Getting a piece of writing down from three pages to one doesn’t sound particularly exciting, I know. But it BLOODY IS.
Way back in the early days of this blog I wrote about synopses. I said that I was very happy with mine. At the time, that was true. Putting together a coherent beginning-to-end plot summary for a thriller with loads of twists and reversals without making it seem like an unfocused mess was very difficult, and I ended up with a double-line spaced version that was three pages long. It ticked all the boxes. But it was still three pages long, and I simply couldn’t work out how to get it down further without making it look like I wasn’t in control of my story.
Literary agents, though, are consistent in their inconsistency when it comes to what they’re looking for in a synopsis. Some want an ultra-detailed layout of the plot. Others, a chapter-by-chapter summary. Others still, a very short blurb, the kind of thing you’d see on the flipside of a paperback. But the most popular request seems to be for a one or two page synopsis. Two pages max. Mine was three. This immediately cut out quite a few literary agents from my thoughts, as not submitting according to their guidelines would be a waste of time. However, I was worried that the plot summary would fall apart if even one bit of it was taken away – synopsis Jenga, if you will. I tried it a number of times and failed. I was resigned to never having anything shorter than three pages.
Yesterday, however, I randomly opened a file that contained one of the failed versions. It was only half-finished as I’d given up through lack of inspiration, but what was there was… surprisingly unshit. Through a lot of research into how to write a query letter for US agents a couple of months ago (I played around with that for fun, as I go on a writing forum where most of the users are based in America), I had gradually picked up the knack of condensing lots of plot elements down into the single through-line that underpins the story, and for some reason yesterday I thought to myself: “Right, I’m going to finish this shit. I’m going to absolutely fucking nail it.”
It took me over three hours to sort out this single page of writing even though half of it was basically already done, but through a combination of massive editing and then trying to “personality” it up a bit when the length was right, I ended up with a one page synopsis. One page! And did I lose anything compared to the three pages? Of course – a lot of detail went by the wayside, but what surprised me was that its loss actually brought the underlying story much more into focus.
I asked an author I know if she’d be kind enough to read it for me, and she got back to me half an hour later, saying that it was brilliant and she knew who to come to next time she needed to write a synopsis. That was one of those “Yeeeeesssss” moments that are rather nice to have on a Friday! Every author hates having to tackle a synopsis, you see (at least, I haven’t yet found one that doesn’t). They’re soul-destroying. “100,000 words into a single page?! You’re cutting the heart out of my work, turning it into a clinical exercise in sterility! You bastard!” But whether by accident or design (likely the former), I attacked it when it wasn’t looking, and now have something that’s actually going to replace the three page variety for anyone other than an agent who specifically requests a longer synopsis.
And since I’m waiting for a couple of agents to get back to me with full manuscript feedback at the moment, the hope is that I won’t even have to use the new version! Not until I suggest that it forms part of their approach to publishers, anyway (I can but dream). But it’s there, waiting, just in case it’s needed. It feels bloody great to finally have it, it really does.