On Writing a Synopsis

Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to tell you how to write your synopsis—what Createspace refers to as a long description.  This is about my own synopsis, written to describe my novel, Turn on No-Bridge Road.  Having worked on it, off and on, for a week I sent it to several friends, some of them writers.  An immediate response came back from one of them, a former English teacher.  “Always use active voice,” she said!  I took a bit of umbrage at that, thinking I had done a fair job of creating a decent description of my novel.  You asked for a critique and suggestions, didn’t you? I asked myself.  Well, that’s what you got, so get on with it.

I consulted my favorite, The Little Red Writing Book first, and here found a concise four pages, and exercises.  Good.  Helpful.  I then turned to the Harbrace College Handbook given to me by my husband over 30 years ago when I first decided I had something I wanted to write about—Menokin.  Also clear and informative.  Interesting, too, because some of it had been highlighted in yellow indicating I’d been told to watch this before!   Okay, so after reading my synopsis yet again, I realize there are indeed several sentences that can be improved by rewriting to make them more “active”.

At this point I decided to go Googling.  And here’s where it gets interesting.  I entered the words “active and passive voice” and a slew of websites came up.  I chose http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com.  Good discussion here, also helpful, but near the end is where it got really interesting.  Remember that classic text all college freshman used to be told to use—The Elements of Style by Strunk and White?  Well, apparently there are those who no longer think so highly of those two educators.  Following a link, I was led to a most amazing article that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, based in Wash., D.C. on April 17, 2009.  The author, Geoffrey K. Pullum, is head of linguistics and English language at University of Edinburgh.  Mr. Pullum minces no words when he says the following:

The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students’ grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.

…. After Strunk’s death, White published a New Yorker article reminiscing about him and was asked by Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for commercial publication. It took off like a rocket (in 1959) and has sold millions.”  The article continues, after some biographical description of the two authors:

“This was most unfortunate for the field of English grammar, because both authors were grammatical incompetents. Strunk had very little analytical understanding of syntax, White even less. Certainly White was a fine writer, but he was not qualified as a grammarian. Despite the post-1957 explosion of theoretical linguistics, Elements settled in as the primary vehicle through which grammar was taught to college students and presented to the general public, and the subject was stuck in the doldrums for the rest of the 20th century.”

The article then focuses on active and passive voice and how Strunk and White were unable to define the difference.  If you are interested in Pullum’s opinion, his article is titled 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.  Enter this in the search bar on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website.  Or, go to http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497 (please copy and paste; I haven’t figured out how to make this a link).  The entire case as presented by author Pullum will be fascinating to anyone who writes or teaches writing.  Amazing what you can find on Google when you weren’t even looking for it!

And, yes, in case you’re wondering, I am going back to my synopsis and get more active about it!




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One thought on “On Writing a Synopsis

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