Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Synopses, pitches- and the dreaded red pen moment yet again February 6, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:58 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

bic-cristal-orange-ball-pen-0-2mm-line-width-red The issue of synopsis writing has come up again, on a couple of writing groups and forums. It seems that everyone hates writing a synopsis! But we gotta have them, if we want to sell.

Everyone seems to have a different opinion on how important they are, and a lot of multi-published writers readily admit that they still suck at synopsis writing. For writers targeting editors like the Mills and Boon Richmond office, where the submission guidelines call for three chapters and a synopsis, probably it’s not that critical. Our writing in the chapters will speak for itself, and the synopsis is just telling the editor whether we have enough plot and conflict to carry off the rest of the story. 

But if we’re trying a publisher or an agent who only want to see a query letter and a synopsis, suddenly it becomes crucial, the only tool we have to show not just the characters and the plot but also our all important “voice”.  Tricky to do in as little as two pages!

Luckily there are some fabulous resources out there on synopsis writing. Kathy Carmichael’s is frequently recommended, and was the one I found most helpful when I was writing my first ever synopsis for the Instant Seduction competition (my God, was that a whole year ago? What happened to all the writing I was supposed to do in the rest of the year?) . Diana Peterfreund gives some laugh- out- loud funny practical advice on synopses  here. I can’t believe I only just discovered her blog, I can see it is going to become another of my excuses for not writing! (“But I’m reading about wriitng, doesn’t that count?” Well, maybe, but not in word count.)  The thing here that particularly grabbed my attention was that she writes the synopsis first, uses it as a road map while writing the book.  A completely different way of thinking about synopses.  It’s what I’ve tried to do on my current story, the most fully plotted one I’ve written. Too soon to say if it’s working or not. I’ve still had masses of off the track writing that will never see light of day in the final version.  But maybe that’s because that mass of unusable writing was what triggered me to want to plan the story more!

I also saw Laurie Campbell’s synopsis workshop highly recommended by Sally on Trish Wylie’s forum. Ack! This was either fatal or lifesaving, depending on how things work out. She isn’t doing a synopsis workshop for a while, but she did have an interesting article on putting together a Pitch , that I read today. I had a go at writing a pitch for the work in progress last weekend, a last-minute thing to enter a contest I’d known about all month (how unusual, I procrastinated again). I didn’t win, of course, ‘cos my pitch was rubbish, but it was useful trying to get the essence of the story in a few paragraphs. I wish I’d read this article first. Beacuse though it’s about writing a pitch, it’s really about writing a damn good romance novel. It focuses on the key elements- characters, goals, motivations, conflict, and resolution.

This is where the red pen moment comes in. I’ve had this niggling doubt about the conflict in my story. I knew it was off. What I have could work, but it just doesn’t feel strong enough. The reason is that the same thing will give both the hero and the heroine their original goal. That throws them together, which is great. But then there’s no convincing reason for them not to be together, without bringing in complicated plot devices and external sources of conflict. If the relationship isn’t at risk, there’s no emotional tension, and no black moment. Reading Laurie’s article has got me wondering if I need to completely rethink the conflict, put their goals more in opposition initially.  Get rid of the villian, who was responsible for a lot of the conflict, and almost make the hero the villian instead. Hmm. It will be tricky. But if I can pull it off, the story will be that much stronger and emotionally satisfying.


One Response to “Synopses, pitches- and the dreaded red pen moment yet again”

  1. Wow, what a nice surprise — a friend emailed “guess where your synopsis class came up?” and I had to scurry right over. 🙂

    If anybody’s looking for “Tips From Madison Avenue: The Selling Synopsis,” here’s the scoop:

    Thanks for the mention!

    Laurie, hoping by August you’ll be selling on proposal because it’s so much faster doing the synopsis than the entire manuscript…although, okay, maybe not QUITE as much fun

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