Guest blogger Dakota Banks on writing your synopsis first.
The best piece of writing advice I have gotten is the use of the synopsis. This technique literally saved my writing life. When I wrote my first book, I started right in without planning. That book expressed my basic writing talent, but I hadn't studied my craft enough to know how to organize a book. I thought it would all work itself out as I went along. The result was a rambling, hard to follow mish-mash (as I can see from hindsight). For my next book and every one after that, I've started by writing a synopsis of the story with a beginning, middle, and end, characters that both fit and create the situation, and pacing that provides the correct balance of action and breathers. All of these elements are laid bare when you boil your story down to ten pages or less.
I'm not talking about a chapter outline that defines what goes in each chapter or even how many chapters there are. Just get down the high points of the story so that it makes sense and the synopsis is an exciting read in itself. This is the brainstorming portion of your writing. You still have intense creative work left to do to transform that shell of a story into an engaging novel. But you have an overall guide to follow instead of losing your way, getting discouraged, and giving up. The synopsis is a tool, not something set in stone. If you think of a better way to handle the story, try it out in the synopsis first. It's better to change a few pages to see if the new idea works out in short form rather than put it in your manuscript and discover that 100 pages later, you've put yourself in a blind corner. Writing a synopsis is a crucial skill, because you're going to need one as a marketing device when you try to get your book published.
An agent might ask for three chapters and a synopsis. Why not get double use out of that synopsis by writing it ahead of time instead of hurriedly trying to scratch one out for an agent request? And best of all, you'll soon be getting contracts based on your synopses instead of having to write the whole books first!