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Thursday, August 13, 2015

SURE, I Can Write A Regular Synopsis For Agency Submission, But For A Literary Novel? Where's My Ruby Slippers?

Im not an idiot. I've read articles, blog posts, books and taken workshops on how to write a novel synopsis. The talk covers Inciting Incidents, Story Goals, and Climaxes, all concepts that came out of Joseph Campbell's analysis of the classic arc of hero's tales, further explored in Chris Vogler's Heroes' Journey, and everything relating back to screenwriting's three-act structure.

They say you have to make sure that each action is tied to an emotion, and that you manage to get the theme in there, too. And then they talk about a famous example, like, say, Star Wars, or The Wizard of Oz. And by this, they mean the film Wizard of Oz, with its streamlined, three act structure (again) rather than the book, where there are two Good Witches and assorted other monsters and helpers, like the Queen of the mice, or the Kalidahs, with the body of a bear and the head of a tiger. And of course, in the book, Dorothy is a capable child, not a wistful adolescent, but that's beside the point.

As much as I'd like to click a pair of ruby slippers (silver in the novel), I think these samples only work for linear novels with a couple of subplots attached to one main thread. The problem is, nobody teaches us how to write a three--page synopsis of The Hours, for instance. Or Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin. Nobody ever says, "Let's diagram a one-page synopsis of a complex, literary novel. We'll start with the description of an inside wall on page one of E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime, and move on to his story, interlacing real historical persona with three intertwined story lines, in a novel that, through the first decades of the 20th century, also informs us about the middle and end of that century, not to mention right now."

That, now, that would be a class for me.

So, I'm reduced to trying to follow the rules developed for screenplays. Oh, and I'm reading dust-jacket copy.

Here, for RagtimePublished in 1975, Ragtime changed our very concept 
of what a novel could be. An extraordinary tapestry, Ragtime captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century and the First World War.

The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. And almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family and other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.

Or here's the jacket copy for Let the Great World SpinIn the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.

Let the Great World Spin is the critically acclaimed author’s most ambitious novel yet: a dazzlingly rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s.

Corrigan, a radical young Irish monk, struggles with his own demons as he 

lives among the prostitutes in the middle of the burning Bronx. A group of mothers gather in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn their sons who died in Vietnam, only to discover just how much divides them even in grief. A young artist finds herself at the scene of a hit-and-run that sends her own life 
careening sideways. Tillie, a thirty-eight-year-old grandmother, turns tricks alongside her teenage daughter, determined not only to take care of her family but to prove her own worth.

Elegantly weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann’s powerful allegory comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city’s people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the “artistic crime of the century.” 

A sweeping and radical social novel, Let the Great World Spin captures the spirit of America in a time of transition, extraordinary promise, and, in hindsight, heartbreaking innocence. Hailed as a “fiercely original talent” (San Francisco Chronicle), award-winning novelist McCann has delivered a triumphantly American masterpiece that awakens in us a sense of what the novel can achieve, confront, and even heal.

Of course, I can't very well write, "The Color of Safety, a dazzlingly rich vision of--" well, anything. Hopefully, somebody, someday will write that for me.

Oh, and I can't find the original dust copy for The Hours. If anybody has it, would they type it in for me? And if you have any other synopsis-examples for complex literary novels, send them my way.

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