainforest. Each Clan has a Clan Animal that not only serves as a symbol for banners, but also adds some variety to the appearance of the people of Sylva.
Because the Sylvan can unlock the magical potential to take on the characteristics of animals, throughout history, each Clan has chosen an animal. Changers (those with the ability to magically imitate certain aspects of animals) have, over time, passed on animal traits and characteristics to their children. Though all Sylvan are human in appearance, the different clans have distinct physical features. Therefore, the new recruits see Elda and Arro as two cunning fox-kin with pointy fox-canines, pointed fox-ears, and red hair. Jeel’in has jaguar whiskers and cat-like ears, Bly’ta has a distinct badger nose and ears, and black and white coloring in her hair, Comfre’ya has large coyote ears, and Hawth’an has a hooked nose and brown slicked back hair with a prominent widow’s peak.
From Bear Cave to the Southern settlement of Beaver Dam it is a four-day walk. While traveling, the new recruits get to know each other a little, but Rait’sa pushes the group of adolescents, so as to arrive as quickly as possible. They reach Beaver Dam, which is on the border of Sylva. The Dam settlement creates a giant lake on one side, and on the other, the dam serves as a fortification against the Impyre. Beyond that, the Flats of the Horse Clan provide a buffer, and it is here that the recruits will be stationed.
The Impyre begins an attack as the recruits are getting settled in. The young fighters come face to face with Igniads of the Fire Realm for the first time. Their men have invisibility magic and technology, and the terrifying fight results in some deaths. Bly’ta is wounded, and two experienced Splitters and a Whisperer are killed.
The new recruits join a small band of Defenders in which Rait’sa is a lower-ranked officer. Their commander, TAMAR’IK of the Tiger Clan debriefs them on the dangers of fighting the Impyre. Above all else, they are warned to never let an Igniad touch them. The Fire Realm’s army mostly consists of what the Sylvan have come to call Engineers. These are the invisible fighters who have guns and explosives. Elda’ri discovers that her water infused bo staff could potentially uncover the invisible fighters if she can learn to extend the water’s range considerably. Arro learns that he can use his fire spear in a similar fashion, if he can learn to greatly increase the power of his fire. All the recruits begin training in their new magic: that of Splitting.
Splitting is a magic that involves unmaking or separating. Splitters make great opponents for the Impyre because they can unmake their guns. The trick is that they must first dispel the Engineer’s invisibility and then get close enough to touch the weapons. Most of the time, the Sylvan take a more defensive tactic, setting up traps for the Engineers. The higher ranking fighters of the Sylvan Defense, those called Tanglers, play a key part in this tactic. Using their plant manipulation magic, Tanglers set vine traps for the Impyre. Once the Fire Igniads are entrapped, the Sylvan can unmake their weapons. Without their weapons, most Engineers retreat quickly, for they lack the combat skills to fight against the Sylvan, who have been training in hand-to-hand basic fighting since they were children. Tamar’ik is a Tangler, and Elda and Arro also meet HALLE’TA of the Horse Clan, the only other Tangler in their Defense Band.
In this way, the new recruits acquire new skills and survive a few brushes with the enemy. In one such encounter, the group learns that if they let the Engineers touch them while they are trying to reach their weapons, the Igniads can steal their life energy. Jeel’in almost dies in this way. Elda learns more about her secret ability: That of the Sylvan Whisperer. Whisperers can manipulate beasts, who become Companions that can help in a fight. The band of defenders has three Whisperers, Rait’sa and her bear, ROWA’NA and her rhinoceros, and DAG’DA and his dog. Most importantly, she learns that she need not touch the animal directly to manipulate it; she can activate her ability with a claw, a fang, or even a few hairs.
While resting one evening, Elda shows Arro that not only can she use a Whisperer’s animal manipulation magic, but she can also manipulate plants to create traps. She is far more gifted than even she realized. Arro gets mad; he thinks that if she lets others know about her abilities, she will be promoted to another band of fighters and he will be left behind. He warns her not to let anyone know she can use this advanced level of magic. She argues with him, because she is convinced that her powers would do nothing but help save people’s lives. She doesn’t like the idea of hiding her powers and letting someone die, but if her abilities are discovered, she knows she could be reassigned elsewhere. She doesn’t know what to do, and she runs off to be alone and think.
The Impyre is on the move, and from her vantage point, Elda’ri sees them coming. She must race back to her band’s camp and warn them of the giant army of Engineers that is approaching. When she arrives, she warns Rait’sa and then promptly finds her brother. Elda wants to protect her brother, and she promises to keep her ability a secret so she can always stay by his side.
In the brutal fight, Elda is forced to reveal her powerful magic abilities when she comes to the aid of a few others in the band of Defenders. Arro and Elda beg for them to keep her abilities a secret.
The attack continues, and an Igniad Burner joins the fight. These are the higher ranking officers of the Impyre Army, and they can invoke and control fire. The Defender’s Tanglers try to hold off the attack, but they just don’t have enough power. When all seems lost and the band is going to be overrun, Elda makes a choice: She reveals her magical abilities to Tamar’ik, and he and Halle’ta quickly show her how to create plant shields that can block the Burner’s fire.
Thanks in part to Elda’s new Tangler powers, the small band of Defenders manages to push back the Impyre’s attack. Elda is worried that the second the fighting is over, Tamar’ik will send her off to start her own band of Defenders. Her worries are quickly set to rest when Rait’sa thanks her for saving the band and assures her that they could surely use another Tanger in their troupe.
Since Elda can control plants, that also means she can use her Whisperer abilities to manipulate beasts. Elda is permitted to take a few close friends with her to journey back into the nearby forest in search of a Companion to call her own. At first it seems that she will have to settle for becoming a Horse Whisperer (there are many horses on the Flats of the Horse Clan), but finally, when it seems they will need to return to camp, Arro helps Elda find a fox den. She finds her very own fox Companion, which she names HOPKINS, and the group returns to their camp.