This drafting thing is hard.
Last night, which spilled over into this morning (for those who may be confused due to timezones, I live in New Zealand), I wrote a summary of Tallulah. I had intended to write an actual accurate summary of the story, and instead what I ended up writing as a synopsis to a story that felt like it made sense – which was more or less just as good, because it still got me thinking about the weaknesses of the story on a ‘global’ scale specifically because I had written a synopsis of a very different story. And so it got me thinking about the things that I had changed or just completely left out of this synopsis, because that seemed like a pretty good indicator of specifically what I wanted to look at when I went back to edit …
There was just one problem.
I fixed the problems.
Not as in ‘I just killed Count Rugen and have no idea what to do with my life’, but as in ‘I’ve identified the main problem already without even looking at the manuscript so what’s the use in even looking at the manuscript?’
The answer: because it’s the manuscript, and I fixed a synopsis.
I do think that it is very important to look at your synopsis, and very helpful, because it can help you to instantly identify the broadest, story-based problems with your manuscript, and subsequently some character problems as well – if there are any, of course. If there aren’t, then awesome! Look at something a little more ‘zoomed-in’, like specific characterisation or the exact sequence of events or whatever. But if you’re looking at the big picture, which is what I’m trying to do, then the synopsis is perhaps the perfect place to start.
However, the issue that I had last night, the sense of aimlessness that came over me, was because it seemed like I could find a solution for everything I wanted to without even looking back at the first draft at all. I had already come to my conclusion, after all – what was the point in spending another day, or even a week, I have no idea how long it’ll actually take to read through this thing, just to come to the same conclusion?
The answer is very simple, and it’s another question: given these ‘solutions’ that I have now, this nice, new, coherent synopsis, this contents page, this ‘big picture’ revision of ‘what should happen’ – does that feel like enough to go on if I want to write a whole story?
If it doesn’t – which it doesn’t for me – then you need to go back and read the manuscript. You need more than just a ‘big picture’ evaluation done with a 500-word synopsis (ideally a synopsis is around 300 words, from what I hear); you need to get critical at the ground level, to get into that mindset where, as an avid reader, you can see somebody else’s work and instantly identify what you would have done differently if it was up to you, and for that to happen, you need to see the whole thing all the way through, from start to finish, not just a synopsis. A synopsis-critiquing is helpful, don’t get me wrong; after I slept on it I actually felt downright excited to start looking at the manuscript and taking notes, because I had a clear sense of direction. But it is not the whole process, and it is nowhere near the whole solution – it’s a start, and a helpful start, but it is not an ending.
And neither is reading the manuscript. That’s the next step. It may be difficult to not feel like I’ve already come to my conclusion and therefore am wasting my time by reading it the whole way through, but I have to do it, because it’s an entirely different, more thorough and more taxing evaluation, and it’s also the most important one – I don’t want to publish and sell my synopsis; I want to publish and sell my story, so that’s what I need to give attention to, and make sure is in working order.
My current strategy to the ‘already know what I’m going to say’ thing is going to be the same strategy as when I write something down, a story-point or whatever, and then feel like, since I’ve already planned it out, there’s no point in even writing it, because there’s nothing new. That strategy is to basically pretend that it never happened.
Because it’s written down. I’ve written down my critique of my synopsis, I’ve made my plans; it’s all there if I need it later. But I don’t have to use it. In this case, I do actually want to use it, but not as a set of instructions – just as a diving-board, a starting-point to a much larger investigation. I know something of the course I want to chart, the theory, but now I have to actually go and walk it, and see what it’s like in practice.
And maybe my critique will be horrible and ignorant and lazy; maybe I’ll miss really obvious things. But that’s why the synopsis-critique has value – it’s a direction. I wouldn’t recommend putting it up on your wall to remind you of ‘what to look for’, but I would certainly recommend looking over it while critiquing your draft, which is what I’m going to try and do. I have a direction, and I am going to walk in it.
Hope it works.