Friday, November 6, 2015

Writing Tips: The All-Powerful Synopsis

  What strikes fear into the heart of most writers? The. Dreaded. Synopsis. Thun! Thun! Thun! It’s all right, don’t worry, we’ll tackle it together. First off, a synopsis isn’t a blurb, or what you might read on the back cover of a book to get a feeling of what the story is but leaves you salivating for more. A blurb is enticing, like the elevator pitch or hook, and a great marketing strategy to hype up the contents so that when a reader sees that blurb, they want the book NOW. I’ll talk about blurbs in the next Writing Tips post, but for now:

  A synopsis is very different and is required by many agents and editors. Why? Because it tells them what the entire book is about, including the ending, and sets up characters and what drives them, world-building, clear conflicts both externally and internally, resolutions, the entire arc of your novel. Why is it so dreaded? Because you must compact an entire manuscript into a few pages! Some agents, for example, are specific in wanting 1 page, 2 page, 3 page, 5 page, 7 page, 10 page…you get the idea. My suggestion is writing a concise 1 page, single space synopsis and expand if an agent is particular for a longer version. Read carefully, because most agents will say “up to…” certain amount of pages. So don’t waste your time if you have a terrific 1 pager.

  But what does a synopsis do? It tells the prospective agent/editor the entire story and therefore, any major plot holes, let downs, lack of characterization/world building/tension, depth, structure, etc. It will tell them if the story stands out, if it’s something they can work with, if it’s something they’re going to spend several hours reading to determine if they want to represent/publish you. Essentially, it keeps them from wasting too much time on a manuscript that may not work out and enables them to sort through their slush piles to get to the juicy stories they’ve been waiting for.

  •  DO write in third person, present tense, active voice (despite how the actual book is written). 
  • DO include major characters, major plot points, endings, anything that is vital and cannot be left out, but space is premium here. 
  • DO introduce protagonist, conflict, and setting in the first paragraph. I was once told to all caps the character’s names the first time I mention them, not sure about that, but I do it anyway to let the agent/editor know this is a new character being introduced. 
  • DO mention emotions, reactions, outcomes. Make them feel as if they’ve read the book without actually having read it yet. 
  • DO edit. 
  • DO proofread. 
  • DO send it to critique partners, beta readers, or anyone who reads books to not only catch errors but spot odd sentences, boring parts, rambling areas, etc. You should be accustomed to having a second, third, fourth, or even fifth pair of eyes reading everything from query to manuscript by now.

  •  DON’T be mechanical with he did this, she did that, then this happened, and that occurred…use active voice! 
  • DON’T go into every detail/character/event. Premium space, remember? 
  • DON’T include dialogue, or if it’s absolutely pertinent to the story arc, make it brief. 
  • DON’T ask rhetorical questions or try to get the agent/editor wondering. There’s no time for that. 
  • DON’T try to get fancy with frilly things or sections or anything other than straight from beginning to finish paragraph form. Seriously, don’t. Now’s not the time to elaborate on how beautiful and artistic your writing can be. Be simple but effective.

  See? It’s not so bad. In fact, I now plot out my entire manuscript in synopsis form, roughly one paragraph per chapter, to send to my agent so that she can see the entire picture and let me know if it’s something we can work with or not. It honestly helps me to wipe out insignificant aspects that doesn’t push the story forward and fix plot holes. It helps me, as the author, to see the entire book on a few pages. So get into the habit of writing synopses. Even when you land an agent or editor, you’ll still need them!

  Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Inside a Writer’s Head

  The inside of a writer’s head is a weird place. We’re creative, and everything, image or sound or feeling, ends up translating into a million words manipulated and re-aligned into hundreds of coherent, provoking tales. We tell stories, but we also build worlds, societies, characters, conflicts, resolutions, and so on. We are researchers who spend hours getting details right and tying up loose ends and making the impossible plausible. We become emotionally tied to the events and backstories of our novels, crying over our characters, falling in love with them, and celebrating them. Writing is our lifeline. When reality tightens it grip on us, we bleed our emotions into the written word to release the pressure.

  We are also problem solvers. I recently wrote and polished an entire 95k word novel and found out that it wasn’t going to work. So I came to terms with it and shelved it. But it called to me, because it’s my blood, right? I need to do something to work it out, and thus the major revision came into play. And I mean such a revision that it shifted genres. As I worked through the scenes that needed re-working, I went through the entire ms and ended up jumping around because once I changed this and that, I figured out how to change other things so that it ended up becoming a seamless story that didn’t read as if I had butchered and glued it back together, but read as if this new story had been the original intention all along.

  Now when I look at my work, I’m not sad that I had once loved this thing and couldn’t share it with the world. Instead I see an amazing product that came out of a lot of hard work.

  There’s also a lesson in here somewhere…oh, yeah…don’t give up. Just like in all things in life, don’t ignore the issues, or pretend they’re all right when you realize they aren’t. Maybe you have to step away for a few days, weeks, months, years…but problem solve to fix the error. It doesn’t matter if it’s a major overhaul or small details. Just do it right. You’ve already put your heart into these words, just make sure you go the extra distance to do it right.

  Here's to happy and healthy writing.