Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Synopsis Doctor with Sheila Bugler

Working with Brenda Darling on the synopsis for her novel, Hard Knocks.

Brenda is an English writer living and working in Spain. She moved to Spain in 2007 to retire and concentrate on her passion – writing. Her first novel, Hard Knocks, is set in London’s East End, where she was brought up.

Brenda contacted the Synopsis Doctor for help. Here, Brenda and Sheila share their experiences of working together.

Sheila’s comments

Brenda contacted WWJ for help writing the synopsis for her first novel, Hard Knocks, which follows three generations of women growing up in London’s East End. Brenda sent me her first draft of the synopsis which, in her own words, needed a little ‘TLC’.

For many writers, the major problem a synopsis presents is how to condense a novel of 80,000+ lovingly crafted words into a one-page summary. In my experience, most writers start out by producing a synopsis that is overly long and complex.

This wasn’t Brenda’s problem, however, and I was pleasantly surprised when I read her first draft. It was concise (355 words) but with just enough information to give me a flavour of what the novel was about. In fact, by the end of the synopsis I knew the genre (commercial women’s fiction), the plot outline (three generations of women battling adversity to find their place in the world), and basic information about the main characters – Belle, Elizabeth and Minerva.

There were some areas that needed clarification and I pointed these out to Brenda in my feedback. However, the main problem with Brenda’s first draft was presentation. I really struggled with this. I know this was only a first draft but, even at this stage, I felt Brenda needed to pay more attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation.

So, I attacked the synopsis with my red pen and sent it back to Brenda with lots of comments. I asked her to write another draft, which she did.

The second draft was much better although – again – there were some basic problems that needed attention. These were mainly around punctuation. Again, I got my red pen out, sent it back to Brenda and asked her to take another look.

She did some more work, sent a third version to me and, with a bit of tweaking, we now had a synopsis we were both happy with.

 Here, you can see the first and final versions for yourself. Hopefully it’s obvious why the second version is better. Here are my reasons for preferring the final version:

Presentation – the final version looks good on the page. There is a heading which gives important information about the novel (including author, wordcount and genre). The paragraphs are neatly laid out and each character is introduced in BLOCK CAPITALS, making it easy to scan the text and see who the characters are.

Grammar, spelling and punctuation – the earlier problems have been cleared up and the final version is now easy to read and I am not distracted by careless errors.

(If you’re reading this and are considering submitting your work to an agent, please do one thing for me – it is more important than anything else. GET SOMEONE ELSE TO PROOFREAD YOUR SUBMISSION PACK BEFORE YOU SEND IT. This is your one and only chance to create a good impression. You cannot afford to mess it up.)

Length  - the new, improved synopsis still fits on one page. Although there are no hard and fast rules, you should try to stick to a one-page synopsis. Why? There are two reasons. The first is that agents have limited time. They expect you to be able to summarise your plot concisely. If you can’t, they’ll wonder what else you can’t do. Secondly, your synopsis should be interesting. That’s very hard to achieve if you go for a blow-by-blow account of your novel that covers several pages. Make every word count and don’t write more than you need to. If you do, there’s a chance no one will read it.

Brenda’s comments

Dear Sheila
I wholeheartedly agree with your comments. As a novice, I found writing a synopsis a real challenge. But I thrive on challenges.
Your direction and guidance enabled me to see my faults. The synopsis is now more balanced. Short, but telling.
I thank you! I know I couldn’t have done it without your help.
Brenda

HARD KNOCKS –  SYNOPSIS VERSION 1

Synopsis
Three generations of women, struggles to overcome their belief that as females they are not worth tuppence in the pecking order of the family

Seven year old Belle is confused and unhappy when she becomes an unpaid skivvy. Unloved and ignored by her mother, she finds life hard to bear. Reaching puberty, she turns to men looking for self worth but instead of the love and support she craves she is abused and raped whilst striving for a normal life. She turns to her older brother for support but he has his own problems and can’t help her.

Eventually she marries and has four children; but her husband – like all the other men – treats her badly – but by now Belle accepts this as part of life, not more then she deserves.

After the death of her cold hearted uncaring mother she discovers two diaries.

The discovery sheds light on Bells own unhappy past. She reads the stories of Elizabeth and Minerva – who, she learns are her mother and grandmother.

Elizabeth a middle class Victorian woman has more then her fair share of disasters in her life. At sixteen, she takes a job as a nurse, in an Asylum for the poor and insane in the East End of London. Forced to marry and give birth to a son, and then suffers painful child abduction. A chance meeting with William Davis a working class cockney ends in heartbreak.

Minerva tells of her life being dragged through the bombed out East End after the second world into the modern era of change. Rebuffed by a lover, abortion and loss, she marries Bill and leads him a dog’s life. Bitterness and distain leave a scar.

Both women have two things in common, secrets, and the desperate need for forgiveness, they both believed that a son was more important then a daughter and their unjust behaviour and actions led to heartbreak for all concerned.

Bell finds comfort amongst the pages. They give her answers she has been looking for all her life. She can now forgive, and learn to love and respect the strong woman she has become.

HARD KNOCKS – FINAL VERSION

Name:   Brenda Darling
Title:    Hard Knocks
Word count:       110,000 words
Genre: Commercial women’s fiction

Three generations of women struggle to overcome their belief that, as females, they are not worth tuppence in the pecking order of the family.

Seven year-old BELLE is confused and unhappy when she becomes an unpaid skivvy in the family home. Unloved and ignored by her mother, she finds life hard to bear. Reaching puberty, she turns to men for self-worth. However, instead of the love and support she craves, she is abused and raped. She seeks support from her older brother but he has his own problems – battling drug addiction – and can’t help her.

Eventually she marries and has four children. Her husband - like all the other men in her life - treats her badly. By now, Belle accepts this as part of life, nothing more than she deserves.

After the death of her uncaring mother, she discovers two diaries.

They shed light on Belle’s own unhappy past. She reads the stories of ELIZABETH and MINERVA - her grandmother and mother.

Elizabeth, her grandmother, was a middle class Victorian woman, who had more than her share of disasters in her life. At sixteen, she takes a job as a nurse in an asylum for the poor in the East End of London. Forced to marry, she gives birth to a son. She then suffers a painful child abduction. A chance meeting with WILLIAM DAVIS, a working-class cockney, ends in heartbreak.

Minerva, Belle’s mother, tells of her life being dragged through the bombed-out East End after the Second World War into the modern era of change. Rebuffed by a lover, she marries BILL FRANCES and makes his life hell. Bitterness and disdain leave a scar.

Both women have two things in common - secrets and the desperate need for forgiveness. They both believed that a son was more important than a daughter and their unjust behaviour and actions led to unhappiness for all concerned.


Belle finds comfort amongst the pages. They give her answers she has been looking for all her life. She can now forgive, and learn to love and respect the strong woman she has become.

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