- Who the hell is Etta and what is her secret?
- Why should we care about Gerald? He’s a “serial womaniser” and appears only in order to kill the woman we’ve come to sympathise with. It doesn’t feel as though there’s enough about him before the climactic scene, and yet not enough after either.
- Who is the main character? We know why we should care about Tori but what about Etta? If she’s equally “main”, we need to know the part she plays; if she’s a secondary character, her role in relation to Tori seems so crucial that we should know her secret.
Friday, 14 October 2011
Synopsis Spotlight - Glass Houses
As you know, I'm writing a book on synopsis-writing. Last week, I offered you the chance to have your synopsis put under the spotlight, with a view to a) blog-readers commenting construcively and b) possibly having your synopsis (and some comments) featured in the book as an exemplar.
The first brave writer under the spotlight is Jackie Buxton, with Glass Houses, which she says is general fiction for adult readers. (She also says it's likely to appeal to women over 30 - I suggested she doesn't specify the age, but I do agree that it's more likely to be read by women. Sorry to those who object to that...) Jackie says that her problem is in making it succinct. I actually think she has made it relatively succinct (except in some details) and, in some ways, too succinct! You’ll see my comments in italics and brackets. Where I’ve crossed things out, those crossings out create the need to express the sentence differently but I am merely trying to give a sense of what detail we don’t need.
Glass Houses (103,000 words) by Jackie Buxton
There’s an [fatal] accident on the
M62 motorway. We see ETTA DUBCEK (35) sitting in the wreckage of the car in front of hers, holding the hand of a stranger who’s fighting for her life. [Add eg: and who caused the accident in a moment of carelessness.]
[Add: That stranger is] TORI
WILLIAMS (50) is plunged into a coma a fter sending the text which allegedly causes the pile-up in which two adults and a baby die. With the support of DOUG, Tori’s affable husband of 23 years, and daughter, CARLY, her body twitches its way out of paralysis as she attempts to force words from her lips. [All we need to know is family supportive [eg] as she slowly [?] recovers.]
Etta finds it hard to shake off the experience [so, is this her guiding emotion? Doesn’t feel strong enough.] of being with Tori as they waited for the ambulance.
With a fraction of a second’s hesitation, she, too, might have been a killer. Initially intending to visit Tori just once, she strikes up a friendship with her mother, RUBY, and becomes one of Tori’s few staunch defenders. ‘I didn’t sit with a murderer,’ she writes, ‘I sat with somebody who’d done something foolish.’ Etta’s friend, PEARL, challenges this sympathy for Tori but realises that there is more to it than Etta is willing to admit. [Need more about this - or maybe later.]
A horde of reporters greets Tori as she emerges from hospital with
blatant disabilities and scars. The press is camped out on her doorstep. Her business, Party People, has folded. [She becomes a damaged recluse.] Nobody invites her to dinner and the furthest she strays from home is the café in Out Patients. When she is charged with the lesser offence of Driving Without Due Care and Attention, the family of the baby who died at the scene vow to sue.
[Cut following para to the bone.] But Tori is only fifty and is not prepared to live the rest of her life trapped in this way. [Does anything preciptate the change of heart?] She confronts journalists, becomes a regular on radio phone-ins – respected for her honesty. She takes a sandwich board to the high street and amasses signatures from those who have also made mistakes. The quiz show, ‘Tori’s Truth’, is launched to great acclaim and her presentation to sixth-formers on her, ‘Moment of Madness’ is an enormous success. She is even training as a Samaritan. But most of all, her positive attitude is catching. There’s a buzz around the country. Even the press are on board. [Delete some examples.]
Doug, however, cannot stand the attention.
He fears for Tori once the media bubble has burst and has promised their daughter that he will keep the press away. In a final attempt to persuade her to reject this new lifestyle, he leaves her. Tori is devastated but cannot go back to her life pre-accident. [Just say that after months of arguing/***/ etc, their relationship collapses and he leaves. Give a sense of how long this takes.]
Etta and Tori
eventually meet. Etta, too, has a story to tell. The pair bond , providing much needed emotional support for each other. [Add something more concrete.] Before a lunch date with Etta, Tori meets with her unpredictable step-father, GERALD. He is a serial womaniser, no longer married to her mother but still keen to be a part of the family. He blames Tori’s notoriety and new outspoken behaviour for the break-up of his latest relationship [this feels unlikely – find stronger motivation, or explain?] . Her disabilities force her to walk holding his arm. He is walking too fast. He pushes her in anger. She falls into the road and is hit by a car.
Paramedics are en-route. A
switched-on passer-by calls Doug from Tori’s phone. Tori reflects. She’s re-built her reputation from the lowest of bases. Her contribution to society is so much greater than before the text message, her moment of madness, but she will always have blood on her hands.[Simply say, eg, “But Tori sees this as a way out – she has lost the will to live.”]
pacing down the road towards her. She does not want to live without him. Her heart is slowing. Her chin sinks to her chest. ‘When I wake...’ she thinks. It is for the reader to decide how they feel about her death. Now to Gerald. How will society react to his moment of madness? How will his life be affected? The transiency of our lives continues. [Too many unanswered questions, ones we don’t sufficiently care about because Gerald only just arrived.]
This is an example of a synopsis that would raise concerns for the agent or publisher because the story feels somewhat thin for the 103k words. We’re left with some questions which the synopsis should answer. (They may be answered wonderfully in the book but there's a doubt in the synopsis.)
There is sometimes too much detail (“Doug is pacing down the road towards her”) and yet this is a 103k novel, so what major plot elements have been omitted? The knack is not in making a long or complex plot seem simple but in telling it succinctly, which are too different things. For example, “after several episodes in which x realises that y…” can cover fifty pages in half a sentence. The key is not in telling every episode but in making it clear that something has happened, something meaty and important.
Jackie, congratulations in getting this far. I would not have picked your synopsis if it was awful! There are some significant virtues: it reads quite elegantly and smoothly and is clearly expressed. I picked it because it had some examples of faults that could be identified and rectified. The main problem (I feel) is that it reads as being too thin. Assuming that you definitely have enough action and intrigue to fill 103k words, you need to give a sense of that.
Readers - your comments! Please bear in mind the genre. It's not a thriller so don't demand thriller content. Also, remember that we are judging the synopsis, not the book itself - though there may be aspects that cross-over.
Jackie, thank you! I'll let you know if I use it in the book and if you want to redraft your synopsis to show how you responded to our comments, that's great.