“Pantsing” the Pre-Book Synopsis

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by Anne Mateer

I’m a pantser. I thrill at the thought of starting a story with just a character or a situation, only a hazy destination in mind. I love discovering new twists and turns and characters along the way. But there is a peril to pantsing that I didn’t realize until publication: the synopsis before the story.

As a pre-published writer, this hazard didn’t register as even a blip on my radar. I studied craft, spent bottom-in-chair time, and gutted out revisions. I practiced pitches and created one sheets and yes, even wrote the dreaded synopsis of my current book. But I failed to acquire the skill of churning out a synopsis before I sat down to write a story. Because I didn’t have to. And I didn’t want to.

Enter a two book contract. Then another. My contracts state that a synopsis must be approved before each book. Cue panic attack for the pantser! But now that I’ve managed to accomplish this three times, I’ve learned that writing a pre-book synopsis is possible for a pantser.

Here are three steps to help a pantser practice writing a synopsis before writing the book:

I. Freewriting. Don’t try to “think up” a story. This is a death knell to a pantser. If you are like me, your first (conscious) ideas are cliche and uninteresting, but those that work themselves out in your head and onto the page as you write are surprising you have a much better story than if you tried to consciously create it.

II. Chiseling. What you have created is basically a square of marble waiting to be carved. Now think through the characters and plot you’ve jotted down a little more deeply. Chances are what you’ve written will spur new ideas. Jot those down while still keeping the first ones until you have an array of choices in story direction.

III. Polishing. Using your best ideas, create a synopsis, then evaluate it in the same way you do your manuscript in revision phase. Let it sit. Reread it. Identify weaknesses in story structure, fix plot holes and clarify character arcs. This might sound daunting, but remember, you are evaluating story in a 3-8 page format instead of over 300+ pages!

Having a synopsis beforehand doesn’t mean my book won’t take a detour during writing, but it does provide a roadmap so that my editor can spot major issues up front. The goal isn’t to turn me into a plotter, it is to keep me on track to create a book that my editor and my readers find strong and compelling, even if I write it by the seat of my pants.

Anne Mateer, a three-time Genesis finalist, is passionate about history and historical fiction. She and her husband live in the Dallas area and are the proud parents of three young adults. You can find out more about Anne and her books at www.annemateer.com

Comments 0

  1. Hi Anne,

    I really enjoyed this post. I’m a panster too and getting ready to work on a new synopsis (so hard for a panster), and I found your tips really helpful! Thanks for sharing.


  2. So glad I could help, Dani! I still don’t like it, but it’s a good exercise to do in case you have to some day! (Truth is, I even hate writing the synopsis when it’s all done!)

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