Weeks 78

SYN-OP-SIS. Synopsis. "General view" or "to see all at once". Greek, innit.77 78 There are loads of good blog posts about writing a novel synopsis: when to write it (before you've even started, or only when you're finished), how to write it (third person, present tense, keep it short) and why to write it (to bring your story to life and sell your book, mainly). This is not those posts. I do not give advice. I am in no position to write advice. This is the first time I've tried to write a novel, and all signs suggest I am doing it very badly.

So, don't expect any pointers here. I'm more interested in how a synopsis can help focus a story while you're writing it. And by "interested", I mean very keen that that's the case and I haven't just wasted a year and a half of my life.

How do you write a synopsis when you're not even sure what your story's about?

And how do you write a story when you haven't got a synopsis? "Just start writing". Sure - thanks. That's got to be up there with "cheer up - there's plenty more fish in the sea" and "have you tried drinking upside down?" for useless advice. I've tried just writing. And guess what? I've written. Words. Pages. Loads of them. But do any of them constitute a story? Does a story even = a novel?

Okay, let's not go there. Yet. This vagueness showed when someone asked me about my book, however. "What's it about?" I can answer that. "What happens?" Trickier.

A synopsis helps because it demands that you explain only WHAT happens, not WHY it happens, and refocuses you on the story at hand. It's an evolving document - in 79 weeks, I've written about five, and rejigged my story board as a consequence more than three times - that can sometimes raw your attention more than your actual manuscript (so much so that I've had to abandon my computer and write in longhand, to avoid the habitual drag and drop of chapter summaries).

At regular intervals I've thought my story was up to scratch, and even had a few eureka moments. Different phases brought a focus on different aspects of the novel, from character to perspective and all-out plot.

But there was always this nagging feeling that the story didn't hang together, and, I like to think it was this, rather than a last-minute attack of nerves and vertigo when I found myself 10,000 words from the end, that made me grind to a halt. I hadn't earned the ending I wanted to happen.

What ending had I earned? That would involve reading back what I've written, and I'm not strong enough for that (it's 08.52 in the morning - not late enough for the three strong whiskies I'd need to down before I could do that).

Having earlier worked out my central goal and the consequence if it's not reached, I devolved this pair into smaller units to work out a list of scenes. So if the story goal is that a character must get married*, then the events that need to happen are parties, visits to bars, dates, etc etc - you get the point. And if the consequence of not getting married is dying alone and afraid and unloved, then there need to be some credible intimations of that: the death of relatives, being snubbed, laughed at or jilted at the altar etc etc.

Binary opposites such as these helped me keep up the "suspense" - would she reach her goal? - and gave me lots of ideas for things that could happen. I wrote these longhand, and ended up with a synopsis of over 6,000 words, sprawling and varied, each chapter summary varying from a single line ("present day event here?") to paragraphs of description and dialogue.

* NB: Example only. The central goal of my story is NOT getting married. OR IS SHE.

Word count this week: 0 First draft: 128,661