Monday, January 15, 2007


Mr Stuart may be having fun at an un-named writer's expense, but right now I am having to suffer the embarrassment of weeding out my own literary inadequacies. I've been studiously avoiding the terror that is synopsising Natural Causes, but now I find I can put it off no longer.

Now you'd think that with a novel that began as a short story, there might be some sort of plan which would then be the basis of a synopsis. Sadly this is not the case. I seem to have given myself all the problems of a fully planned story - the worst one being that I knew from the beginning exactly who done it, how and with what (and whom). This made it very hard for me to accept that the detectives weren't being really dumb all the time. I knew what was going on, so how could they miss it? And the corollary of that was the worry that maybe they really were dumb, and shouldn't be detectives at all.

But for all that I knew at the start what was going to happen, and most of the stepping stones along the way, I didn't so much write a plan as just make shit up as I was going along. This is my preferred modus operandi when it comes to the writing of novels, and there's a lot to be said for it. There's also a lot to be said against it, and I'll not go into either right now. The main point is that, no, I didn't have a written plan to help me with my synopsis.

So all in all, my first draft, at eleven pages and 3500 words wasn't a bad effort. The original short story was longer than that, if not much. But it's still too long for what I want. Ideally I like to condense a novel down into four pages, but given the multiple plot lines in this one, I'll settle for six. I've whittled it down to seven, and a fraction over 2000 words, so just a page of finessing left to do.

This is, for me, the least favourite part of writing a novel. I don't mind the endless grind of the first draft - I even got a perverse masochistic pleasure out of Benfro book three, though at the time it felt like hell. I enjoy rewriting, taking something and tinkering with it, either gently or with a savage disregard for any previous idea of plan. No, what I really hate is having to justify what I've done, and that is what a synopsis is. It's a condensation of months, sometimes years of work into something that can be read in five minutes. And writing it, even lovingly crafting it to be as good as you can possibly imagine, is also to admit that you're worth only that much of someone's time. It is both deeply humbling and profoundly depressing.

So I hate writing synopses, and that's probably why I prevaricate, find other things to do, put it off just for a while, tell myself I'll get around to it later. Right now the house is squeaky clean from my work-avoidance. The dogs are all shiny and smell of tea tree oil, their beds freshly laundered and aired. Yesterday I even cleaned the bath. But I can't send Natural Causes to my agent without a synopsis of some form, so I guess I'd better get on with it.


Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

I hate writing the synopsis as well.

And even worse? The dreaded outline. Shudder.

January 15, 2007 10:03 pm  
Blogger Stuart MacBride said...

My synopses are all the kind of thing you see on the back of a book, not a blow by blow account of what happens inside one.

I take the view that the only point of a synopsis is to make the reader want to pick up the manuscript and read the real thing. Which is what the bumph on the back of any published book is meant to do to: entice the reader in.

So mine are about one page long, double spaced. Think of it as a trailer for the book -- all the good bits, lots of explosions, and a deep gravely voiceover -- and you'll be fine.

January 16, 2007 8:31 am  
Blogger JamesO said...

I tend to do two. One is a single page of blurb, double-spaced so no more than 300 words. That should entice a reader in, but won't say what happens beyond a few teasing set-ups. The other is a longer summary of the key points in the book, including how it all ends.

I'm sure the deep, gravelly voiceover is the best, but for some reason publishers seem to want to know what happens without wading through a 130k manuscript to find out. I can't think why.

January 16, 2007 12:13 pm  
Blogger Vincent said...

The agent submissions I made all asked for a one page synopsis and I think the advice I read was that it should summarise the whole story, including the end. As with any summary though, the hardest thing is coming up with a precis that captures the mood of the story. I saw 'Smokin' Aces' on Sunday and while all the publicity I saw painted it as a Tarantino-esque comic book shootery-type affair, it turned out to be far more serious and far less exciting than that. It's one thing to come up with a great pitch for a book, it's quite another to make sure it's your book that's being pitched and not a completely different one that just happens to share one or two characters and a couple of scenes.

January 16, 2007 8:50 pm  

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