26 May 2005

Advanced Synoptics

I spent much of last weekend working on the synopsis of Ossian's Reach.

I seem to be cursed with the inability to run off a quick novel proposal, with a summary of the setting, action etc, in the couple of days it ought to take me. Instead, I need to know in enormous detail what the historical background to the novel is going to be (going back some ten thousand years in this case), the central characters' histories and attitudes and precisely what happens in each chapter -- pretty much the entire framework of the novel, in fact -- before I'm capable of summing it up in the pithy few thousand words an agent, publisher or whoever will require.

(Fragile Monsters was easier. I didn't have to set about specifying stuff like: "Christopher and Jessica live in England, a nation with a history of civilisation going back some 1600 years, which in recent centuries boasted a substantial Empire, now largely dismantled...")

My original proposal for Of the City of the Saved was circa 20,000 words long, about a sixth of the final length of the novel, and went into enormous and often redundant detail about the City's history, inhabitants and politics, before it even came to the characters and their actions. (Lawrence Miles, being slightly nervous about my lack of experience in the novel-writing arena, had asked for "everything you've got", and he got it.) The synopsis of the short story I'm going to be embarking on, and hopefully finishing, during half term is a full third of the length I'm supposed to be writing the thing to, which is obviously insane.

I did discover an exciting plotting technique, though. Usually my plot summaries have to be put through multiple, even darwinian iterations, as I look back over them and think, "No, that thing has to happen before this thing does, and this bit's thematically connected to that bit so should go there, and this character can't possibly be there when she has to be here in the next chapter..." and so forth. It usually takes a good number of rewrites of the plot synopsis to get all such issues straight.

This time I charted it in diagram form. I started off with a sprawling spidery diagram of about forty separate events identified by Roman and Greek letters, and then refined it, going through half a pad of paper and most of a pen, and ending up with a very elegant and streamlined schematic which combined all of the major plot points into an order which made perfect sense.

Now I just have to transcribe that into words, which admittedly may take a while. Still, the work which would normally have taken me several days took about an afternoon. I must remember the technique, apply it in future and possibly patent it.

This coming weekend I'm off on holiday for a few days. I don't know where, because B. won't tell me, but I'm told it's likely to be somewhere nice, which is, well, nice.

After that it's half term: seven free days in which I need to write the short story and the sample chapter for Ossian's Reach, a total of ten thousand words of prose or thereabouts. It's the sort of thing that could be enormously satisfying or a total nightmare, depending on how it goes.

I'll be sure to let you know.

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