Today's task has been to start work on my study guide essays. These are for an online database leased to schools, colleges and universities, and provide students with information about a variety of texts along with sources of further reading.
I've complete a number of these over the years - they're a reliable source of income from writing - from Fight Club to 'The Yellow Wallpaper' and from Candide to Metamorphosis to A Midsummer Night's Dream.
My current essay is The Stand by Stephen King, and my first job is to write the synopsis of the text. The text itself is over 700 pages long and my job is to summarise all its complexities in about 3500 words. No mean feat!
Writing a synopsis is not something I was ever taught to do, it's not a skill we tend to teach at universities even though we are told we will have to write one of our own book when we are looking for a publisher. It is an interesting process which involves trying to find the through-line in a text and pull out all the strands which make it work, in the smallest number of words possible. It is a really useful way to get to grips with the themes in a book, and works wonders on making your writing concise.
Along with simply regurgitating the story, I try to capture something of the tone of the text being synopsised (is that a word...). The synopsis for Fight Club had short punchy sentences. Slaughterhouse 5 was conversational and fractured. Shakespeare is always a little lyrical and I have to avoid the temptation to write in iambic pentameter.
After the synopsis comes the research, but for the moment, it's back to simplifying the post-apocalyptic world of the superflu.
The next essay is Twelfth Night. Variety is life-spicy indeed.