Thursday, 26 January 2012

The 'Write A Great Synopsis' blog tour lands...

The synopsis - love it or loathe it, every writer has to tackle one some time. I really don't find them simple and nor do most of my writing pals, so I was delighted when my friend Nicola Morgan casually announced on Twitter one day that she thought she might have a go at a How To...

Not only that, she's done it and jolly good it is too! So I thought I'd ask her a few questions.


Jan: Hi Nicola, welcome to my blog. I know you are on a whirlwind tour, so I won’t keep you long. Thank you for sending me Write a Great Synopsis. Definitely a keeper, and I enjoyed all the very valuable advice, but a few questions occurred to me as I was reading through it.

Nicola: Hello, and thank you for letting me visit!  Is that a Botham’s of Whitby Landlord cake I see on the table?

Jan: Er, yes. Do cut us both a slice. Oh, you are. [Pause for satisfied chomping] Where was I? Oh yes, in your acknowledgements you thank everybody who has ever moaned about the stress of writing synopses for giving you the idea to write this book. Did you really not know that lots of people had problems writing them?
Nicola: I actually really didn’t. There was never a sudden moment of awareness, just a gradual realization that everyone seemed to complain about doing them. Want to know a secret? Just to keep people happy, I used to pretend I hated them, too. I didn’t want to be like that teacher’s pet who loves weekly maths tests. Then I decided I wasn’t going to be a teacher’s pet, just an enthusiastic teacher!

Jan: Very glad you did! Like you, I adored doing précis exercises at school, but I also enjoy filling a whole book with words. I often think writers hate doing a synopsis because we are unwilling to admit that our wonderful characters, complex plots and witty words can be reduced or cut at all, let alone condensed down to a single page. Do you think that may have something to do with it? What would be your response?
Nicola: No, I think that’s an ex-post argument. I’m not sure why it would be so bad to admit that our complexities can be distilled. I think the problem really is that we’re so close to our book that we can’t see what to leave out. We both love our book too much and yet don’t trust it enough to let it stand on its own – like a parent who won’t let a son or daughter be independent. We’re too emotionally attached. The difficulty is that we do need emotional attachment in order to do a good job of distilling the book, but we also need distance, in order both to omit the right stuff and also to see the whole picture from an outsider’s viewpoint.

Jan: You are probably right. Now, in the book, you say: “The tone or voice of your book is conveyed seamlessly by the language of the synopsis.”  This is where I get stuck - how to make it so when a synopsis is third-person present tense narration and most novels, er, aren’t?
Nicola: Now, Jan, I know that you’re a good enough writer to do this without thinking, so you are just playing devil’s advocate, for which I thank you!  
[Jan: Ha! Little does she know] 
Nicola: Conveying tone by language is writing – without that skill, a writer has no voice, and writing a synopsis is only writing. I don’t see difficulty in creating a light tone (for example) in a synopsis for a light-toned first-person narrative and I think it would be the natural thing anyway. You wouldn’t write the synopsis in heavy, ultra-formal language if your novel was a modern comedy, would you?
[Jan: er...]
Nicola: The point I was making is that the voice or tone of the book does need to be suggested in the synopsis, not by saying “My book is hilariously whimsical” but by perhaps using the odd phrase of hilarious whimsy in the synopsis. It should come naturally, once you know that’s what you’re meant to be doing. In WAGS, you’ll see several examples – both in the two synopses that I offer myself, and in the sample synopsis by M Louise Kelly, which I specifically say I’ve chosen because it “nicely shows how to convey the tone of your story in the synopsis.”

Jan: Thanks very much - and the best of luck with the book. Where can people buy it?
Nicola: Thank you! And thank you hugely for letting me come and sit myself down here today. The cake was delicious. People can buy it (the book, not the cake) on their choice of ebook site – I’ve tried to gather various links on the relevant page of my website but the Amazon UK link is here. Remember, you don’t need a Kindle to read a Kindle book or even any e-reader at all: with the free software, they can all be read on laptops or even phones, if your eyes are that good! NB: it’s at a silly cheap price till the end of January!

Nicola also has a fabulous draw going on  at the moment. All commenters below (by Feb 15th) will be entered into the Big WAGS Competition, with chances to win a critique of your synopsis by the Crabbit Old Bat herself! One comment per person on each blog – though you can add to your chances by commenting on the other posts on the tour. Details of all stops on the tour will appear on her blog Help, I Need A Publisher as they go out.

Happy synopsis-writing!


catdownunder said...

You do realise of course that the COB gets help writing hers? Yes, from that dog - and then I have to tidy away the stray hairs! It is why I have gone off for an extended holiday in Australia. That said I have to admit that she has done a purr-fect job of explaining them to other people.
Yours, Spike (who stars in Wasted)

M Louise Kelly said...

How lovely to get a mention. And for doing something right too!! I must admit that I'd listened to Nicola's advice about using the novel's voice in the synopsis before I submitted, so it was great to see i'd managed it - though when you buy WAGSynopsis you'll see I still had other things to work on ;-0

And love your comparison between writing the synopsis and letting your kids be independent. Very apt. You've got to have the confidence that you've done a good job (in bringing them up/constructing and executing your story) and that this will shine through when you precis it.

And hope the cake was good - must send off for some myself!

Cameron Writes said...

Hello Nicola - I've sneaked in to thank you because Otter was making a complete mess of the synopsis of my adventures with Iamo. He and I were shouting at her to stop but she just kept on writing.

We're both very grateful.

Riga, Captain Morrigan, Black Shaman's Guild

Shirley Wells said...

Oh, I need to get this book. I hate, loathe and detest writing a synopsis. Really, words can't express how much I hate it. :)

Nicola Morgan said...

Good luck, everyone! And thank you to Jan for hosting me here.

Cameron, Louise and Cat - glad it has helped!

Katalin Havasi said...

I think both of you are right about why synopses are difficult to write: it's painful to try to compress your "baby" into a nutshell, deciding which parts to cut in the process. But in my opinion a more important drawback is that we writers can't see the forest for the trees. We get so involved with the details of the narrative that we lose sight of the big picture.

We may want to take a step back from the situation by not thinking of our novel for a few weeks. During that time we hopefully forget the insignificant details and gain perspective.

Another solution: we can write the synopsis before writing the book.

Philip C James said...

I had a naive idea I knew what a synopsis was and at whom it was targetted but I think I'm going to have to read the book now.

I too feel it's something you should attempt to write before the book; when involved in bid work in past lives, the best tenders were those where the Executive Summaries had been written FIRST. They established the narrative (surprisingly important, especially when the bid spans several volumes) and also the key, indeed unique, selling points.

Elpi said...

I'm convinced. I've bought the book already and look forward to charging my kindle and getting my teeth in it today. Thanks.

Milla said...

I bought this yesterday and think I'll use it, as Katalin has also said, to write the synopsis before I get any further. Have hit a hump and maybe doing the job of tackling the synopsis will open up the plot a bit. Trouble is, I like the writing, but it can run away with you and it needs whipping back into shape.

Hilary Hadley Wright said...

I wanted this book so much it made me finally get round to calling Amazon to find out why my Kindle for Mac app had stopped recognising me (perhaps it was trying to tell me something?) Amazon fixed the app, I downloaded the book, and I think it's terrific. All power to the COB...

Only 20% of writing is actually writing. The remaining 80% is procrastination, self-doubt, and sitting on the phone to Amazon.

Nicola Morgan said...

Hilary - :) and also :( In other words, I agree!

Kirsty said...

Far too much talk of cake - my stomach is rumbling now ;o)

I think I need to work out what my voice is. I'm just someone that writes so I guess I'll just try pretending I'm writing the novel and see how that goes as a start.

Nicola Morgan said...

Katalin - the forest for trees thing is something I keep saying and I say it in the book. Loud and clear! I think it's pretty much the most obvious point about doing this synopsis thang.

Nicola Morgan said...

Jan, I've just popped in to say a huge public thank you to you for hosting me on my WAGS blog tour. I'm so grateful. It's always good to get different questions and be put on the spot.

Good luck to you and to all your readers. May your writing lives be exciting and fulfilling. And, regarding the WAGS comp, i will let jan know if any of you are among the winners. Good luck!

All the best and thanks again to Jan and to her readers. x