The tricky art of synopsis writing

It’s the worst bit. Book finished, many edits done, rough copies printed, agent research done, presentation chapters duly spaced correctly, checked for typos, letter written . . . synopsis.

How to distill down 90,000 words or so into a page? My latest technique is to write out exactly what happens in each chapter then keep whittling it down, jam it all together, hone it until it makes sense and then give it to long-suffering friends for their comments. Luckily I have quite a few who are willing to scan through and add their thoughts whether it be on structure, grammar or whether the thing is dull, interesting, could be better, etc. Maybe everyone does this, or maybe not. I certainly used to spend little time, wanting to get the job out of the way as quickly as possible. But what’s the point unless it’s done as well as can be? Putting myself in an agent’s chair, staring at yet another badly constructed synopsis, yes, I’d just slide it into the ‘thanks but no thanks’ bin.

For this current book I have gone through many, many sheets of paper, over several days gradually adding and subtracting words until the page felt ‘done’. Someone came back to me yesterday when I thought I’d nailed it only to say, ‘Hmm, but what about this’, and they were totally right. A few hours more work and the few paragraphs were so much more succinct, the plot so much more strongly outlined. You know it all in your head, and everyone out there, doesn’t.

One more check though, letter thoroughly investigated for stupid errors and I’ll strike out once again into the ocean of ‘well, you never know, this could be the one . . .”

 

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Peer reviewing sites

My last post here was about Youwriteon, and this one is about Youwriteon.

I suppose most of us writers have gone through this route; or if we haven’t, we should.

When I had finished ‘Going out in the midday sun’ I was happily sending out the first three chapters to agents, vaguely keeping an eye on the rejections and wondering what to do next. Then I discovered a whole other world out there, totally by chance. The peer reviewing sites. Youwriteon looked quite friendly with its pink and beige site, so I duly loaded up the first seven thousand words, not really knowing what the site was about. Amazing . . . people read the words and sent back reviews: some pathetic, some enlightening. 

A couple of weeks later I logged on and found I was in the Top Ten; I hadn’t even noticed there was one. Then I was hooked. It became a sort of neurotic game: logging on rather too often to see if someone had ‘booked out’ my chapters, and doing rather too many reviews in an addicted fashion. The book hovered around in the top ten for a couple of weeks and then someone ‘sunk it’ with a very good, probably accurate in many places, review, and I was mortified. Then comes the point where you have a lot of reviews and the annoying pointless sniper attack ones start to weigh against the good ones, moving the book down the charts.

This is probably the time to re-load the book with its alterations and get new reviews, or forget it and take the advice and suggestions that were valuable. Easy to say . . . just another — shit, a stupid write up where someone has filled their statuary hundred words and given you two’s out of five’s.

What the site, and presumably others are good for:

Totally and unbelievably useful as a sounding board and general leveler: is your stuff as good as you think? How can it be improved? People out there don’t know you — EXPOSED, you are; how does the work stand up to public scrutiny?

I found it to be an inspiration to write more, push myself, experiment. Also, critiquing other people’s work is useful: annoying sometimes, but on the whole, rewarding, inspiring and a great learning curve. Without the site I probably never would have found the enjoyment in writing short stories which are to my mind such a brilliant tool for playing, trying ideas and prodding the grey matter.

I’ve learned SO much about grammar — a weak point for me having fallen into the 1970’s comprehensive system. Still learning!

My short story that was at number one, did make it through into the ‘best seller’chart and at that point I did breath a small sigh of relief, so perhaps the competitive thing would still be there if it hadn’t have gone through — difficult to say.

 

What they are not so good for:

Well nothing really; it’s just how YOU use them. Load up the stuff, take the useful crits (sometimes fantastically detailed, thoughtful and SO valuable) ignore the stupid ones (I just had one that praised me very highly, then said at the end, ‘I wish I had given you higher marks as you are obviously a very good writer’ then proceeded to award me dismal marks — useless on all counts.) celebrate if you get high up in the charts, but remember it’s not the reason you have put the stuff up there.