Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sailing Through the Hurdles of Writing

 "If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere"~Frank A. Clark
Originally, this post was supposed to have been published on Friday, but thanks to an epic fail on Blogger's part as soon as I hit the "publish post" button, the entire entry was deleted.  Thank you, Blogger.  I wanted nothing more than to spend my time rewriting this entry through my foggy memory.

Moving on.  I decided to devote a post to addressing my own personal writing hurdles.  Writing hurdles, much like your standard hurdles, are those annoying little killjoys that come between a person and their goals.  For some, these hurdles are easily conquered; others find they need multiple running starts in order to clear them.  Still, for those remaining few, there are some hurdles that are so inflated their creator may never be able to gain the leverage needed to effectively leap over them.  Yes, we only have ourselves to blame for the hurdles we construct.  Completely within our control, our personal demons have a way of lurking in the backs of our minds, springing forth at our worst moments.  Their presence is a constant reminder to us that we've not quite accomplish all we've set out to do. 

For me, my writing hurdles appear primarily on those days where my faith in myself and my potential is fleeting.  Those days where I become demeaning of every word I write, scrapping most of it while I cower in the corner with a half empty Little Caesars box on my lap and a Lifetime Movie Network cringe-inducing love triangle blaring in the background (if there's one thing that makes you feel better about your writing, it's Lifetime Movies).  Through all of this, I take comfort in the fact that I'm not alone and that other writers face some of the same dilemmas as I.  Everyone has their own personal hurdles. 

Some of the more common ones--as I've noticed--as well as those I face myself are highlighted as follows:

Hurdle No. 1:  Simplicity is key--There are those authors who can construct paragraphs that read like lines of poetry on each page.  Every word, every sentence is so melodic it's almost as though they're projecting themselves from the page in a brilliant symphony.  This kind of writing takes a special and unique kind of talent; a kind of talent whose replication cannot be forced without the end result coming across as trite and artificial.  When I first began writing, I was under the impression that every page I wrote had to contain something exceedingly poignant.  So I wrote, edited,  wrote some more, and threw mini tantrums rivaling those of my toddler's when what I wrote wasn't up to par.

In reality, unless you're Hemingway, Bronte, or Austen reincarnated, your writing should be beautifully simplistic.  For example, I just began reading Switched, the first book in Amanda Hocking's "Trylle Trilogy" and consider myself clued-in as to what all the hype is about now.   The writing in Switched is compelling, phenomenal and...simple. There are no fancy bells and whistles, just wonderful story telling that makes the book flow perfectly (plus, she uses the word "pop" when referencing soda making us Northerners proud).  When writing, if the words don't come naturally, don't force them.  Some of the biggest statements are made with the fewest words.

Hurdle No. 2:  Compare and contrast:  Every time I read something, I find myself dissecting it, tearing it limb from limb, and then smearing it onto a slide for further inspection under a microscope.  As crazy as this may sound, I believe that most writers are guilty of comparing their works to those of other writers/authors both unpublished and published.  Not only is this extremely counterproductive, but it's an incredibly useless undertaking.  Most of the time, the works we find ourselves comparing our manuscripts too have been edited to the point where they're but a glimmer of the first drafts they once were; first drafts that may not be too far off from some of our own. 

Lately, I've been seeing novels with story lines that are nothing more than carbon copies of those works that were successful before them rendering me indecisive as to whether I should roll my eyes or wonder if there is some genius behind this method.  In my opinion, the way to transform from an aspiring author to an inspiring one is to develop a voice and style all your own.  Readers want to read material that's brilliantly varied and not just some mediocre replication of the works of others. After all, what would have become of classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Scarlet Letter, and Nineteen Eighty-Four if  Harper Lee, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and George Orwell had chosen to mimic all the other writers of their era and not stuck with their guns?  Well, for one thing, the list of the 100 greatest novels of all time would be short three solid classics.

Hurdle No. 3: Viewing a setback as more of a deterrence than a stepping stone--For me, one of the most stubborn of hurdles revolves around my allowing setbacks to force me into taking several steps back instead of using them to my advantage to take leaps forward.  Setbacks happen for a reason.  They help us to grow and, in turn, make our work better.  Take each setback in stride.  Work with them. Own them.  Use them as valuable teaching tools and your guide on what not to do or how you can improve upon both yourself and your work as a whole.

Hurdle No. 4:   Wanting today what it will take tomorrow to accomplish--As writers, when a shiny, new idea pops into our heads, the excitement factor immediately kicks in.  Feverishly, we rough out outlines, develop characters, compile chapters, and connect the dots until our first draft is complete.  Eager to share ourselves with the world, we begin editing like lunatics, hacking, slashing and lambasting our words until it seems our very beings have been shredded.  Finally, the soul-sucking process of querying agents begins.  In our heads, we know that this time our manuscript will be picked up that, within a matter of hours, we will have an agent and, just mere days later, a publishing deal generous enough to allow us to quit our day jobs will present itself. 

Then, we wake up and smell the ink on the rejection letters.

Just as the old adage goes, Rome wasn't built in a day; and neither will your writing career. Writing takes time.  Lots and lots of stress-inducing-who-the-hell-am-I-kidding kinds of time.  Time to hone in on the craft; to recognize strengths and strengthen weaknesses.  Novels shouldn't be hurried along, they should be nursed until they're strong enough to leave the nest as, if they aren't, both they and your dreams will come crashing from the sky.

Hurdle No. 5:  The perils of being a social networking Chatty Cathy--This is probably utter blasphemy on my part, but social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Blogger--if used just purely for the social aspects of them--are one of the biggest time-suckers for writers there is.  Of course, I'm excluding the wonderful Twitter hashtags #pubwrite, #writingatgunpoint and #wordmongering in this category as, through encouragement, threats of bodily harm and weaponry brandishing, these wonderful communities are valuable social networking resources for any writer.                       . 

Remember when you were in school and your teacher admonished you for visiting with your neighbor?  The same principle applies to social networking sites.  When you're chatting it up with others about subjects completely unrelated to what you're working on, Farmvilling those all-important fake crops until the wee hours of the morning, or just stalking random people, your productivity level plummets and you accomplish nothing.  For me, this is a problem as I'm one of those people who feels compelled to answer every e-mail, #FF or opportunity to throw my two cents in, leaving my writing neglected and in limbo.

If, like me, you have very little will power and ADD like a mother when you write, the only real way to leap over this hurdle is to go unplugged. Yes, I said it, forget about the little icon on your screen promising to magically transport you anywhere you want to go and work.  Work until you're completely satisfied with what you've accomplished for the day and THEN peruse the Internet to your heart's content.

Now it's your turn.  As writers, what hurdles have you encountered in your own paths?  How did you work past them?

My next post--which I'll try to hammer out while I'm on vacation--will focus on writers and guilt.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Romancing the Cliche

I've never formally put into words my disdain for most Harlequin novels...or Fabio for that matter. So I guess you could say this post is long overdue.  In my opinion, romance should be a staple in most every novel--hey, I'm a girl after all.  Though, with that said, I've been through enough turmoil with my participation in the love rodeo that I consider myself a tad jaded by the whole love notion.

The concept of the "happily ever after" ending, although ideal for wide-eyed children, is completely unrealistic.  Instead of the standard terminology, endings to fairy tales should read: "And, with hard work, true grit, determination and a smattering of therapy, they all lived happily ever after." For that is how real relationships survive; not on mere hopes, dreams and rainbows, but on work, trust, and teardrops.  To me, when a story ends on a sugary sweet note, I consider it a cop-out.  As an adult with real problems and issues, I prefer to read about characters whose lives are slightly more messed up than my own. Characters who find ways to face their problems and overcome them, not with the perception that there won''t be more problems to come, but with the knowledge and understanding that, when the time comes, they will be able to face them with new resolve.

This brings me to my post for today.  When does a romance novel become more of a cliched joke than the smoldering epic the author intended for it to be?  For me, there are several romance novel dealbreakers.  Some of my favorite "donts" are represented as follows:

The Makeover--The formula: Dowdy, do-gooder transforms into seemingly promiscuous vixen (with nothing more than a haircut, some makeup, a change of wardrobe and contacts) in order to win the heart of her love interest.  First of all, what is this telling young women?  "Honey, if you pretty yourself up a little, the boys will like you."  Sure, they'll like you...until after the ink used to pen "The End" dries or the credits cease rolling.  In reality, a relationship based on looks alone is doomed from the start with the recipient of the aforementioned makeover often wondering what happened years later when her Prince Charming shacks up with his twentysomething secretary. Yes, I know looks sell, but why cheapen the legitimacy of a budding relationship by bending to some artificial conception of beauty?  I'd much rather read about a Plain Jane getting the guy than some souped-up beauty queen any day of the week.

Ladies Man--Tell me, what's so appealing about a potentially disease-ridden Lothario who's been around the block more times than the paperboy?  For me, knowing that a potential suitor (yes, I just used the term "suitor" in the 21st-century) has been with every Sue, Dixie and Harriet (or Tom, Dick and Harry depending upon his preference) in town is more off-putting than attractive. Seriously, do you want to walk around town with the love of your life on your arms only to find out that your eyes are not the only pair looking upon him in lustful adoration?

Damsel in Distress--Woman gets herself into bind that she needs man (knight in shining armor) to get her out of.  Woman is in deep depression when man leaves her in the dust.  If woman can breathe on her own without help from said man, it'll be a miracle.  If it's one thing I HATE, it's the woe-is-me-trapped-in-the-tower heroine (if you can even call that a heroine).  Yet, I see it everywhere.  Whether in literature or shoved down our children's throats in Disney movies, women are sadly being portrayed as male-dependent parasites.  The good news, however, is that this notion is very slowly changing and, although we still have a long way to go, I think we're moving in the right direction (hopefully my future literary contributions will someday further assist with that as well--or so I wish). 

Perfect Male Specimen--Any book describing a man as an Adonis or carved from marble earns an instant spot in my trashcan.  What exactly defines perfect anyway?  I think it's pretty presumptuous to group everyone's tastes into the same typical category:  toned with perfectly coifed hair and dimples as deep as the Grand Canyon.  We all have our own definitions of perfect, our own ideas of what makes a man worthy of our walls as obsessed teenagers or of our admiration as adults.  Personally, I like a man with a little meat on his bones and not some ripped meathead.  Therefore, I believe writers should get more unconventional with their male leads as I believe they'll find the response to be more supportive than they think.

Love at First Sight--Romeo and Juliet is a classic and I'm not about to hate on the classics in this post (unless you're one of those people who consider Harlequin novels classics, then for shame), but the whole notion of there being a love at first sight connection is pure lunacy.  Lust, maybe, but not love.  I remember "falling in love" in middle school with all the cute boys I encountered in the halls only to have my vision of them shattered the very second they opened their mouths.  Not much has changed in adulthood, unfortunately.  Being attracted to someone usually comes with the territory with falling in love, but it's not the glue that holds the relationship together for the long haul.  Sharing similar interests, complementary personalities and striving to achieve mutual goals and values is what makes a relationship work.  The rest is just icing on the cake.  Think about it, if Romeo and Juliet hadn't perished, what would their relationship have been like twenty years later?  You know, with children to raise, subjects to rule and an ever-present lack of adequate plumbing.  Do you you honestly believe that Juliet will still care about Romeo's sapphire eyes or that Romeo will give a hoot about how Juliet's porcelain skin glistens in the moonlight? I'm willing to bet not (and the resulting dysfunction would be a pretty stellar idea for a book).

Ms. Innocent and Pure--Scenario:  The virginal woman is swept off her feet by The One who she's been waiting to give herself to since she realized what that term even meant.  Please.  Although there are always exceptions to this, the truth is that purity under the age of 16 or 17 anymore is pretty hard to come by (my daughter will be the exception to this by the way--just saying).  Everyone has their dark side complete with skeletons buried deep within their closets.  Your heroine shouldn't be any different.  I'm not saying she needs to be Ms. Loosey Goosey, just don't portray her as brandishing a harp with a perpetual halo hovering over her head and a holier than thou attitude  It's 2011, not 1922, unless it's a period piece, that crap is just not going to fly.

To Fight or Not to Fight--Couples fight.  Plain and simple.  Even those deemed perfect have their spats every now and then.  It's when a couple is portrayed as always agreeable with each other or, at the other end of the spectrum, at each other's throats constantly that I give it the ol' eye roll.  I also hold a disdain for those stories where the future lovers hate each other for the vast majority of the book until they realize their hatred is really deep seeded passion.  Really, how often does that happen?  How does one go from wanting to throw random objects at a person to falling deeply and madly in love with them?  The very idea boggles my mind so much so that, along with obscenities, the book itself will be hurtled across the room.

Sexual Healing--Too often I find myself fully engrossed in a book that's slowly building up to the big moment only to be disappointed when it finally arrives and comes across as more of a flicker than a flame.  A well-crafted love scene is done with elegance and taste and not riddled with a heap of colorful adjectives or metaphors (think throbbing and heaving, for example).  Nor should it contain clothing ravenously ripped to shreds or buttons being propelled across the room as though they were weapons of mass destruction.  No clothing is that flimsy and no woman I know refers to their chestal area as a bosom.

Now it's your turn to sound off.  What are your least favorite romance novel cliches?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Writers = Pure Awesome

First, let me start out by saying this is my 100th blog post!  Truth be told (I once received a form rejection letter that started out like that), I didn't think I'd get past ten posts (and for the love of God, please don't read those first ten *shudder*).  Though I'd still be running my mouth off even if no one was listening to me (seriously, I talk to myself so much there are days I contemplate checking into one of those lovely, padded rooms),  it's good to know I have people who enjoy what I have to say from time to time.  Or you're just convincingly pretending to care.  Either way, thank you!  As such, I've decided to make my very first giveaway coincide with my 100th blog follower.  By doing this, maybe I'll be able to reach that blog milestone before the end of the year. ;-)

Back to the purpose of this post:  to extend a big thanks to those who've once again bestowed me with the honor of sweet versatility.    You guessed it.  Once again,  I've been presented with the amazingly awesome Versatile Blogger award and doubly bestowed with the Irresistibly Sweet Blog award. 

It's a darn good thing versatility hasn't bypassed me as flexibility sure the hell has.  Unfortunately, I remember attempting to do the splits and getting stuck about half-way down making me wish I had one of those LifeCall pendants as I had truly fallen and couldn't for the life of me get up.  I learned two lessons that day:  1)  Never try to do the splits in blue jeans; and 2) Make for darn sure you aren't going commando if you do as the chances of splitting your pants in an unrehearsed, form-fitting blue jean split are pretty high.

 Okay, I was presented with the Versatile blogger award by my fellow aspiring author/blogger Alex Megas.  Check out his collection of short stories and poetry at his blog, Prickly Compositions of Alex Megas .  Thank you, Alex!

The always sweet Carolyn Arnold of her self-titled blog Carolyn Arnold as well as the equally sweet Lia Davis of her self-titled blog Lia Davis , have presented me with the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award.  It's official:  My blog's so sweet it will make your teeth rot.  

Check out Carolyn's novel Ties That Bind. I just purchased it for my Kindle and plan on reading it shortly.  Also, Lia will be releasing her first book in The Divinities Series entitled Forgotten Visions this summer (of which I will also be purchasing as it sounds uber cool).  Thank you, ladies!

As with most awards, there are stipulations and below are those these awards came with:

1) Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2) Share 7 random things about yourself.
3) Pass the award on to 15 deserving blog buddies.
4) Contact them to let them know

1.  Check that box done.

2.  I've done this before (actually twice before) but what the hey, I'll do it again:

7 Random Fun Facts

a.  I'm self-conscious about my spelling. The older I get, the worse my spelling gets.  It's as though I've gotten dumber with each passing year since graduation.   In fact, I check my spelling before I send Tweets, e-mail or do any Facebooking.

b.  I'll be a part-time student again soon.  If all goes well, I will soon be going back to college to attain my bachelor's degree (hopefully in creative writing).

c.  I'm good for at least one embarrassing act a day.  Whether my fly comes undone, I trip over my own two feet, or I accidentally let one rip, people can usually count on getting a laugh at my expense.

d.  I write as though I'm watching a movie.  When I write, the scene plays over and over in my head.  I'm a very visual person and it helps me greatly to envision the scene unfolding as I type it.  If it's not something I would watch in the theater, I revise it.

e. My dream is to move out east or southeast to the mountains.  Come on, what more inspiration for writing do you need than a snow-capped peak in the background?

f.  I first met my husband the day he came into my former employer to finalize his divorce.  Of course, we didn't start dating until months later...after I took him to the cleaners.  ;-)

g.  I despise talking on the phone.  If I'm going to have a long conversation with someone, unless they're hundreds of miles away, I'd much rather talk face to face than over the phone.  I'm one of those people who isn't happy unless they're constantly doing something and talking on the phone detracts from that.  (I know, I know, anal).

3.  As I do with pretty much all the awards I'm given, I would like to bestow the honor on all of my blog followers (or as a thanks to those viewing my blog).  My only stipulation is that you share the wealth and keep the love going.

4.  Anyone who reads my blog is going to be instantly notified.  ;-)

My next blog post will return to the norm.  What it will be, I have no idea yet but I'm leaning toward romance in writing.  *Lights candles and turns on some Barry White*

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Importance of Supporting Characters

Throughout my life I've felt like a supporting character.  My existence has seemingly revolved around someone else's story.  My only purpose: to make MC (main character) A, MC B, and MC C's lives easier.  This realization first came to me when I was in middle school and found myself befriended by the cute boys solely for the purpose of acting as an intermediary between them and my cuter, more interesting friends.  More than a decade later, little in that respect has changed except my realization that being the supporting character in life isn't all that bad.  In fact, if anything it's given me a perspective on life I couldn't have possibly gained if I'd been the princess in my own fairy tale.

Supporting characters are too often treated like red-headed stepchildren in novels even though, most of the time, they can be the more interesting characters.  To me, a well-written sidekick is akin to putting sugar in your cereal. Before it's added, your Wheaties are boring, bland; but, with its inclusion, your senses come alive and you crave more.

There are ways in which I believe an author should approach the development of their supporting characters.  A few of those ways are outlined below:

Be the Yin to your MC's Yang--Your sidekicks should complement the star of the show in every conceivable way.  If your MC is an introvert, the members of your supporting cast need to be their entertaining and extroverted counterparts.  Readers love conflict.  Why else do you think Maury Povich and The Jerry Springer Show have been so successful?  No one finds two people getting along while they hold hands and sing Kumbaya to be even remotely interesting.  They want to sit on the sidelines watching the shit hit the fan as they cradle buckets of popcorn in their laps chanting, "fight, fight, fight," over and over again in their heads.  Your supporting characters need to add that extra dash of conflict without behaving as though they're the marionettes to the MC puppeteer.  A shining example of this is occurs in the novel Something Borrowed.  MC Rachel is an introverted, socially awkward, self-described doormat to her best friend, Darcy. Breathtakingly beautiful Darcy is boisterous, loud, charming, and attracts men with the ease of a modern-day Marilyn Monroe. They're best friends yet, through a good share of the book, Rachel loathes the ground Darcy treads upon.  The whole concept works beautifully together.  Darcy's flaws enhance Rachel's strengths and vice versa adding just the right amount of intrigue to keep you turning the pages (or clicking a button if you're a Kindle reader) no matter which side of the fence you're on.

Give them substance--If it's one thing I hate, it's those characters created with far less attention to detail than the MCs.  True, without the MCs, you don't have a plot and without a plot you've got nothing.  Still, there's only so far George the ladies man and Stella the comically funny, dowdy Sandra Dee can carry said plot before your readers crave introduction to Rodrigo the gardner or Valerie the tart hell-bent on taming George.  It's imperative your supporting cast be just as interesting, just as well-thought-out as your MCs.  Give them a back story, a leg to stand on.  What motivates them? Breathe as much life into them as you do your MCs and watch as your story takes on a life of its own.

Snappy dialogue--Witty dialogue can keep even a so-so plot afloat--granted, only for so long.  I put a lot of emphasis on dialogue, both in my writing and in the writing of others.  Although I love well-written, humorous and/or poetic narratives, dialogue tends to drive the story along more smoothly, braking when necessary and putting the pedal to the metal where warranted.  Even if I don't particularly care for the character, if they know just when to let the zingers fly, it endears them to me more.  An example of this is Gomez from The Time Traveler's Wife.  Gomez was, well, slimy.  Those who've read the book know exactly what I'm talking about while those who've only seen the movie are now scratching their heads (I'm assuming the movie left this particular scene out as not to tarnish Claire).  Anyway, Gomez was an absolute riot and, although I found him to be somewhat of  a creeper, I always brightened a tiny bit when he entered back into the picture.

Make them unique--A best friend is supposed to put you in your place when you eff up.  At least, a good friend will.  If the MC is doing something outrageous, instead of just going along for the ride, the supporting characters need to step up--grow balls if you will--and attempt to steer the ship.  Don't make them subordinate "yes men" or proverbial Boo Boos ("I don't think that's a good idea, Yogi.  Wait, you're going to do it anyway?  Oh, okay.").  Allow your supporting cast to shine. Make them the expressway to your MC's solution and not the enabler to their addiction.

Role reversal--When one of your second string wonders comes out of left field and completely blows one out of the park, it's a thing of beauty. Not only does it tend to surprise the reader, but the author as well.  Give your supporting characters a different role.  Make them even more antagonizing than your antagonist or completely steal your MC's thunder.  Not only will this make your book stand out from the usual cookie cutter novels but it will add an extra ounce of intrigue and entertainment that any reader will appreciate.

Make them make the stars of the show--I don't know about you, but when I watch a movie--usually any movie--I find myself more interested in the supporting cast than I do the main characters.  Aside from alive, where would Romeo and Juliet be without their quarrelling families?  What would Wonderland be like without the plethora of freaks Alice encounters?  Most of the time I find the MCs to be whiny, brooding, one-dimensional, and frankly, just plain boring.  Take Water for Elephants, for example.  It took me a while--a very long, long while--to actually like young Jacob Jankowski.  Old Jacob, however, was a riot.  It's as though the extra seventy years he ages in the story allowed for his personality to ripen. Like a fine wine, he hit the spot in the nursing home scenes (which were unfortunately cut out of the movie). Marlena, on the other hand, I NEVER became a fan of. She was dull and way too complacent with the way August treated her. Had the story revolved mainly around those two characters, I probably wouldn't have been able to finish it at all.  Then enter Walter aka "Kinko", Camel, and yes, the devil himself, August.  Their presence added all the drama, humor and crazy any book needs to make it a best seller.

There's my two cents when it comes to creating endearing characters.  If you have any of your own, I'd love to hear from you.

FYI-My next post will mark my 100th post.  *Throws confetti into the air then rushes to find a vacuum*  Of course, of those 100, only maybe the last 20 or so are actually worth reading.  Still, I count them.  With that being the case, I'm contemplating doing a giveaway after my 100th post or after my 100th follower.  Since I can't decide, I'm letting you have the floor here.  Should I wait until I rack up a triple digit following (which may take us into 2012) or triple digit posts?  What do you want to see given away?  Books from my personal shelf?  A B&N gift card?  A hodgepodge of literary wonders?  I'd love your opinion on this so by all means spout off.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Writing is Like Child Rearing (a Meme)
"Mommy says I'm going to be a best seller"

How long did it take for you to conceive your novel?  I'm not just talking about developing the concept and making the final decision to hammer it out; I'm talking about real conception.  You know, that moment your novel was born; the moment all the dirty details were ironed out. Your characters had names and personalities; they loved, hated and mourned with a vengeance. 

When you think about it, writing a novel shares similarities to child rearing--just hear me out on this before you start the eye-rolling and spouting the "whatevers".  As with child rearing, it all begins with conception <insert bowchickabowwows here>.  A novel is conceived in the throws of a passionate outline--or from the recesses of your mind if your one of those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of writers.  After the seed has been planted, it begins to spring to life, developing appendages, a heartbeat and a mind of its own.  Slowly, your brain child grows.  With each chapter it picks up steam, gaining momentum until, months later--after much discomfort, agony, and late night ice cream runs--your first draft is born.

But as every parent to a novel knows, the fun is just getting started.  Now it's time to raise your novel.  You must change it, cleansing it of any unnecessary adjectives, dialogue and paragraphs. It requires nourishment, attention and every last ounce of  your soul if it's going to succeed in the real world.  At times, it may seem like the process will never end especially when your characters begin to throw tantrums and won't do as their told.  You scold them but they still won't listen. Instead, they choose to rebel, effectively skewing the life you've plotted out for them. Try as you might, you can't make them happy. Their insolence angers you and, even though you threaten to ground them for life or erase them from existence completely, at the end of the day, you know your life just isn't complete without them.

Then, seemingly overnight, something miraculous comes together. You're able to communicate with each other.  It's as though you've reached a mutual understanding and share the same goals. Gone are the frustrations, the screaming matches. You are now one proud parent.   

At last, your novel has matured and is ready to be leave your care. 

Unfortunately, despite doing all you can to ready them, there's still a chance your literary children will face the cold, sharp sting of rejection.  When they do, their critic's harsh words will inherently hurt you even more than them, instantly putting you on the defensive.  However, in the event they take flight and sprout the wings you always knew existed, they'll create a legacy for you that will last a lifetime.

Therefore, writing is like child rearing in my book.


The always sweeter than pie, perpetually amazing Sophie Li of The Wordsmith Apprentice tagged me in this fantabulous game of 'Meme'.  The irony of this is that I'd already planned on doing a blog post dedicated to the birth of a novel.  So this tag came at exactly the right time.  I guess great minds really do think alike.  ;-) As in all games--except the tail end of drinking games, that is--there are rules.  According to the rules of Meme, I now have to pass on this brain teaser and tag three fellow bloggers.

The goal is to come up with your own metaphor defining what "Writing is like ... ?"

"like a box of chocolates"
"like climbing a mountain"
"like a slow, painful death"...etc

Drum roll please...

The winners of this tag are:
Melanie McCullough of the wonderful blog A New Kind of Ordinary, Kendra Kilbourn of the outstanding blog The Ranting Writer, and Katie Dodge of the fabulous blog Katie on Fiction.  Each of these lovely ladies are aspiring authors with immense talent.  Check them out!  I can't wait to read your Memes ladies!     


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Overcoming the Dreaded Synopsis


"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork."  - Peter de Vries

Remember the part in 127 Hours where, in order to save his life, Aron Ralston, played by James Franco, is forced to cut off his festering arm  after it becomes trapped under a boulder? This is what writing a synopsis is like.  Granted, it's a tad less gory and the author--most of the time--doesn't lose a limb while constructing it.  Still, in my book, it ranks right up there with medieval torture.  That's right, I'd rather be subjected to the iron maiden than write a synopsis.  To be honest, just the thought of writing this blog made my eye twitch a little and the procrastination bug take over.  In fact, while writing this I switched channels over to Dr. Phil to distract me--that alone should tell you how horrendous I believe the process to be.  Why are synopses the bane of  a writer's existence?  Well, for me, it's the prospect of condensing roughly 400 pages of text into a mere handful of tightly packed sentences.  It's an undertaking that's both daunting and seemingly impossible, like trying to squeeze an elephant into a Volkswagen or myself into a pair of skinny jeans--both of which would require the jaws of life to extricate.

When I first began querying, I stayed away--far, far, away--from those agents who requested a synopsis as a part of their required query packages (in fact, I considered those stating their repulsion of synopses as my literary soul mates). Even though I knew the dreaded deed was stalking me, looming in the dark recesses of my mind, I still thought it avoidable--like the silly newb I was.  So imagine my surprise when an agent I'd queried requested my full manuscript AND my synopsis.  Needless to say, I went from excited to 'oh shit' in two seconds flat.  That weekend I spent hours typing and pouring over my synopsis until I finally deemed it good enough to send to its requester (Rule No. 1 of the querying process:  Never, ever deem anything just 'good enough'.  It has to be perfect or you're wasting the agent's time).  The agent ended up rejecting my manuscript, but I learned a valuable lesson because of it. As a writer, you have to be prepared; your work needs to be polished.

Most of you have probably already reached and/or exceeded the whole querying process or you bypassed it altogether by self-publishing.  But for those of you who haven't yet gotten to the querying/synopsis point, the following will provide you with some pointers on the what, the when, and the how of composing synopses:


A synopsis should be a short and concise summary of your book including all the major plot points and-dun, dun, dun--your super secret ending.  It should be written in the present tense and in third person (though I 've read articles that state if your book is in the first person, then your synopsis should be too, I tend to disagree).  Most importantly, your synopsis should be effective. What makes for an effective synopsis?  The elimination of unnecessary words (adjectives), a clear, compelling hook at the beginning, and focusing only on those key points in your novel as well as the main characters, for example.

There's somewhat of a debate over how long your synopsis needs to be.  I've read anywhere from one page for every twenty-five pages in your novel (or 16 pages for a 400 page novel); one page for every thirty-five pages; or as long or as short as you think you need to effectively get the point across (my personal favorite).  More and more, I'm seeing agents only requesting  a one or two page synopsis.  Cramming 400 pages of material into one page may seem like an impossible undertaking, but if you devote a limited number of sentences to your main characters, conflict, what your characters stand to lose as a result of said conflict and the conclusion, you should be able to manage it. The key to an excellent synopsis is making every word count.  Every word you use should have meaning and only serve to further your synopsis along instead of stalling it out like a used car on the side of a highway. To play it safe, it may be a good idea to write both a short synopsis (one or two pages) and a longer synopsis to cover your bases for the different agency requirements.

The following suggestions include some ideas on how writers can improve upon their synopses:

  • If you absolutely have to include a back story, make for darn sure it's completely relevant to the main story and keep it as brief as possible.  If your prospective agent is falling asleep before finishing the first page, you can pretty much be guaranteed a 'thanks, but no thanks'.

  • As with back stories, if you must include dialogue, do so sparingly. The exception to this is if you're writing comedy and there's a flood of comedic dialogue you believe will effectively sell your book.

  • Don't be vague.  What powers does your character possess?  Is there something that makes your protagonist or antagonist tick?  Do they have their own brand of kryptonite?  What evil lurks in the hearts of men?  Agents don't have time for cryptic and neither does your career. 

  • Check your flow.  When you're transitioning from one idea to another, make sure the transition is smooth and not chocked full of meandering curves and pot holes.

  • Always check your spelling and punctuation.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you're in a hurry--like I was--to get your synopsis out the door, it's something that is easily overlooked.

  • Jump right into the characters and action. Agents are busy people and simply don't have the time to read three pages of back story before the introduction of your main characters and plot.

  • Read your synopsis. If this book wasn't your brain child would you read it?  Does the plot make sense?  Is it easy to follow?  Does it sound like something worth a few hours of your time? Do the characters sound real and engaging?  If you can't answer in the affirmative to all of these questions, then perhaps it's time for an overhaul.

  • After you've perfected your synopsis, read it to others who have absolutely no idea what your story was about going into it.  Do they look riveted or are their eyes lifeless and glazed over like contestants on The Bachelor?

  • Queries and synopses are two completely different animals. A query letter is an approximately three paragraph letter solely  intended to hook your prospective agent. No great details are revealed and being vague is acceptable.  Synopses are informative like reading a miniature version of your novel.  You must elaborate on your pitch by including all the dirty details.  Essentially, a query letter is like giving someone a peek inside your head while a synopsis is like baring your entire soul to them.


When is the best time to begin your synopsis?  It's a literary question that's as old as the whole chicken and the egg spiel.  For those more organized writers who've outlined their entire storyline ahead of time down to the very last detail, writing their synopsis even before they begin their novel may work well for them.  But for those of us who aren't overachievers (I kid...sort of), waiting until the completion of our novels may be more advisable as we tend to be more fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants type of writers whose story lines are subject to change.  What I believe works the best, and what a few of my writer friends do themselves, is to write your synopsis as you go.  That way you're not scrambling to put something together at the end of your novel.  Sure, you'll still undoubtedly have revisions to make, but you'll find your stress level virtually cut in half as those revisions will be far less extensive resulting in less hair pulling and bashing of your noggin against the keyboard.

How (Format)

I've heard a few variations on exactly how a synopsis should be formatted--enough that I'm beginning to think no one really agrees on how to do it.  With that said, probably the most consistent way I've seen is as follows:

  • The upper left hand corner of your first page should include your contact information.  Just below your contact information, centered, should be It's A Wonderful Life...Now That The Jersey Shore Has Been Cancelled (or whatever your actual title is), your genre, word count, and your name. When it comes to your word count, remember to round (I usually like doing it to the nearest 500th).  For example, agents don't usually give a rip about the extra word if you list your word count as being  95,501.

  • If your synopsis is longer than one page--which it most likely is--it should be double-spaced with indented paragraphs.  If it's one page, it should be single-spaced with spaces between paragraphs (Isn't that a Dave Matthews song).

  • Beginning on your second page and continuing on each subsequent page, there should be a header at the top of the page with your name, title and the word "synopsis" aligned in the left hand corner with your page number aligned on the right. 

  • Avoid fonts such as Thisisthebestdarnstoryyouveeverread New Roman, GuaranteedNewYorkTimesBestSeller Sans, and ImthenextStephenKing Script.  Fancy schmancy fonts only make you look presumptuous and unprofessional.  None of which you want to impress upon an agent.  Stick with good ol' Times New Roman and 12 point fonts as anything larger will make your synopsis look more like a billboard for the sight impaired. You can also put the Lisa Frank stickers and glitter pens aways as dolled-up cover pages are completely out of the question (and if this is a shock to you, perhaps you shouldn't be writing).  The only thing that should stand out in your synopsis is the quality of your writing.

  • When a character is mentioned for the first time, CAPITALIZE their name.

  • Wide margins all the way around -- 1" to 1½".

If you're like me, you learn by example.  Therefore, I have included links to some examples of killer synopses below:

Now I'd like to hear from you.  How do you handle writing your synopsis?