Writing Tips

Welcome to Synopsis Camp!

IMG_2493What is more painful than writing a synopsis? Writing a blog post about writing synopses. Just kidding not really. While on an editor panel, I promised to write this post and I’m glad I did. From the bottom of my heart, I feel that banging out that synopsis is essential–and easy.

Let’s just get it out of the way, that every writer tells me, “I can’t write a synopsis.” And I can’t eat pickled beets unless you give me money, which is what my mother and brother did once. Seriously, you can write a synopsis. If you can write a book, you can write a synopsis. Remember high school, college? It’s a matter of getting into the right head space and practicing. I don’t blame you for complaining. I have to write synopses, too, and I do plenty of whining about it. Then I realize what a skill it is: being able to summarize your work.

One thing to note: Editors need that synopsis. They have to pitch your story to higher ups. We might even require a refresher if we haven’t looked at your book in a few weeks. There are so many books that we read between your submission and that second or third read. A synopsis turns out to be a handy guide to your story. It introduces everyone to the basics.

But how do you write a dry synopsis on a story you are so passionate about? It can be done, I swear. If we can survive the elements, reality television, and the presidential campaign, we can tackle this onerous task.

Because I hate writing synopses myself, I’ve devised a handy way to get through the pain. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

  1. Choose two days where your goal is to write the synopsis. No other writing, no other big projects. Just the synopsis.
  2. Write a logline, a one-sentence summary of your story, two sentences tops. Encapsulating your premise into one neat sentence is a talent and one you can show off when you pitch your story. You will use that logline over and over again.
  3. Prepare yourself psychologically for the longer synopsis. Editors have different requirements, but I like to ask for a five-page synopsis, double spaced. If you can do this, you’re in great shape. Line up your pencils, hydrate, and say, “I can do this.”
  4. Break down your synopsis into three parts. Act I, Act II, and Act III–but don’t label them as such in your synopsis. It’s easier to write a synopsis when you think of it in smaller segments. Never write a chapter by chapter breakdown. These are hard to follow.
  5. Write Act I in the morning. You have that surge of energy, you’ve had your coffee, so get out those first 500 words. You’ll be shocked at how little time this takes.
  6. Take a few hours off. Let Act II percolate in your head. Eat lunch. Have another coffee and then go at it. Get the middle of the story down in lovely prose. No need for gimmicks, just the story as if you were telling someone about it. Think generalities. Think that annoying paper that you’re writing for school. Readable, engaging writing that will inform the editor.
  7. Reward yourself. Watch an episode of your favorite show. Eat a Snickers and/or Cheese Puffs (see picture).
  8. It’s late afternoon, when you’re almost ready to call it a day. Maybe you want to take a nap, but you have one last item on your to do list: Act III. Make it dramatic and exciting! You’re on the home stretch!
  9. You did it. Was that so hard? Maybe, if you think mowing the lawn is hard. It’s just not something you want to do, but you did it because it needed doing. If you didn’t have a Snickers before, you deserve one now.
  10. Forget about your synopsis for the rest of the night. Sweet dreams! They will be sweet because you accomplished this one little yet crucial part of the writing process.
  11. Wakey, wakey! Don’t you hate it when people say that? I do, too, but not so much since I finished a synopsis. After breakfast or whenever the neurons start firing, go over your synopsis, revise it, edit it, then look over it five more times throughout the day. Remind yourself how awesome you are for writing a synopsis, which all of us hate to do.
  12. You are now done–and a new graduate of Synopsis Camp. For good measure and because this is a heinous chore, reward yourself often.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to go over your work, but the hardest part is often getting the words down. As a writer, though, you’re used to that, right? In conclusion, I’ll let you in on a secret. The synopsis is important, though many of editors don’t love reading them. It is truly a guide. The most important part is your voice, your story. But we still want the synopsis. 🙂

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Romantic Life Lessons, Uncategorized

Editor Is [not] the New Billionaire

iStock_000016891929XSmallMy first few years in New York, working as an assistant editor, I lived on credit cards. It cost a lot to live in Manhattan and, once again, I’d chosen a career that didn’t promise wealth. Maybe I should have been more financially pragmatic and looked for an apartment in Queens or Brooklyn, but I wasn’t. Those years taught me a lot about cutting corners, which I still do to some extent nineteen years later. If you love to edit books, you can do better than survive. Here’s how:

Food:

Breakfast can easily turn into lunch. If you put off breakfast, tada, it’s lunchtime! That’s one meal you don’t have to pay for.

Lunch: If you want to stay healthy and save money, make your own. Most of us give in to the sandwich bar. Reasoning: you’re too busy as a working woman to prepare food. Sadly, this can’t carry through to dinner unless you want to blow all your money. Another way to save money: take out industry people. It’s professional, enjoyable, and it’s a write-off or your company will reimburse you.* Did I just say that out loud?

Continue reading “Editor Is [not] the New Billionaire”

Writing Tips

More of My Romance Writing Pet Peeves

I know you’re supposed to include some good with the bad, so here’s something I love: reunion romances. We’ve all had a romance that we’ve fantasized about revisiting. In Romanceland, you can! I also love cranky Alpha heroes, heroines with a touch of crazy, characters facing natural disasters and the one-night stand that winds up being happily ever after.

Because there’s balance in the cosmos, here are more of my pet peeves. I’ll try to be gentle:

*On page 1, someone is driving. I know that’s a repeat. Sometimes driving to a destination in the opening is necessary and it’s not enough for me to reject a story but grrrrr, I see it so often, especially in suspenseful romances.

*After a passionate night, the heroine wakes up to the hero cooking breakfast. He can make an omelet. I can’t even make an omelet. You’d think this might be a unique post-coital scene, but it’s not. The hero often makes soft, fluffy eggs for breakfast, which signifies his soft, fluffy underbelly. Oh, and the other cliché, the character waking up to the smell of bacon or strong coffee. I wish I kept eggs and bacon in my fridge but sadly, I just have condiments.

*When they’re lost in the woods, there’s always an abandoned cabin. And in that cabin, there’s a dusty pantry. Somehow, the heroine finds enough there to prepare a five-course meal. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all they had was a can of tuna to share?  Maybe not so romantic but potentially funny and real.

*Characters become amateur sleuths. A cop will go to a murder scene and someone close to the victim will insist on helping with the case. They fall in love as they both search for clues. This aggravates me, though I see it all the time and it can be explained away. Plus, if someone close to me were involved in such misfortune, I’d like to think I’d be a giant pain in the posterior and insist on helping. It’s still a pet peeve. I do like, though, when non-law-enforcement characters find themselves in the middle of a suspenseful situation.

*The ex is a passionless dweeb or a gold digger. My problem with this is…well, we’ve all made mistakes, but the ex must have had some good qualities or else why would the hero/heroine get involved?

*Exes/parents/grandparents are killed in car crashes. It’s easy to kill off characters this way, but car crashes are a given now in romances. Maybe these extraneous characters could exist without appearing on the scene. Car crashes create emotional conflict by making a central character an instant orphan. It happens, it’s real and awful but if I had a penny for all the car crashes I’ve seen…They have no impact on me anymore.

And those are my pet peeves for this Monday.

Romantic Life Lessons

One Romance Editor’s Holiday in Salem

My religious background is mixed. My grandfather was a Baptist minister. My mother and father are atheists. My husband is Jewish. My brother is  Buddhist. I have many Evangelical Christian, Pagan, Catholic, Agnostic friends and relatives, too. I like to float between all religions, claiming membership, though my latest joy has been learning about my husband’s traditions. We did Easter the previous year (ate a lot of eggs, chocolate, and ham with my mother), so this year we went to visit his family in Boston. First, we snuck in some time in witch-tastic Salem. I’d always wanted to go.

My main rule for the weekend was to soak up history and religion and to avoid all reading–unless trashy tabloids to which I am addicted. We toured the Witch History Museum, ate at Red’s, meandered down the quaint streets and even toyed with the idea of “ghost tracking” at our B&B*. This seemed too scary so we remained sedate, indulging in touristic opportunities. I purchased my witchy souvenirs and even had a mischievous black cat cross my path (scaring the you-know-what out of husband).

My editor hat found its way back on my head during the tour of The House of The Seven Gables. So much had happened in that house over centuries: fortune made and lost, families and literature. The rooms, the ornate wallpaper, the snifter of brandy, chandeliers, and low ceilings. Of course, I had to get Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic to go with my experience! I forgot about religion entirely.

Or maybe I realized that books are my religion.

*There is a ghost tracking app on the iPad, which, I confess, we use often.

Romantic Life Lessons

Make a Romance Editor Cry

I’d been working as a Romance editor for six months, and by then, I’d thought I read it all. Westerns, vampires, medievals, boss-secretary stories, and sheik romances. My brain was filled with love stories, and I steeled myself against all emotion. Then it happened. Coffee, desk, morning enthusiasm, a quiet office…and a really good story that made me feel something.

By the afternoon, I was weeping. The heroine had gone through so much. Ravaged, deflowered in the worst way and her own castle, suddenly orphaned, nearly lifeless (but still beautiful). When the hero came along, she didn’t much care. Of course, she couldn’t avoid him either since he was in her castle. By the end, she was still frozen until he kept insisting that no matter how badly she felt, they were still connected. I lost my marbles and carried the tome to my boss, who was so consoling and sympathetic.

In the end, I didn’t get to work on the book, but I’m happy that it found its way into reader’s hands. Fifteen years later, I still remember that moment when I forgot to be so critical and FELT. Such is a writer’s gift.