The Easy Part

Write some chapters of a novel, hey, write the whole entire novel; that’s the easy part. Much harder is writing about the novel.

Ever know a writer who couldn’t write a synopsis? Say she could write hundreds of pages, and has before, that she could write the words but not talk about the words she’s written. If asked the dreaded, “So what is your novel about?” she might distract you by saying you spilled food on your shirt, or demand, “What’s your novel about?” And then turn tail and run.

It’s not that her novel is about nothing. She’s not that meta. It’s not that her novel is so ethereal and philosophical it needs hours to get to the core of it and even then you might need to know Heidegger to grasp it. Not even close. Her novel is about things; there are people in it, they do stuff. She just cannot tell you what that is or who they are or why. Not even under threat of force-fed chicken.*

Hi. I’m Nova. I’m a fiction writer, but I can’t write a synopsis to save my life. I’m trying it again, going back for more. I will do it this time. I will.

This may sound like no big deal, but authors have to talk about the books they’ve written, you know. I am not making this up. People expect you to tell them about your novel and then they’ll decide if they want to read it! Horrors! Have you heard of elevator pitches? Can you imagine me, in an elevator, trying to talk actual words out loud about any of my manuscripts?

If you ever step onto an elevator and find me collapsed in the corner hyperventilating, you’ll know why.

Surely I’m exaggerating. Then again, I just spent all this time writing about why I can’t write about what I’m writing. It’s my great talent. Wish me luck at revising that synopsis. Or better yet, come by and write it for me. I’ll buy you dinner.

———
* I’m a vegetarian, obvs. But you know you lead a charmed life when the most horrific thing you can imagine is being force-fed chicken.

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12 thoughts on “The Easy Part

  1. laura June 9, 2009 / 9:02 am

    “What’s your novel about?” I hate that question! Even worse is when people ask the hubby what my novel is about, and he’s like, “I don’t know, it’s about people in love or something.” 😉

    But why DON’T writers pair up to tell each other what their novels are about? Maybe that would be easier?

    • Eve June 9, 2009 / 1:24 pm

      I find it easier to get someone else to write the synopsis–the editor or someone like that. Or to go back to the original proposal and see if what you turned out in any way resembles what you said you were going to write. ;o)

  2. SenNim June 9, 2009 / 9:50 am

    Synopses must be a special kind of hell. Though ‘talking about what the novel’s *about*” is just horrible, too, isn’t it?

    Cause it sounds stupid. And it comes out in a desperate sequence of “and then this and this and this” as if you’re trying so hard to convince/ impress/appease them with how cool it is that it comes out kind of lame.

    And then your friends (family, old colleagues) look at you with a pause, and say “Oh, how interesting” and try hard to be nice.

    With a Synopsis, you can’t even fake it, can you, the way one could in conversation.

    A: What’s your book about? [polite polite screws in]
    B: About a flying terrorist cell working in the London Underground. Like Un Lun Dun meets Man who was Thursday. (actually writing about a small town girl who falls in love with another girl, and plays baseball)

    A: Cool! [nicely asks no more excruciating questions]

    • nova June 10, 2009 / 6:04 am

      I love the flying terrorist diversion to avoid having to say the truth!

  3. Martha Flynn June 9, 2009 / 10:21 am

    Srsly Nova – tears streaming down my face I was laughing so hard – it’s sounds so weird to feel this way and non-writers especially are like “uh, can’t you just tell me – i mean – isn’t this for kids” but omg I feel the same way!!! lol

    Good luck!!

  4. Jessica Burkhart June 9, 2009 / 10:24 am

    Oooh, dinner for a synopsis? Fair trade. I shall write it in Tweets. 🙂 ‘Kay?

    You’ve got this, N. Seriously.

  5. Annika June 9, 2009 / 10:28 am

    Um. I’ve never known a writer who COULD write a synopsis. Without lots of tears anyway.

    • UL June 9, 2009 / 11:15 am

      Even Neil Gaiman mentioned that he struggles with writing synopses of his books, and HE’S a literary super genius.

  6. nova June 10, 2009 / 6:03 am

    Neil Gaiman, huh? Well, I’m in good company.

    Either way, I’m almost done with this draft! Almost…

  7. josephgrinton June 10, 2009 / 2:54 pm

    I think it’s a great idea to get someone else to write your synopsis. The synopsis is a marketing document. The novel is a piece of you.

  8. nova June 11, 2009 / 7:45 am

    Update, Thursday morning:

    I HAVE REVISED!

    I could do it again too. Well, ask me again tomorrow…

  9. The Querulous Squirrel June 13, 2009 / 3:53 pm

    I always have my husband dictate the synopsis. He thinks really clearly and succintly and I don’t.

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