Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Writing Your Synopsis

Be a great synopsis writer: it's never too soon to start taking your work seriously.

What's the Point of a Synopsis?

Writers hate the synopsis. It interferes with the old illusion that writing fiction is a mysterious creative process, handed to us by a lyre-playing Muse, to be messed with at our peril. It makes our writing feel like a grubby commercial venture.

But you have to tell agents and publishers what's in it for them, just as a blurb tells the reader what to expect inside the covers of a book. Though a synopsis is more than an extended blurb. It has to achieve a number of goals. First, and most importantly, it should tell the person reading it what happens in the book. Note, not what the book is about, per se, but what happens and in what order.

Produce professional-looking synopses

Don't Include Everything

That's trickier than it sounds. Good novels often have sub-plots that weave through the main plot. So should we mention those or leave them out? If they have a genuine bearing on the main plot, they need to be in the synopsis. If not, then we can safely leave them out.

Some synopses are only a page long. With two to three pages, you can afford to mention the milk-maid's dalliance with the master, which provokes the son to leave home and join the army, which makes the wife hate the husband - and the freckle-faced milk-maid - when her beloved boy is subsequently killed in action. Otherwise, just start with the granddaughter packing her bags years later ...

Only mention these subsidiary details in passing. A few words should suffice.

Basically, a synopsis should sketch out the plot, location and main characters without going into too much detail. It should convey genre, where appropriate. Best not to open though with 'This is a funny book.' Keep that for the 3-minute pitch.

But Always Tell Them How It Ends

One common thing writers feel instinctively when describing their stories in advance is that they shouldn't reveal the ending. 'I won't tell you what happens after that ... but it's very exciting.'

We don't do that in the synopsis. It's a non-fictional document. It's like packaging; it should tell the would-be buyer what's inside, and how many grams of fat, and is that saturated or Omega-3? In the synopsis, we tell the editor and agent precisely what happens at the end, and why. Yes, even if it's going to spoil it for them.

Be A Little Imperfect

Having said all that, the synopsis must be a flexible document above all else. It should be constructed like a house in an earthquake zone, to move subtly with changes of mind and heart. It should not resist such changes and tumble down, killing your protagonists in their beds. Agents and publishers have an infuriating tendency to ask for changes. Sometimes they ask for them at the start of the writing process and sometimes halfway through. (Or later, when the book is actually finished.) You will need to be open to those changes, and not have your story so tightly bound together that no daylight can be admitted between plot points.

So the ideal synopsis is a little imperfect: it should err on the side of being too lightly written, kept flexible, with gaps - rather than holes - left for the editor's input, and neither too pithy nor over-ornate. A synopsis should always suggest rather than state baldly.

Keep things flexible

A Collaborative Document

Never forget that your synopsis will become, in many cases, a collaborative document. Writing a novel isn't quite like writing a screenplay, but by the end of the process, a number of different experts - often with clashing views on how a novel or even a synopsis should be written - will have stuck their fingers in the pie of your story and cheerfully wiggled them about. So be prepared for interference and try to view it as helpful in most cases. By the end, you may no longer recognise the novel you intended to write. C'est la vie!

Not Written On Loo Roll

Rather sadly, the days of the writer as eccentric genius who goes off into a hotel room for ninety days and emerges with a ground-breaking novel handwritten on a roll of perforated paper - which is then published to great acclaim without the agent or editor having done much beyond changing a few commas and lighting a congratulatory cigar - are long gone.

So the synopsis is unavoidable, and one of the banes of a writer's life; it represents the key to the first gate of the novel, beyond which a writer may not pass without permission. Get typing!

This article previously appeared in a longer form at Raw Light.

Monday, 25 November 2013

His Dark Lady paperback

His Dark Lady arrives to brighten up a grey Cornish morning

I'm delighted to remind you all that His Dark Lady will be out in paperback very soon.

December 5th is the date of its UK release, which is next week. No US edition so far, but I'm still hopeful it will be picked up for North American release at some point.

His Dark Lady is book two in my Lucy Morgan series.

Lucy Morgan is a young black singer at the court of Elizabeth I, brought up by a spy, her guardian Master Goodluck. In this book she meets William Shakespeare again as an adult ... and is soon ardently pursued by the would-be playwright, unnoticed by Master Goodluck, who is busy running a traitor to ground.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Authors for the Philippines

In order to raise money for the disaster fund for relief in the devastated Philippines, authors, editors and publishers have been donating books and services to the AUTHORS FOR THE PHILIPPINES website.

How It Works:
You browse for books, swag-bags, meet-an-author, get your manuscript appraised and other writing-related items and services, then BID for what you want.

The money raised goes to the Red Cross and will help those in the Philippines.

Witchstruck and Witchfall:

I have signed copies of WITCHSTRUCK and WITCHFALL up for auction. Do please visit and bid either for mine or another book or service, and help this worthy cause.

Follow the link and SCROLL DOWN to see the books. They are below the visible screen on entry.

The online auction ends WEDNESDAY 20TH NOVEMBER.

The highest bid on each item at that time wins.

 Good luck!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Elizabethan Birthdays

It's possible William Shakespeare may have died on his birthday in 1616.
Today is my birthday!

In Tudor times, one of my favourite historical periods, people did not tend to celebrate birthdays in any overt way. They did not say, 'Happy Birthday!' to each other, they did not present gifts, they did not appear to have a special meal associated with the day, nor even a gathering of friends and family to mark an important birthday like 'coming of age'.

Famously, William Shakespeare appears to have died on his 52nd birthday, 23rd April 1616. But we cannot say for sure if he died quietly in his bed or suffered a heart attack while performing an ill-advised jig at a riotous birthday party!

This may seem strange to us, when birthdays have become such commercial - and often very expensive - family events for us in the twenty-first century. But historians have found no evidence to suggest that gifts were given in Tudor times as birthday presents, even among noble families and royalty - though often lavish gifts were exchanged by all ranks of society at New Year.

"Here's my gift, sire ... My own severed head!"
This giving of gifts at New Year is well-documented by historians, especially at the royal court, where gifts to - and from - Queen Elizabeth, for instance, were meticulously noted down in an annual list. It is a tradition also mentioned in the medieval epic poem Gawain and the Green Knight, where the legendary King Arthur and his noble courtiers exchanged delightful gifts, kisses and songs on New Year's Day - suggesting that such exchanges were common in the real world of the poet too. It was not until much later that gifts began to be given at Christmas instead, when this New Year tradition fell away, perhaps due to the change in date when New Year was celebrated.

So it's possible some Tudors celebrated birthdays. It's just we have no record of what they might have done. Perhaps a nice meal in the evening, or a sing-song, or just a quiet acknowledgement that another year had gone by. Perhaps they thought it bad luck to point out someone's birthday! Who knows?

Personally, I shall be hoping for a more modern celebration of my birthday today, as it would be rather dreary not to get any gifts at all!

Saturday, 9 November 2013


My Tumblr blog is KITTENNESS.

Follow KITTENNESS on Tumblr!
Do come and have a look, and if you're on Tumblr consider following me - I mostly follow back if your interests match mine. Which means reading, writing, fantasy novels and films, historical tidbits, television drama etc.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Astrology and Heroes

Please do check out my ASTRO HEROES post at the Totally Random website, which went up during the summer. It's possibly the coolest blog post I've ever done, which is why I'm reposting this.

If you've read any of the books mentioned, do comment here on whether you think I got the hero's star sign right.