Some Sentences, Jan. 2017 – In grudging praise of synopses


Jan. 20, 2017 – A few days ago, I whined about my editor’s (admittedly reasonable) request for a synopsis of the novel I’m working on. Good God, I barely know what sentence I’m going to write next, let alone what the whole book’s going to look like.

And yet. With that synopsis roughed out, and another under way, I’ve discovered the dirty little secret of synopses – you get to slap down those broad, broad brushstrokes that hint at just how fabulous this book will be. It’s the lovely part before the actual writing begins, and the masterpiece you’ve fashioned dissolves before your eyes, leaving behind only the dreaded blank page.

Because a synopsis is, what? Two, five, maybe seven pages? That leaves a whole lot of white space to fill before the end. As in “The End.” Ann Patchett captured this phenomenon far more eloquently than I (duh) in her wonderful essay, “The Getaway Car.”

This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing — all the color, the light and movement — is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.

Tomorrow, I set my synopses aside and go back to the manuscript. My poor, dead butterfly of a manuscript. A moment of silence, please.


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