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About Writing Right: The Blog


Somebody asked, rather skeptically at best, how to turn a 150,000-word manuscript into a one-page synopsis. I mean, it just can't be done. Can it? Can it?


Well, you've probably already guessed the answer to that. Here's what I advised.

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You've received some useful pointers here, most notably the need for you to reduce the total word count of your manuscript by a third. That's true if you ever hope to sell the novel to a conventional publisher or until you make a name for yourself as a top-selling author, at which time you can sell any number of words you want. One not-so-good pointer you received is to write a synopsis with a misplaced modifier in the very first sentence, as in this respondent's example:


"John invites Mary to spend the weekend with him at a cabin by an upstate lake, that his dad has agreed to let him use."


Huh? His dad agreed to let him use an upstate lake?


Besides that little bit of ridiculousness, not one of the respondents to your question actually answered you when you asked How does one go about compressing a 150K novel into a page … The respondents tell you why you should condense your story into a single-page synopsis (which is not a "spoiler"). They tell you what your synopsis should include and why it should include it. But, they never give you a clue as to how to accomplish your goal.


But I will.


First, understand that it's never easy for a beginning or an unskilled writer to reduce his complete novel to a one-page outline. So, don't!


You'll find it far easier to reduce your book to a single sentence. And, yes, I'm serious. From there, you can go back and add a salient point or an interesting fact or two to flesh out the synopsis as you think helpful. Just hold the entire thing to a page or less.


Confused? Here are some examples to help clear things up:


A high-spirited southern girl marries a wealthy man about town during the Civil War, but he eventually tires of her petty shallowness and abandons her to her beloved plantation.


The plot for this story, of course, is for Gone with the Wind. The book's original word count: 418,000. The plot word count: 30.


Okay, let's try out another one, this time reaching even farther back into history:


A young seaman signs on to crew a whaler, not realizing that its captain is obsessed with killing at any cost the white whale that once took his leg.


That's the story line, of course, for Moby Dick. The original word count: 206,000. The plot word count: 29.


My point is that all plots can be reduced to a bare minimum of words--and usually pretty easily. From that point, you can add additional facts that you think might persuade an editor to ask to see the complete manuscript.


In Margaret Mitchell's book, for instance, you could bring in the slavery, the brutality of the Civil War, the carpetbaggers at war's end, the incestuous nature of Scarlet's real and imagined relationships, the loss of her only daughter, and her obsession with Tara and the land on which she was born. That should still come home at under a page.



In Herman Melville's work, you could mention the single-minded callousness of Captain Ahab, the overriding elements of voodoo and spiritualism among the crew, the captain's maniacal focus on a single task, and the implied sexuality of lusting after the white "sperm" whale.


Just remember to stop introducing additional facts before you reach the end of that one-page outline!


The bottom line of this exercise is that, if you try reducing something to three hundred words, you have numerous opportunities to miss the main point and drag in a lot of "dead wood." If you reduce the total number of words to twenty or thirty, you're much more apt to be right on target.


Just watch out for those misplaced modifiers! No matter what credentials the adviser might have, misplacing modifiers is never a good thing to espouse. And the typos ain't so impressive, either.


Let me know if you need any further help by contacting me through my Website. Absolutely no charge.


Hope this helps clear the rather musty air surrounding your question and the answers it elicited.


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D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.

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