30 June 2008

A Flat-Iron, A Catch-22 and a Bit of Miscellanea

The Flat-Iron

This synopsis stuff is hard work. Not that I expected it to be easy, mind.

But yes, I’m still at it. I did a bit of homework on what a ‘real’ (to be submitted to somebody) synopsis should be, and what I did last week is not nearly as done as I thought it was. But – shockingly – I think it’s actually going pretty well.

It was a hectic weekend, so I wasn’t able to devote a lot of time to it – not as much as I wanted to by any means, but enough that I managed to have another Revelation.

Er, no, the Axe did not get happy and whack another hapless character from the plot (lucky characters). It wasn’t really a Plot Revelation so much as it was a Process Revelation.

See, I’m always struggling with the Big Picture. All my life, I’ve been climbing things – trees, mountains, cliffs, icefalls – in an attempt to gain some perspective. And my lack of perspective (or inability to gain any) when it comes to fiction is, I think, the main cause of the ginormous bowls of plot spaghetti I end up with upon finishing a first draft.

I’ve tried all kinds of things to get there. Index cards (one for each scene). Outlines (which get ignored by my characters). 3-D models (don’t ask).

These all sound like great ideas, and they probably work for a lot of people. But they haven’t clicked for me.

A synopsis, however, might be the thing that does.

Why? Well, for one thing, synopses have to be written according to certain rules. One of these rules is that they are always written in '3rd person omniscient POV'. So if I play by this rule, writing a synopsis forces my focus to stay at a certain level. In other words, I don’t get sucked into some devious little character’s head and hopelessly sidetracked, because for a change, I’m not in anybody's head but mine, the storyteller.

As I'm writing this synopsis, the plot spaghetti is actually starting to untangle, sub-plot threads are connecting to each other, places to foreshadow later events are appearing. The plot spaghetti is, in fact, looking less like an ugly snarl in unkempt hair and more like ultra-curly hair that's had a flat-iron taken to it - maybe a bit kinky here and there, but overall, much better behaved.

So, long-term, I can see my writing process developing into something like this: it starts with some kind of loose (very loose) outline-ish thing, then a rough draft, then some filling in of plot holes, then a sudden and wrenching recognition of plot spaghetti, followed by some despair - then application of the flat-iron in the form of a synopsis, a sigh of relief, and then… well, whatever comes after that. :-D

The Catch-22

Now this version of the synopsis that I’m working on right now is mainly just for my use. I’m not really writing it to please anyone but me.

Presumably, however, I’ll use it someday when I submit the (revised, polished, proofread) manuscript to a real, honest-to-goodness publisher or agent. And that leaves me with the amateur question (that only I can answer, I’m sure): how much detail is too much? Take the following passage, for example:

The next day, Luci travels as far as Chung-lon by way of the Temple’s Tower, a strange building that only women can enter. The floor of the Tower’s Map Room is a mosaic map of Imbue that, if used properly, can transport an adept from one location to another.

Something screams at me that this is way too much detail and wants it re-written so it goes something like:

Halfway on her journey South, Luci stops in the city of Chung-lon.

Which one is better? For clarity and simplicity and get-to-the-damn-point-already-ness, clearly the second one.


I’m a fantasy writer. If I don’t show some of the nifty fantasy details I’ve created, what the hell’s the point? Plus, the Tower and what it can do are important story elements later on. So I'm inclined to stick with the first version, even when I submit it.

Not that it matters greatly for the purposes of this synopsis, but what would you do?


We got a pool!!

Never, ever did I see myself purchasing a pool - too expensive and too much fuss. But hey, Wally-world has good-sized pools with filters for a hundred bucks and frankly, when you live this far south of the M-DL and don't have a pool, you live in the bowels of Hell. And since The Husband just adores futzing with chemicals and mechanical doo-dads, I said, "Eh, why not!"



Miss Crabby Pants said...

I like the details and the hints of the wonderful world you crated, but you're also right that the first passage contains too many details (or at least too many words - not sure which). But the second is too bland.

How about something like this:

The next day, Luci travels as far as Chung-lon where she reaches the Temple’s Tower. The Tower contains a mosaic map that, if used properly, can transport an adept from one location to another.

I don't know if it's any better, but it seems to come down somewhere between your 2 samples.

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

The amount of detail you end up putting in depends on the length of the synopsis.

One article that helped me the most (which of course, isn't online any longer) said to start with a 1-page synopsis. Yep. *dies* Write one sentence about the beginning. Write one sentence about what the book is about (the central conflict or hook). Then write one sentence about the ending. Smooth and fill until you have 1 page.


Now, you're going to expand to 2 pages. Look at the major turning point(s) in the story. Expand just enough, concentrating on conflict, action, and emotion, until you get 2 pages.


Continue this process as needed to get the synopsis a length you need. i.e. for the American Title, the synopsis could not be longer than 5 pages. Some agents will say "short" synopsis, whatever that means. For drafting and revision, you may find that a thoroughly detailed 10-20 page synopsis or more helps.

Since you're writing fantasy, I would concentrate on the hero's journey aspect, the central conflict or quest, whatever your protagonist faces. I would also flavor with bits of your worldbuilding. What makes this world special? Small amounts only, though.

Since I write pretty strong romance at the same time, I also have to concentrate on the romantic hero's journey. How do they fall in love? What obstacles exist to keep them apart and how does that weave into the external hero's journey?

Fun stuff. But it sounds like you're making GREAT progress!

Now I'm going to publish this comment and hope blogger doesn't eat it.

Bethanie said...

Ms CP - I like the details, too. :) I think part of the problem is that I tend to write in run-on sentences and then have to got back and edit them down, which hasn't quite happened yet... :-D So I think you're right - the happy medium is somewhere in between.

Joely - ONE page? *chokes, sputters, gasps for air* Oh dear me... I think, perhaps, I'll tackle that AFTER the revision... heh-heh... *faints*

But thanks immensely for the pointers! That does sound like a good way to go about it. *faints again*

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

I know, I about died myself.

However, I found it much easier to start with 1 page and expand to say, 4 pages, than to take a 10 or more paged synopsis and CUT to 4 pages for some agent/contest/publisher's requirement. Cutting is HARD.

If it's helping you draft the revision, then write it any length that makes sense, in any way that makes sense! You may end up with a handful of synopses of different lengths when you get into the submission process.