Living Between the Lines

Losing the plot

I have been writing a synopsis of my latest novel. This exercise, undertaken only once the novel had reached a stalemate, has been strategically planned to enable me to see what the heck is going on.

This novel was started under the banner of NaNoWriMNo. It grew to well over 50,000 words in 30 days. It spoke, it breathed, it fairly flew off my fingers and onto the screen as I typed. It made sense, well, no, actually it didn’t make all that much sense but it had lots of hooks and notes in the margins and helpful inserts/guides for me to follow when, released from the pressure of that daily word count, I was free to take it up and cajole it into shape.

I enjoyed writing it, it must be said.  On November 1st (my birthday) I sat down and pulled the germ of an idea from my brain. I began to write. The experience was amazing. Family left me alone, my mind conjured up characters and I only had to watch as they led me into their lives. I knew them so well but they still surprised me. I had to remember that there was some work still required from me.

Funny how one can be so enthused over a piece and then find oneself lost in a sea of self-doubt. I began to wonder if I should start again. I liked so much of what I had written but where was it taking me? I was seriously considering scrapping it and concentrating on my other works in progress (oh yes, there are a few) but I was loathe to give up so, I put it aside for a few weeks.

I wrote a short story, sent that off to a magazine (am still awaiting sale or rejection). I wrote a few blog posts, walked the dogs, had mother-in-law to stay for a fortnight, youngest daughter and children for a week. I caught a virus, laid low for a while and then, today, I decided to tackle this festering pile of words that niggle away at me, once and for all.

As always, I began to read through, I checked my notes…then I stopped. Like a bolt from the blue, it came to me what this novel lacks – a synopsis.

I have never been one to plan before I write really (ask my English teacher should she still be around) but I do normally plan and edit as I go, to some extent. The NaNoWriMo experience had not allowed me to do this (notes in margins may work for some but not for me). It was suddenly obvious to me what I had to do – write a synopsis. I was not concerned with how I wrote it other than that it should describe the plot, its characters and the order of events. I kept a copy of the incomplete novel by my side (on screen) as I wrote and gradually, pulled together the gaping holes that I noticed in the plot. Why did that character do that? Does it impact on the plot in any way at all? Can I lose him/her with no detriment to the story? Several characters fell by the wayside as I considered their merit.

The experience encountered by one Hollie Robinson from the Huffington Post (I googled this – great article) rang true. There were gaping holes in my sub story and a good few in the main plot too. My characters were full of life but they seemed to be running round in circles that never quite met up. As I read, I could see where my mind had been heading at the time but it was also clear that I had never actually arrived.

Oh dear.

Yet, all is not lost. This synopsis, as it takes shape, promises to show me the way. I am empowered by the ability to rewrite history. I had better get back to it lest it take over and become the beginnings of a second novel itself.

I will let you know if this novel ever makes it out of its box but armed with my new knowledge, I think it stands a fighting chance.

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • John Cowton

    Writing a synopsis at this stage as a guide for your characters and plot seems like a good idea and it will save you the job of writing a synopsis from scratch when you want to pitch your manuscript to a publisher.
    I think in your heart of hearts you need to finish this novel after all of the effort you put into NaNaMoWa do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do… that thing you did in November.

    I will also be interested to know how you get on with your short story writing too Debbie. 🙂

    • Deborah Barker

      Hi John, I forgot I had scheduled this post for this morning so your response was unexpected LOL! Thanks for the words of encouragement. I sent the story to a magazine in which I have had stories published before – quite a few years ago – so fingers crossed that they like this one. You are right, I do need to finish this novel if only for my own satisfaction. Having it published would be a bonus. Oops, I can’t get that do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do… out of my head now! 😉

  • patricia60

    I think my life at this point is without a plot…truly…I am just flopping around in my life, and it does not feel like it is working well.

    I will also say that it is the synopsis in most book reviews that turns me on or off of the book – people now days spoil so many books for me…and movie trailers are worse. They remove all the brain exercise, contemplating, and just guessing what is going to happen next. I don’t want to read or view just for the product placement ads….

    I think that is why I get so many nice words about my reviews because I attempt to capture the imagination and propel it towards a good read.

    I am looking forward to reading and reviewing your novel…sounds like you have a plan indeed. Maybe a new form of writing style opens up a great degree of satisfaction with editing a manuscript?

    I am reviewing short stories this week, the author teaches writing at a local university and this writing is impeccable. I also noticed that he had a number of readers prior to editing each story, who apparently assisted the process greatly. His wife and other local writers (maybe writing group) even offered up titles and changed phrases….Who has been reading your work in process besides you?

    • Deborah Barker

      Hi Patricia, I agree that too much pre-information and explanation is damaging to the enjoyment of a book or film. On the other hand, the blurb on the back cover of a book will sell it if done well. My synopsis is purely for me – and a possible publisher. I decided I had better know what is going on. I wont let anyone read something that I am not at least half happy with—for me that would spoil the joy of the writing process. I even enjoy the angst of struggling with the piece for a while.
      Aside from family, (they are probably the last to read something) I have a librarian friend who is more than happy to read and critique and I belong to which, if used sensibly, can be helpful in getting a wider audience to read a few chapters and give their honest opinion. Some are writers, some are just avid readers. Other friends have read my work in the past though for a magazine story, I wouldn’t ask anyone. After all, I know my audience there – Grace! 🙂 See “An audience with Grace”

  • hilarymb

    Hi Deborah .. sorry I held the post til the A-Z had finished .. but I was very interested in your story line and in the Huffington Post link .. all these little extras for me a non-book writing blogger with thoughts! are useful ..

    I agree about the synopsis being for you .. that makes absolute sense – the public version can be honed anon …

    Good luck with all the hole filling, honing and editing … I’m sure it will be a very good read … looking forward to it – Hilary

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