I’ve taken the plunge and enrolled on a 3-day writing course at The Faber Academy, in the hope that it’ll help me regain focus on The Novel. After making great progress during the early part of the summer, I’ve rather ground to a halt, with my previous 2000-word-a-night marathons trickling to tentative additions and subtractions and a pervasive sense of gloom.
I’m not expecting sympathy. If there’s one thing the world doesn’t need, it’s another novel. The wretched things simply pour off the presses. And when I compare my scribblings to, say, the world of genius that is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, or the expressive subtleties of my current bedside read, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, I do really feel I should stick to the day job.
But I’ve been working on it for well over a year now, and I’m not ready to throw in the towel. The course (fittingly titled Stuck in the Middle) is tutored by Sarah Dunant and Gillian Slovo, proper writers who know what they’re about. If anyone can set me on the right track, they can. And if I really should throw in the towel, maybe they’ll be kind enough to tell me. (The course literature makes it clear that they cannot actually write the novel for you, which is frankly a bit of a shame.)
My first challenge is to prepare ‘a short synopsis of a piece of work in the middle of which you are stuck’. I stopped to enjoy the backwards syntax, up with which my English teacher would not have put. Hair-raisingly, the synopsis should be, I am informed in bold type, ‘no more than one page‘.
I’ve spent the afternoon attempting to sum up my sprawling 50,000 words-so-far on one page. That’s about 600 words. It’s been a salutory exercise, forcing me to focus on the important bits of the plot, not the clever-clever clues, or the diversions into my heroine’s school days. It’s even helped me work out, roughly, the last quarter of the story. In fact, I can’t think why I’ve never tried it before.
In my days as a junior newspaper reporter, I was told to start writing a news story ‘as if you were telling someone in the pub’. There were a lot of pubs involved in newspapers back then. The point is that you get straight to the crux of the story; telling it in as few words as possible, with all the best stuff at the top, so the sub editors can cut (literally, in those days) from the bottom. It doesn’t work for writing novels, obviously (you’d lose any twists in the tale), but it does help clarify a story.
Anyway, back to draft 2 of the synopsis. Or is this just more displacement activity from actually getting on with chapter 14? I think maybe I need to start the synopsis again. Gillian and Sarah will have to restrain their impatience for my plot a little longer.