Generally no though I may jot down notes for some of the major characters. I find it best to get the story plotted out rather than the characters. If the plot is right I will know what kind of character I’m going to need to make the story believable. As I write more stories and novels, I sometimes make a note of particular points about a character I must remember. And on my blog I have various pages showing “other lives” to my characters and I put in the material I can’t use directly in the books. I wouldn’t rule out a character outline in future, however, and maybe one day I will do a proper biography of my main “stars”. Certainly for short stories where you are so limited with space/word count, I’d argue doing a character outline is probably a waste of time. You want to get straight in there with the right plot and character to match it. I like to think of a short story as a quick refreshing drink, a novel is a longer brew to be savoured!
What is most important to you - character or plot?
Both! I don’t think you can separate these. It’s like asking whether you need water or oxygen. A strong character will not only drive a plot, he/she/it can create one (awkward characters create problems for themselves as well as for others) but that person needs to have something to aim for or escape. A story where there’s no conflict, where there’s nothing to be resolved is no story at all. A strong character in a weak plot will stand out but only to show up the plot’s weakness. A good plot with weak characters will be disappointing. You need your cast to be able to act the part. But get the characters and plot right, strong, memorable, and the story should zip along and be a wonderful read. When reading other authors’ works, I recall their strong characters and their plots.
How easy do you find it to write a synopsis?
Not at all! I need several drafts. It can be tricky working out exactly what your intended audience actually needs to see at this stage of their involvement with your work. I tend to keep to the strict facts, what they absolutely must know.
What are your top tips for writing a synopsis?
Take your time over it as I see these things as similar to a CV. You are effectively applying for work and your synopsis is where you sell your story to someone else. Find out any guidelines as agents and publishers have differing requirements for synopses and follow these rules exactly. Include your theme, main characters and what the story is all about - that is write one or two lines summarizing your tale and expand from there. Check spellings and grammar. It really does have to be word perfect. Always send in a fresh, clean copy. Have a reasonable quality of printout. You don’t want to seem like a cheap skate when it comes to commending your own work.