I hate writing synopses…

I loathe, despise, abhor, abominate the necessity for writing synopses. Right now I am writing this blog, rather than write a synopsis.

But as the final book in a trilogy winds down towards publication date (at least from the writerly involvement point of view), the ugly spectre of Glenda writing a synopsis hovers yet again…

My publisher’s editor has not written me an email saying that there are just one or two small things that need altering (all editors have a penchant for understatement), so I can only assume she is satisfied with The Song of the Shiver Barrens. My agent has hounded the accounts department, and the cheque for the delivery of the MS is already in my bank account and partially spent (bless both agent and HarperCollins Oz for their efficiency.)

Which all means that Song of the Shiver Barrens is well on its way towards its July publication. And with that, The Mirage Makers – a project that has been with me since 1992 – comes to a close.

Ok, so there is still the copy edit to be dealt with, and the proofs to read after that, but this is the period when my agent begins to speak of selling the next trilogy. The one that’s only partially written… “I know you’re very good at these synopses from your previous work,’ she writes. Huh. She must know how much I hate doing ’em and thinks a spot of fulsome flattery will fuel my fingers at the keyboard. Yeah.

I mean, how can you condense the plot of three books – or four in this case, because it’s not a trilogy but a quartet* – into a one or two page synopsis??? How do you impress an editor with the depth of your characterization, the twists and turns of the spectacular ending, the sensawunda of your spendiferous world?

It would be bad enough having to write the synopsis of a novel set in, say, suburban US/UK/Australia. At least you could say something like “Philip Twitterton, a mild-mannered glass-blower from Sydney, has just murdered his ex-model wife with a box of kitty litter, and is now wondering how to remove – in secret – the smelly, bloated body of the 400 pound woman from his apartment…”

Nice hook(s) and loads of information in the first sentence.

But how about this: “The Four Quarters are in trouble. The Droughtmaster is dying and someone has been murdering the young Drouthlords…”

So what? you may ask. Somehow I have to convey how and why that is important to both the land and my young hero, when it is going to take me half a big fat fantasy to explain…

Besides, how the hell do I know what’s going to happen in book four when I haven’t finished book one yet? I sort of know, but the details are hidden in the mists of the future, and will only be revealed with I immerse myself in the world of the Four Quarters and talk to all those characters now rattling around in my brain planning their betrayals and triumphs.

Oh, and if you want to help, go out and buy The Mirage Makers. That way, it won’t matter how lousy my synopsis is; my sales figures will be so spectacular, the publishing houses will be clammering at my agent’s inbox to buy the rights to The Random Rain Quartet.
See? You too can make a difference…

I hate writing synopses.

*The Random Rain Quartet consisting of:

Book One: Drouthlord
Book Two: Droughtmaster
Book Three: Waterpainter
Book Four: Rainmaker

Another sunset from Sebatik Island


I hate writing synopses… — 17 Comments

  1. So glad to know that even writers who have actually published books hate writing synopses. I wondered if it was something you acquired a taste for.

  2. As someone who has only published short stories (and non-fiction) I’m wondering why publishers want synopses for established authors. I thought a synopsis was a seling tool.

    I hate writing synopses, too. At OWW, we’ve just a a big bitch about them and there are several of us submitting synopses of the type that go with query letters, with discussions on hooks and synopses spilling over into our blogs. Are there any writers who like writing synopses?

    Aaaak – does that mean that once you’re published you *still* have to write synopses?

  3. ‘Fraid so, Patty. Worse, and I hate to tell you this, unless you are hitting a major bestseller list on a regular basis, each new book (or trilogy) has to be “sold” anew to the publisher, in the sense that you/your agent has to persuade them it’s worth buying. There’s no guarantee they will buy the next one simply because you have been published by them before!

    The editor you’ve been working with will probably go to bat for you, because most likely they were the one who chose you in the first place and they love your work, but it can be an uphill battle for her/him if your past sales figures aren’t good. You see, it’s the business people upstairs who have the final say.

    (Several times in the past before I had a publisher I have actually had editors plead with the business guys to buy my work, and had them fail to be persuasive enough…)

    I may have been shortlisted for awards and had a number of really good professional reviews and no bad ones, but I have yet to achieve the kind of status (i.e. sales) that will have publishers falling all over themselves to buy me.

    Once you have sales, they pour money into advertising, so you sell well, so they pour more money into marketing, and so on. Until you sell well, no one wants to spend money on you. Crazy, isn’t it? My US publisher had a marketing budget of USD $0 for my three books. That’s just the way things are; nothing unique about it.

    So, yes, once you are published, you still have to write synopses. And you grin and bear it. And try to write a better book next time…

    Whether you actually stick to the synopsis when writing the book is quite another matter.

  4. I’m still laughing about the bloated and smelly 400 pound woman. :oD

    Synopsis? Urgh.
    Brief synopsis? Urgle urgh.
    Brief synopsis that sells idea? Urgle urgh bleargh.

    I can do it, given lots of time. I’m actually not bad at it. But it does feel a bit like having your tonsils extracted through your ears without anaesthetic.

    Waterpainter I like. ‘Random Rain’ may be a bit iffy – sorry. 😮

  5. Whether you actually stick to the synopsis when writing the book is quite another matter.


    I also feel that writing synopses is easier to do the more often you do it, or at least it has been so for me. These days, I try to write a synopsis before I’ve done a third of the book, a vast improvement on what I was doing before. To first write a book and then to figure out what it’s about in a synopsis is just… the pits to me.

  6. Iffy, Hrugaar? Why?

    It works for the books, I think, because random rain – quite literally rain falling uncontrolled – is the threat that dominates the land.

  7. I just blogged something of the sort myself, albeit more succinctly. We hatesssss synopsessss, we do. ANd I’m at present embroiled in making TWO of them work on a good enough level for a publisher to spill money in my direction.


  8. Synopses suck. That’s about it.

    As for this new series …

    I was privileged to get a sneak peek at an early draft of bk 1 a little while ago. This ROCKS. It rocks in the rockiest rocky way a story can rock.

    This has SUPERSPECTACULAR written all over it.


    And I’m not saying that because Glenda’s a bud. I’m saying it because it’s true.

  9. Why, thank you, Karen. I like the idea of being a bud, by the way. As in rosebud. Sweet smelling, modest, just unfolding, peeping forth…much better than being an overblown flower going brown at the edges and losing petals with every passing year.

  10. Um, my hesitation about ‘random’ is that it’s entered the teenie and tweenie pop-culture jargon (totally random, some random guy, etc.), so ‘Random Rain’ has the associations of teen-fic … it maybe even sounds like some pop-rock song title.

    I get what you’re trying to say with the series title. It’s just that it seems a bit like trying to write gay smile giving it its 1957 meaning instead of its 2007 connotations. 😮

    Being the helpful bunny I am (heh) I tried to think of some viable alternative suggestions. And having wandered through treacherous, unruly (heh), fickle and unbidden, the lame best I could come up with so far is Inconstant Rain – which lacks the alliteration and is a more complex sound pattern to get out the mouth, but I kind of like the Shakespearian echo of th’inconstant moon behind it…

    Okay, maybe it’s better just to ignore me. ;oP

  11. aw

    Random Rain could sound odd, but I think it’s fine, especially with Quartet tacked on the end 🙂 and it has a very nice sound. Totally Random Rain now… 😉

    the little dribblets of information have actually really caught me… hurry up and write it, Glenda, so I can read 😛

  12. I think I will stick with “random”. Inconstant doesn’t quite mean what I want. And hey what’s wrong with it meaning random in the pop sense? cool, man!

    Reminds me a bit of something that happened to me some years ago. I was in a hairdressers in London, and this sweet old dear came in, obviously a regular, and was attended to by her very obviously gay hairdresser, who happened to be wearing a very colourful shirt. ‘Oh,’ says she, ‘How gay you are this morning!’

    Everyone within earshot, including the gay guy, sucked in their cheeks trying desparately not to laugh…

    Ok Ink Paws, there’s only 40,000 words to go to finish the first book, pant pant… But it’s gonna taken me about a year to get this wretched synopsis done first.

  13. It’s a great story, and I’m so looking forward to seeing what Glenda’s done since I saw an early draft.

    Synopses are internal marketing tools. There is absolutely no requirement for it to bear any relation to the final product. So don’t worry if you don’t know how the story is going to end: make it up.

    Glenda, I like Random Rain. I like each title, too, although Drouthmaster is a bit awkward. I can imagine the evocative covers you could get with titles like these.

    I so hope you get the success with these books that you deserve. You are a class above the rest of us Aussie fantasy authors, and I rank you as one of the very best fantasy authors I’ve read.

  14. Oh, wow. I am kinda knocked off my stool here. First Karen – who is a very fine author with a couple of books already out and another swathe in the pipeline, several of which I have admiringly read. She is extraordinarily versatile, having written SF-media (Star Gate), a wickedly funny-serious fantasy, plus another 2 fantasy “ologies” both different and one as far away from the “medieval” type as you can get…I am anxiously awaiting the second book of that.

    And now Russell, who has just written a book called “Path of Revenge” which I thought was up there with the best of the world’s huge epic style fantasies. He can show Robert Jordan a thing or two about keeping a reader on the edge or their chair. And it has one of the most remarkable characters I have read in a fantasy since the Fool in Hobb’s stuff. Watch out for Lenares everyone.

    ASnd Russell, it’s Droughtmaster, not Drouthmaster, for just that reason. Drouthlord (pron. Droothlord) rolls off the tongue, Drouthmaster doesn’t. I also wanted the difference in appearance so they are not easily mixed up in the mind of the reader.

    Drouth, btw, is another word for drought.

    I am totally humbled by what you just said.

  15. Hi Glenda —

    I’m surprised that you have been asked to write a synopsis for one of your own books.

    Right now, I’m actually involved in writing the synopsis (and working on other publicity materials) for a film — and I got this job in large part because people told the director cum scriptwriter that he wasn’t writing the synopsis very well.

    So, after having decided to allow someone else to edit his film and deciding that the end result was so much better than he could have produced, he contacted me to effectively do the same for publicity materials as the film editor had done for the film.

    So…maybe you should relay this tale to your publisher and get him/her to find someone to write synopses of your book for you? 😉

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