Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Am I really this dumb?

First of all, the title for this week’s blog is not an invitation for Delany to start taking potshots at moi!

Second, I’m at the front end of a new novel and since my new publisher (Dundurn Press) wants a synopsis of any book they're considering, along with some sample chapters, I figure it’s best to get this little detail taken care of before I put in all the hours necessary to produce a finished manuscript. That way the book will already be scheduled and I can work to their deadline. Things will be sped up. It’s all good.

So, I have to produce a coherent synopsis for a book that’s still really embarrassingly foggy in my little noggin. For me that’s easier said than done. This feels way too much like homework!

With the best of intentions I am soldiering forth. I know I’m not going to be held strictly accountable for my synopsis when they see the finished product (shit happens, after all), but what I eventually present to the editorial board as my proposed plot has to have a certain air of believability and sense or they’ll probably take a pass. So, for the past couple of days, I’ve been walking around with a very distracted look on my face as I try to wrestle my nebulous plot into some sort of book-like shape. It’s going pretty well, but slowly. I have pages of notes, most of them scribbled out, some harshly, as I put for an idea only to knock it down. There are arrows leading all over the place as I try to string the narrative together. Gradually, though, the story is taking on a logical form.

This morning I was out walking and thinking, trailed by a group of half-formed, shadowy characters when it struck me: this would be a great technique for getting out of a box (of my own making, no doubt) when I’m actually writing a novel.

Got writer’s block? Start making a synopsis from that point and see what comes up.

Got two ideas of how the book should proceed, but it’s very unclear which one is going to work (and you’re probably working to a deadline)? A synopsis of each track from the point of divergence might make it all clear and takes far less time than actually writing the two narrative variations.

I wrote my sixth novel, A Case of You, start to final draft in eleven weeks. There was a good reason to do this, but I forget what it was (perhaps I’ve blocked it out), and the whole time my greatest fear was what would happen if I went up a blind alley and got stuck? There was no time for floundering around. Fortunately, it didn’t happen.

Now, the big fat thing staring me in the face is: why didn't this technique occur to me years ago? I feel like a total dummy because the answer to one of those great writing problems was right in front of me and I was too blind and stupid to see. I doubt if I’m the first person to have thought of it. Some great writing guru (probably Stephen King) has probably been espousing it for years.

But maybe, just maybe, I’m not that dumb after all.


Jared said...

Actually, Rick, if I remember my ON WRITING correctly, Stephen King is a fly-by-the-seat kind of guy. The first draft is just getting all the stuff out. The second draft makes it better.

Rick Blechta said...

That's the way I generally like to work. I've just been forced into "the other camp" by the requirements of the new publisher.

Anyway, my goal was to share what might be a helpful technique for my fellow writers to get out of a bind we all encounter at one time or another — in the easiest way possible. I do know that it's working for me. Hopefully, I'm not a one-off!

Thanks for weighing in Jared!

hannah Dennison said...

You have my commiserations. I hate HATE writing those things but they seem increasingly necessary these days. I'm playing devil's advocate here because the last synopsis I labored over and submitted as an official proposal was rejected because the editor in question had "changed her mind" about the concept. Thank heavens I hadn't written an entire manuscript. However, maybe if I had, she might have loved the fully-fleshed out story. A synopsis can feel rather like delivering a carcass and insisting that it's really going to taste delicious. Good luck Rick! And thanks for your tips - they're really helpful

Rick Blechta said...

I fully agree with your devil's advocate position, Hannah. That's precisely why I'm happy doing the synopsis. Well...not happy: I'd prefer to be spending my meagre time writing the novel.

However, I'd much rather craft a good synopsis, quite possibly help out my plot farther down the line — and save myself from spending all the time to write a novel in which my publisher has no interest.

So yeah, you said what I was trying to make clear in my posting. Maybe I am that dumb. ;)

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

You have my sympathy, too. A few months ago, I used software that I discovered to write a synopsis for my first book in my new series. It was a useful exercise, but I actually find it easier to do what you're suggesting but in a sort of free-form doodling kind of way. I do it when I'm working through how the story would go if each of my suspects were the guilty party. Which still doesn't save me from getting to the end and having to re-think, but at least it usually doesn't require a complete rewrite.