18 May, 2020

Synopsis-Writer's Cramp

There are a lot of things you don’t think about while writing a novel — the number of snow leopards still alive in the wild, what your face was before your parents were born, what Nickelodeon slime is made out of.... As a writer, hard at work on a novel, when you do inevitably dream about crossing the finish line, polishing that last little rough spot out of your manuscript, your mind might conjure book signings, readings, or receiving a lucrative advance, but I guarantee that no one in the history of ever thinks, "How am I going to write this book's synopsis?"

For those who don't know, the synopsis is a punchy summary of the book's plot, beginning to end, that's essential for finding a literary agent and courting potential publishers. It's not as easy as it sounds. In fact, as I just spent a couple of days learning, it's what ten-hour tension headaches are made of.

My novel clocks in at just under 110,000 words. (It took eight years to write, which is very different than saying that I worked on it for eight years.) It features ten narrators and scores of ancillary characters. It features text-message bubbles in one part, Arabic text in another. How could I possibly distill its fine-wrought plot, replete with echoes, overlappings, and allusions, to a few hundred words? The literary snob in me cried foul.

I did it, though. I hacked and I whittled, and, like a sculptor who just keeps chipping away at the stone until the artwork within is exposed, after a couple of days, I have a two-page synopsis that's coherent, free of adverbs, and, I hope, fascinating enough to attract a literary agent. Now I send it off and find something else to occupy my mind for three months while waiting for a response.

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