JK Rowling (Twitter Queen) relayed a public service announcement about the Lucy Cavendish Prize. “A great opportunity for unpublished female writers resident in UK and Ireland,” she says. I decided, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Right? I’m an unpublished female writer, and at this point in time I’m living in the UK. My book is finished and I’m ready to roll.
I read through the criteria for entry and was shocked to discover that a 10-page synopsis was permissible along with the usual first 50 pages of your novel.
To put this into perspective for you, I have read everything you can possibly read under the sun and on the internet about the perfect Synopsis. I thought I had studied my craft and got it down to a fine art.
But here’s the thing. I managed the impossible. I distilled my 110,000 word novel down to 4 pages. Until I read, ‘Actually, if you can get your synopsis down to 2 pages that would be great. Thanks awfully.’ An image of the camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle came to mind at that point. But I did it. Then another agent said, ‘We require a 1-page synopsis or we don’t even look at you.’ OK well I guess I can do that. Do you see where I am going? The most challenging one I have had to write so far is the 300 words synopsis. In the name of all that is holy – how the hell do you distil countless layers, sub-plots, twists, fork in the road moments – oh and name 5 characters- into 300 words? Quite frankly I don’t know for sure, but I tried.
Fast forward a few months and here, in front of my eyes, the apparent luxury of 10 pages!!
Except it wasn’t a luxury was it? I pondered whether just to send my carefully crafted 4-pager, or 1-pager, but then I thought well if you’ve got 10 pages you may as well use it.
I’m here to tell you it’s much harder than it sounds.
Initially, I took the most exciting plot elements from each of the chapters and created some copy. But when I read it back it was SO BORING… this happened, then that happened, and then something else happened…Yawn. I was boring myself so I knew I had no chance holding the attention of the judges. I tried a few other approaches but nothing felt right.
So I realised I had to go back to basics. Forget the countless pages I had written in the past and begin with a fresh sheet of paper.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, try to keep these 3 key questions to the forefront of your mind:
- Whose story is it? (i.e, who is your protagonist?)
- What do they want and what stops them achieving it? (i.e, what is their conflict?)
- How do they get it?
From here you can review and revise. Is your voice active? Is your pace dynamic? Does the writing style of your synopsis mirror the writing style in the novel?
It took me a good week to write a Synopsis I was happy with, and even now, I’m not sure the judges for the Lucy Cavendish Prize really want to read 10 full pages before launching into the novel, but now it’s a just a case of ‘wait and see.
I’ll be sure and get back to you in future posts on how to write a Synopsis. Perhaps I can spare you the countless hours I’ve put into the subject – unless you’re a bit of a sadist on that front.
Well – the entry is in. Wish me luck. Until next time