Synopsis, the Value of.

The perfect synopsis, I am told, is a one-page summary that captures the struggles of the key characters, the critical actions of the plot and the overall spirit and wonder of the story.

And that’s about as easy to do as to write good, meaningful, short poetry. Take, for instance, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

And so on for a grand total of four stanzas. That’s short and sweet.

It’s also written by Robert Frost. I’m no Robert Frost.

Another synopsis, one that I have found incredibly useful, is the fuller chapter by chapter description of the key actions in the plot.

Synopsis

The Mark of the Spider synopsis, page 1

In wrapping up the ending of my novel, The Mark of the Spider: A Black Orchid Mystery, I have consulted my synopsis a dozen times or more to remind myself of precise details.

  • Was it Bozeman or Billings they hid out?
  • Was their hideout on the local road to Sacagawea Peak or Sacajawea Peak?
  • Did the would-be rescuers rush up Old Canyon Road or Bridger Canyon Road?
  • Was the ambush triggered by cell phone or laptop? (Answers below.)

More than fifty chapters (and several years) into the story, I forgot, but I needed to get things right.

My writers group reviews submissions of two or three chapters from two members once a month. That means I can’t have them review every chapter. And my chances to submit material come up months apart. No one can remember the story lines of a dozen contributors.

So the chapter by chapter synopsis serves as a reminder of what came before. Last month, the group critiqued chapters 40-42; this month, they consented to review the final four chapters (57-57). The synopsis, six singled-spaced pages by then, really proved useful for everyone.

Even writing such a long synopsis — long being easier to write than short — it takes a lot of work to wring only the critical details of each chapter out of 1,200 to 2,000 words.

But, like the continuity file, it saves time over time. If the story doesn’t flow in the synopsis, it’s probably not working in the full manuscript either.

And that’s one more value of a synopsis.

Answers:

  1. Bozeman
  2. Sacagawea Peak.
  3. Bridger Canyon Road
  4. Come on. Buy the book when it comes out. I’m not giving everything away, although I will post a chapter or two in the coming months.
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Back to the Future Fiction

I just don’t know.

This retire-from-the-daily-grind-of-earning-a-living thing and spend more time writing just isn’t working out as I envisioned.

I’m busier now than when I worked for a living. Grandkids living a few minutes away and visiting at least weekly. Volunteering at the food bank. Gardening. Photography. Helping keep up the house and at the same time staying out of the way. Reading.

Where’s all the writing time?

Actually, I AM writing, but as I learned with HOTEL CONSTELLATION, my Viet-Nam era memoir, there’s writing and doing all the other things a writer does.

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My book project filing system isn’t pretty, but it works for me.

So here’s the status update:

  • HOTEL CONSTELLATION: Notes from America’s Secret War in Laos — My college alumni association commissioned an article for its magazine, and I had a lovely chat with the young writer assigned to it. Not certain when it will be out. Will be attending a reunion of NGO Viet-Nam volunteers in the fall and am scheduled to appear on the “memoirs” panel.
  • The Mark of the Spider: A Black Orchid Chronicle — Been working on this forever and a day. My writers group assessed the ending last night and found it in need of another rewrite. I still expect to finish it in time to publish in early fall, certainly in time for the holiday book buying season. Worked the last several days on the publication plan and pitch materials; I’ll finish that this week and move back to the rewrite next week. I’ll have a lot more on this in the coming weeks.
  • Flight of the Spider: A Black Orchid Chronicle — I’ve been champing at the bit for months now to get to book two in the Black Orchid series.
  • She Asked for Green Salad — I jot notes from time to time for this family memoir, and it has its own three-ring binder (see photo above) so I must be serious about it.
  • Untitled Short Stories — I’ve got a short piece about a hospital messenger with too many corpses on his hands, but I need to work on the ending. I have another storty about an alien encounter in an elevator, but this, too, deserves a better ending.

And that is the end of this update. (See. I have real trouble with endings. Separation anxiety? I don’t know.)

 

 

Hitchcock: What to Tell the Reader

During a session of the 2017 convention of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs #AWP, someone whose name I did not get paraphrased an Alfred Hitchcock quotation about the difference between mystery and suspense.

I was curious about the exact quotation and looked it up. (See below.)

quote-mystery-is-an-intellectual-process-but-suspense-is-essentially-an-emotional-process-alfred-hitchcock-68-31-21

In my search, I found a longer, fuller explanation about the difference between surprise and suspense.

The key lesson of both quotations: Give the reader information the characters do not have and you will create suspense.

Herewith, Mr. Hitchcock:

“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

“We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

“In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”