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JustRob

Obituary for a novel

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Today I posted on a thread where the terms "hook" and "synopsis" were mentioned. Reflecting on these I realised that, while the hook for my novel was what persuaded me to write it, I never managed to write a synopsis despite many attempts. I think I understand why now.

A couple of days ago my angel and I attended the funeral of a very old lady during which tributes to her were read out along with reminiscences. Maybe it was this in my mind that caused me to think of a synopsis as being an obituary for a novel. I have in the past observed the distinction between a "living" novel, still in the course of being written or revised, and a "dead" one fully published. This may well be equivalent to the perception of professional writers, who say that once a story is published it ceases to belong to them. I haven't been able to write a synopsis because my novel is still alive and evolving in my mind despite several drafts of it having been written. It simply isn't possible to write an obituary for one not yet dead. Maybe one day I will discover what it is really about and at that time something will die, but I don't look forward to that day.

I have recently attempted to start writing my historical record of the real Victorian family that I have been researching, but here I have a different problem, or maybe the same one in a way. There are no family records of any description, so I have had to piece their lives together from fragments of information in public records. No doubt some history is little more than speculation threaded between known facts in the fashion of a "join the dots" picture book, but I can hardly call what I am writing history, given how widely those dots are spaced. Somehow I am now drawn back to the distinction between hooks and synopses.

The history of dead people is simply an extended obituary, a synopsis of their lives. What is it that appeals to us in history? Is it the reality of it, which may itself be in doubt, or something else? Would we rather read a detailed history of a well-known figure or a legend about someone like King Arthur or Robin Hood, knowing that it could be mostly fiction? In other words, would we rather read the obituary of a dead person or simply be given the hooks that enable that person to live in our imaginations? In the case of that Victorian family, the latter is all that I can do. I can suggest possibilities to fill the gaps in what is known, but I cannot say what motivated these people, what their attitudes and thoughts were or what conversations they may have had or with whom. When we write fiction we provide hooks to encourage the reader to discover more by reading what we have written, but in my writing I am just as likely to provide hooks which merely encourage the reader to expand on what I have written so that the characters come alive in their minds. The difference betwen my novel writing and history writing is that in the latter I have to make it clear what I am doing but not in the former. Perhaps in reading both fiction and history we seek the same things, sufficient connections with reality to make the story plausible and also sufficient flexibility for our imaginations to be stimulated.

I started my historical research because the existing brief local history of this family seemed little more than a legend, one that I was not prepared to believe. My research has now destroyed that legend and the air of mystery that it held, but in its place I have a story with sufficent factual connections to tempt a reader to believe it, but few enough for the air of mystery to remain. New facts may be discovered in the future and they may move the story in a different direction, as my research continues to do even now, so I can never write a synopsis of that family's history any more than I can write one for my novel.

I find it fascinating how the psychology of writing and reading are entwined, being two sides of a single process.

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  1. Smith's Avatar
    Makes me feel a little better about not having a single fucking clue as to what I'm doing.

    Cheers!
    Updated September 17th, 2016 at 06:24 PM by Smith
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