July 2, 2010

What Am I Writing?

I've been writing a synopsis. Those who have done this know that the process is painful and involves a lot of crying out in despair, along the lines of, "Oh my god, why would anyone want to read a novel like that?" The purpose of a synopsis is to describe a novel from beginning to end in just a few pages, and early drafts generally result in the novel in question sounding completely stupid. It's not an easy task to condense a brilliant, complicated plot into two (or three or five) double-spaced pages without losing everything that makes the story interesting. I'm proud to say that after a few days of very hard work, I have produced a decent two-pager for THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE that I will use most imminently for entering the contest associated with the East of Eden Writers Conference (September 24-26 in Salinas, CA).

I'd written a synopsis for a previous novel, but I was stumped on how to approach this one, since DAMAGE has three interlocking storylines featuring different narrators in different time periods. I found a post from the amazing Anne Mini that addresses exactly the topic of synopses for multiple protagonists, and that helped immensely. (I should have known she'd have an answer, since I've followed so much of her great advice in the past.)

As I worked on telling my story in two pages, I also made a start at explaining the novel more succintly, in a paragraph and in a sentence. I don't need these for the contest, but they'll come in handy when I'm ready to query, and when I talk to people at the conference, and whenever I'm presented with the question of what my book is about. Or, for example, when I want to give my blog readers some context for this novel I keep discussing.

This is what THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE is about, in 100 words or less:

When an earthquake devastates northern California, Nathaniel reluctantly joins the relief effort and returns to his native San Jose, where he's forced to examine the wreckage of his own life. As aftershocks rattle the city, Nathaniel's addiction and depression are exposed to his family, and he unearths generations of resentments and lies. Alternating chapters follow Nathaniel's father and grandfather as young men in San Jose during the dot-com bubble of the 1990s and the aerospace boom of the 1960s, constantly struggling to make the right decisions for their family.

I also came up with a one-sentence tagline that I'm very undecided about:

Three generations of fathers and sons are kept apart by secrets and resentments that are harder to budge than the plates of northern California.

First of all, does "three generations of fathers and sons" mean what I want it to? And second, come on, really, "harder to budge than the plates of northern California"? Who writes like that?

Good Stuff Out There:

Gayle Brandeis muses that "We write towards what we need to understand." Brandeis (who, incidentally, wrote at least one of her first drafts during NaNoWriMo) talks about life uncomfortably imitating art. (Thanks, Louise!)

→ Funny stuff: "Children have an acute understanding of the economic realities of being a writer" and Great Literature Retitled To Boost Website Traffic (Thanks, LitDrift!)

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