Monday, September 08, 2014

Just send in a synopsis...

I've always admired authors who know exactly what is going to happen in their book before they start writing it. I can only suppose they have very cooperative characters. It doesn't seem to matter what I want my characters to do, if they don't want to do it, they won't. (DS Tam Macnee is a repeat offender and I've learnt just to let him have his head.)

As a result, though, I hate writing a synopsis in any detail. Apart from anything else, I have an ingrained resistance to telling anyone – family, friends, agent, editor – what the twists and red herrings I am going to plant will be; I want them to read the book and be drawn in like any other reader. It will be spoiled, I feel, if they know what's going to happen.

In the book I'm currently writing, the murder method has changed (twice), the names have changed (several times) and the murderer is definitely not the person I thought it would be at the beginning. This is quite standard, though in one of my earlier books I had reached the second-last chapter before I realised that I had fingered entirely the wrong person. What was bizarre was that when I went back to make the mechanics work I found that they did, perfectly; I only had to bring the murderer into prominence a little more, so as to play fair with the reader. It was quite clear that while my conscious mind had been working in one direction, my subconscious had been working in another.

It happened at a time when I was having to deal with a lot of interruptions and I think my brain had worked rather the way it does when I'm stuck on a crossword clue; even when I'm not consciously thinking about it, the answer will suddenly pop into my head. I still find that when the plot is sticking, picking away at the problem isn't the best idea; just leaving it to simmer for a bit often produces the answer I need.

I once had the embarrassment of having a synopsis I'd written appearing in the publishers catalogue before the book had been delivered – and yes, all the usual changes had happened as I wrote it and it now bore no relation at all to the book I was going to be sending in. I phoned my editor in a panic and asked what on earth we were going to do. She was very philosophical. 'I don't think anyone pays much attention to that anyway,' she said, and I think she was probably right.

Now I'm more careful and any synopsis goes out with a health warning about accuracy attached.  I think I must be learning, though; I know now just what will happen in the new book and for interest went back to look at the synopsis. It's accurate, up to a point – but mainly it's so general that Tam MacNee is free to do his worst!


Charlotte Hinger said...

Aline, I'm going to save this. It's priceless. That's exactly how my mind or plots or whatever works. It's wonderful. Do I have your permission to repost this in the Poisoned Pen Press blog under your name with a brief introduction from me? I post the 5th of every month. I will also put up a link to your website.

Aline Templeton said...

Yes of course, Charlotte. I'd be delighted. It comforts me too to know I'm not alone!

Eileen Goudge said...

Ditto. I am a free-former like you. Ideas come and go and I don't always know how it'll end until I'm in the middle of writing the book. Which is why I resist putting the sample chapter of a WIP in the back of any current release. It would bear little resemblance to the finished product.

Aline Templeton said...

Sometimes I think it would be more restful if it was all mapped out, but then again it's writing to find out what's going to happen that keeps me going!