MERC vs. BOOK: Revising a Novel, Part 2–Flailing, Synopsis, Noir

Welcome back! I’m delighted to hear people are enjoying these posts. They are motivating me to do more work so I have something to blog about. Win-win! 🙂 

Prologue  (what this series is about) | Part 1 (how it started) | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7.1 & 7.2 | Part 8 | Part 9

By the way, if you have your own post(s) about revising a novel, please do link me in the comments or ping me on Twitter: @Merc_Rustad. I’d love to compile a bunch of other perspectives to share!

After creating a list of major things I need to add, fix, delete, and rearrange, I wanted to hone in on the core elements of the book. What is it about?

Enter the synopsis.

But first flailing.


It’s not that I have what appears to be a writerly-universal dread of synopses. I like them! I actually enjoy trying to condense things into small, neat little packages. It feels a lot safer than big, sprawling novelthings with tentacles and too many teeth.

Rather, the flailing stems from the fact that holy mothballs from a magic wardrobe, Batman, this is a real thing I am actually doing and I need to make it coherent so people will want to read. o.O

*flail flail flail*

People. Might. Want. To. Read. My. Book.

Fun fact: one of my favorite things when describing a project is to do it in the style of the ‘they fight crime!‘ generator. So, The Collars We Wear would look something like:

He’s a neuroatypical sorcerer with a dark past! He’s a winter fae prince shaped into a living weapon! Together they…do not really fight crime so much as create massive rips in the fabric of reality?

It’s a start!

So, because I’m happiest when other people are happy, and I love being able to bring happiness (and sometimes tears, fiiiiine, I admit it) to other people through my work, I want these small, compact little descriptions to be good.

*flails foreveeeeeer*

Okay. So. What qualifies good? I have no idea! Next best strategy: write it in a way that reader!Merc would want to pick it up. That, if not necessarily quantifiable, is at least a metric I can flail at.



It wasn’t a dame that walked into my office that Friday night.

Through the smoke-haze curling up from the waste basket, I eyed the massive figure wide as my doorway that stood blocking out the only light. That light was a single bulb dangling in the hallway, where I would’ve had a secretary if I had the cash to pay anything. Thought it was the landlord’s newest goon come to shake me down for rent. Wasn’t, though.

My hand slid to the underside of my desk, where I kept my slug thrower. “We’re closed,” I said.

“Too bad,” the shape replied. “Looks like you’re working after hours.”

That silhouette–there was something familiar about it. Too familiar. I squinted, finger resting on the trigger under the desk. Damn. I recognized him now: one of Big Novel’s thugs. Synop, probably. We’d had run-ins before, and they weren’t too pretty.

“Well well well,” I said, leaning back in my chair. Never let ’em see you flinch. “Boss have you doing the dirty work again?”

Thunder scoured the muggy air outside. Shoving its weight around the clouds, making the rain piss down against the grimy window.

“Boss wants to see you.”

“I’m done working for–“

“Ain’t a request.” Synop tipped his black fedora. “Midnight. Be there.”

Damn. There went my plans for the weekend…

Instead of trying to construct a perfect, succinct synopsis on the first try, I began by crafting a very loose ramble that highlighted the core elements of the book, and examined each of the three principal characters’ actions and emotions throughout the story. It ended up over 2,000 words. Not exactly…tidy, but it did get the bones down. From there I could start shaping the mash of words into something a little more sleek and intriguing.

So then K.M. Szpara linked me to this nifty article on the subject of synopses:

How to Write A 1-Page Synopsis

It’s super helpful (with the bonus of using Star Wars as an example). I followed those steps and was pleased with results! The second synopsis attempt was closer to 600 words, and was much tighter.

The words might not be pretty, but they adequately conveyed what I needed: the story arc, the character arcs, the emotional impact of what happens, and explosions.

It was like zooming in on a high-resolution photo–I ratcheted the focus in tighter and tighter, while still retaining clarity. I wasn’t trying to make it perfect. The point of these synopsis drafts was simply to get myself used to summarizing in a way that intrigued reader!Merc (and therefore hopefully other readers).

Two-sentence take:

The Collars We Wear

A human sorcerer and a fae prince become friends instead of enemies, which leads their peoples to the edge of war–and everyone now wants them dead. They can save each other, but at what cost to both their worlds?

It’ll evolve, but this is the principle conflict in the novel.

Two people who are expected to be enemies are friends instead. This relationship affects both their worlds in big ways. Do they let war happen because of them, or do they make impossible choices to prevent it and keep the status quo?

What Comes Next? Or, Using A Synopsis to Guide Revisions

With all the work I did to hone in on the central plot elements and character interaction in the various synopsis incarnations, I now feel much more confident about diving into those big-picture revisions I listed in the last post. I have guidelines, a map, I can follow without getting lost in tangents.

When I get to writing additional material and shuffling things around, I can look at my levels of synopses and see if I’m staying on track for the global picture on this novel.

And besides, with some drafts already shaped, when I get around to crafting queryable pitches and synopsis? Hopefully there will be less flailing.

(Okay, let’s be honest, it’ll just be re-focused flailing. Flailing betterfasterstronger.)

Next: Tackling New Material, or, MERC-FLAIL PART 3: THE RECKONING. 

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