Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Synoptic Gospel


In my ongoing quest to disentangle the Gordian Knot that is the Pubber mind, I have tried to unravel the mystery of the Dreaded Synopsis, that ubiquitous demand of Agent and Editor that throws the Writer mind into helpless confusion. You may judge whether or not I have succeeded.

It is well known that penning this particular blasphemy is about as high on the average Writer's list of favorite things to do as root canal surgery. Or maybe colon resection.

Strong Writers have been reduced to whimpering wusses, trembling in every limb, at the thought of reducing the 400-page out-pouring of their souls to a mere 16-20 pages. To condense the majesty of their opus to its boiled dregs, to distill and remove so many sublime pages, wrought by blood and sweat, to a diluted precis, is a thought so painful many Writers cannot bring themselves to do it.

Worse still is the Short Synopsis, that one-or-two-page double-spaced evisceration of one's work. The ultimate horror, however, and Writers reading this may want to take a deep swig of some potent adult beverage before going on, is the obscenity known as the Logline, the reduction of the work to a measly one or two sentences.

Forgive me, gentle reader: but I must, as Mr. Knightly said, tell you the truth while I can.

After I wrote my first novel, and began my attempts to seduce an Agent, I discovered that almost all of them requested a Synopsis of one form or another, and so I broached the subject with some of my online Writer friends.

Some of them still won't talk to me.

So I tried to understand from the admissions of Pubbers themselves what they wanted when they asked for a Synopsis. My discovery left me more than ever convinced of the devious nature of Pubbers in general, and Agents and Editors in particular.

For a Synopsis requires a Writer to do that which we have been told by Pubbers never to do; to Tell rather than Show. This is why Writers, perhaps even unconsciously, so despise the Synopsis. It goes against everything we have trained ourselves to do, every instinct we have honed. Why, I asked my Self, would a Pubber ask a Writer to do something that they must know grates upon the Writer's psyche like a scalpel drawn across a glass window? And my Self answered me (follow me now), because they are naturally devious beings, six-faced and three-hearted.

But surely even a Pubber would not inflict such pain upon a Writer simply for the amusement. Would they? I began to look closer, and I believe I have discovered their secret.

In Your First Novel, a collusion between a published Author (Laura Whitcomb) and her Agent, (Ann Rittenberg), The Pubber makes this confession:

"There just doesn't seem to be any way of getting around the necessity of the synopsis. But I have to admit that I almost never read them, and neither do many of the fiction editors at the big mainstream publishing houses."

What the Billy Goat Gruff???

Now she goes on to give some reasons that give plausible denial to Pubbers: they want to see if the book is salable, or conforms to the guidelines of a particular genre, or whether they are too similar to previously pubbed works. She has, however, let the cat out of the proverbial bag, and since I despise all felines of the domestic persuasion, I determined to find out more. I found it, I believe, in Elizabeth Lyon's excellent The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit. One sentence on page 80 leaped out and Mennen Skin Bracer slapped me on the face.

"One literary agent I know said that she uses what writers send her as a barometer to measure how well they can follow instructions, and therefore to how well she can rely upon them if she takes them on as clients."

So their plan is laid bare in all its cunning simplicity: the Synopsis is not a tool to determine a Writer's ability, but to determine a Writer's compliability.

I have begun to practice writing STET in a broad Gothic script.