Saturday, March 19, 2016

I started writing a novel at university for a Masters degree in Writing. Previously to that, I had studied poetry and had kept to that stream in my undergraduate years, with some success in poetry publishing. Although I didn’t have a clue whether I could be a novelist or not, I completed a work of 80,000 words, the requirement set down by the university. After several re-writes and oodles of help from my supervisor, I completed my first work of fiction. Mind you, it was mostly about me as I’d heard the catch phrase “write what you know.” It was basically a “coming of age” novel and today it still sits in my bottom drawer – unpublished.
I now look at that work as a practice run. Why? Because it was terrible! And I had to face the truth after an examiner had written that it was 3 books in one, memoir, autobiography and fiction. She was right and if ever I get the chance in my old age and still have all my faculties, I may turn it into a memoir!
Looking back, writing a first novel and an exegesis as well as gaining an MA now seems so much easier. In other words, since finishing my second novel with many, many hours of re-writing, editing, late night sweats, and yet still a concerted belief in my characters, I now find that this is where the work begins. Getting the second novel, the real novel published. I say real because I’ve had to come up with the basic story, invent characters, devise the plot, create sub-plots, back-story, conflicts and problems. The only thing that has been easy has been the setting. The Ozone Café was a favourite teenage haunt of mine in Ettalong Beach, NSW, and I wanted to re-create the life of that café that I didn’t really take much notice of when I was 14!
The novel, although it is really novella size, is roughly 50,250 words. Even though I kept adding scenes, editing and re-editing it never really grew much bigger. Perhaps it was never meant to be 70 or 80,000 words. Therefore, I have been able to enter the novel in not only certain literary fiction awards, but also in novella competitions. It’s easy to get the word count down from 50,250 to 50,000 if that is the requirement. One thing that I have found to be the most difficult has been writing the synopsis. Many writers, blogs, websites and published authors will tell you it is the most daunting task you have to do; because the synopsis is the tool to convince a literary agent or publisher that your book is worth publishing.
I have had success as a published poet, but the ultimate challenge for me is to get a novel published. Another challenge is to get a few short stories published in order to get a track record as a fiction writer. But I’ll come back to that, later.*
Where was I? Oh yes, the “synopsis”. Firstly, I searched on the internet to find an easy answer. There was none. There is an abundance of “how to write a synopsis” articles on the web but the quantity is not only staggering, but mind-blowingly different. There is no.one synopsis that is a “one size fits all”. As well, many articles will give you the same advice, but won’t be able to give you the exact answer or example for your novel or non-fiction manuscript.
In the end, I took some really important points from a variety of articles, and studied some of the basics of what they were saying. I also knew that a synopsis was not like a book’s back cover blurb, for example, “This is a story of intrigue, and of one character’s journey, blah, blah, blah.
One thing I have learned is that a synopsis must be a good, basic piece of writing that covers the main points of the story and should be concise. It is advisable to include some dramatic turns, have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Also, it does not have to be a literary masterpiece, but remember the aim is to hook/impress the publisher.

Some Basic Points
·         Write no more than a page. Some publishers, literary awards, or competitions will ask for a specific word count, either: 200, 300 or 500 words. Don’t go over the requirement. Delete articles, adverbs or adjectives if you have to.
  • ·     Narrative Arc. A synopsis conveys the narrative arc, an explanation of the problem or plot, the characters, and how the book or novel ends. It ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense. It summarizes what happens and who changes from beginning to the end of the story. It gives publishers a good and reliable preview of your writing skills.
  • Active Voice. The synopsis should be in the active voice and third person.
  • Unique Point of View. A publisher is usually looking for an idea of fresh or unique elements. Is your plot clichéd or predictable? Does it have elements that set your story apart from other works they have read?
  • Story Advancement. A synopsis should include the idea that generates the protagonist’s conflict.
  • Write Clearly. Focus on clarity in your writing and avoid wordiness. Remember, less is more.
Authors Tips on Writing a Synopsis
The Six Sentence Method by Natasha Lester
I find the six-sentence method really helpful. Try to summarise your story in 6 sentences, then expand a little on those six sentences in the synopsis.
The six sentences I focus on are:
  • ·         what is life like for my main character at the start of the book
  • ·         what is the thing that sets the protagonist off on their journey (the inciting incident, 
              described in a compelling way)
  • ·         what is the journey or the goal of your character and why is it so important to them
  • ·         what are a couple of obstacles that get in the way
  • ·         what is the biggest obstacle of all (doesn’t need to be described fully if it gives away too 
              much, but the drama needs to be hinted at)
  • ·         end with a question/hook

From the Writer’s Marketplace
How to write a perfect synopsis
A perfect synopsis has the following ingredients:
·         Length: 500-800 words (if required)
·         Main purpose: Summarise your plot
·         Secondary purpose: Make it clear what Unique Selling Point your book has
·         Language: Be businesslike: clear, to the point, neutral.
·         Presentation: Be well-presented: no typos or spelling mistakes. Normal font size, normal margins. Line spacing no narrower than 1.5
·         Character names. It helps if you put the names of main characters in bold or CAPS when you first introduce them. That way, if an agent has forgotten who Carlotta is, it's easy for them to skim back and jog their memory. (Remember that agents are reading a lot of these things, so they have about a million character names in their heads at any one time.)
·         Extra points. It's certainly not essential, but if you have a really compelling way to 'sell' your story in 2-3 lines maximum, then you could insert that little snippet up at the top of your synopsis as a way of reminding agents why they're interested in this MS in the first place. For example, a certain Ms Rowling might have opened her synopsis with, "Harry Potter, an orphan, thinks he is an ordinary boy when an owl brings him a letter inviting him to attend wizard school." That's not strictly speaking synopsis material, but it does instantly emphasise the book's appeal.
·         And remember: Tell the story: your job is not to sell the book, write dust jacket blurb, or anything else. Just say what happens in the story. That's all you need to do.

And luckily there are things you don't need to do:
·         Go into great detail about setting. If you were writing a synopsis for a Jane Austen novel for example, you might simply say "This novel is set in a small village in Regency England."
·         Go into vast detail about character - a few quick strokes are all that you need. For example you might say: "Bridget Jones - a ditzy, mildly boozy twenty-something - ..."
·         Be scrupulous about plot detail. It's fine to skip over subplots or ignore some of the finer detail of how X accomplishes Y. The truth is, you won't have time to include those things in a 700 word summary anyway. Agents know that the synopsis is at best an approximation of the story so you don't need to have a troubled conscience.
·         You also don't have to give away your very final plot twist - though you should make it clear that there is one. For example, you could write, "When Olivia finally catches up with Jack at the abandoned lighthouse, he tells her the real secret of his disappearance - and their final bloody reckoning ensues." Mostly though, a synopsis is the ultimate plot spoiler, and your job is just to spill the beans whether you like it or not.

Back to Basics: Writing a Novel Synopsis by Jane Friedman
https://janefriedman.com/novel-synopsis/    - I highly recommend reading Friedman’s articles.

Confusing yes/no?

I have come to the conclusion that for The Ozone Café, in particular, I must section the novel into three acts in order to outline the narrative arc. After all, I include three separate owners and even though my main protagonist Vincenzo Polamo features throughout the novel (in nearly every act), the other owners of the café also have their own journey, incidents and obstacles. 
   I remember conducting a class on the “inciting incident” and later pondered whether or not I had this happening early in the novel with Vincenzo. I worried and fretted, but finally came to the conclusion that since the main premise of the novel is the threat of demolition of the café (made implicit early on) this is really the inciting incident. The café (although an inanimate object) to my mind is also a character. What happens to the characters, their conflicts and problems, affects the functionality and well-being of the café.
    Therefore, nothing is cut and dry as some articles/authors make out.

My recent 3 synopses of The Ozone Café
200 words
Manuscript Title:  “The Ozone Café”
Synopsis

Vincenzo Polamo, a Calabrian, builds the Ozone Café with his builder-brother in 1957 in fictional Satara Bay. He meets three children, Winifred, Casey, and Nicolas, creating a seascape mural on a café wall that includes them. The café changes from Italian to Australian cuisine. However, due to long hours of hard work and Vincenzo’s wife unwilling to migrate to Australia, Vincenzo sells the café. 

Joe Pendlebury suffers setbacks with too few customers, poor health and problems due to a violent storm causing structural damage close to the mural.  In this act, Pendlebury is found dead on his kitchen floor, and Nicolas dies from muscular dystrophy, heightening Winifred’s concerns to keep the mural sacred.

Con & Dion Lasaridis experience problems with the damage. Unable to convince the Heystbury Shire the café is sound after a rebuild, they lose ownership in the courts due to the Shire revoking a Demolition Order (1946). This action belies the undercurrent of political corruption and the Memorial club’s lucrative economy to obtain the land. Vincenzo (et al) removes the mural reinstating it at his home. The mural becomes a lasting memorial to Nicolas Battersby, as well as the sole surviving piece of the Ozone Café.

300 words
Synopsis: The Ozone Café (in 3 Acts)
 
Vincenzo Polamo, a Calabrian, builds the Ozone Café with his builder-brother in 1957 in fictional Satara Bay, NSW. He meets three children, Winifred, Casey, and Nicolas (in a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy). In their association, Vincenzo creates a seascape mural on a courtyard wall that includes them and their shells. The café succeeds changing Italian cuisine to Australian, and at Winifred’s insistence, the purchase of jukeboxes and pinballs increases the youth clientele. However, after three years due to long hours of hard work and Vincenzo’s wife unwilling to migrate to Australia, Vincenzo sells the café. 
  
Joe Pendlebury has setbacks with too few customers, poor health and a violent storm that causes structural damage close to the mural. Winifred keeps an eye out and believes that Pendlebury is dismantling the mural and tells Vincenzo. In suspicious circumstances Pendlebury is found dead on his kitchen floor and his wife Shirley sells the café to the Greek boys. In this act, Nicolas dies from his illness and this heightens Winifred’s concerns to keep the mural sacred.

Con & Dion Lasaridis experience problems with the damaged wall. Unable to convince the Heystbury Shire the café is sound after the wall rebuild, they lose ownership in the courts due to the Shire revoking a Demolition Order (1946). The Greek boys believe it’s due to the illicit dealings of Heytsbury’s Mayor Tyrone with the Memorial Club. This action belies the undercurrent of political corruption and the club’s lucrative economy to obtain the land for expansion.
   Vincenzo with the help of his brother’s industrial machinery removes the mural from the café wall. In broad daylight they act as a bogus demolition team reinstating it in Vincenzo’s frontyard. The mural becomes a lasting memorial to Nicolas, as well as a sole surviving piece of the Ozone Café.

440 words (500 words or less)
The Ozone Café is a literary novel about the three separate owners and the café’s demise through political corruption.

Vincenzo Polamo, a Calabrian, builds the Ozone Café with his builder-brother in 1957 in fictional Satara Bay. Here, he meets three children, Winifred, Casey, and Nicolas who is in a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy. In their association, Vincenzo creates a seascape mural on the outside of the café that includes the children and their shells. At Winifred’s insistence, the café succeeds when Vincenzo changes his Italian cuisine to a more popular Australian menu. Being a holiday town, he also purchases entertainment machines from Bill Sanderson, owner of the General Store. However, after three years, due to the long hours of hard work and Vincenzo’s wife unwilling to migrate to Australia, Vincenzo sells the café.

Joe Pendlebury suffers setbacks with too few customers, poor health and a violent storm that causes structural damage close to the mural. Winifred keeps an eye out and believes that Pendlebury is dismantling the mural and tells Vincenzo. Pendlebury is really at a loss of knowing what to do about the wall, having no tradesman’s skills, little money and the fact that he hasn’t renewed his insurance. In suspicious circumstances he is found dead on his kitchen floor. In this act, Nicolas dies from his illness and this heightens Winifred’s concerns to keep the mural sacred in his memory.

Shirley Pendlebury (Joe’s wife) sells the café to Con and Dion Lasaridis (Greek boys).While the Ozone is a success, the cracked wall is a serious problem for the Greek boys. They are unable to convince the Heytsbury Shire that the courtyard wall has been professionally rebuilt, and therefore publicly safe. They lose the café in a court case when the Shire enforces an unrevoked Demolition Order of 1946. The Greek boys (et al) believe it’s due to the illicit dealings of Heytsbury’s Mayor Tyrone with the Memorial Club (Return Soldiers League) wanting expansion, closer to the beach where the Ozone is situated. It is the Memorial Club’s gambling economy that belies the undercurrent of political corruption in the town, and reveals why the café is constantly under threat for removal from the landscape.
When the Shire takes its time to demolish the Ozone Café, Vincenzo, with the help of his brother’s industrial machinery, removes the mural from the café. In broad daylight, they act as a bogus demolition team reinstating it in Vincenzo’s front yard. The mural becomes a lasting memorial to Nicolas, as well as the sole surviving piece of the Ozone Café.

Final Advice
"When you write a synopsis, it will be some of the worst writing of your life, but don't worry about that. Just tell the story."

"Tell the story straight, like you're telling it to me over dinner."

"Think of it as the plot of a movie," another writer suggests "Hit the highlights."


Note: Publishers on the whole ask for your publishing history. They want to know who you are. Try to get some fiction published, even if it is only as small as flash/micro fiction.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Helen Hagemann © 2016


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Helen Hagemann's first literary collection, Evangelyne & other poems, was published by the Australian Poetry Centre in their New Poets Series 2009. 'of Arc & Shadow' is her second full collection published by Sunline Press. She has two e-books, The Joyous Lake & Par écrit: poetry of the feminine @ http://issuu.com/evangelyne/​​docs/joyous_lake/

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