30 December, 2005

O ye aspiring writers, look upon the Crapometer and despair

Miss Snark is spending her holiday season critiquing synopses on her blog. For anyone who doesn't know her, Miss Snark is an anonymous New York literary agent who dispenses wit and wisdom to the writers (known as Snarklings) who email her with their questions. The blog is always worth reading, as much for Miss Snark's style as for the advice itself. Just now it's even more illuminating than usual. Before Christmas, Miss Snark invited her Snarklings to submit synopses of their novels and she is now running them through her Crapometer and posting the results. There were 106 submissions, so you have to admire the lady's stamina as well as her generosity. So far there are 57 posted, and Miss Snark says she is on track to finish by Sunday.

The synopsis is probably the hardest thing to write, even worse than the query letter and certainly far, far worse than writing the novel in the first place. Much advice is available on the web and in "How to Sell Your Novel" books. The trouble I have with said advice is that a lot of it is contradictory. Some sources say the synopsis should be a detailed summary of the plot and character development, others say it should be <300 words to convey that the story has some kind of shape. Some say it should be in very straightforward prose, others say it must convey writing style and 'voice'. Some say it's a selling tool, like the blurb on the back of a paperback, others say it mustn't attempt to sell the book and should be a simple description of what happens. Some say it should start with a 'hook' or a question, some say it should be split into sections such as 'Theme', 'Characters', 'Plot' etc., some say it should include snippets of dialogue. And so on. There are a few areas of agreement: the synopsis must be in third-person present tense, and it must demonstrate that the novel is fresh, new and original, but also fits neatly into a pre-existing popular market genre.

Confused? I don't blame you. Which is why Miss Snark's Crapometer posting is so valuable. There's nothing like seeing real examples eviscerated by an expert for an effective learning experience. Even if you're not struggling with a synopsis, some of the comments will surely amuse. Miss Snark's style is reminiscent of Dorothy Parker, though fortunately for the brave Snarklings not quite so merciless - no synopsis has (yet) been dismissed with the equivalent of "Tonstant Weader fwowed up".

So far my favourite is the crime caper 'The Wrong Pages', featuring glamorous New York literary agent Selina Snark, her selfless poodle, a vital state secret sent by mistake instead of sample chapters for a thriller, CIA agents, investigative reporters, Al Quaida, a subway strike and a date with George Clooney. It's Crapometer #10. Go on, brighten your day.


Gabriele Campbell said...

Lol, yes, I'd totally read that book. Plus a few others.

Miss Snark doesn't even insist on present tense, what she wants is one tense throughout the synopsis. Her comments are very valuable indeed.

I haven't sent one this time because I'm not far enough into one of my projects to be sure the synopsis would have anything to do with the final product. *glares at Tiarnac Deorad and Artcois who are messing with her plot* :-)

Alex Bordessa said...

Ha! I just found the Miss Snark blog a few days back and was planning to do a short blog on it meself :-) It's very instructive regarding synopsis writing, and I shall be visiting it often.