Tag Archives: synopsis

Pitch and Yaw

Over the past few days, I’ve been writing. No great surprise there, I hear you say. However, I haven’t been writing words to knit into my new WiP, which has really been left swinging in the wind, or a new story, or something towards one of the many competitions I’d like to enter. Instead, I’m preparing for an upcoming event at which I’ll have the chance to talk to some very important people about my wee book, and why it’s marvellous. So, I’ve been writing about my beloved ‘Emmeline’ – elevator pitches, synopses, this-is-why-the-book-is-great documents – without, it has to be said, a lot of success.

So, okay. It’s not all bad. I think I have my elevator pitch, for instance; writing that was no picnic. You basically need: your protagonist/s, what they want, and what’s in their way; your antagonist/s, what they want, and what’s in their way; how these two struggles intersect – and all in two sentences. It’s harder than I would have imagined to condense an entire book like this and, scarily, it really gets you to focus on the core of your story. The risk there, of course, is: what if you find out that the core of your story isn’t all that good?

Whoa. Image: maltimpostor.com

Whoa.
Image: maltimpostor.com

Quite, Ted. Quite.

It’s amazing to think you could write an entire book – eighty thousand words, almost three hundred pages, and only really discover what it’s about when you write a two-sentence ‘potted plot’, isn’t it? But that, of course, is why it’s important to do it. If the core of your plot isn’t strong, or worth telling, then all you’ve done is create three hundred pages of window-dressing around an inadequate idea.

And nobody wants that.

Anyway, I’ve discovered that ‘Emmeline’ is essentially about searching for an idea of home, which was a surprise. I think this is one of the oldest, most basic and most comforting plot arcs in human culture, and it turns up everywhere. It was also something that interested me when I worked as an academic researcher – I remember writing a paper about a character who tried to create a ‘home’ wherever he went, only to have it destroyed over and over, forcing him to keep moving – and so it’s almost fitting that it’s turned up again. Until I wrote this elevator pitch, though, I would have thought ‘Emmeline’ was a quest story – save the world! Outsmart the baddies! – but it seems that, at its heart, it’s about family. I quite like that knowledge, to be honest.

Then, I had to write about the story.

Image: brickcitylaw.com

Image: brickcitylaw.com

I tried to do this five or six times, starting and deleting and starting again, until I eventually had to admit defeat. I walked away from the computer. I did other stuff. I went outside and breathed the sweet air. I tried to calm my spinning thoughts. Through all of this, though, I knew that I had to go back and try again, and so it never fully left my mind.

So, what’s it like to write about a story you’ve written? Well.

You know when you meet someone for the first time and you get nervous and start babbling, and you hear yourself talking and you say ‘holy heck, will you just shut up?’ inside your head but you don’t shut up, you just keep talking and with every passing syllable you look more and more insane? That’s kind of how it felt, except I was alone (which made it even weirder.) I started flinging random sentences at the page, including my feelings as I started the book and how I loved the characters and how I felt it was the kind of book I’d have liked to read at the age the characters are, and it turned into a giant mess. There was no direction, no structure, no meaning – and it made zero sense. I suppose it was a tie between having too much to say and not really knowing what was the right thing to say – the thing which will catch an agent’s attention, and which will set my work in its best light.

And then I remembered something vital.

I wasn’t writing a document that was going to be read – I was writing a document that was designed to help me to speak. This is going to turn into a presentation, of sorts; I’m not going to be handing over my written description of the book and sitting, in silence, while the other person reads it. That, naturally, changes the dynamic of the text completely. I pulled on my copywriter hat, looked critically at the mess I’d created, and started again.

I began by asking myself a series of questions. What is your book about? Who is your protagonist? What does she want? Who tries to get in her way? What obstacles does she face? These, and many more, became my new framework. I made my answers brief – a few sentences, at most – and ruthlessly edited if they went over. I imagined myself being interviewed, and how I’d respond (well, how I’d respond if I were being my most erudite, self-possessed and collected self, which is unlikely to happen in reality), and it really helped.

Image: rebeccasbook.blogpot.com

Image: rebeccasbook.blogpot.com

I’m not quite finished the document yet, but at least now I know that I can do it. I hate feeling out of control and overwhelmed, and things tend to get on top of me when I start to lose my grip on what I’m doing. It’s a dark spiral; things pile up, and you can’t keep up, and it gets worse and worse until eventually you have to start again from scratch. I lose my sense of direction and balance, and end up going all over the place looking for something that usually ends up being under my nose the whole time.

The mad thing is, if I’d been doing this for someone else the first thing I’d have suggested is making a list of questions. When it comes to doing it for myself, though, I have to go through all the panic first like it’s a rite of passage, or something.

What a funny little person I am.

 

 

 

The Plunge? Taken!

We find ourselves on the rocks of Thursday once again. I trust you’re all well? Good, good.

So, this week, I finally got around to doing that thing I’ve been promising to do for, oh, the last six months, or so. I’m sure most of you had given up all hope that I’d ever make good on my word, and had probably come to the bitter realisation that sometimes, you just can’t believe a thing you read on the internet…

I never should have trusted her! Sniff! Image: nature.com

I never should have trusted her! Sniff!
Image: nature.com

Yeah, or not.

In any case, it might be of interest to you to know that this is the week in which I finally did it. After many months of waffling about it, I’ve at long last begun to make contact with agents. Literary agents. Actual literary agents. With connections in the publishing industry, and everything. So far, I’ve lived to tell the tale, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

You know, sometimes, how you can pay visits to really tall buildings – in places like America, I mean, because of course Ireland doesn’t have any *really* tall buildings, on account of how we’re all short and oppressed – and they have glass floors that you can walk on and look down hundreds of feet to the ground below?

Like this? *covers eyes* Image: alexderavin.blogspot.com

Like this? *covers eyes*
Image: alexderavin.blogspot.com

When I tell you that I had to have a cup of strong coffee before I could even do a Google Image search for that picture, I’m not joking. I hate heights so much that even looking at that photograph is giving me vertigo. Standing on a kitchen chair is as high as I ever want to be off the ground – and even at that, sometimes, I get an attack of the wobbles.

And, my dears, that feeling of vertigo, and the sensation of ‘ooh, I think I might be out of my depth here,’ is now a permanent fixture in my life.

Pressing ‘send’ on an email which contains the first five pages, or the first three thousand words, or the first ten thousand words, or whatever the case may be, of a book over which you’ve (almost literally) sweated blood, is no easy thing to do. The email doesn’t just contain words, of course – it holds your hopes, and fears, and plans, and ambition. It contains everything in you which is good and admirable, and everything which is desperate and terrified, too. Every submission made is an hour, or two hours, or a day of preparation – writing a synopsis, crafting a cover letter, reading and re-reading and re-reading your opening chapters just in case there’s an error you’ve missed the last five thousand times you read it; it’s the hours spent researching the agency to which you’re submitting and making sure they have an interest in what you’re writing, as best you can; it’s the hours of self-talk, trying to convince yourself that this isn’t completely crazy and that you can actually go through with it.

So, you see. Not just a case of ‘whack it all together and let it go wherever it needs to.’

I’m trying not to look back over the emails I’ve already sent, because they’re sure to make me cringe. I’m trying to be positive, and hope that something in what I’ve sent will spark interest, somewhere; I’m aware, though, that what I’m doing is akin to trying to light a match somewhere on the deepest ocean floor. There are a lot of people trying to do what I’m doing – most of them with more to offer than I have – and it can be hard to keep dredging inside yourself, expecting there to be endless supplies of optimism and hope just waiting to be tapped; that, however, is what I have to do. Every time I sit to write a synopsis (because I do a new one each time I submit to an agent, in the interests of keeping the whole thing ‘fresh’ and relevant to each particular recipient), it gets harder to shake the feeling of boredom surrounding my novel – it all seems so old, and worn, and overdone. I’m telling myself that’s because I’ve read it so many times, and I’m clinging to the hope that this is the truth.

And, of course, I’ve only just begun the whole process. I still have the weeks and months of waiting for a reply to come yet. At least the waiting process will give me some time to build myself back up again, just in time to cope with the lovely, kind, well-meaning emails which will read something like: ‘Thank you for your submission – we can see you’ve worked very hard on it, but unfortunately, it’s not for us…’

And, the best bit of all? I’m not even halfway through my list of agencies, so this will be going on for some time yet. Someone pour me a whiskey…

'Tomorrow... Is... Another day!' Yes, Scarlett. Another day in which I have to turn around and do all this again! Yay? Image: lesscakemorefrosting.com

‘Tomorrow… Is… Another day!’ Yes, Scarlett. Another day in which I have to turn around and do all this again! Yay?
Image: lesscakemorefrosting.com

 

Quelle Horreur!

So, today’s post is about that dreadful question, the one which haunts my nightmares and causes me to break out in hives, the one question I fear more than anything else.

No, it’s not ‘how old are you, exactly?’, before you ask.

It’s ‘So! Wow, you wrote a book. Man. That’s cool. What’s it about?

Image: lostandtired.com

Image: lostandtired.com

What’s it about, indeed. Well.

Does anyone else experience a total loss of verbal and physical coordination when someone puts this question to them? When it happens to me, it’s like someone has just asked me to find the square root of the thirty-first prime number multiplied by the total number of moons in our solar system, and then divide it by the amount of miles that separate Earth from the Oort cloud. In other words, my only answer is ‘Um. Well, it’s sort of… yeah, I mean, it’s kind of like…’ before I trail off into silence beneath their withering gaze.

It’s a really hard question. But why is it so difficult?

You write a book. It doesn’t happen overnight, after all. You spend months working on it, getting the idea and nesting it, hatching it out and growing it, nurturing it until it’s strong enough to stand on its own short spindly legs, and then you write it and rewrite it and rewrite it until you can bear to read it without cringing. If anyone in the world knows what it’s about, you do. But time after time it happens to me that I get asked what my book is about and my tongue turns to sawdust and my throat to jelly. I can’t answer. My brain goes blank. People think I’m weird(er).

When I was doing my PhD, I was advised from an early stage to have a snappy answer to the question ‘what’s your thesis about, then?’ It didn’t have to be a truthful or accurate answer, but at least it was something you could trot out when someone cornered you at a party or in the staffroom, demanding to know what you were spending your funding money on (not, of course, that it was any of their business, but that’s a different story). I did develop a one-sentence answer to that question – as time went on the sentence grew longer and longer, of course, and eventually it had so many clauses and commas and semi-colons that I had to turn it into a paragraph, but that’s not the important thing. The important thing is this: it’s hard to know how to answer a question like ‘what’s your book about?’ when you know it so intimately that it’s like asking someone to describe, in detail, their spouse’s face, or something like that. So much information floods into your brain that the whole thing just clanks to a halt.

Or, is it more than that?

Image: blogs.lawyers.com

Image: blogs.lawyers.com

Sometimes, I feel like I can’t answer a question like ‘what is your book about?’ because I’m terrified to even talk about it. I’m also petrified that if I gather up the guts to start talking about it a look of pure boredom will creep across the face of the person who asked me the question, and they’ll get that unmistakable look in their eye – the look which says ‘Oh, my God, get me away from this nutter.’

Now that I think about it, that happens to me a lot. Anyway.

I’m afraid, I guess, of the judgement of other people. I’m afraid to take my little story-gem out of its protective wrappings and hold it out in front of someone else’s face and go ‘here! Look! Isn’t it pretty? Don’t you just love it as much as I do?’ in case they say ‘No, actually. It’s a bit weird-looking, don’t you think? I’m bored just looking at it.’ I fear, every time I start to talk about my book, that my voice sounds silly and the idea sounds ridiculous and I stumble over plot points and get confused and explain the whole thing backwards so that it seems like I’ve written the biggest mess in the history of literature. What I should do, actually, is print out a one-sentence synopsis, and have it laminated, and carry it in my purse so that I can take it out and show it to people when they ask me what I’ve been working on lately. At least then I can watch their face as they read my answer, and I can just turn and run away if they look confused or derisory or unimpressed. I may be able to save myself some of the hassle of interacting verbally with people who might hate what I’ve done, and I’ll know not to engage them in literary conversations ever again…

But that’s silly, of course. Naturally enough, there are going to be people who won’t like what you write. Not everyone in the world is going to love, or even like, your book. Avoiding people, and thereby avoiding the question, is impossible; the best I can do is prepare an answer I can be proud of, and practice it until I can recite it by heart without stopping or skipping or messing up or saying something out of sequence, and then learn how to happily take it on the chin when someone raises a skeptical eyebrow at me and says ‘Really? But that sounds boring/trite/stupid/doomed,’ or whatever the case may be. Someone, somewhere, is bound to be interested, and to react with enthusiasm when I start off my answer with ‘Well. My book is about a boy named Jeff who receives three really strange presents for his thirteenth birthday…’

Do you have any tips on how you cope with people asking you what your book’s about, and how you deal with your nerves surrounding The Question?

Hope you’re having a fantabulous Friday, and that a sparkling weekend awaits you!