Synopsis: The Bones on Which to Attach Your Story’s Soul.

Do you ever find that, more often than not, the characters in your novel can be a bunch of dicks? You love them, but they never do what they’re told, always straying from the ‘plan’ and leading their author (you – yes, you’re supposed to be the boss in this) up a never-ending series of cul-de-sacs.

The first time I tried writing anything longer than a short story, a tale called Mrs. Wilson, I set off with the best of intentions to write the story of a lonely woman who reluctantly takes in a neighbour’s pet to find it transforms her life. The problem I had though, was that I never thought anything through before I started – just made it up as I went. Until I waltzed down a dead-end street with a problem I couldn’t be arsed to dance round, or solve. A few years later, it sits there still at 11,000 words. Silenced. Alone.

A year later I heard about Nanowrimo, and decided to give it a go – attempting 50,000 words in a month! Once again, I steamed in without any kind of plan and even less direction of where the story would go. There’s 8,500 words in Death of a Family Plan, a story about… erm… fuck knows! And I wrote it! But each and every one of those words are wasted as they sit there at the back of this laptop’s memory, like some naughty kid at the back of the class (and you know what happens to that dick).

Having written over 20,000 words that remain unseen is just annoying, no one likes repeating mistakes. That’s when I decided I needed to be more organised. And for a novel attempt, which I was chomping at the bit to do, a synopsis was needed.

Many writers will argue about what to put into a synopsis; whether it should just plainly tell us what happens, or delve deeper into themes, feelings and style the novel will take. I personally don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer – just good ones and shit ones. But it has to serve a purpose, and that purpose is you and your novel.

When I started writing The Kalinouski Tree, the synopsis was to be my route map – start here, go to these places, do these things, kill this fucker, finish there. Ask lots of whys – answer them all. And only then, write. Any themes, feelings, and style will come from within the writing.

I’ve been writing TKT for more than a couple of years now (it feels so much longer), and although it’s hard to fit writing a novel into a busy lifestyle (I’m a hairy-arsed builder, time is scarce, as is energy), having a synopsis set out before I started the first chapter helped immensely. It’s now 85,000 words big and I’m starting to feel I’m close to knocking on first draft done’s door.

I could have gone much deeper – character profiles, etc – but a two page synopsis, helped by a more in depth chapter by chapter guide, has been more than enough to turn a rough idea of where I’d like to go into a focussed destination. It has acted as the skeleton I’ve attached life onto, giving it form, definition and a chance to survive the mental war of human insecurity and crippling self doubt.

It’s been a friend that’s carried me through shit – and for that, I’d like to thank it.

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