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?
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.