Tuesday, 3 March 2009


I have to write a synopsis. Actually, I have to write two. There is the chapter breakdown and then there is the shorter summary synopsis.
The reason for this is that a kind friend in America said he might wave them in the way of a literary agent or two over there and see if they bite.

Obviously, American literary agents are better-looking than this nice fishy and they probably eat more salad.

I started it yesterday and went through each chapter and tried to write down the salient points. It sounded flat and lukewarm.

Now, I should have started several weeks ago when he first made the offer but my first attempt was ripped apart so badly (by somebody else) I can't say I prioritised it. Which is stupid. What a wuss.
So I had it hanging over me and thought I should get started. By Chapter Four of insipid prose I was checking ICanHasCheezeburger every five minutes. Ooh! A new kitteh!
Then I checked the weather, the latest news (Gail Trimble's team were disqualified? No!) and the various brands of white tea sold at Sainsburys.
All very interesting stuff.

It is far harder to write a good synopsis than a novel. This is your opportunity to really 'sell' your book and without it your shining novel will never reach anyone. But I can't sell!

(By the way, this is a photograph of a closed-down shop)

And then there is the fear that this is an opportunity I could completely stuff up!
American literary agents want things presented a little diferently than British aagents, who mostly want a one-page synopsis described as a 'book jacket blurb with an ending'. In face, quite a few of these do actually end up as the book jacket.
But Americans want a full chapter breakdown as well as the snappier bit, which apparently can't sound anything like a book jacket blurb with an ending. It has to fully describe the book and the action. I suppose one reason for the difference is that British agents (all sounds a bit 007) also ask for the first three chapters usually whereas the Americans don't let you get that far unless they've been hooked by the synopsis.

And my half-finished synopsis currently isn't good enough to use as toilet paper.

Then this morning I remembered the online writers' community I joined a few months ago, WriteWords. You do have to pay to join but at least there are some friendly souls there who will quite happily give you feedback. It's a good place to start. If they rip my synopsis to shreds then I can have a second chance, something that certainly won't happen if a literary agent uses it to line the kitty litter box.
So maybe I should stop chatting and get on with the f@+$ing thing?


LL said...

Don't pay to join writer's groups -- really. There are some on-line you can join free. I moderate/administer this one: http://www.tbd.com/group/1/view and there are something like 2000 members. Within that same forum there is also a group where people participate bi-weekly writing exercises that I also administer: http://www.tbd.com/group/1244/view There are many others on the Internet. Find one you're comfortable with, submit shorter pieces and see what the feedback looks like.

The synopsis required by US agents is painfully short. Most don't require a chapter breakdown (often called a treatment) but for your own sake, it's not a bad idea to do it anyway. It helps you define what you've done, how the characters and plot develops and you find holes in your writing -- trust me, I know from first hand experience.

You need to have somebody edit your work. Allow friends who read a lot to read what you've written. THEN find somebody who knows what they're doing to edit it. Be prepared for a lot of red ink. If you don't set your ego aside during this process, you'll be crushed. However, again by first-hand experience, it makes you a better writer.

Next, NEVER (did I say NEVER?) -- NEVER use passive voice in your writing. It won't sell. It won't be as good as active voice. Eliminate the word "was" from your vocabulary. Find another way to express it.

Example: "Sally was a shy girl." (NO)

"Sally's painfully introverted personality manifested itself in the way she sat on the park bench with her legs and arms crossed." (BETTER)

"Sally didn't look him in the eye. Instead, she shuffled her feet and locked her gaze on a distant oak." (BETTER)

larry.lambert@mac.com if you want to chat on e-mail.

LL said...

Authors are almost all prone to self-laceration. Once you've bled enough, you end up being a better writer. It's sad, but true.

And I don't know any agents who are in any way as kind as the great white shark...

LL said...

I chopped out a very short story and posted it to my blog under the title "Short Story" - this morning, by way of appendix to my earlier posting - the story (http://living-by-chance.blogspot.com/) is written in active voice. Whether my writing or the topic is appealing or not, the tense of the writing - the use of adjectives to bring to life, is essential to our craft.

LL said...

One more example (same blog as before): "A Latrine in Indochina". I hacked this one out after lunch to show the same sort of active voice writing.

There is a vast difference between pounding out a few paragraphs and writing a book. Notwithstanding the active voice component is critically important.

Avis HG said...

Hi Jen

Followed your links from WW. LL has a point of view - but don't write off(groan!) ALL pay-for writing groups. WriteWords itself has a community larger than LL's - and it has quite a few successfully published authors. Give it a go, I say.

Look forward to reading your stuff.

Anonymous said...

Hi there :)
Like Avis, I followed you over from WW and caught sight of that dreaded word 'synopsis'. Feel free to pop it onto WW's Synopsis & Outline Group if you're still struggling.

- NaomiM