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Friday, May 29, 2009

Developing Your Writer's Voice

Camy here: This is a compilation of my short series of posts on Developing Your Writer's Voice that I posted back in 2006, but I have put them all in one article for you here.

One vital way to make your writing stand out is voice. In many of the contest entries I've judged and manuscripts I've critiqued, writers have muted their natural voice to sound bland and generic.

Writing that's alive with its own distinct vocal flavor is a joy to read. The prose is richer and more vibrant, the characters more three-dimensional--all because the writer opens herself to her own writing style and revels in it.

However, voice can also be the most difficult and slippery aspect of writing craft to discover and perfect.

Raw, creative voice often doesn't result in a polished piece. The key is to first lay down the story with your unhindered voice and polish later.

But how to unleash your voice?

Many times, a writer's internal critic is hampering the free reign of his unique style, but certain exercises can help him lift all restraints, open the cage door, and let the lion roar.

Not all these exercises will work for every writer, but some might enable you to find and/or further develop your voice.

(Most of these exercises are taken from Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall)

Distill your raw voice.

Do automatic or free-writing writing and put it away for a week.

Return to it and pull out words or phrases that grab your attention. Do another free-write with those key phrases, and put it away for another week.

Highlight the passages that speak to you, and delete everything not highlighted. You should be left with writing that profoundly impacts you--your unique voice. If the writing still seems diluted, repeat the process.

Unusual situations and a sense of urgency will bring out voice.

External stimuli: Create a certain setting or mood by surrounding yourself with objects that will put you emotionally in different states. Try laying on your desk several things that make you mad. Or maybe things that make you sad. Be creative and utilize all five senses. Create different atmospheres that run the gamut of your emotions--don't hold back. Explore difficult emotions, intense emotions.

Internal stimuli: Use your mind to put you in different places, at different times. A cold, lonely prison cell. A loud, crowded prison cell. An abandoned warehouse during WW2 with bombs exploding. A desolate cornfield during the Depression. What's important is to put yourself in an unusual situation or one with some type of emotional urgency. Immerse yourself in your imaginary world, feel the culture and tension around you.

Once in that atmosphere, whether external or internal, free-write. Write about anything and everything. Use the computer or use a pen and paper. Don't let yourself stop writing--write gibberish or repeat yourself if you have to.

Do this for many different types of external and internal stimuli. The object is to experiment and discover what stimuli helps create that sense of urgency to unleash your voice.

Write your voice with your whole body.

An opera singer or a screaming child uses his entire body to project his voice. It's a comprehensive, total physical feat. A writer is the same. You want to use your entire being--your whole body--to bring out your writer's voice. This will mean different things to different writers.

The important thing is to discover your own all-encompassing combination of rhythm, force, and music that is your voice. The key is all-encompassing--try to involve all of you, not just your mind.

Try to imagine what it's like for you to write from your gut, from your toes, digging in with your shoulders, straining with your spine. Make it an energetic feat, requiring force and strength, pulling in aspects of your whole body. Then just do it--free-write.

Discover your natural rhythm.

All of us have a natural cadence to our speech and thoughts. It's a combination of our genes and environments. For every writer, it's unique.

Write nonsense words in grammatically correct sentences, or do free-writing--keep the pen moving even if you just write nonsense or the same sentence over and over.

You'll discover things about your voice. Your sentence length, your word choice. Alliteration, metaphors, similes. Twists of phrase, dialect. Learn to be aware of these aspects of your voice's cadence.

Take a lesson from children's storytelling.

When children tell stories, they improvise with things connected to their emotions, urgent and important to them at the moment. The duckie in their lap, the blue carpet, the stinky smell from the diaper bag, the lint under the table. It doesn't have to make sense, it doesn't have to be polished.

What makes their stories compelling is that it's raw and free. Our writers' voices come out when we can emulate their storytelling mindset.

This is related to what we say in public and private. There are certain things we will only say to our families, or sometimes just to ourselves. I'm not talking about foul language or unpleasant bodily functions. Opinions, one-line zingers, rage, frustration, joy, pride--good things, bad things. All uncensored.

Voice can come out when we start to blur the lines between the two, the way a child does. Children don't know what's acceptable to say in public versus private. They say what comes into their heads, guided by emotions.

Adults tend to edit ourselves, even when we don't think we are. But what if you didn't? What if you wrote everything and anything--the good, the bad? What if it was just a matter of getting it all down, no matter what it looked like, no matter that it didn't make sense, no matter that you'd never let another living soul see what you wrote?

Voice is that raw writing. Don't stress because the editing will come later. Write on any topic, going off on any tangent, making whatever associations you feel like. Just get it down. You'd be surprised at what comes out of you, and it might even start you off on new, uncharted ground.

Speak your voice through characters.

Like a ventriloquist, you throw your voice into a story character so that it's you and yet not you speaking. More than anything, it should be the character's voice that dominates, but your own voice will add vibrancy to your character.

Your heroine will have her own unique way of speaking, and it will also depend on her audience. She may speak one way to her mother and a different way to the hero. Through it all, don't be limited by her personality--rather, let her individuality unleash your own raw voice.

Take a persona and notice if you speak directly in his voice--in his skin--or describe him as if you're in the room. Sometimes, this can indicate a preference for first person versus third person.

Let this persona be uninhibited. Give her the quick mouth that would never survive in the real world.

Experiment with different personas completely different from who you are--an extrovert if you're an introvert, or a high-powered attorney if you're a teacher. Put them in different situations to discover who they are on deeper levels--stick your extrovert in a Hollywood party and then a monastery, or move your attorney from New York to Taiwan.

Keep practicing.

Voice is developed by writing, writing, writing.

Try doing a voice writing exercise each week. It only takes a few minutes, and that weekly stretching and warm-up will help your writing the rest of the week.

And not just short exercises--use your manuscript as practice ground for unleashing your raw voice. Take a scene, or a page of your manuscript. Work some of the exercises with that piece of your writing. Not only will you be developing your voice, you’ll also be working on beefing up your manuscript.

Don’t be discouraged if the exercises don’t seem to be showing dramatic results. Often a writer’s voice comes out subtly, in waves or glimpses.

Some writers’ voices are loud, others are soft and more subtle. Don’t assume you’re one or the other. Don’t fall prey to preconceived notions. Just WRITE. Be yourself.

With diligence and perseverance, your voice will come roaring out of you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Basics of Introducing a Character

I wrote this article, which originally appeared on Suite101, on introducing a character in your novel.

The Basics of Introducing a Character

A Few Main Points For When a Character Steps on the Page

Three things to remember when introducing a character, whether the main character or a minor one.

Whenever a character makes a “first appearance” in the novel, there are three things a novelist should remember when writing the scene.

Create a Strong, Quick First Impression

Ideally, the novelist wants the character onstage quickly, without a long paragraph of description.

Give a strong first impression without a lot of detail—simply a phrase to anchor the character in the reader’s mind.

Here is where a cliché could actually be used, because it’s a quick way to create a colorful impression with few words: “a spunky redhead” or “a one-legged pirate” or “a powerful businessman.”

Whatever the writer chooses to create that first impression, make it the most significant aspect of the character. Show a prominent trait or personality, an obvious flaw or perfection. This will make the reader utilize past experience to create a sketch of the character in his mind.

Minor characters only need this one significant aspect pointed out. For major characters, hints revealed here and there in dialogue and action will add more depth to that shallow, significant first impression.

Make the Characters Act

In Techniques of the Selling Writerby Dwight Swain, he writes:

“Bring your characters on in action. The day when readers would hold still for a long-winded, static description of a character, complete with family tree, is long gone. Now, they want him alive, breathing, doing something—preferably, doing something interesting.”

Show your character doing something to reveal plot elements. A suspicious action can create intrigue. Hidden anxiety can hint at imminent danger. Anger can create conflict. Contrast or paradox can create curiosity. Subtexting in dialogue can hint at deeper waters.

Show the character doing something to reveal to the readers that all is not right, and they can expect imminent change.

Don’t Crowd the Scene

Introducing too many characters at once will only confuse a reader. While the author might be able to easily keep Tom, Dick, Harry, and Jane’s names separate and their personalities might seem very distinct, to a reader just introduced to them, they’re a crowd of strangers.

While you do want to introduce the main characters, especially, early in the story, introducing too many at once can overwhelm the reader. Confusion often leads to a reader putting the book down, unbought.

Make it easy for your reader. Start with two or at most three characters, and introduce others in chapter increments.

Use this slower introduction of characters to advantage—make each character’s entrance dramatic, show-stopping, or significant. That will fix the character in the reader’s mind more vividly.

These three tips will enable a writer to open the story and introduce the characters seamlessly.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fiction After 50 seminars

Here's a note from author Ron Benrey:

Janet and I are launching “Fiction After 50” seminars to help
late-blooming novelists write publishable fiction and market their
manuscripts to real publishers.

The first Fiction After 50 seminar is scheduled in Dallas, on July
17-19; the next is in Orlando, on October 2-4.

Each seminar is an intensive program -- 2.5 full days of classes,
workshops, and guided small-group brainstorming sessions filled with
practical exercises -- that will help unpublished novelists refine their
novels-in-progress (or their ideas for the novels they want to write)
and increase the likelihood that they'll sell to royalty-paying
publishers. We’ll also teach many “hurry-up” strategies that can
accelerate the process of finishing and marketing a manuscript.

For more information visit:

Incidentally, our Fiction After 50 seminars will be "managed" by Free
Expressions Seminars and Literary Services, the same group the does the
excellent Don Maass "Breakout Novel" seminars that many Chilibeans have

Monday, May 25, 2009

Strong Emotional Reactions, part two

Check out the second part of my two-parter at Seekerville, talking about Strong Emotional Reactions. On Friday, I went into the other TWO of the four different types of emotional reactions and how you can mix and match them to create stronger emotions in your story.

Also, check out the comments there--people bring up some good questions and I answer them in the comments.

Strong Emotional Reactions, part two

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stong Emotional Reactions, part one

I am over at Seekerville in a two-parter, talking about Strong Emotional Reactions. Yesterday, I went into TWO of the four different types of emotional reactions and how you can mix and match them to create stronger emotions in your story.

Also, check out the comments there--people bring up some good questions and I answer them in the comments.

Strong Emotional Reactions, part one

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Create a Relatable Character

In my first drafts, I often have a problem in making my characters likeable within the first page or two. Since your reader will probably only give you a page or two in the bookstore, you need to capture their interest fast.

I wrote this article, which originally appeared on Suite101, with a few tips on how to do that.

Create a Relatable Character

Use Tips and Tricks to Create Character Empathy in the First Five Pages

In the first five pages of a novel, use actions or traits that psychologically cause readers to relate to or like a character very quickly.

Most readers—including editors and agents—look at the first few pages to determine if the characters are worth reading about.

Writers can utilize certain actions and traits that cause the reader to like the character or relate to him on a psychological level, without knowing anything else about him, and sometimes even showing him doing unsavory things a few pages later.

Utilize for Both Sympathetic and Empathetic Characters

The character does not necessarily have to be “sympathetic” or likable, but a writer wants the reader to at least relate to the character on some level (“empathetic”) and want to continue reading the story.

For certain genres such as romance, the character does need to be sympathetic or likable. So also think about the requirements of a novel’s genre or category.

Utilize One or Two Traits to Create Instant Character Appeal

Of the following list, a writer only needs to use one or two of them in the first five pages to make the character appealing enough for the reader to continue. These things act on a deeper psychological level to draw the reader to the character.

Victim of an injustice: Many times, a character has some event in his past where he was wronged unfairly or abused. This might have also caused long-term hardships or handicaps, whether physical, financial, or emotional.

Abandoned, neglected, or rejected: This especially works with children, but this event in a character’s past can make her likeable. Loneliness is an emotion most readers can intensely sympathize with.

Kindness: A character performing a kindness to another human being, a child, or an animal, usually creates instant likeability. Any action of love in the first five pages will show the reader the character is worth reading about because they have the capacity to love another.

Extraordinary abilities: A character with exceptional abilities, whether intellectual, physical, social, or supernatural, naturally appeals to most readers. This also includes a good sense of humor or wit. Showing this ability in the first five pages in a small way will make the character intriguing.

Utilize Action and Interaction With Characters or Setting

When using any of the above traits, show the trait in action. Try not to “tell” the reader what the character is like. Instead, “show” the reader the character’s trait through her interaction with another character or in how she responds to external events.

Utilize the setting of the story to both set the stage and show the character’s empathetic trait to the reader at the same time. Have the character interact with the setting or with events happening within the specific setting.

If a novel can show one of these empathetic types of traits to the reader within the first five pages, the reader will be more likely to be intrigued or interested enough to keep reader.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The first page, part 7 - Indicate point of view

This is continuing my series on things to look for in your first page.
Click here for part six.

Indicate point of view

Make it obvious to the reader whose head he/she is in. Don’t leave them guessing—readers want to be grounded in the story as soon as possible.

Here is where you can utilize deep point of view and WOW that editor. Drop them into a character’s head—a character who is so fascinating and unique that they’re struck by the vibrancy of the character’s personality or completely relate to the character’s struggles.

Use deep point of view to accomplish this. Let the reader experience the character’s emotions, reactions, thoughts. Let the reader cringe or laugh when the character does. Let the reader feel everything that character feels. Let the reader know exactly what the character thinks about the things happening to him/her.

Let your reader become that character from the first sentence, until your reader is transformed by the end of page one.

Again, forgive me for using my own books as examples, but it’s just easier for me. I will boldface some of the “deep point of view” phrases for you. This is from Deadly Intent:

The man who walked into Naomi’s father’s day spa was striking enough to start a female riot.

Dark eyes swept the room, which happened to be filled with the Sonoma spa’s staff workers at that moment. His gaze glanced over Naomi like a tingling breeze. She recognized him the moment he recognized her. Dr. Devon Knightley.

For a wild moment, she thought, He’s come to see me. And her heart twirled in a riotous dance.

But only for a moment. Sure, they’d talked amiably—actually, more than amiably—at the last Zoe International fund-raiser dinner, but after an entire evening sitting next to her, he hadn’t asked for her phone number, hadn’t contacted her at all. Wasn’t that a clear sign he wasn’t interested?

She squashed the memory and stepped forward in her official capacity of the spa owner’s daughter and acting manager. “Dr. Knightley. Welcome.”

In the example above, I use techniques like direct thought (He’s come to see me) in addition to deep POV narrative (Wasn’t that a clear sign he wasn’t interested?). The second sentence isn’t direct thought, but it’s very close, which makes the narrative itself deep in the character’s head.

I also use visceral responses (tingling breeze, heart twirled in a riotous dance) and key words (wild, squashed).

Click here for part eight.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Q&A: hero

Dear Ms. Tang,

I've read a lot of your articles on writing, trying to shape my idea into a better novel. I've found that one tip I'm finding a hard time following is this...

As soon as you can in the story, commit the character to their goal for the book. There shouldn't be any easy way out or turning back. Once the character decides on a course of action, he can't stall, run, or quit--there should be something logical, believable and powerful preventing him. The character should irrevocably decide to fight whatever danger threatens him.

I don't have an apathetic/unmotivated main character, but I do consider his most identifying personality trait to be the opposite of such heroes as Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, etc. as he does not yearn for adventure. He is full of self-doubt and lacks confidence, despite being the one destined to save everyone else and having the most potential/power to do so. My idea was to make his biggest enemy himself, needing to overcome his mental weakness. He has the motivation to fight, but not the guts to do so. In contrast to many headstrong, cocky heroes of literature, mine would appeal to young readers who don't have confidence in themselves, and could learn the moral by the end, that you need to believe in yourself, and step up to the plate, so you can be what you're truly destined to be.

So in conclusion, my actual question is if my character contradicts your advice?

Camy here: Your character doesn't actually contradict my advice. Most heroes in today's literature and movies have some type of inner flaw that they also have to resolve by the end of the book.

Having self-doubt is actually a good thing because the reader can relate to a hero with self-doubt. Most modern readers have a harder time relating to a hero who's perfect. While in the past, heroes have been almost god-like, these days, readers want flawed heroes they can relate to.

But internal doubts does not mean the hero doesn't have an external goal. He could be scared of his goal but still determined to do the right thing.

In OXYGEN by Randy Ingermanson and John Olson, the hero, Bob, is actually quite insecure. He's a rather geeky guy, he's not a "heroic" type of character. He doesn't trust one of his team members--a woman of faith--because he had been burned by a woman of faith before. Understandable, right? Yet he's determined to do his job and get the shuttle to Mars, and that involves trusting his team member, up to the point where she has to put him in a coma so the shuttle can arrive safely. He overcomes his doubts (his internal flaws) for the good of the mission (his external goal).

In TRY DYING by James Scott Bell, the main character is overly ambitious and self-centered. Not your typical hero. Then his fiancee is murdered and he tries to find out who killed her. In the process of doing something selfless, he becomes a better person. But he still has that external goal of finding his fiancee's murderer, DESPITE his internal flaws.

You say your character is not apathetic or unmotivated. Well then, what is he motivated to do? What does he want that he pursues for the entire book?

A hero is not necessarily a "hero" in the "heroic" sense of the word, but the protagonist of your story. A protagonist needs some kind of goal for the story, a proactive thread for the reader to follow throughout the novel.

He also doesn't necessarily have to achieve his goal--in fact, many books have the hero not achieving his goal at all, but sacrificing it at the end for the greater good.

But there still needs to be that action by the protagonist--that desire, that forward movement, that proactive movement so he's not simply a reactive character.

Sleeping Beauty is completely reactive. She's in the woods, she falls in love, she pricks her finger, she falls asleep. The prince, on the other hand, actively searches for her, fights the dragon, etc. He is proactive.

You need your hero to be proactive on at least some level. He can be scared and doubting, but he's still acting. He can be reluctant, he might be prodded by others, but he still makes the decisions himself to take those small steps, to act at each crossroad.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The first page, part 6 - Use key words deliberately

This is continuing my series on things to look for in your first page.
Click here for part five.

Use key words deliberately

In the first page, especially, you want to be extremely deliberate with every single word you use. If you have bland or neutral words, try substituting stronger key words that will indicate genre or develop your story’s atmosphere. You can always change it back if it doesn’t sound right or do what you want it to.

(Forgive me for using my own writing as an example, but it was easier than typing up a few paragraphs from a book. The following is from Single Sashimi:)

Venus Chau opened the door to her aunt’s house and smelled something terrible.

“What’s that smell?” She tried to hold her breath.

Her cousin Jennifer Lim entered the foyer with an angry look. “She’s making my kitchen smell.”

“Who?” Venus hesitated on the threshold, breathing clean air.

“My mother, who else?”


Venus Chau opened the door to her aunt’s house and almost fainted.

“What died?” She exhaled sharply, trying to get the foul air out of her body before it caused cancer or something.

Her cousin Jennifer Lim entered the foyer with the look of an oni goblin about to eat someone. “She’s stinking up my kitchen.”

“Who?” Venus hesitated on the threshold, breathing clean night air before she had to close the door.

“My mother, who else?”

(This book is already published, or I would replace “exhaled sharply” with “sputtered” or something like that. Then again, writers are always self-editing, even long after the book has gone to the printer.)

Click here for part seven.

Story Sensei now offering phone consultations/mentoring

Hi guys!

I now offer telephone consultations or mentoring. Cost is $75 per hour, and I will be able to mail you a CD with an MP3 recording of our call.

I offer consultations/mentoring on a variety of topics, from writing craft to marketing and writing business. I can do brainstorming, advice/mentoring on agent and editor research, tips on marketing, pretty much any kind of question you might have.

Clients are welcome to "try me out" with a 20-minute call at a cost of $25. Finding the "right" mentor for you is like finding the "right" spouse--it takes time, trial and error.

Clients must prepay for their mentoring calls, and all calls are charged in increments of 20 minutes. For example, if your call only lasts 15 minutes, you will be charged $25.

See my info page for payment options.

Friday, May 08, 2009

I'm on deadline

Hey everybody,
Just a heads up, I'm going to be a bit scarce the next few weeks. I'm on deadline for a new book. I'll post a little bit but not regularly. I'll be back up and running in May Update: I'll start posting again around May 10th!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tips to Trim a Synopsis

These tips originally appeared as individual blog posts. I'm posting them all here for convenience. If I write more tips on trimming a synopsis, I'll include them here, too.

Why do I need to trim a synopsis?

While I haven’t talked to every editor and agent on the planet, the majority of the ones I’ve spoken to prefer a 2-3 page synopsis.

However, every editor is different. One editor will want a one-page synopsis, another will want an extensive chapter-by-chapter synopsis.

In my experience, it’s usually better to opt for the shorter synopsis when submitting a proposal. If they want a longer one, they usually specifically mention that they do.

Another reason to have a short synopsis handy: Writing contests often have you submit a short, 1-2 page synopsis with your entry.

Here’s a little tip: when querying a novel, it doesn’t hurt to slip a one-page synopsis in with your one-page query letter. And it doesn’t cost any more in postage.

Also, when submitting a partial manuscript or a proposal (only at the editor’s request, of course), most standard proposals consist of a 2-3 page synopsis, not a chapter-by-chapter.

Sometimes you can include both a 2-page synopsis and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis in with the proposal, to give the editor his/her pick of whichever length they prefer. However, I put the chapter-by-chapter synopsis at the very end of the proposal, so that the editor/agent can choose not to read it if they don’t care to.

Tip#1 to cut 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:


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

Tip#2 to cut 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)

Tip#3 to cut 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.

Tip#4 to cut 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).

Tip#5 to cut 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.


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.


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.

Tip#6 to cut 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.”

Tip#7 to cut 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)

Tip#8 to cut 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.
She determines to win without interference from her friends.

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

Tip#9 to cut a synopsis—change nouns and verbs

This is similar to tip #8. Sometimes you can substitute a different noun or verb that's a little shorter than what you have. Because the format is typically left justified, even one less letter in the sentence can be enough to eliminate a line (see tip #7 about getting rid of short lines).

He sneaks up to the house.
He creeps to the house.

He needs to stay out of her way.
He needs to avoid her.

She leaves her job.
She quits.

Tip#10 to cut a synopsis—eliminate extraneous nouns and verbs

There are some places where certain types of nouns and verbs can be eliminated entirely. Things like "He realizes", "She understands that," "He hears her say," "She sees him."

He follows her. He sees her enter the hotel.
He follows her. She enters the hotel.

He reads the family Bible. He discovers that Sally is his cousin.
He reads the family Bible. Sally is his cousin.

His reaction opens her eyes. She realizes she's always been in love with him.
His reaction opens her eyes. She's always been in love with him.

However, be aware that sometimes, these verbs can't be eliminated, so don't beat yourself up if you can't do it:

They fight. She realizes she's always been in love with him.
They fight. She's always been in love with him. (doesn't make sense)

Tip#11 to cut a synopsis—eliminate dialogue

Do you have any lines of dialogue in your synopsis? Even if they’re key lines, cut them and tell what’s going on instead. You can usually trim by telling instead of showing. For example:

Luke hangs on the overhanging metal strut, armless and vulnerable. Darth Vader reaches out to him and says, “Luke, I am your father.” “No! That’s not true!” Luke denies, then falls down the duct to what he believes will be his death.


Luke hangs vulnerable on the metal strut. Darth Vader insists he’s Luke’s father, which Luke denies. Luke drops down the duct.

Be careful about the climax of the story—that’s usually the place where writers are tempted to include key dialogue lines which the story pivots upon. However, in trimming a synopsis, it’s better to cut those dramatic lines in favor of “just the facts” and a shorter synopsis.

Tip#12 to cut a synopsis—eliminate conversations

In Tip #11, I mentioned to cut dialogue in a synopsis. However, sometimes there are conversations in a synopsis that are just like dialogue, only without the quotation marks.

These conversations can be cut or condensed just like dialogue.

For example:

Duke tells Shelley he loves her. She denies it, saying she’s not worthy of love. He doesn’t understand and asks her why. She explains how her father was never there for her, how his job was more important to him than she was. Duke asserts she’s beloved by her Heavenly Father, and that his love for her mirror’s God’s love for her.


Duke tells Shelley he loves her, easing her feelings of unworthiness by explaining the boundless love God has for her.

Camy here: Look for these conversations in your manuscript and see if you can cut and condense. You don’t need to tell entire dialogues for a synopsis.
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