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Synopsi are evil

There's been an almighty row over the Jade Pagoda, although internecine war seems to be its default state these days, about what makes a good Doctor Who synopsis. One of these days I'll get around to putting the one I submitted for H101 online: it's a lot shorter than I remember but that's in part because WS had a very long one with a lot of detail and, as always with me, footnotes.

Mid-week I got an email from a writery friend about the Waterstones competition to find a new novelist. It has to be teen fiction (8-12 or 12-15) and you have to have been previously unpublished. So it is of little use to me. However, not one but two RL friends have drafts there or nearly-there and could go for it. Except neither had a novel synopsis for their work and the deadline is tomorrow. So last night, I dusted off my red pen of critiquing and hastily went through the first drafts of the synopsi. As I said to one, I apologise for possibly stomping on the butterflies instead of dancing about them tactfully as I normally try to do but time is tight and, as you're a RL friend, I'm fairly sure you will forgive me. Even so, I have certain rules of feedback which I learnt back in my fanfic days and which stood me in good stead when working in a hurry:

  1. Say positive overall things first.
  2. Say what doesn't work, why it doesn't and offer potential solutions.
  3. Point out stupid punctuation and grammar.
    If this stage is longer than stage 2, tell them to buy some standard books on the use of English. I always suggest Bill Bryson's Troublesome Words.
  4. Say positive things again.
Step 2 is, obviously, the bit which requires the most work. I always make it clear that these things don't work for me and that the suggested solutions are only what I would do, if I had written the story. The why something doesn't work is often the hardest bit for me and involves a certain amount of unpicking until I realise it's a word, a phrase or just that the action is out of character. Obviously, out of character behaviour is much easier to spot with fanfic because there's a shared baseline in the canonical version. So any out of character notes for original fiction tend to be hedged with a "is this supposed to indicate...?" question in case the writer is doing something clever and I've been too dumb to spot it.

It's the step which requires the most tact as you are treading on their butterflies but it's also the step I enjoy the most. Not because of the dream-stomping (which hopefully I managed to avoid even doing two synopsi in haste) but because it teaches me things: I see something which doesn't quite work, I see why and I think of solutions. If I'm to improve then these are skills which I need to keep sharpening and other peoples' work is a great knife-grinder.

So, hopefully, these two novels will go through to shortlisting (where even if they don't win the nice competition contract with f&f they may get picked up anway).

Posted @ 10:40 am on Saturday, July 30, 2005
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