Thursday, January 30, 2014

Synopsis Critique Seminars

Over the last few months I've seen a lot of writers freaking out over synopsis writing. Synopsis feel so unnatural to us as writers, even more unnatural than queries. Writers complain about everything from them feeling flat, to not being able to boil their story down to one page, to them being their own personal circle of hell.

I get it. Synopsis suck! They're hard. I have a love/hate relationship with them myself. And while not every agent asks for them, many do, and I know it makes writers cringe.

So here's what I'm proposing. If you send me your synopsis, I will consider critiquing. I'll help you whittle it down to the necessary components and help you draw out what is missing and confusing. I'll give my honest feedback on it.

But I also want this to be a learning experience for other writers. There's a lot of advice out there about queries and even blogged critiques for them but not much in terms of posted synopsis critiques. So I'd like to post about half of people's critiqued synopsis on my blog semi periodically so others can learn from them and have examples. I wont post the whole thing because *SPOILERS*, but I'd like to use a portion.

I can't promise I will get to everyone's, but if I do critique yours, you will get a full critique emailed back to you. In addition, I will post a portion of your synopsis critique on my blog so others can have examples. If you specify a cutoff point I will adhere to that. I don't want your most important twists spoiled, but I'd ideally like to post a few paragraphs as a learning experience.

Do's and Dont's
  • Do send your most polished version of your synopsis.
  • Do have it critiqued by others both before and after this if possible.
  • Do have it critiqued by people who have and have not read your story.
  • Don't send me a five plus pages of a synopsis and expect me to help you get it down to one page. I have a magical editing axe, but I am not a magician. I will put my best foot forward.
  • Don't send it to me if you don't want any portion of your work posted. This is a give and take. I give you a critique, in return, you allow me to post some of the critique so it can help others.
  • Do include a cutoff point if you are worried about spoilers being revealed to the world (otherwise I will arbitrarily pick a halfway point or cut it off after a few paragraphs).
  • Do be polite. I am doing this in my free time, for free. I don't have to do this, so please respect me and my time.
  • Do be patient. This is a process and it will take me a while.
  • Do realize that I probably wont get to everyone. I'm sorry but that is the reality of the situation. I'm only one person.
  • Do realize I'm not perfect, I make mistakes. And as much as I hate to admit I don't know everything.
  • Do not send more than one synopsis. This is a one per person thing. If I have time I might accept from people I've critiqued before, but I'm not making any guarantees.
  • Do realize this is one person's opinion. Critiques are highly subjective. Feel free to use what works for you and ditch the rest.
This is a synopsis critique NOT a query critique. There is a difference. For tips and tricks to help with synopsis writing check out my post here.

I will accept synopsis in any genre/age group except erotic, I'd like to keep things relatively PG on my blog. That said, my specialties are YA and MG particularly in the genres of Sci Fi, Fantasy, paranormal, and adventure.

Are you still with me?

If you are interested in a possible critique, AND you wouldn't mind having about half your synopsis posted on my blog for critique then please paste your synopsis into the BODY of an email and send it to: synopsiscritique [at] hotmail [dot] com. (remember to actually put the @ and dot in, I posted this way to avoid spam) I will not open unknown attachments.

Questions? Sound off below.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Doubt Gremlin

I’m in an eternal tug of war with myself. I tell myself constantly that I’m good enough, my writing is good enough, and this book is the one. But that doesn’t stop the little gremlin of self-doubt from sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.

See that guy up there? Isn’t he cute… yeah real cute… until you get him wet and feed him after midnight… then he turns into this guy….

Not so cute anymore is he? And this is exactly what happens when you aren’t diligent about your writing and keeping a positive attitude. It's exhausting. So you turn your back for one minute and the self-doubt gremlin is there rearing his ugly, little head right in your face. And all you want to do is curl up in a ball and cry. Because let’s face it, when you have a lot of ugly slapping you in the face, constantly mocking you, what is there left to do? 

And then you start asking what the point is and start throwing that Q word around… you know it, it’s a four letter word, and it seems like it would be a much easier path. 

But it’s not.

So what do you do when the gremlins start invading your head? 

You start thinking, re-evaluating, and literally driving yourself crazy. Maybe if I just edit this one more time or if I listen to that new person, or if I rewrite this whole chapter or if if if… And sometimes it works, and other times, you end up with this….
What is that? An ugly self-doubt gremlin in a dress? Well yes, but it’s more than that. It’s you trying to disguise your problem and cover it with a Band-Aid. It’s a temporary fix. You feel better for a short time, but then the gremlins are right there laughing in your face again. In fact, they are enjoying the show.

And how dare they! How can they laugh at you? That’s not cool! You don’t deserve that! You’re better than that.

Now you’re beyond the point of sad, you’re angry, like hulk smash angry! So you decide you’re going to do something about it.

You know you’re good enough and no one can tell you otherwise. You’re going to go out there and put your best foot forward. You’re going to keep going and keep pushing through until you get what you’ve been putting all that time and effort in for. 

Take a deep breath. 

Keep working the things you can control and don’t sweat the stuff you can’t. 

There that’s better isn’t it? 

And when this guy rears his crazy head again….

You’ll be ready for him. You’ll know how to fight back. You’ll laugh at him. Cause let’s face it, a gremlin in a tiara is pretty funny.  And what were we even worried about now?

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Synopsis – The Grim Reaper of the Writing World

If there’s one thing in the world that writers despise, it’s the synopsis? Why because they are the spawn of Satan. They are soul sucking torture that just might kill you! And you know what? I love them! Okay well not love, I have a love/hate relationship with them, but I really do enjoy whacking and hacking with my magical editing axe until I get it down to the one page limit.

What exactly is a synopsis, do you ask? And why does it make writers cower in fear? It’s typically a one page single spaced (see agent guidelines for length) piece that explains what happens in your book. It spoils the whole thing from beginning to end. YES SPOILS. This is not a back cover jacket, or a query letter, this is a synopsis. You put in all the major twists and turns and let whoever is reading know EXACTLY what happens in this book.

But how do you fit an entire book’s worth of stuff into one page? The short answer, very carefully. The long answer well here goes…

There are many approaches to writing a synopsis. When I first started tackling them, I tried to write it from beginning to end and see how long it was. Then I attempted to edit it down to the limit. You know what? I failed miserably! I didn’t know what to cut and what to keep and I got lost in details I thought were super important. Guess what? They weren’t.

So where do you go from there? There are a couple of things you can try. There’s not one right or wrong way to write a synopsis so try one out and see what works for you.

If you outline start there. Look at each chapter and write one sentence that summarizes the entire chapter. What big thing happened? Why is this chapter so important? And if you can’t answer that question, maybe consider re-evaluating that chapter.
  1. Once you have those sentences you will need to string them together in a cohesive manner so one item flows into the next.
  2. From there identify the main arcs of the story and tighten the threads down to focus on those main points.
If you don’t outline or your outlines are very detailed you may want to try breaking your book into acts. Or grouping your chapters.
  1. Once you have your story broken into pieces, again try to write a sentence or two that summarizes the big plot points, and arc of the story.
  2. Once you have the main points outlined, string them together in a cohesive way so everything flows.
  3. Tighten the threads down to the bare minimum.
In general the big areas to focus on in your synopsis are: the inciting incident, the rise to action/conflict, the point of no return, the climax, and the outcome. The reader needs to know the character’s journey as well as the villain. What are their motivations for acting as they do and how do this progress the story along.

But even doing that, it’s tough to boil an entire manuscript down to one page. So here’s some other things to look out for when cutting and polishing your synopsis.
  • Start with the main character and what they want. Set the story up immediately so you grab the reader’s attention. Then you can ultimately show how the character does or doesn’t get that by the end of the synopsis and how things change.
  • With each sentence ask yourself if this is the simplest way you can say this idea. While it’s nice to have some voice in your synopsis it isn’t always required. You want to get as much information out there as cleanly as possible. If you have to sacrifice some voice to do it that’s okay. The purpose of a synopsis is to tell the reader what your book is about start to finish. It’s to show you have a complete character arc and story. To prove your book doesn’t have holes in it and to show where things go. You don’t have to reel the reader in like you do with a query.
  • Ask yourself if each sentence is carrying the story/plot forward. When you write the book, each sentence of a synopsis should carry the reader to next time, place and/or incident that drives the plot and character arc. The same should happen in a synopsis only on a tighter scale.
  • Say what happens. When you write/edit you try to eliminate the X saw, heard, felt, etc. All those sense words you can show without saying the character turned and saw something or heard something because you are already following them or in their head. As you would make something happen in your story, do the same in your synopsis. Make it happen don’t say X heard Y, or A saw B do this, just say B did it.
  • Make sure the synopsis shows how the character changes, or if they don’t change what they learned and why they decided to stay the same. Synopsis should show what changes over the course of the story.
  • Subplots. You will have some subplots in your synopsis but limit it to one or two that really compliment or add to the main arc in some way. More than that and you start getting bogged down in details.
  • Keep travel to a minimum. In most cases, unless it affects your plot/conflict we don’t need to know how the characters got from point A to point B just that they are there and something happens.
  • Keep mentions of time passage to a minimum. Phrases like two weeks later, and the next day are empty in a synopsis. They offer nothing. Show what’s happening. In the synopsis it’s usually not important to know how long it took, just that it happened or is happening at that point in the story.
  • Don’t repeat. If you’ve already said something don’t bring it up again or rephrase. It’s not necessary and it takes up precious space.
  • Realize the reader doesn’t need to know everything. Give enough to eliminate confusion and help them connect the dots from point A to point B. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • Use active verbs. This will help you move the story along quickly and concisely. It really helps show what’s happening. It also helps the voice of your synopsis. In most cases you shouldn’t need to be verbs in a synopsis because you’re telling what happens not what is.
  • Avoid descriptions. In most cases in a synopsis we don’t need to know what the character looks like or what a place looks like. Unless it’s critical to the plot/conflict cut it.
  • Avoid filler words and adverbs. This cuts out on a lot of space, words like that, just, even etc. aren’t necessary. Most adverbs aren’t either.
  • Cut back story and setup. You don’t want to info dump in your manuscript and you certainly don’t want to do it in your synopsis. Unless the character’s past is critical to the plot or conflict leave it in the past.
  • Avoid clich├ęs. Enough said there I think.
  • For every character you introduce in your synopsis (and it shouldn’t be every character in your book) make sure their motivations are clear. Also make sure they somehow contribute to the overall plot and/or conflict.
  • Avoid the “and then and then and then” syndrome. While a synopsis is telling what happens as the story progresses, you want to avoid saying and then this happens then they go here and then they do that. Try to weave the story as if you were telling it in person to someone who has never read it. If you just keep saying then this happens you’re going to lose their attention, so make it interesting.
  • Transitions are key! They can make or break your synopsis. Just as you don’t want to say and then over and over again you want to make sure your synopsis has flow. It eliminates confusion and it shows how the story is progressing.
  • Get feedback. Both from people who have read and haven’t read your book. It should be clear to someone who hasn’t read your manuscript what is going on. Likewise for someone who has, they should be able to pinpoint anything major you left out. Both types of critiquers should be able to help you identify things you don’t need in your synopsis.

By this point hopefully you are seeing a pattern in the tips. If it doesn’t contribute to the plot and/or conflict, it has no business in your synopsis. That’s how you determine what’s critical and what’s not. Simplify Simplify Simplify.

Do you have synopsis tips and tricks you want to share? Please post them in the comments!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Advice - The good, the bad, and the ugly!

There's a lot of people in the writing world claiming to be experts. Many are. But there are equally as many that aren't. There's also a lot of people who want to offer their advice and opinions. By and large most mean well, but unfortunately there's quite a few people out there who either don't know what they are talking about, or they can only talk to their specific situation and experience. The latter isn't always a bad thing, but it also doesn't make the person an expert on all things writing, editing, and publishing. It makes them an expert on their individual process.

So when it comes to writerly advice, we as writers really need to do our homework. There's some awesome advice out there, but how do we find it? And how do we know if it's really sound advice we should follow?

Google is your friend! Go to sources - publishers, agents, editors, national writing organizations like SCBWI etc. Even still not all publishers, agents, editors etc. are created equal. Just because someone says they are an agent, editor, publisher, doesn't mean they are a good one with good advice. If you can't find anyone else willing to back up the advice you're seeing, be wary of it. There's also wonderful sites like Preditors and Editors that list agencies, editors, and publishers and state whether they are reputable or not.

Get a second opinion
Just because someone says something doesn't make it true. I don't care what part of the publishing process they are in, they may be misinformed or have been given bad advice themselves. Talk to as many people as possible. Get a wide range of opinions before you make a decision on whose advice to follow.

Understand what you are signing
If there is any sort of contract involved READ IT! Read every single word, read it till your eyes bleed, and read it until you have it memorized. If you don't understand something, ask your agent, or higher a lawyer or other professional to explain it to you. Make sure you understand what you are responsible for, how this deal will benefit you, what kind of rights you are signing over, and what each party is getting from this deal.

Ask questions
If you aren't sure about something, ask questions until you feel comfortable with it. There's no such thing as a dumb question so don't be afraid to ask. If someone refuses to answer a question it may be a red flag. But if you aren't sure about something ASK!

Go with your gut
If all else fails go with your instincts. If something feels off then it probably is. If it seems too good to be true, it just might be. There's a lot of people out there looking to take advantage of writers, so be vigilant and trust your gut.

By in large there's a lot of great advice out there online, just make sure you really look into it before you leap and rush into a decision. You'll save yourself a lot of headache in the long run if you take your time and do your homework.

Does anyone else have any suggestions on how to vet the good advice from the bad? Feel free to add them in the comments.