Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tackling the Synopsis

"You want me to sum up my novel in how many words? Oh, that's a good one!"

Even though
I wrote about synopses back when I was working on another manuscript, I feel like talking about them again. Why? I was tweaking mine this week, a writer buddy was working on hers, and now I have synopses on the brain.

The idea of writing a synopsis used to make my blood run cold, but I feel more confident with them nowadays. I'll tell you what helps me, and I'd appreciate hearing your tips as well! (Note: Although synopses can be various lengths, I'm most accustomed to a double-spaced, one-page synopsis. This is what
I have seen asked for most often with young adult and middle grade manuscripts. Modify the tips to fit your own synopsis length.)

My tips:

View the synopsis as a puzzle or a challenge. Boiling a novel down to one page sounds super intimidating. It's no easy task! The thing is, when I look at it like it's a puzzle, there's a piece of me that thinks it's kind of fun! Seriously. Maybe not trip to Hawaii fun or Broadway musical fun, but more along the lines of working on a crossword or jigsaw puzzle.

Imagine yourself sitting by a campfire and telling someone what your story is about. I mentioned this point last time, and it's the tip that helps me the most! It keeps me from getting stuck on the setup, explaining too many secondary characters, or losing myself in details. It also helps me with voice. Think of it this way: If you were to tell a story to a child, you wouldn't recite the events like bullet points. You would tell a story.

Limit yourself. (This could go under #2, but I think it deserves its own space.) If you try and hit too many points on your single page, your synopsis will read like a laundry list; nobody will care about your protagonist because it's difficult to invest your heart in a list. Think of flap copy and how the limited information makes you want to read the book!

Think in drafts. My first swing at the synopsis is never one page. I keep it brief, but I allow myself to get the story out without sweating word count. Once the bones of my story are laid out in a nice-ish summary, I edit. I search for more interesting ways to say things. I also try to think of the most concise way to write each sentence since every word is taking up valuable space. That said, I try not to let word economy kill my voice.

I write my synopsis several times. Writing a draft early on helps me see if the outline of my story is big enough. I keep old versions so I'm not timid about cutting lines or trying a new approach. I think I have fifteen drafts of the synopsis of my WIP; most have only minor tweaks between them, but some are very different.

Write in the present tense.

Tell the whole story, even the ending. Unlike the summary on the flap jacket or the back of the book, the synopsis needs to tell the entire story ("entire" meaning a summary of the beginning, middle, and ending--not every plot point).

Bring your synopsis to critique group. Critique partners' fresh eyes are invaluable. In fact, I think it's an awesome idea for critique partners to try and write each other's synopses. Not only is this an excellent writing exercise, but it can be very helpful! Critique partners are familiar with one another's stories, but they also have more distance from a story than its author. I sometimes think it's easier to take a shot at a critique partner's synopsis because the distance can give clarity when coming up with the parts of a story that deserve to be mentioned.

So that's my advice!

Since I hugely admire
Nathan Bransford (plus his favorite color is orange = great taste), I just checked out what he had to say about synopses. Of course, a good general rule is anything he says trumps what I say. :)

What are your thoughts? Do you have tips to share?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Learning from the Pros

I recently heard two great speakers, and each one shared nuggets of wisdom I can apply to my own writing.
Laura McGee Kvasnosky spoke at the May SCBWI Western Washington professional series meeting. Ms. Kvasnosky, who is an author and an illustrator, shared artists' techniques that can be super helpful in structuring a novel. She pointed out that when a novelist does it right, the reader quits noticing the printed words. She said when an author has a clear image in his or her m
ind, he or she can transfer the image better into the reader's head. One of my incredibly talented critique partners, Margaret Nevinski, blogged about the evening here. I met Ms. Kvasnosky after her presentation, and she is so sweet! Plus she plays a mean ukulele!

This is a pic of my critique group from that same night.

left to right: me, Margaret Nevinski, Jennifer Mann

This week I went to a
Field's End Roundtable, and the speaker
, Jennie Shortridge, really impressed me. Ms. Shortridge is the author of four bestselling novels. The title of her talk: "The Art of Arc: Getting Those Flabby Middles in Shape." What I loved most was she gave us several concrete steps to help us firm up our novels.

Jennie Shortridge
(photo credit: David Hiller)

One tip: use clear, brief transitions. Her example was, "Two hours later, she was sitting at the bar. Her dad walked in." In writing, we can skip the mundane parts and get to what's interesting. She said, "When you peel away the crap, you reveal the good stuff."

Another piece of advice was to put limits on the story. She said a ticking clock is one way to put limits because it puts urgency in a story. "Something needs to happen
or else." She also suggested shortening a story's time frame. I agree! I did this between drafts and my WIP is much tighter.

Ms. Shortridge had so many great suggestions! If you ever have the chance to hear her speak, do so!

Happy writing!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Spring Cleaning

My revision is keeping me hopping. This week I've been focusing on the chapters in the middle of my book. I've also been having a wrestling match with chapter 1, but it's too soon to say who's winning. One of the things I plan to do next week is tweak my ending. Thus, other than the beginning, middle, and ending, everything is under control. Ahem.

Actually, things are going quite well. I'm fired up about this manuscript! While I haven't been doing much spring cleaning in my house, my manuscript pages are looking prettier. Regarding Chapter 1, I just need to take a step back before I can assess it.

(Do you see why I never pursued illustrating?)

I took some photos to share spring in the Pacific Northwest. It was sunny outside when the idea came to me, but clouds rolled in before I snapped the first picture. All the better, I suppose, for a realistic depiction of our corner of the world. I love spring here, with its fluctuating weather.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there!