Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Dreaded Synopsis

Yesterday I promised to blog about my recent struggle with rewriting a synopsis so here I am. First I want to post two links that have helped:

I read both before I began work on the synopsis for A Cornish House. For me the thought of condensing 100,000 into one page is a nightmare. I actually find the one sentence thing easier so that is usually where I begin.

Back when I was struggling with my first synopsis, a wise soul told me to write it as if I was explaining it to a friend. This I did and the story was condensed - it was a mess of ten pages but it was better than a blank page. Since that first one, I now find my first pass is about four pages and here is where the work begins - the cutting.

First cut - the things I mentioned that aren't central to the book- I lose about two pages.
Second - am I saying things concisely or am I rabbiting on? -another half page gone
Third - down to the nitty gritty - word choice, adverbs, names.....


Maddie uses a strong antibiotic to tackle dysentery. The diarrhoea disappears but the nausea remains. Maddie checks her diary and realizes that she must be pregnant.

Maddie falls ill. Other symptoms disappear but the nausea remains. Maddie is pregnant.

So having already brought the synopsis of ACH down to a page ages ago, what value have the past few days' agony brought? Well, I hope a stronger synopsis, but also a closer look at the story. When I had disciplined myself and whittled it down to just the main action I noticed that Maddie was accepting a lot of things = things were happing to her and she was reacting but not acting - so did I have a limp heroine or a limp synopsis???? This was a headache inducing question. I know what I wanted the answer to be but what was the truth....still checking this.

I also had to accept that I couldn't tell the story chronologically and have it be an effective synopsis. This really bothered me, but I had to get past the keeping the secrets of the book until they were revealed in the plot order. Once over that hurdle it made things a lot easier.

The final stage is to make sure that the document still makes sense as it stands. When I am so close to something it is very easy to think - yes, that works when it doesn't. I know this book inside out well at least I had better, but who ever reads the synopsis doesn't have that luxury. So I have to step back and read it without knowledge (not easy) and ask the questions:

1. have I told enough?
2. have I told too much?
3. does it make any sense?
4. does it actually tell the story that is written? (very important)

So today I am doing yet another pass and I don't think I am quite there but I still have time - thank God.


DJ Kirkby said...

Oooh I found writing the synopsis for 'Without Alice' the most frustrating thing I have ever done. I'm still not convinced that I got it right. I want to read more about Maddie now though :)
I'm going to go follow the links you've posted and see if I can learn some more about writing a synposis.

liz fenwick said...

The links are really helpful for looking at your synopsis hard...and I just hard a light bulb moment after I posted that may well - cause me to rewrite the book again!!!!X@X@

Debs said...

I recently rewrote my synopsis for my book and found Sarah Duncan and Anita Burgh's blogs incredibly helpful.

Condensing a book down to one page, whilst still keeping it interesting and with all the major information included has to be one of the most difficult things to achieve.

Best of luck with yours.

Captain Black said...

I find the whole business of writing synopses strangely fascinating and actually quite enjoyable. I didn't think I would but when it came around to doing it, I found I liked the process. I suppose I must be insane or something.

When I was at wh@c, I was told that you should up the ante when writing a synopsis. Obviously a synopsis is not a blurb so you can't go too over-the-top, but as it's designed to help sell your book, it makes sense to emphasise the drama.

Thanks for the links, which have found their way to my new writing resource database that I'm working on.

Good luck on your road to publication.

DJ Kirkby said...

Noooooo....really? Oh dear, happy writing! x

Karen said...

I got bogged down in the whole synopsis thing, and in desperation started looking at the backs of novels in a similar genre to mine and copying the blurb using my story. Not what the rules say, but it worked for me! I strongly believe that as long as you cover your major plot points an agent will want to read on if she's suitably grabbed by your story!

Good luck with it :o)

HelenMHunt said...

It is so hard isn't it? I think everyone struggles. You seem to have cracked the process though.

Jenn Ashworth said...

Synopses are really, really hard aren't they? I write my books with lots of long flashbacks and parallel narratives - it's really difficult to reflect the structure in the synopsis when the narrative is non-linear. I often start with a four or five page chapter summary, and then start hacking away at it from there. Not an easy task though - yet, like you say - very useful for focusing on the backbone of story.