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. 🙂

Romantic Life Lessons

Romance Tales from Louisiana

Last weekend, I went to Shreveport, Louisiana, to attend a conference for romance writers. I had gone to this event maybe fifteen years ago and remember feeling like such a newbie, quivering over my speech, but having a blast with some amazing people. My colleagues have been as well, and they always come back with raves. I knew I was in for fun (and work, too). As usual, I went through my pre-flying rituals:

1. Freaking out

2. Packing and re-packing

3. Picking out a Steven Seagal movie to watch but then opting for Sons of Anarchy instead–sort of same thing (bringing out inner warrior self)

4. Looking at husband, possibly for the last time (since I could die) and feeling that if I did plunge into a land mass due to engine failure, I’d have absolutely no regrets. Everyone knows I love them.sam

Oddly enough, this time, I had no flying terror since I’d spent most of the week on weather.com, ensuring perfect plane vistas from my window seat. Because I’m a spaz and superstitious, I don’t eat while in transit (since eating brings on wild turbulence and the universe operates based on my actions always) so I arrived in Dallas famished but ready for my next flight. Alas, it was cancelled. Luckily, the conference organizers had a nice lady ready to drive me to my final destination. My luggage decided to stay in Dallas until the evening when it magically appeared in Shreveport.I didn’t know this until later that evening, after visions of sleeping in my business clothes and wearing them again.

After a mini-road trip, I arrived only to set down my purse and run to be on the editor/agent panel. I’m not sure what I said that evening, but it was lovely to look out into the audience and see three of my authors–Lenora Worth, Beth Cornelison and Farrah Rochon–smiling at me. They gave me hugs of sympathy, though by that time, I was deliriously happy to be on the ground. A lovely agent loaned me her brush. My author gave me some toothpaste and the nice lady at the front desk passed me other supplies. Oh right, and I was hungry-ish, but too rattled to eat. After twelve hours on the road, I went to my room and just collapsed. At 10pm, my luggage arrived.

The next day, I felt amazing with the post heinous travel glow of gratitude and did a “Chat With” workshop. Most of the questions involved preparing a good pitch, how publishers feel about hybrid authors, deal breakers in a submission to an editor, how can writers improve their work. There’s no substitute for being able to engage with writers face to face. For a few hours, I also did appointments, which I’m hoping will yield some great projects on my desk (e-reader). A nice perk–there were snacks everywhere and I indulged, making up for my travel hunger strike. Hurray for bags of snacks!!!

The conference en11043052_805084322873362_8048958285275004698_nded at a nice dinner with my authors. I gave up giving up gluten since bread must be eaten sometimes. No regrets, especially since the next day promised rain for my journey home. Memories of bread, amaretto house cake and enthused writers got me through those jerky moments in the clouds. After lugging my suitcase up five flights of stairs (our elevator is out for three months), I opened the door to find my favorite guy and my favorite foods waiting for me.

Though depleted, I always return from conferences energized. It’s a festive time for both introverts and extroverts to bond over their craft. Only 4 months until RWA…

 

Romantic Life Lessons

OOOOH, SHINY!

iStock_000017497906XSmallby Mary-Theresa Hussey

That’s what I love about being surrounded by writers and editors.

Whether re-imagining words (“shiny” is wonderful/fantastic in Firefly lingo); reacting like a magpie gathering information from all sources (Laura Anne Gilman emails me delightedly when she sees how science discoveries informs her notion of her magic); appreciating everything around them (romance authors are particularly good at noticing things to enhance joy and pleasure) or the ability/inability to stay focused because attention is caught by another wonderful tidbit, they are almost always involved people. They want to know about others and share that information. And yes, there’s gossip, but it’s often instigated by the why somebody did what he/she did and what informed that decision. And it’s always grist for another story, but in an unexpected way.

We try to have a weekly meeting, and I enjoy ending it by everyone saying something they are excited about for the past or upcoming week. Each time the variety of topics and the discussion it spurs and the notes to try this food or book or movie or show makes me so glad about spending time with this team. This is surely one job where you can learn at least one thing every day, and always where there’s at least one moment of delight you can share with another about what you did that day.

So I hope everyone else takes a moment to explore the various elements of “Shiny!” that are all around…