Friday, 5 February 2010

Short Synopses

Good morning racers.  I knew I could count on you all to fess up your writing sins and I've been busy thinking up a suitable penance.  I did think of an enforced viewing of Big Brother but you might use it to observe interesting behaviour and get ideas for your work.  So put on your hair shirt  - easy if you have pets or children.  If not just snip off that rogue cow lick and another until you're slashing away...You don't do that? Oh.

This is it: Imagine you've got into a lift with an agent.  She looks at the M/S clamped in your hand and says, 'What's your novel about?' The doors are going to ping open any second so what do you say?  

I haven't thought of this, I borrowed the idea from Writing Fiction for Dummies   I loved it but if you're writing commercial fiction, I recommend reading How to Write a Blockbuster by Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly as well.  Helen  and Kathryn of Cornerstones recently commented on a few WriteWords members' synopses - together with the author's first 1500 words.  My work wasn't picked but the advice and feedback was very useful.  

The thought of writing a synopsis with a word count of only 500 words was scary, but starting with a one paragraph description and then gradually expanding on it, helped.  I found it hard to leave out sub plots and a synopsis of this kind can sound pretty boring as it's all narrative but some of the other writers made theirs sparkle. Mind didn't. Not a flicker, but I'm working on it.

What this exercise did do for me was to make me focus on whether my novel followed a story arc or merely meandered along with a few nice little scenes of characters sighing, flicking back their hair, looking at their hands, biting their lips...anything except getting on with it.

If you don't want to stand your punishment, I understand, but I'd love to know if you find such a synopsis useful before or after editing - or both?

I've only been a WriteWords member for a few weeks. My username if RiffRaff, so if we should meet there, I'll buy the coffees if you stump up for the biccies.

By the way, the photo is of my shed and my editor, Bramble.

Bless you all.


Karen said...

Brilliant post (and photo!) Fia, and I must say I found it easier to write a very short synopsis - much like the sort of thing you'd read on a book jacket.

In fact I copied a few for practice - in the same genre as mine - adding my own characters and plot to the text and I found it really helped me focus on what my novel was actually about. Better late than never I suppose ...

I did find after editing that I had to change my synopsis slightly, as some of the plot had altered as I went along :oO

Could you spare Bramble to help me with mine? Please?

Flowerpot said...

Very good post Fia - and I'm glad you have such a trusty editor in Bramble! I think most of us find synopses incredibly difficult to do but I found the shorter version easier in a way - though I dont know what an agent would have made of it!

JJ Beattie said...

How do you concentrate on working with that gorgeous editor around?

Uhm, right. Yes, for my industry day back in October I had to have an elevator pitch. I wrote and rewrote; sent it out to a couple of friends and eventually I felt it would have to do because my time was running out. I was astonished at how hard it was. It will need to be re-written again and again and again, I suspect.

I like Karen's idea of copying a few for practice.

Happy weekend all.

liz fenwick said...

I could never write a synopsis before the book because I am such a panster. Afterwards I have written them and the first go is pages long - I let it all hang out. Then step by step I cut it down to the ket stuff - eventually I get to one page.

I went on Cornerstones fiction workshop in September taught by Julie Cohen and it was fabulous. We looked at synopsis with Helen and it was really useful - one as a diagnostic tool for plot and two to look at the story as a whole entity.

Great topic and I love your editor :-)

Captain Black said...

The synopsis I'm working on at the moment (for a friend) is just over 7,200 words long. That's about nine pages of single-spaced text. Something tells me I've got a lot of summarising and chopping to do. Perhaps I should begin by writing a synopsis of the synopsis.

So many writers appear to treat the synopsis as a write-once then set-in-stone component, and the process of writing it as a one off activity in the grander scheme of the project. I see it otherwise. You'd never submit your first draft of the manuscript, would you (KeVin, don't answer that)? So why treat your synopsis that way? It needs to be worked on, refined, edited and honed to perfection just like the main story.

You don't have to write it at the beginning and then work religiously from it. You don't have to wait until the end and then fret about doing it. Why not evolve the synopsis in parallel with the main story? That way they can stay in synchronisation and grow up together.

Bramble looks like a very serious and discerning editor. What are his/her thoughts on the matter?

Debs said...

I like the idea of writing a short synopsis far more than the lengthier ones, although I haven't thought of doing what Karen did. I like that idea.

I write one with my ideas of the book before I start, usually about a page or so long, but this changes as the book developes.

Debs said...

I forgot to mention that extremely handsome editor. Love his photo, very fetching.

Rowan Coleman said...

Morning all - I hate synopisisesisis - is that how you spell the plural? I hate them because as Captain Black says people assume that that's your book, black and white. For example I've recently done a synopsis for my new adult book and every one who's read it wants something different from it or likes different elements - and yet its not the finished piece - its a work in progrees. We have to live with them because they are an essential tool for pitching an idea. But keep reminding the reader that they are not the book - the book might be an entirely differnt animal and the book reflects your voice and writing style where as synopsis cannot. On another note a 500 word one is impossible - I've just had to write on for my new teen horror novel and it was fifteen pages long and took a week and a half. I think i would have been better off writing the book, but there you go!

Leatherdykeuk said...

Like most people, I loathe writing synopses. If I've been clever, I've written chapter summeries into a seperate file as I've gone along, that makes it easier.

Back of book blurbs -- hooks -- I find easier, but then I'm fundamentally a flash fiction writer.

Denise said...

If anyone is lacking in hair for their shirt I have 2 rabbits who could easily provide for all of us. I think they malt that much just for the pleasure of leaving it all over the house. I'm sure the wise Bramble is much tidier!

I've been trying to write a blurb this week, in the hope it will get me nearer a title. That really does focus the mind and I've made some changes because of it. I have written a short synopsis but it's far from sparkly so I think I'll go looking at writewords - thanks for that. I've not really found mine useful, but maybe that's because it's not there yet!

Lane said...

As a penance, I think we've got off extremely lightly (considering our sins). In fact as my current synopsis is as fluffy and wayward as the m/s, time spent honing a 500 worder will be very beneficial. Thank you.

Love your guardian of the laptop:-)

HelenMHunt said...

I really struggled with my synopsis. The original draft I came up with was way too long and way too boring. Then a few people let me look at theirs as examples, and I finally realised what was required. I now have something I feel reasonably happy with.

Captain's idea of evolving the synopsis alonside the novel is a good one and I will try to aim for that approach when I start the next novel.

Annieye said...

Great post Fia. I like to write the synopsis after I've finished the novel. Like the Captain, I tend to write too much and then cut it down.

Bramble is a little darling.

ChrisH said...

Hi Fia, I'm sorry to have missed your brilliant coffee mornings but at least I get to catch up with them now - and look forwards to following up the links. Thank you.

Liane Spicer said...

I'm about to come down with another bout of shed envy, and I've barely gotten over the cold! Ah well... Wish I had an editor I could bribe with doggie biscuits.

The synopsis is the very last thing I do when I'm ready to submit the MS. I have to mentally drag myself to do it, kicking, sobbing and screaming all the way. It starts off at about six pages and I whittle it down a bit at a time. By the time I get to it the novel's been proofed and edited within an inch of its life and I'm at the point where I never want to see it again.

So, uh, no. The synopsis doesn't help me that way.