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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tip#8 to trim a synopsis—cut modifiers

Adjectives and adverbs are usually the easiest to cull from a synopsis. Sometimes you don't even need to change the noun or verb. Other times, a stronger noun or verb is needed.

She determines to win without interference from her meddling friends.
vs.
She determines to win without interference from her friends.

He is physically attracted to her.
vs.
He is attracted to her.
or
He lusts after her.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Tip#7 to trim a synopsis—get rid of a short line

When you're down to only a few lines to go until your target page number, look for any paragraphs that end with a partial line, such as the example below:

Sports-crazy Lex Sakai isn’t too worried about
shouldering the unofficial family title “Oldest Single
Female Cousin” when her cousin Mariko marries in
a few months. Her control-freak grandma nags her
about her lack of man, but it’s easy to ignore—until
Grandma bellows at her in the middle of a
restaurant that Lex can’t get a guy because she
needs breast implants. Bristling at the challenge,
Lex insists there’s nothing wrong with
her—Grandma says to prove it. If Lex can’t find a
boyfriend by Mariko’s wedding in June, her ruthless
Grandma will cut off funding to the girls’ volleyball
team that Lex coaches. And pay for breast
implants. (14 lines)


Cut words here and there in the paragraph until that last line disappears.

Sports-crazy Lex Sakai isn’t worried about
shouldering the unofficial family title “Oldest Single
Female Cousin” when her cousin Mariko marries in
four months. Her control-freak grandma nags her
about her lack of man, but it’s easy to ignore—until
Grandma bellows in the middle of a restaurant that
Lex can’t get a guy because she needs breast
implants. Bristling at the challenge, Lex insists
there’s nothing wrong with her—Grandma says to
prove it. If Lex can’t find a boyfriend by Mariko’s
wedding, her ruthless Grandma will cut off funding
to the girls’ volleyball team that Lex coaches. And
pay for breast implants. (13 lines)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Are editors/agents even reading my synopsis?

Some editors and agents have admitted they don't read the synopsis when your proposal or manuscript hits their desk. So if that's the case, why even bother to invest so much time into it?

The truth is that some editors and agents do read your synopsis. And if it gets taken to editorial committee, it's likely that the VP of Sales or the VP of Marketing will read your synopsis, not your manuscript. They're looking at the marketability of the book.

The synopsis is important to let them know several things:

1) The characters are likable, with faults and flaws
2) The characters learn something on a spiritual level by the end of the book, with a solid spiritual takeaway for the reader.
3) There is definite rising tension and various obstacles in the middle of the book
4) There is an exciting climax where the reader roots for the character
5) There is a satisfying ending.
6) There is an issue or theme that would appeal to readers and which can be marketed, but which isn't preachy.
7) There is something unique and different about this book that would make it stand out from the other books in its genre on the shelves.

They also don't want a hugely long synopsis--they just don't have the time to read it. 1-2 pages, single-spaced, is a good range to aim for.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Tip#6 to trim a synopsis—character names

Don’t mention a character by name unless they appear more than twice in the synopsis AND each appearance is vital to the plot. Mentioning too many names can be not only confusing, it can lengthen your synopsis. Refer to the minor character as “her neighbor” or “his old flame.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

Tip#5 to trim a synopsis—action

Don’t describe the characters’ every action unless that action directly influences the main plot:

She kicks the villain’s kneecap and runs outside. She tries to start the car, but it won’t turn over. The villain comes closer. Finally the car starts and she guns out of the driveway.

Versus

She escapes.

Be especially wary of verbosity in the ending of the synopsis:

He grabs her to force her to look at him. He tells her he loves her and can’t live without her. He’d held back while he thought she still loved his brother, but he’s done with the safe path. He can’t hold it in any longer and risks telling her how he feels. She tells him she loves him, too, and they share a passionate kiss. He asks her to marry him, and she answers yes. In the epilogue, they are married from his yacht before sailing off to Bermuda for their honeymoon.

Versus

They confess their love to each other and marry.

The editor or agent does not need a blow-by-blow version of your emotional or climactic scenes, because they are not expecting and don’t need to be emotionally moved by the synopsis. That’s what the manuscript is for.

They just need the facts about what happens. Try to rein in your tendency to “show,” and “tell” the bare actions instead.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Tip#4 to trim a synopsis—relevance

Cut absolutely anything that does not have direct impact on the main storyline. Be ruthless.

Don’t leave things in because they pertain to a subplot.

Don’t go off for too long (more than a few sentences) on a red herring.

Don’t include character backstory that doesn’t absolutely need to be there in order to explain the main plot.

Don’t describe characters’ physical features unless it’s a vital element to the story (such as the hero mistakes a red-head for the heroine).

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tip#3 to trim a synopsis—eliminate subplots

Cut out any mention of the subplot. Be ruthless. Even if the subplot gives a bit of depth to the hero because it tells the reader about his life as a drug runner in Brazil, if it doesn’t directly impact the main plotline of saving the heroine’s ranch, don’t include it.

Some subplots do influence the main plot near the end of the book. Here you have a couple choices:

1) Pare down the mention of the subplot to the absolute minimum needed for the ending to make sense. Maybe a sentence in the beginning of the synopsis, and then a sentence at the end when it impacts the main plot.

2) Eliminate mention of the subplot completely and insert something near the end to make the ending make sense.

Don’t do more than that for subplots if you can absolutely help it.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Tip#2 to trim a synopsis—repetition

Eliminate any repetition. If you mention something once—say the hero left the heroine five years ago—don’t mention it again. For example:

After a five year absence, Ronald McDonald returns to Birdy’s life . . .

A paragraph later:

A different man than he was five years ago, Ronald is still in love with Birdy . . .

Don’t mention the five years again. Cut it: Now more spiritually mature, Ronald is still in love with Birdy . . .

(Thanks to Dineen Miller for the idea of this example)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Tip#1 to trim a synopsis—formatting

Check your formatting. Make sure all your margins are 1 inch. Make your header ½ inch from the top.

Make your header only one line with the manuscript title, the word “synopsis,” and your last name (e-mail address optional) on the left side, and then the page number (optional) on the right side. It’ll look something like this:

BRILLIANT NOVEL/Synopsis/Tang 1

You don’t have to put the word “Synopsis” at the top of the actual text. Just start the synopsis text.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Another quick tip for how to write a synopsis

Randy Ingermanson has a famous (or infamous) “Snowflake” method of plotting that I use to write synopses.

Now don’t have a coronary. It’s actually very easy, and I only use a couple of the 10 steps in the Snowflake method.

I do step two (but read step one to know what he’s talking about), then step four. That’s it. I end up with a one or two page synopsis.

For a longer synopsis, I do step six, which gives me a synopsis anywhere from 4-11 pages.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Articles?

Sometimes people insist that fiction writers should start by writing non-fiction articles first. Some have even insisted they build up their article repertoire before starting on their novel.

I don’t agree. Fiction is a different fish.

Don’t get me wrong, article-writing is good, especially to collect clips and build your writer’s resume. But articles should directly pertain to your brand, genre, or the theme or issue in your novel. That way the clips have weight and meaning when you include them in your bio in a query letter.

If your novel is a deep women’s fiction piece on alcoholism, and you have clips of articles you’ve written on alcoholism in e-zines or print magazines, an editor will feel you’re qualified to write that novel.

If you only have articles on fly-fishing or parenting toddlers, the editor will wonder what that has to do with your novel.

And don’t delay on starting that novel! If you do, it might never happen.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Quick tip for how to write a synopsis

This is a really quick, easy way to write your synopsis. This is especially easy if you only need to write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, which calls for only a few sentences for each chapter.

Go through your manuscript and write one sentence for each scene. If the scene is long, write a couple sentences.

Any significant spiritual or internal conflicts should be included, as well as major plot points, red herrings, symbolism, etc.

That’s it. Go through your entire manuscript. This should give you a synopsis of about 6-10 pages single-spaced.

From here, you cut your synopsis down to whatever length it needs to be.

What’s a chapter-by-chapter synopsis?

Some editors or agents ask for a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Not all of them do, so don’t automatically assume you need one.

However, it’s the easiest type of synopsis to write, in my opinion. It’s simply a list of each chapter number, and then a couple sentences describing what happens in the chapter.

Any significant spiritual or internal conflicts should be included, as well as major plot points, red herrings, symbolism, etc. The chapter-by-chapter synopsis will take the reader on a shortened version of the same ride you’ll give your novel reader, so include the dead ends and frustrations and obstacles that beset your characters.

Each major character should be named, and minor characters can also be named if they have a significant impact on the storyline. However, peripheral characters shouldn’t be named in a chapter-by-chapter synopsis.

I usually write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis first, then cut that down to a 1-2 page synopsis which I use for my proposals. Most proposals call for a short synopsis, 1-3 pages single-spaced.

I will sometimes include the chapter-by-chapter synopsis in my proposal in addition to the 1-2 page synopsis. I’ll usually stick the chapter-by-chapter synopsis at the end of the proposal, so that the editor/agent doesn’t have to read it if they don’t care to.

At the beginning of a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, you can also give your short 1-2 sentences blurb about the book.

Here’s an example from my suspense manuscript (unpublished):

Chapter-by-chapter synopsis BITTER DRAGON


Erika, trained in Chinese martial arts, inherits a huge sum of money that her late aunt had promised to a shady biotech company. But can she expose the illegal cloning operation before they kill her?

Chapter One

Physical Therapist Erika Fong is driven to a bruising kickboxing bout when she feels relief rather than guilt at the news her hated Aunt Alice is dead. Arriving late for the funeral, she feels uncomfortable in the gold-encrusted Buddhist sanctuary, not because she is a Christian but because of the numerous symbols of death. At the funeral reception, she spies a handsome man she’s never seen before. Then her aunt’s lawyer floors her with the news that Alice left her one hundred million dollars.

Chapter Two

Erika experiences shock-induced abdomen cramps and avoids questions from her sisters: police officer Lena with her tendency to “clean up” after everyone, and biologist Miriya, at odds with Erika over embryonic stem cell research. Erika struggles over the issue when faced with their uncle, suffering from Alzheimer’s. Erika discovers that her aunt’s business papers and an heirloom Bible are missing. Then she finds evidence in the bedroom that Alice was murdered.

Camy here: The nice thing about a chapter-by-chapter synopsis is that you can still include snippets of your writer’s voice in certain phrases or word choices or sentence rhythms.

Cutting down a chapter-by-chapter synopsis is relatively easy if you can dissociate yourself from your story enough. Click here for my article on tips to trim your synopsis to 1-2 pages.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Pitching to agents and editors at conferences

I'm not a natural extrovert, but I force myself to be one at conferences in order to meet writers, editors and agents. I want to present a professional demeanor and make a good impression.

That's kind of hard to do when my mouth has suddenly become the Mojave desert and my legs have rooted through my Nine Wests into the floor.

These are tips for when you’re at a group meet-and-greet, or standing in the hallway, or waiting in line—any informal setting when you spot an editor/agent you’d like to talk to.

Smile

Go on, force your mouth to stretch out and up. From my psychology classes, I know that just the action will make you feel better and help you relax.

Buddy up

There's nothing wrong with asking a friend to walk with you as you approach Agent X. Agents and editors are not monsters, nor do they bite. Many of them are not extroverts, either. They understand the nervousness of meeting someone new, especially if it's someone you WANT to meet. Your buddy doesn't have to do much more than stand there and smile. If the agent or editor asks, they can mention they're there for "moral support" and most people will understand.

Keep it simple

"Hi, my name is Betty Bestseller. Do you have a moment? Could I tell you about my book?"
Until you become more comfortable meeting editors and agents, you don't need to try to go with the very professional-sounding rehearsed speech you agonized over in front of the mirror. Be polite and to the point.

Use props

One-sheets are tastefully laid-out single pages with short 30-second blurbs (that usually translates into two paragraphs) about your work(s) in progress. They also tend to have a digital headshot and a one-paragraph bio of you. Not all agents and editors will accept them--they have different views about taking home anything more than business cards from writers--but you can use one to pitch your WIP. Agents and editors don't mind if you read off your one-sheet. They'd prefer that over you stuttering, backtracking, and confusing them with a memorized blurb.

If you'd like an example of a one-sheet:
http://dineenmiller.com/DineenMiller/D.G.Graphics.html (Dineen’s having hosting problems so her website might take some time to load. She used to work in corporate as a professional graphic designer, and now she designs writers’ one-sheets for very reasonable prices—like 1/10 what she’d charge in corporate. Her design work is fabulously striking and has garnered editor and agent attention at conferences.)
http://www.marydavisbooks.com/onesheet.php
http://www.ambermiller.com/promosheet.html

Be polite

When you finish and ask, "Is this something that might interest you?", if they say "No," then for heaven's sake don't sprinkle onto the floor like a crumbled scone or throw a hissy fit. Smile, say, "Thank you for your time," and leave it at that.

On the flip side, if they say, "Yes, please send me your proposal," don't let loose your prize-winning hog-call from the last county fair. Smile, say, "Thank you for your time!" and hand them your business card. They will probably hand you theirs.

Debrief

Right after you walk away from the editor/agent, write the title of your WIP (if you have more than one) on the back of their card so you know what you pitched, and any other pertinent information the agent/editor might have given so you don't forget.

On a side note, don't lose that card. It's extremely unprofessional to be asking on writers loops, "Does anyone have So-n-so's information? I lost their business card..."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

First person or third?

Synopses are traditionally in third person, but these days, there are a few in first person. It’s a matter of risk. Some editors or agents would be intrigued by a well-written synopsis in first person. Others would be turned off by it, and there’s no way of knowing what type of person will read your proposal.

I personally believe in the safer route and would suggest that unpublished writers write their synopses in third person. However, there are success stories of some writers who landed a book contract with a synopsis in first person, so it’s not unheard of.

The choice—and the risk—is yours as the writer. In this, get the opinions of your friends and other experienced and published writers. Have them look at your synopses to tell you which is better written, catchier, tighter. Ultimately, however, you will have to decide if you’d like to risk a first person synopsis or not.

The Story Sensei - raising prices

Have your novel critiqued in August! Prices for the Story Sensei will increase as of September 1st. All you fabulous writers have until then if you’d like to have your manuscript critiqued at the old prices.

Go here for more information on my services.
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