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Friday, 23 September 2011

Amusing Summaries

As part of my PhD research I'm reading lots of sensation novels and trying to write a brief summary of events so that I don't get too muddled when trying to recall details of any particular book. Characters and plot melt into one mass of confusion if I'm not careful. It's just a document with a little about the progression of the plot and I include at the end quotations of contemporary reviews. However I just wrote a summary sentence for the past history of a character and snorted. 

  • David Lloyd's Last Will, Hesba Stretton, 1870: "It’s mentioned that Mark lost a fiancĂ© a decade ago when she fell off a cliff and he renounced marriage after that."

Is it just me or did anyone else snort? It makes it all sound so ridiculous. Yep, she fell off a cliff. In fairness to my summary, it sounds as stupid in the actual text. But, as a writer who struggles with writing synopses for her own work, I'm petrified of my plot sounding as contrived and melodramatic as that one. I've located a couple of these humorous summary sentences in my notes on other books.

  • Robin Gray, Charles Gibbon, 1869: "Twenty years earlier McWhapple had been signed over property from Hugh Sutherland who it was suddenly rumoured had joined a conspiracy to overthrow the government."

  • A Woman's Vengeance, James Payn, 1872: "Helen returns from the grave, confesses her sins then promptly dies." 

If I ever write anything like that in a synopsis I want to hang up my writing cap immediately and retire to a life of solitude with cats. I may yet do that anyway, to be fair. One final unrelated note garnered from my novel notes: don't change the sex of a baby half-way through a book.

  • A Life's Assize, Charlotte Riddell, 1871: "Joy gives birth to a baby girl (text later suggests it’s a boy)."

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