Friday, 10 February 2012

Synopsis Doc with Sheila Bugler

Working with Helen Phifer on the synopsis for her novel, Deadly Obsession.

Helen Phifer lives in the South Lakes. She uses her experience as a community support officer in her crime writing. She is married and has five teenage children. Deadly Obsession is her first novel.

Sheila’s comments

As a crime writer, I was delighted to get a chance to work with Helen on the synopsis for her crime novel. Deadly Obsession is Helen’s first novel and two things were immediately obvious when she contacted me. The first was that she’s a natural, talented story-teller. Secondly, like many first-time novelists, she was struggling to get her synopsis right.

Helen sent me one of several versions she’d been working with (see below). It wasn’t bad for a first attempt but it needed work. The narrative – which switches between the past and the present – was confusing and the punctuation needed serious attention.

One problem with synopsis-writing is that it’s too easy to write yourself into a corner, trying harder and harder to produce something that’s easy to read and also manages to summarise every plot element of your complex novel. All within 500 words. This isn’t possible and the sooner you give up trying, the easier you’ll find the whole synopsis-writing process.

A good starting point is to come up with a one- or two-sentence summary which captures the essence of your novel. I suggested this to Helen and she agreed to give it a try. After a few attempts, we agreed on this:

The dead can’t harm you. At least that’s what police officer Annie Graham believes, until she becomes the target of a Ripper-style killer.

Next, I gave Helen the following list of instructions which she had to follow to get to the next stage:
1.         Sit down somewhere quiet (with a glass of wine, if necessary).
2.         Keep the summary at the front of your mind.
3.         Forget all other versions of your synopsis.
4.         Write a one-page (or less) synopsis from scratch.
5.         When it’s finished, save it and send it to me. Do not revise it before sending it.
6.         Do not spend more than 30 minutes on this.

Helen followed my instructions to the letter (although I’m not sure if she stuck to just the one glass of wine) and sent me through the revised synopsis. It was good. Now, we had something to work with. We tweaked it a little more until we both had a final synopsis we were happy with.

I know why I prefer the final version, but what do you think? Send me an email with the subject ‘Synopsis Doc’. I’d love to hear from you.

Helen’s comments

I had written several versions of my synopsis, but I wasn’t really happy with any of them. They were messy and to be honest I was at the point of giving in. I had no idea what I could do to sharpen them up until I found the answer to my prayers, SHEILA. I have learnt so much from her and she has the patience of a saint. It was amazing to see this messy piece of writing begin to take shape. I was aghast when she said I had to forget what I had written previously and start at the beginning although the glasses of wine helped immensely with this task. I have never been one to disobey orders and followed Sheila’s instructions.

It has been a fantastic experience working with another crime writer and I am so thankful I have been given this opportunity. I would recommend any writer struggling with their synopsis to follow Sheila’s list of instructions, it will help them immensely. I am now feeling far more positive about sending my work out to agents and can never thank Sheila enough for all the time and energy she has spent helping me.

Deadly Obsession – Synopsis One

Police officer Annie Graham is in serious trouble recovering from a violent attack by her now estranged husband, she becomes the object of desire for the town’s first serial killer.  A killer who is heavily influenced by “Jack the Ripper”. Henry discovers a trophy room in the cellar of a crumbling Victorian mansion, empty since its owner died in 1945.  He realises this room once belonged to “Jack” and finds the knife once used by him it becomes Henry’s weapon of choice.

 Annie who is temporarily homeless agrees to housesit for her brother.  Off work because of her injuries, the only job she has to worry about is keeping an eye on an empty mansion, nearby.  Inside the mansion Annie discovers a diary written over a hundred years ago by Alice a housemaid who went onto to marry Edward the only son who inherited the house.  It chronicles the abuse she suffered and Alice finally pieces together that her husband is the infamous “Jack” who everyone is talking about.   She has to fight for her life in his trophy room.  She wins and buries him in the cellar, taking the world’s best kept secret to the grave with her.
Henry lures his first victim to see the mansion, killing her in the trophy room.  The police begin to search for the missing teenager.  Bringing Will the Detective Sergeant in charge to the woods, where he meets Annie for the first time.  Will has a reputation as a womaniser but finds himself falling for Annie which is the last thing either of them wants.  Henry begins to stalk Annie.  After seeing her with Will he murders another woman in a fit of rage, this throws the police and Henry into turmoil.  Henry then begins to kill anyone who gets in his way.   Realising time is running out he goes for Annie.  Ambushing her he takes her down into the trophy room.  She has read the diary and knows exactly where she is.  Will makes the connection and dashes to rescue her only to confront Henry and have a massive heart attack, leaving Annie to fight to save them both.  The past is being played out again.  Annie manages to overcome Henry.  Help finally arrives as the mansion goes up in flames.  Annie, Will and the dead girl are all carried from the burning building to waiting paramedics.  Henry stumbles out after them his hair on fire and bleeding he collapses onto the lawn.

Three weeks later Annie buries her husband.  The story ends with Annie laying flowers on the grave of Alice the woman who killed “Jack” and telling her that her secret is safe.

Deadly Obsession – Synopsis Two

Novel: Deadly Obsession
Word Count: 83000 Words
Genre: Crime/Supernatural

The dead can’t harm you. At least that’s what police officer Annie Graham believes, until she becomes the target of a Ripper-style killer.

When ANNIE GRAHAM’S violent husband MIKE finally goes too far, putting her in hospital she flees to the sanctuary of her brother’s house, located in the grounds of a crumbling Victorian mansion.

While she’s there, police begin to search the woods surrounding the mansion for a missing teenager. During the search, Annie meets WILL ASHWORTH a fellow cop with a taste for the ladies and a vulnerable side. Despite Will’s reputation Annie finds herself drawn to him. And the feeling is mutual. Will can’t stop thinking about her.

Local girls are going missing, and it soon becomes clear that Will isn’t the only one with his eye on Annie. When the killer, who lures each victim to the woods, spies Annie, she unknowingly becomes the object of his desire.

As the killer closes in, a regretful Mike skips his bail hostel and comes to find Annie, determined to win her back.

Meanwhile, Annie has become intrigued with the content of an old diary she finds in the school room of the mansion. The diary belonged to housemaid, ALICE HUGHES. Through its pages she discovers clues to the house’s dark past.

The owner, a once charming man called Edward, had a terrifying alter ego. After killing his mother in a jealous rage, he goes to London where he murders at least five prostitutes, gaining infamy as the notorious ‘Jack the Ripper’.

The clues to Edward’s dark past lie in the pages of Alice’s diary. But can Annie figure out the truth before two terrible crime sprees, separated by more than one hundred years, converge in the grimy, blood-splattered cellar next door?

A contemporary, supernatural crime novel set in the South Lakes; this is the first in the Annie Graham series.

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