A couple of days ago C.S. Harris posted "A Question for Pantsers" on her blog. C.S. is a plotter, who plans her books fully before she starts writing the first line of prose. She wanted to know how pantsers--writers who write "by the seat of their pants," not plotting the story fully in advance--come up with synopses for their book proposals.
I am a pantser, but can't answer her question because I am unpublished--and also because I have never yet finished a manuscript.
(Aside: "Aha," say the plotters, "You can't finish because you don't plot!")
The Internet Writing Journal recently posted an interesting article by Timothy Hallinan. His seventh novel, A Nail through the Heart, was released this summer. In "To Outline or Not to Outline," Hallinan explains his writing process. He doesn't mention how he deals with writing a proposal, but he does give a good description of the way many pantsers probably work. Here's an excerpt:
I personally can't stand to outline. My main problem is that I don't know my characters well enough until I've written about them at some length, and it doesn't work for me to try to force them into a story they might outgrow. I want them to grow as I write them, and then I want the story to grow out of them. [Emphasis added.]
Someone once said, "We learn what we're writing about by writing about it." For me, and for most of the other novelists I know, writing a novel is (to use an inelegant simile) like circling a drain. We start out by working around the edges of our story, and then the spiral narrows as the story, and our characters, become clearer to us. We center in on the things that really matter.
I particularly like his "circling a drain" metaphor for closing in on his story by starting at its edges. I recommend you read the entire article for a fuller explanation. I do wonder, however, how he writes a book proposal. Surely he has done so, since he's had several novels published before this one. In addition, his new book is first in a series, so he'll have to present something to his publisher to get contracts for the later books.
Maybe I'll go to Hallinan's website and email him about it.