I came up with the title for my book, North for Sun, about halfway through a first-ish draft. I started daydreaming, and my thoughts became sort of productive, so I followed them. Coming up with a title at this stage of the process motivated me. I had to reflect on the major theme of the book. Talking to friends about my book became more fun. I was happy to have a title; it made me feel serious.
When I came up with a title for North for Sun, I thought about the titles of books that I liked. As an example, my favorite books are Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and Cathedral by Raymond Carver. I realized that they had simple words and strong sounds. They also refer to specific images or, in the case of Remains of the Day, a specific line in the book. I enjoyed this thematic resonance when I reached the parts of these stories that reflected the title. I thought about Martha's story in terms of a journey; I chose a title that refers to a journey in Chapter 2. Sonically, I liked the words "North for Sun." They are easy and quick to say out loud. They don't trip up the tongue. I thought the sounds suited the feeling of the book. North for Sun was one of the first titles I thought of. I don't remember any of the others.
I wrote a synopsis when I was about halfway done with a first-ish draft of the book. I'm not sure why I wrote a synopsis at this point. I think I wanted to have a ready answer for friends who were asking about the book. I was having a hard time explaining.
Writing a synopsis turned out to be helpful because it forced me to consolidate the themes and Martha's desires. I don't think I had a clear idea of what Martha wanted overall before. Martha's want for friends, which I saw clearly after the synopsis, ended up driving the plot. I went back and revised to reflect her journey for friendship. I tightened language and dialogue, and I rearranged some scenes so that the overall arc directed toward her goal. I'll share here my process for writing a synopsis.
First, I read examples of synopses for my favorite books. This step was fascinating. One synopsis that sticks out is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is compact and intense. I also liked the synopsis for A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle. I liked how the opening sentence invites the reader into the story. After reading many examples, I soon realized that synopses for books are very different.
I researched some explanations on how to write a synopsis. I found the explanations contradictory, and I felt confused. Some explanations emphasized that a synopsis is intended to summarize the entire plot. I was astounded by this idea until I read the synopsis for House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. It really does reveal the entire plot. Don't read it if you haven't finished the book — I wish I hadn't. I didn't understand why synopses were supposed to reveal everything, but I did eventually utilize some of this idea when I received some feedback from a friend who read a late draft.
I used and distributed a basic synopsis for about a month on its own while I finished the first-ish draft of the book. With this synopsis, I aimed to express what I consider the basic premises: who Martha is, when the book takes place, Martha's desires, the book's themes. I think since my purpose with this synopsis was to share with my friends, I tried to describe what the book meant to me. You can read this basic synopsis below, annotated for explanation. This basic synopsis got strong reactions from my friends, who said they wanted to read the book.
I created an expansion to the synopsis after four of my friends volunteered to read a late draft. At the suggestion of a friend, I expanded the synopsis to include plot points. My friend said a more concrete synopsis would be helpful to refer to when reading. I agreed and created an expanded version of the synopsis that alluded to the plot and introduced main characters. I didn't want to give away everything, although some material advised me to. I thought of this expansion as a reference for readers. I decided a concrete synopsis was important especially because my novel alternates time frames at the start, which I thought could be potentially disorienting.
Most synopses talk about the authors and their talents. I felt strange talking about myself in the third person, and I didn't think I could write this section authentically. I did want to incorporate reactions from my early readers on the feeling of the writing, though. I thought the feeling of the writing was important for the reader to know. So, I talked about the feeling in terms of Martha's voice, since I consider the novel her book.
When I distribute the synopsis, I sometimes use the shorter version only, or I include both versions. I've never used the expanded portion with plot points on its own.
North for Sun Synopsis:
- Essentials of Martha's character
- Introduces perspective of narrative
- Sets overall time frame and setting
- Reinforces themes
- Introduces bigger picture of novel and what the story means to me
North for Sun is the book of Martha Marcelo, a Filipino-American woman with mental illness who can travel in time. [Introduces essentials of Martha's character] Martha awaits an upcoming procedure that may affect her memory, and she decides to write a book for herself to read afterwards. [Introduces perspective of narrative] She chooses the year she first recovered, when she returned to college, so she can remember how to get better. [Sets time frame and setting] Martha chases people through the past and future, through generations of her countries, looking for somebody who will stick. [Reinforces themes] North for Sun is a story about playing in time, how families filter memory and how the experience of mental illness distorts and loosens time. It asks how we want to remember ourselves, what we would keep if we had to start over. At its heart, North for Sun is the story of how a good person got better again. [Bigger picture of novel, what the story means to me]
Shorter version of synopsis plus expanded add-on with concrete information.
- Sets time more specifically
- Introduces main characters
- Alludes to plot trajectory
- Describes feeling of writing for the reader
[Shorter Version of Synopsis]
North for Sun is the book of Martha Marcelo, a Filipino-American woman with mental illness who can travel in time. Martha awaits an upcoming procedure that may affect her memory, and she decides to write a book for herself to read afterwards. She chooses the year she first recovered, when she returned to college, so she can remember how to get better. Martha chases people through the past and future, through generations of her countries, looking for somebody who will stick. North for Sun is a story about playing in time, how families filter memory and how the experience of mental illness distorts and loosens time. It asks how we want to remember ourselves, what we would keep if we had to start over. At its heart, North for Sun is the story of how a good person got better again.
[Add-on Expansion with Plot Points]
Martha Marcelo tells her story of recovery on her own terms. She remembers the year after her first breakdown and multiple hospital stays. [Sets time more specifically] Martha has dropped out of school twice, and she returns to college with the dream of finishing freshman year the third time around. Her changing moods remake relationships with spirited aunt Tita May and younger cousin Heidi, an inventive scientist. [Introduces main characters] In her travels through college and time, Martha struggles to know her later lifelong friends, including her roommate Tina and future husband Dan. As Martha discovers all sides of her emotions, her world becomes bigger and bigger. [Alludes to plot trajectory] Each choice unfolds in unexpected ways until she finds her life's work and people who stick. Honest throughout its despair, exuberance, and hilarity, Martha's voice is always richly powerful. [Feeling of writing]