Having a good idea often isn't enough to get a novel finished; what you really need, is a guide.
You need a rundown of what the story's major plot points, story arch's, and conflicts are so when you hit the Writer's Trench you aren't flailing about like a sea lion scrambling up a rock.
I often overlook this step at the beginning of my journey out of a jaded desire to emulate all those rad pantser's out there, so take it from someone who's had to redo entire plot points midway through the first draft because nothing makes any sense:
DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE BENEFITS OF EARLY SYNOPSIS WORK!
WITH A SYNOPSIS?
Creating a succinct synopsis of your story concept before you start writing helps you do two things:
1) Get a full grasp of the plot you'll be exploring, and
2) Determine the primary characters you'll be working with.
This can come in handy for anyone - like myself - who typically find themselves impatient for their plot to unfold when they attempt to write without plotting.
While pantsing can be great for the actual writing process, starting off a complex novel concept with nothing more than a limited idea and a free afternoon can be a nightmare.
When you're dealing with a confusing, messy, very creative story concept, writing the whole synopsis out in full can be undoubtedly helpful for avoiding a frazzled, disconnected first draft.
STARTER SYNOPSIS SURVIVAL SERIES
Creating your initial synopsis can be quite the challenge, but I promise it'll be worth it when you're stuck in the Writer's Trench and need a guiding light to keep your focused!
Eventually, as you hunker down with your writing, you'll find that this initial synopsis may evolve beyond this series and that's totally acceptable!
But for now, before you dive into the Trench's, this exercise is about putting down the bare bones of your concept so you aren't scrounging for connective tissue later on in the process.
To get started, simply open up a fresh Word doc or Scrivener project and follow the series below!
The Simple Sentence
This first part is about writing the most succinct sentence you can about your story.
But don't be fooled! This isn't as simple as implied 😉
You don't want to give away any plot twists, but you also want to mention as much as you can to fill in any gaps.
If you don't have character names or locations yet, don't worry about it. Just write whatever you can to best sum up your concept.
- EXAMPLE -
A CIA agent details how she was roped into helping the estranged elf princess of Far North track down her missing mother on Christmas Eve, during which time the agent helped the princess wreak havoc on the world's wealthiest dirtbags, rescue and release a compound of bastard child slaves, and feed a hormonal kraken, all before sunrise on Christmas morning.
The Full Paragraph
Next, take your sentence and expand it into a paragraph, supplying more details, a few plot twists, and anything else you can contribute to build upon your existing idea.
This synopsis series is derived, in concept, from Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method, which asks writers to start small, building up their stories from a simple sentence into full chapters.
With that in mind, use the paragraph section to explore all possibilities. Add in character names, detailed plot points or action sequences, or anything else you can think to fit.
If you don't like the paragraph you end up with, consider where you can add in more drama, action, suspense, other characters, etc., to fix the issue.
Keep in mind: it's better to draft a lot of storyline ideas now, then have to do full rewrites of your story later when you have thousands of words to sift through 😉
- EXAMPLE -
CIA operative Max Wiley - blacklisted by the Agency after being blamed for the deaths of three of her colleagues and two high-level assets - arrives at Langley on Christmas morning, covered in blood and ready to talk. As she details an impossible night spent with an estranged elf princess from a place called Far North - a night filled with espionage and rescues, murder raids and kidnappings - her bosses begin to question her mental stability. But just when they're ready to lock Max away for good, the elf princess herself walks straight through the walls of interrogation room number four and details her own account of their Christmas Eve rampage.
The Master Plot Page
Finally, take your paragraph even further with a full page of content that builds upon the basics.
Leave no stone unturned! Explore and give detail to every plot twist, motivation, conflict, and story arch!
This is the time to dive deep and share all the secrets. You're the only one who should ever see this page of content, so give yourself as much insight as you possibly can!
Working off of my examples, I can provide further detail for: timeline of events, why Max is being blamed for the deaths of her colleagues and Agency assets, who the elf princess is, why everything happened on Christmas Eve, who the kraken is that was mentioned in the sentence but left unmentioned in the paragraph, and what happens after the elf princess shows up at CIA headquarters to defend her new buddy.
Enjoy this exploration of concept, dive in and get crazy with it!