Of course, the ‘sane’ part is up for debate, but I’m happy to say there was minimal blood-loss as I completed my new query and synopsis.
The synopsis scared me even more than the query. I knew my characters so intimately that I couldn’t imagine breaking their stories down to the simplest terms – as required for a synopsis. What about all the ‘other stuff’ they endured throughout their story…?
However, with the help of a phenomenally efficient list of questions, I was able to zero in on what truly mattered and tell my story in under three double-spaced pages. THREE. Double-spaced. That is an amazing feat for me since the shortest synopsis I’ve ever written was four pages, single-spaced.
How did I do it? With help from a lot of people and places but especially from a brilliant article by Gina Ardito: The Top Ten Questions for a Successful Synopsis.
If you’re struggling with your synopsis, read Gina’s article. You’ll be amazed. I was.
And now I wait. I’ve submitted my baby to three more agents/publishers and, since responses can take months, I’m off on a new adventure. Plotting another story. As I mentioned in an earlier post – Creating the Mood – I’ve chosen a gorgeous new journal, a seductive soundtrack and a sultry frangrance. As for inspiration, I am in no way lacking.
So, you know what comes after edits and revisions of a manuscript? Edits and revisions of the synopsis and query.
I’ve been told, several times, that the synopsis should be written before the story. If you can do that, I highly suggest it. However, since I’m not a plotter, but a pantser, writing the synopsis ahead of time would be like plotting the abduction of my muse. The fun part of writing, the creative part – for me at least – is in the discovery. When I start to write, I have an idea of where I’m going. Blips of scenes flicker in my mind, in flip-book form. From there, I develop the meat of the story.
Months later, when the story is complete – and polished – I try to write a two-paragraph query and both a short and long synopsis but find myself overwhelmed by all of the intricate plot twists, emotional discoveries and settings. The query and the synopsis are supposed to ‘tell’ (not “show”) your story in a compelling yet succinct way. A way that clearly showcases your voice and your story’s tone. You can think of the query and synopsis as relaying an event to a friend. You’d hit the high points, string out the suspense of it, keep them interested without bogging them down with details. That’s what you want in your query and in your synopsis. You want to hook an agent or editor with the high points, showing them the entire work without showing them the ENTIRE work.
What’s your story about?
It seems like such a simple question to answer. And no doubt you can. But can you do it in twenty seconds or less? I couldn’t. I found even my own eyes glazed over when I tried to tell my story.
We must be creative artists when we write the story but marking pros when we sell it. It’s hard to switch hats like that.
I approached my first – hundred or so – attempts at this backwards. I had just finished revisions and figured I’d never know the story better and so writing the 1-page query and short-ish (2-3 page synopsis) should be easy. Or should I say, ‘easier’?
I started at the beginning and wrote. Soon, I was caught in the story’s rhythm. Writing the query and synopsis in glorious detail, only to remember that wasn’t the place for it. My poor muse slumped. She’d been giddy. Guiding me through, reminding me of ‘moments’ so compelling, to me, that they just had to be included in this selling tool.
I resorted to bribery and promised my muse a new story. I tossed a thought out there and she ran off with it, trying to figure out how to work that idea into 300 pages of colorful language and gripping scenes.
I also did the dishes, the laundry, the vacuuming and grocery shopping. And then I sat down to write. My goal? One sentence. From the “Snowflake Method” to “Pitch University“, I’ve always heard about breaking the story down to one sentence. I could not imagine how to do it then found help in the form of examples from Nathan Bransford‘s fantastic site.
Using his examples as a guide, I went through several drafts of my ‘one-line’ pitch until, finally, hours later, I had it. If you can break your story down to it’s raw form – which, for me ,turned out to be the idea that prompted the story in the first place – you can find your one-sentence pitch. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not. Maybe, though, it’ll get easier with time and practice.
Meanwhile, that one sentence grew into one paragraph. That paragraph being the way I’d tell friends and strangers about my story. Just enough detail to cover the main plot and leave them wanting more. From there, came two-paragraphs, with more emotion, more mood and a touch more detail. Those paragraphs are for the query.
It took hours to write those lines. You’d think after hours of work you’d have more to show than that, yes? But if it took months, maybe a year or more, to write the story, shouldn’t it take a decent amount of time to market it properly? I rushed through my original query, thinking I just had to give a basic idea of what my story was about. Now, I realize it’s not simply what it’s about, but specifically and succinctly what happens, why and what’s at stake for your characters.
I’ll repeat – it wasn’t easy. I’m sure I’ll be banging my head on the keyboard next go-round. But now that I’ve invested the time the query needs and deserves, the process finally makes sense.
What’s next now that the query is finished? The synopsis. Let the head-banging begin. 🙂
As I work on the query and synopsis for my completed story, I’m also working on the next one.
It’s actually quite exciting. In the past I’ve struggled with “starting”. It seemed the story I just finished – and its characters – had taken hold of my heart and mind and wouldn’t let go. I’d try to work with my new characters but hear the old character’s voices.
So… starting this new work immediately after finishing the first had me a little on edge, wondering if I could do it so quickly or if I had to let some time pass. Well… so far, so good. I think I’ve finally worked out a system that blends the needs of my muse, me and story.
I was a workshop diva – signing up for every and any workshop that came my way. I’ve modified some of them, taken parts of each that ‘spoke’ to me and blended them into a method of plotting and creating character that I enjoy. For my past work, I was a true pantser. Just typing away as the story came to me. I’m very happy with those stories. And I love the memory of writing them. The thrill of hearing the character’s voices in my head, seeing them move and interact, then rushing to the computer to get it all down. So exciting.
But I spent a lot of time revising those stories. A LOT. Pantsing like that just wasn’t working for me the way I thought it was. I, apparently, need some direction. My Gemini spirit is too flighty and must be guided – though not restrained.
And so… I now work with Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s Fatal Flaws, Sue Viders Character Diamond, and Karen Docter’s W-Plot (the latter of which, closes by incorporating a subdued ‘storyboard’ that, when properly done, transfers beautifully into a synopsis). I highly recommend each of these workshops. For me, parts of each of them make the characters come to life. With a little work, their deepest desires are revealed along with the conflict they’ll face trying to achieve those goals. Finite details are not disclosed, that happens during the writing process. What’s left is a planning stage that’s not only fun (for me), but also edges me closer to writing the story.
My synopsis and query are nearly ready to go. And this time, while I wait for a response, I’ll be doing what I love most – writing the next story with my notes there to help keep my excited Gemini muse on track… or at least close to that track. 🙂
I’m happy with the final one, though I’ve gone according to the 1 page per 10,000 words rule. I’m going to let it sit for a couple of days then get back to it… mainly because I’ve signed up for some one-on-one synopsis help with the wonderful Mary Buckham (who gives wonderful in-person and online workshops), and am waiting for feedback from her.
Not one to simply kick back and wait, I figure it’s time to look ahead to the next project. I have an “Ideas” file loaded with… well… ideas. There are stories in there waiting to be written, characters eager to be brought to life on the page. And then there’s me – just a little gun shy after having completed a book only days ago.
I’m not exhausted. If anything, I’m energized from the ride of the last story. I’m not numb creatively. I have new and interesting scenes playing out in my head.
I am however, torn.
Which story do I work on next? The ideas pull me in all directions. I want to write. I want to get back to what I was doing just a week ago, and hammer out the story, feel the very last rush of words spring off my fingers and onto the page.
Alas… that’s called “finishing”.
This… is called ‘starting’.
Plotting – whether in detail or denial – is a long process. I’m in denial right now – insisting I’m a pantser through and through when actually, I desperately need a balance of plotting and pantsing. So, while I’d rather sit here and type away, showing my family how busy I, as writer, can be, I’ll be thinking and no doubt convincing them I’m simply goofing off.
I’ll spend the next couple of weeks turning scenarios over in my mind, picturing the worst obstacles I can throw in my new hero’s way, measuring how high my herione can leap and building hurdles twice that height. I’ll be plotting without paper. Watching the story develop. Seeing the sway of my heroine’s hips, the swagger of my hero’s purposeful gait. And I’ll be dreaming, hearing their voices. Eager for the moment a blank page turns into the first page of a brand new chapter.
Want a laugh? Mention the word synopsis to a writer and watch them break into a sweat. Or hives.
Isn’t it funny how writing a 100,000 word story doesn’t create the same sense of panic as a 2-5 page summary of it creates? I mean, really, what’s the big deal. We’ve gotten to know our characters on the most intimate level. We’ve watched them struggle over increasingly mounting obstacles. We’ve seen their wit, their courage, their weaknesses, strengths, failures and triumphs. And yet, when it comes down to telling our story in the most basic terms, we freeze.
For me, I suppose, it’s wanting to insert all those precious details. The sights and scents, the mood. Balancing ‘tell’ with passion is a tough thing to do. No melodrama in a synopsis. No ‘show’. Just the facts, ma’am.
Of course, we want a bit of our voice to shine through. I mean, if the story is humor and your synopsis is full of droning prose, then it’s little more than a poor example of bait and switch. Yet, you can’t really ‘show’ your voice since this is about ‘telling’ your story.
What’s your story about? Quick! Answer that in 500 words or less. Easy-peasy, right?
As you can tell, I’m in the thick of it right now… attempting my own balancing act. No one said synopsis writing was easy, but we all know how vital it is. And one thing is for certain – the manuscript took months to complete. The planning hit several brick walls and climbing those walls became more and more difficult… and more and more exciting as the story took shape. All that effort is forgotten when The End is reached. It’s only when we (I) sit with a synopsis waiting to be written that I think I’m first struggling to tell this story.
So… the synopsis is no different than the story itself. Both are a challenge. Both are part of you. Both will help determine the future for your characters and for you as their creator. A synopsis, therefore, deserves the same amount of attention, patience and enthusiasm as the story itself.
And on that note… I’m going to make myself another pot of coffee and have at it. Again.
You would think when the finish line is in sight, you’d pick up speed, put all the pent-up energy into the drive to get there, raise your arms in triumph and barrel full-speed ahead. There would be a cheer from a crowd of onlookers, confetti maybe, and a trophy, or at the least, a hug and a high five.
My victory – finally typing ‘The End’ in context – wasn’t quite so energized. In fact, it was the polar opposite. Everything led up to those final moments. Final moments when the characters’ struggles had to be shown as worth it, as life-altering.
Stitching those last high-energy scenes together was tedious work. Intense. I spent a lot of time staring unseeing at the blinking cursor, deep in thought, watching the scene play out in my head, forming the perfect string of words to show that scene as I saw it. Burrowing deeper into the minds of my characters than I had in a while. I had to navigate their subconscious, locate their ah-ha moments and then slap them into action, realization. All they’d fought for, all they thought was lost was finally there for the taking. They had only to realize how they got there, what they’d overcome and what it meant for their futures… as individuals and as a couple.
They’re off making love somewhere right now and I’m… left behind to write their synopsis. <shudder> I need to find a real title, too, and of course, I’ll work on the query. Rejections will start to flow in and I’ll sigh and file them away. But then maybe, just maybe, someone out there will fall in love with my little creation the same way I did. In truth, I hope lots of someones out there will fall in love with it. But then, isn’t that the hope of every writer? Isn’t that why we do this in the first place? To take people into our worlds for just a little while? To take them on an adventure? To surprise them and make them cheer for our characters… and then sigh in satisfaction when they reach the finish line?
If we’ve done our job right, the reader will know that The End is nothing more than a new beginning. And we, meanwhile, will start the entire process once again.
…why am I here blogging?
Seriously. I am up to the final scenes before those two amazing words: THE END
I can’t wait to type them in context. And yet… I’m also afraid to. I’m in love with the story I’m writing. I’m always in love with a story I’m writing. The characters become friends, housemates, secret whispers in my ear at all times of day and night. I see and hear them, feel their angst, their relief. And then… I have to say goodbye to them. It’s a bittersweet moment.
Maybe that’s why I’m here instead of there. I’ve always had trouble with ‘goodbye’. I suppose I’ll just have to remind myself that ‘goodbye’ won’t really come for quite some time. These characters and their story will stay with me well into this new year. I’ll have to write up an intriguing query and condense my 300-page manuscript down to a 5-page synopsis. I’ll have to determine which agents I’d like to send that query and synopsis to. And then I’ll have to wait for their reply, hope a request is made…
Funny. Suddenly, the end seems WAY in the future. But that’s okay. It’s the process, and, to be honest, it’s very exciting.
Meanwhile, as far as story goes, I have 15 Chapters and the Epilogue finished. All that’s left is Chapter 16. Yes… I wrote the epilogue before I wrote the climax. <shrug> What can I say, I’m a rule-breaker. And once 16 is complete, I’ll be playing with all the titles I’ve thought of since my working title just isn’t going to do it.
I found a way to distract myself when the writing gets too intense.
I found a way to procrastinate when I should be writing but am not doing so for whatever reason. It’s this quirky and fun little ‘romance cover’ generator. Too cute. Too addictive.
Here’s the “cover” of “my book” with one of my title ideas…
Go play… you, too, can procrastinate like me. 🙂
Oh, and because I just can’t seem to get enough…