Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 12 April 2012

How to Write that Synopsis or Outline!

I don’t know how to write an outline.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? It is, however, true.

My agent has asked me for outlines of two books. I pitched the ideas to her, and she liked them, but she wants to know where those ideas are going, and how they’re going to pan out.
The problem is, I don’t know where they’re going. That’s not how I write. I sit down and I begin writing, and the next bit is informed by the last bit. Then, I seed ideas back through the earlier text, as and when I need to.
Obviously, I don’t do this when I’m writing by invitation or when I’m commissioned to do something, but that’s what the husband’s for. He and I discuss the brief, and then he dictates an outline or synopsis, or whatever is required, with me chipping in my tuppence worth as we go along. It works like magic. The thing is, when I’m writing to these outlines, I generally only stick to them in the loosest sort of way. Sometimes, I don’t even read them again once I get started. 
Is that terribly wrong of me?
Yesterday, I sat down to write the two outlines for my agent. It was sort of OK for a few paragraphs, but I quickly ran out of things to say. I’m just not used to thinking about a project this thoroughly, this far ahead. I didn’t write synopses for “Naming Names” or “Savant” until after I’d finished those books, and it was still a struggle, “like trying to fit four elephants into a mini”, according to the writer Jane Harris.
At least I’m not alone.
At close of day, yesterday, I e-mailed the outlines to Dan in the office next door, and he came back with some ideas about introducing and framing the paragraphs I had, and I did a bit more, but I suspect putting these ideas on paper will take a while yet to achieve. In the meantime, I could be writing, but I’m a pro now, so, instead, I shall do as my agent asked, and do it happily.
Wish me luck.


  1. I'm sure you don't need luck, it sounds like you're getting on with it and have great support. I downloaded a book on writing great synopses from Nicola Morgan, that helped, but I found it quite nerveracking. Have they asked you to come up with an elevator pitch yet? 100k of words into two sentences, that was fun!

  2. Good luck. To be honest, it's the bit I've struggled with regarding the BL submissions. The ideas I have seem to flow freest (that doesn't look right) when I have the skeleton of a story in my head and allow the text to flow freely as I type. Where BL have helped is by removing that criteria from their submissions guidelines to concentrate on the writing. I'm still in the planning stages of a novel pitch, though, and the chapter breakdown had me confused. Some searching on Googleth got me some advice.

    If I may be so bold:
    I think of the outline/synopsis is like the book blurb - almost the written version of the elevator pitch.

    Some other advice I heard was a screenwriter on Front Row - they said they'd write anything into a script (I extend to pitches) to get it read and garner the interest, then slowly work the ideas out in the drafting stages until it was the movie they wanted.

    Perhaps there are some thoughts that might help.

  3. You're so right about outlines. They're tough. I'm in the same position - writing an outline for a proposed commission - but, like you, I write without a plan. I complete a first draft and then plant ideas through the manuscript once I have a definite idea of who my characters are and what the story is. To write an outline, though . . . *sharp intake of breath here* the only way I can think to get a hold of it is to write the first part of the novel so I can get some sense of where it's going. Of course, that requires intensive writing. Anyway, that's probably of no help to you at all but, well, you're not alone!