Writing a Synopsis – Condensing Your Novel
Nov23

Writing a Synopsis – Condensing Your Novel

  Writing a synopsis is one of the most daunting chores a writer must face. After spending months lovingly crafting a complex plot, realizing and nurturing a cast of characters and painstakingly selecting the right prose for descriptions, how do you then summarize your masterpiece in just 2 or 3 pages? There is simply too much information in a 400 page novel to condense into a brief blurb. How will an editor ever catch all the nuances and clues you’ve woven into your plot? And what if he misses the connection between your hero and your villain? Won’t the ending seem contrived if all the by-plays aren’t included? The great temptation for many writers is the urge to explain the connection between characters and events, just to be sure the editor can’t miss the by-plays. Unfortunately, doing this will make an editor wonder what’s left to read in your manuscript, and so probably won’t request to see it. Here are some tips for keeping your synopsis short and focused, and keep an editor interested at the same time. Format Write your synopsis in the same format you would use for your manuscript. Use black type on clean white paper. Double-space your work. Set your margins for one inch (about 2.5 cms) around ALL sides of the text. Do not right-justify your text – the lines on the right-hand side of the page should be staggered. Use a standard font, like Courier or Times New Roman. Serif fonts allocate the same amount of space for the letter ‘i’ as they do for the letter ‘m’. Don’t be tempted to use the prettier options on your word processor. Put a header on every page. Your book title goes in the upper left corner. Your last name (or your pseudonym’s last name) and page number go in the upper right corner. Start with a bang! All writers fret over the perfect opening line to their novel. Do the same for your synopsis. The rest of the synopsis will need to be precise and tightly written, so use the opening sentence to set up a strong hook. Remember, an editor has hundreds of submissions to go through every day. Make sure yours doesn’t let his attention wander with an opening that reads: “John was 34 with brown eyes and blonde hair.” BORING! Create a hook to lure the editor into reading further into your storyline. Open with a bold, evocative sequence that forces the reader to want to continue. Key Plot Points After your spectacular ‘hook’ opening, the big challenge is to outline the basics of your novel’s plot, without going into too...

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Creating Conflict and Sustaining Suspense
Nov23

Creating Conflict and Sustaining Suspense

  “Dan stood on the wet paving, his arms limp by his side, his jaw hanging in horror, as he peered through a crack in the curtains. Before him a man crept towards the figure of his wife as she lay on the sofa. “Leave my wife alone,” his mind screamed silently. His mouth formed the words but no sound would come. On the sofa his wife smiled and opened her arms invitingly. Dan did not notice his car keys drop from between his numb fingers. They landed in a puddle at his feet with a dull jangle. At the sound, the stranger turned toward the window. Dan’s heart skipped a beat as he recognized the swarthy features of the man inside his home.. He wondered how hard it would be to murder his best friend.” Did that little excerpt leave you wanting more? I hope so – that was the point. Conflict is the driving force behind all good fiction. Without it, there is no story. The good news is, creating conflict is much easier than you might believe. Many new writers believe that adding conflict to a story is as simple as inserting violence into the plot line. Nothing could be further from the truth. The conflict in the example above is only present in Dan’s emotional state. Physically, he has not moved from the window. Let me give you an example of writing without conflict. Dan arrived home from work. He stepped out of the car and hurried up the drive to escape the rain. Through a crack in the curtains he spied his wife awaiting his arrival. She was curled up on the sofa, a serene little smile on her face. His car keys fell from his grasp and he stooped to pick them up, before hurrying into the house. Now, tell me – would you like to see 400 more pages like this? Did you happen to notice that Dan’s point of view is exactly the same in both examples? He is still outside, peering through a crack in the curtains, watching his wife on the sofa. The difference is, I have created tension and suspense by adding emotional conflict about what Dan is seeing and feeling. Also in the first example, I have added the hint that it is raining. This is to introduce a sense of physical conflict. Dan’s first impulse should be to run into the house. He ignores this impulse and endures the physical discomfort, because he is emotionally preoccupied. In the second example, there really is no reason for the reader to want to continue. Nothing special or unusual...

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How Long Should Your Story Be?
Nov23

How Long Should Your Story Be?

  One common question asked by many writers is: “How long should my story be?” The simplest answer is: As long as it takes to tell the whole story. If your story is done after a few thousand words, great. If it takes you three novels to complete the story you want to tell, that’s just fine too. It’s your story. However, there are certain word lengths that editors prefer to see when submitting work.   Here is an approximate guideline for story lengths:     Micro-Fiction – up to 100 words This very abbreviated story is often difficult to write, and even harder to write well, but the markets for micro fiction are becoming increasingly popular in recent times. Publishers love them, as they take up almost no room and don’t cost them their budgets. Pay rates are often low, but for so few words, the rate per word averages quite high. Flash Fiction 100 – 1,000 words This is the type of short-short story you would expect to find in a glossy magazine, often used to fill one page of quick romance (or quick humor, in men’s mags) Very popular, quick and easy to write, and easier to sell! Short Story 1,000 – 7,500 words The ‘regular’ short story, usually found in periodicals or anthology collections. Most ‘genre’ zines will features works at this length. Novellette 7,500 – 20,000 words Often a novellette-length work is difficult to sell to a publisher. It is considered too long for most publishers to insert comfortably into a magazine, yet too short for a novel. Generally, authors will piece together three or four novellette-length works into a compilation novel. Novella 20,000 – 50,000 words Although most print publishers will balk at printing a novel this short, this is almost perfect for the electronic publishing market length. The online audience doesn’t always have the time or the patience to sit through a 100,000 word novel. Alternatively, this is an acceptable length for a short work of non-fiction. Novel 50,000 -110,000 Most print publishers prefer a minimum word count of around 70,000 words for a first novel, and some even hesitate for any work shorter than 80,000. Yet any piece of fiction climbing over the 110,000 word mark also tends to give editors some pause. They need to be sure they can produce a product that won’t over-extend their budget, but still be enticing enough to readers to be saleable. Imagine paying good money for a book less than a quarter-inch thick? Epics and Sequels Over 110,000 words If your story extends too far over the 110,000 mark, perhaps consider where you could...

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Writing Dazzling Dialogue
Nov23

Writing Dazzling Dialogue

  Before I begin, it’s important to understand a little about dialogue in fiction. Regardless of what you might read on the page, dialogue in a story is NOT about two people talking to each other, nor is it written speech. Dialogue is one of the most important tools at a writer’s disposal. It should represent, but not mimic real speech. And it should impart vital information. The good part here is that it is not as difficult as it seems. Dialogue as Conversation Consider doing some “official dialogue research” sometime soon and you’ll understand what I’m talking about a little better. Go and sit in a coffee lounge, or in a crowded cafe, and eavesdrop. If you have one, take a pocket-recorder, like the ones reporters use, to a party or family gathering. Whichever you do, listen carefully to how and what people are saying. The stutters, the pauses, the idle chit-chat, the mundane trivia, the interruptions, the incomplete thoughts and the abbreviations are all filtered by our brains as we listen, but to type it out EXACTLY as it is spoken would bore a reader to tears. Concentrate on refining and focusing a conversation so that it flows smoothly and reads like a real exchange between how we would imagine two people would interact. It should seem realistic, but the human oddities and inflections should be removed. Dialogue to Give Vital Information The exchange between your characters should impart more than just inane chatter. It needs to propel your plot forward, show your character’s personality, reveal something about what your character is thinking or feeling. While you are worrying about adding all of those inflections, remember that the way a character speaks to another will also show a reader a little about his social standing, his education, his background and beliefs. Sounds difficult, doesn’t it? This overly-technical description does not need to be a frightening step in creating great dialogue. Here’s an example: “I would expostulate that the inverse of said trajectory is infinitely more plausible than the former theorem,” said the professor. “Huh? Whaddya mean?” the janitor said. Okay, those characters are a little typecast, but you get the idea. I’ve (hopefully) managed to highlight a little about both character’s education levels and social status in just two lines of dialogue. Uncharacteristic Dialogue You would never give your protagonist the wrong information or let him speak with the wrong accent, would you? Surprisingly, a lot of writers do, and it only serves to destroy the trust in you as a writer that you’ve built with your readers. For example: “I would expostulate that the inverse of...

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Copyrighting an Idea
Nov22

Copyrighting an Idea

  While surfing around on the net recently, I noticed a spate of articles dealing with plagiarism. Most of these articles focused on the various copyright issues of writers whose works have been reproduced verbatim without the author’s prior consent. So I’m not going to do yet another article on that topic.   Other sites have featured FAQ pages, where a lot of writers have asked the question “What if someone steals my idea?”   Obtaining a copyright for an original piece of work is a relatively straight-forward procedure these days, so thoughts of a desperate hack plagiarizing your work shouldn’t be a problem.   But how do you copyright an IDEA ?   To put it simply – you can’t.   No matter what amazingly unique idea you might come up with for your new novel, chances are it’s already been used hundreds, possibly even thousands, of times before.   I’ll give you an example of what I mean. I’m going to give you – free of charge – an idea for your next novel. Are you ready for it??   Woman meets Man. Man is cold-hearted and aloof. Woman despises Man. Man eventually wins her over. They fall in love, despite their differences. They live happily ever after.   If it sounds awfully familiar, that’s because it is. It is a commonly recurring theme for most romantic fiction novels. The odd part here is that I don’t usually read romantic fiction. I ‘borrowed’ this idea from an Anne McCaffrey science fiction/fantasy novel to give to you.   Does this mean the idea was originally plagiarized from trusty old Mills and Boon? Absolutely not.   Using the example above, let’s look at three different writers from three completely different genres. We can see how they are able to ‘borrow’ an idea and turn it into an original work of fiction. Writer 1: Horror Writer   Woman meets Man. Man is cold-hearted and aloof because he is a vampire. Woman is disgusted by his nature and terrified of him. He proves himself to be an unwilling victim, not a cold-blooded killer and he wins her over. She is drawn to his mysterious nature and they fall in love anyway, in spite of their differences.   Writer 2: Fantasy Writer   Princess meets Man. Man is cold-hearted and aloof because he has elven blood in his veins and he knows he can never be accepted into the royal world of the Princess. Woman rides into the forest and is attacked by a hungry dragon. Half-elven man slays dragon, wins the Princess’ respect. They fall in love, in spite of their...

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