Big Dreams – What are you dreaming about doing this year? Tell us about something you’ve been obsessed with, or that you’re just beginning to visualize.
Completing the first draft of my novel-in-progress is my big dream this year.
I thought I had almost completed a first draft a couple of years back. But the feedback from my read-and-critique group included far too many questions.
- What does your main character want?
- What’s standing in her way?
- Who is acting against her?
- What is your story about, anyway?
- Who is your audience?
These very sensible questions kept coming up, and I didn’t have answers for them.
I started out wanting to tell my story, complete with all the funny incidents where Iranians misunderstood Americans or Americans misunderstood Iranians, and the consequences those misunderstandings brought about. I had told many of these stories to friends and family, and they all laughed with me at the funny parts–or at least at what I considered the funny parts. I just needed to tie them all together, I thought.
But the most astute among my read-and-critique group pointed out that my stories revealed an ego-centric and arrogant streak in me. That by writing stories that invited others to laugh with me, I was all but pointing my finger at those others, inviting laughter at them.
That wasn’t at all what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell a story worth telling. To do that, I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t all that smart as I went through the adventures. I didn’t learn everything I should have.
For the past four months, I haven’t written anything in my novel. Instead I’ve written, and rewritten several times, a summary, a synopsis, and the 50-word, 75-word, 100-word, and 150-word blurbs to go on the inside jacket cover to catch a reader’s attention.
Aren’t a summary and a synopsis the same thing, you might ask. Not exactly is my reply.
The summary is an outline in paragraph format. The summary focuses on how the events unfold. The summary was just for me, and I didn’t need to limit it to a certain number of pages. Mine varied from seven to nine pages in its many versions. I needed to write it in order to help me figure out which incidents I had previously written about are not necessary because they take away from, or complicate telling, the story. I consider the summary to be the condensed CliffsNotes or student book report version of the story.
The synopsis, on the other hand, is for prospective agents so they can decide if the novel is a good risk to back. Agents and publishers decide how long they want a synopsis to be, but to be safe, an author should have a one-page, single-spaced version. The synopsis must include the entire story, though without subplots or minor characters. Most importantly: it must reveal the ending. Another difference between a summary and a synopsis is the synopsis must convey the feelings and emotions of the characters, not just the action. A synopsis may look like a literary critic’s description of the book.
These shorter pieces have been as difficult to write as the story itself. They forced me to focus on who the main character is, what she wants, and who and what is in her way. In other words, to answer at least some of those pesky questions. The process also helped me recognize where I need to let go of my personal story, as compelling as I think it is, in order to tell a believable story that someone other than a close friend or family would want to read.
I’m ready to finish the first draft. The real first draft. Everything from before has just been doodling.
Photo credits: Adi Goldstein