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Friday, 24 May 2013

Erin McKechnie struggles with a synopsis.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bev Robitai’s blog on beta readers; actually I enjoyed Jenny Harrison’s earlier blog on cleaning up writing as well. Unappealing but necessary chores;  all in pursuit of perfect prose.

I am confronted with the next phase of this process of bringing a work of art to print – writing a synopsis for my book. Now I wrote the jolly thing – you’d think I know what it’s about, wouldn’t you? But – compelled to sit and condense my 88,000 odd (hopefully not too odd) worded manuscript into a tightly expressed but fully explanatory summary, my fingers are struck numb.

This synopsis cannot be a titillating brief introduction of the main characters’ problems ending with the question ‘but can she pull it off’ or something similar. That’s what goes on the back of the book. Apparently editors don’t like being left to guess what happens, but if I tell them what happens they’ll know everything and then they won’t want or need to read it.

However, Stewart Ferris says  ‘leave out all unnecessary detail and tantalise the editor with questions and hints that make them want to read the whole book to find out more.’ That’s not what the others said. He also, along with others, advises writers to have a ‘hook’ to attract editors.  Which of the scintillating moments in the book should I choose as the hook? It’s akin to feeding one child and putting the others out in the cold.

Some authorities on this vexing problem of writing a synopsis assert that one paragraph per chapter is adequate, whilst others are equally emphatic that editors will not want anything that long. Apparently keeping a notebook beside the computer and summarising each chapter as you go is really helpful in this regard, but it’s too late – I’d finished the thing before I found that bit out.

I must be concise, succinct, pithy and serious. Save the jokes for the covering letter – another problem.  Light touches of humour are acceptable in the letter, jokes are not. Put the jokes in the book. Who to believe?

In my synopsis I must clarify which genre I’m writing in. I don’t know. There are other books of a similar type already published. Some of them are non-fiction so they end up genre-less, others have been variously catalogued as crime, pastoral, sociological thrillers. In desperation I asked for the opinion of a number of my learned friends who are familiar with the content of the book, but unfortunately we could not reach a consensus.

So this is it. It’s a good book and you should read it.
Erin McKechnie
(Editor's note - Erin's next puzzle will be finding the perfect title!)

1 comment:

  1. I've just finished reading Erin's draft book as a beta reader so now I'm experiencing the other side of the equation from my post last week. It's an honour and a responsibility - and happily in this case a pleasure as well. Once she chooses a title I'll be sure to recommend it!