Two years ago at this time I was in the same position I am now: Needing to generate a synopsis of a new novel for my Read and Critique session at the annual Pennwriters conference here in Pittsburgh. Single-spaced, half a page. No more. Rereading my post of 13 May 2015, I see I was in "Oh my gosh, take a deep breath, don't freak out" mode. How was I ever going to condense the plot of Singing Lake Farm down to that?
Well, though I neglected to blog about it at the time, I succeeded. I distilled it down to 379 words (not counting the heading) and my novel idea and first two pages went over well with the professional reading panel. (I neglected to blog about that, too. I wish I had, as they said some very nice and encouraging things.)
This year, my problem was not that I had too much plot in Strong as Death to press into a half page, but that to a great extent I didn't have a plot for the new novel at all. Not a complete one, anyway. The first act of I have well in mind. I knew I had to get my characters (Eric and Sandy from The Single Eye) involved in something people like them ordinarily wouldn't be tangled up with, and I had a sketchy idea--- but only sketchy--- of how to make that work. I had a pretty good picture of the climactic scene. But beyond "there's a big fight, the bad guys lose, the good guys win and live happily ever after," I hadn't a clue. Especially as the real antagonist isn't my Red terrorists, but my heroine's cheating former boyfriend Werner. What becomes of him? He's got to change somehow, but it has to be organic, or I've written propaganda or crap. The challenge for that is especially stiff when you're writing a Christian novel. Not even God "makes" us be good!
Happily, by now writing a half-page-only synopsis doesn't panic me; rather, it's an exercise in focus. How can I make this plot work? What twists can I come up with, and how can I use them to effect the final outcome? What's really important, and what can I leave out? How can I word all this in the most economical way?
I've been working on the Strong as Death synopsis since yesterday and at 366 words I believe I have something that will fly. In the process I've gotten the plot a lot more clear. I don't say there aren't any possible holes, but I think any that emerge can be plugged.
But I wonder: am I cheating a little? Do the panelists expect the novels whose beginnings are submitted for the R&C sessions to be finished? If not, it'd be really hard for a discovery writers to provide a synopsis. Often they have less idea how their stories will come out than I did!
Never mind. This is a good chance to find out if I'm giving Strong as Death a good start, and I'm taking it.