Wednesday’s Writers Guest Blogger Dorothy McFalls!

We’re so excited to have Dorothy McFalls as our guest today! 🙂 Dorothy, thank you, for sharing these wonderful tips on writing a great synopsis with us.

 

Dorothy McFalls

Dorothy St. James is the author of the White House Gardener Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. The Scarlet Pepper, the second book in the series, was released in April 2012. Dorothy also writes romance as Dorothy McFalls. The Huntress, an independently-published kick-ass romantic suspense, recently climbed the Amazon bestseller list, hitting #4 in romantic suspense. You can find Dorothy at www.DorothyStJames.com or www.DorothyMcFalls.com or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/dorothystjames) or on Twitter (@DorothyStJames). Other books by Dorothy McFalls include The Nude, The Marriage List, A Wizard For Christmas, and Neptune’s Lair. Visit Dorothy’s website to see a complete list of her novels.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend an impromptu writing retreat with three other amazing authors. One of those authors also happens to be an acquiring editor. As we were talking, she mentioned how surprised she was at the poor quality of many of the synopses she receives with the submissions. She couldn’t understand why authors didn’t spend more time on writing a synopsis when it is one of the major elements editorial staffs look at when deciding whether to buy a project or not.

I have to admit that I used to struggle with writing a synopsis. The end result was often dull. Flat. And it, quite frankly, bored me to death. That was before I learned what I was doing wrong.

Your synopsis is not a summary of your book. Yes, the synopsis should contain a beginning, middle, and end. But don’t simply state what happened in your story. Don’t write an outline. First, that’s boring. Second, it doesn’t demonstrate to the editor how incredibly talented you are.

Your synopsis is an advertising tool to sell your book. This is especially true if you are hoping to sell on proposal (in other words—convince a publisher to pay you money for a book you haven’t yet written.)

Not only should the synopsis tell the editor about your book, you also want it to:

  1. showcase your unique voice,
  2. represent the genre you are writing, and
  3. make the editor excited about the story (so she buys it!)

The synopsis should match the tone of your book. If you’re writing a comedy, make the synopsis funny. If it’s a thriller, write it so the editor is on the edge of her seat when she’s reading the synopsis. If it’s a sexy romance, make the synopsis sexy. Let the editor know when the hero and heroine kiss and more. (I was forever leaving out the first kiss and deepening relationship details in my synopses for my romance novels. And, consequently, I didn’t sell a book until a writer friend insisted I add that to my synopsis. Remember: the synopsis is a tool for selling your book.)

Most novels are written using a three-act structure (whether the author knows she’s doing it or not.) So why not use the three-act structure to write your synopsis?

 

Act 1: The Beginning:

Just like in your book, start with an interesting hook. For my latest cozy mystery release, The Scarlet Pepper (a book that sold based on its synopsis), I opened the synopsis with:

Someone is tampering with the Presidential vegetable garden, and Casey Calhoun, organic gardener for the White House, is determined to track down the garden prankster. Red peppers are growing instead of the green ones that had been planted. There’s cabbage where the First Lady’s favorite variety of lettuce should be. And all the tomato plants are gone.

From this opening paragraph you know (1) who the main character is, (2) there’s a mystery to be solved, and (3) that the story will be light-hearted in tone.

Because your synopsis isn’t a summary or outline of the book, it doesn’t have to open where the book opens. Open the synopsis by introducing your main characters and the story problem.

 

Act 2: The Middle:

What are the major turning points in your story? What problems does your hapless hero face as he tries to win the heroine’s heart? How do matters get progressively worse as your amateur sleuth works to solve the murder? All of these things happen in the middle of your story. In your synopsis, you want to describe the obstacles your main character faces…and how things get worse.

If necessary, the middle is also where you would introduce subplots. For example, if you’re writing a mystery and there’s a romance subplot, you would want to introduce the subplot in this part of the synopsis. But I caution you to be extremely selective with subplots. You want a lean, fast-reading synopsis that catches the editor’s attention. Many subplots, while interesting in the book, will slow the action in your synopsis. When in doubt, leave it out.

 

Act 3: The End:

Don’t leave this part out! The editor wants to know you’ve written a complete story. She needs to know if the story fulfills its promise to the reader. She can’t know you’ve done your job if you don’t tell her how your book will end.

If you’re writing a romance, tell how the hero and heroine find their happily ever after. If you’re writing a mystery, tell how the mystery will be solved and the bad guys get caught. If you’re writing an emotional women’s fiction novel, show the conclusion of the main character’s emotional arc.

If you include subplots within your synopsis, be sure they are wrapped up at the ending as well.

 

Final Thoughts:

  1. Don’t forget to show/tell how the main character grows and changes over the course of the story.
  2. Leave out minor characters and most sub-plots. Give the editor what she needs to know and nothing else.
  3. Keep it short. Most editors want 3 to 5 page synopses. That said, every publisher is different. Check the publisher website to see if they’ve posted guidelines for what they want in the synopsis.
  4. Always write the synopsis in present tense.
  5. For guidance in developing a tight plot, I highly recommend Blake Snyder’s screenwriting book Save the Cat and his Beat Sheet (http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/)

Now, go write that synopsis and sell that book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And writers, if you still need help after you’ve followed these tips, Written Dreams offers editing services for writing synopses and query letters. See our Services Page on our website for details. https://7b5.22f.godaddywp.com/Services.html We’re happy to help in any way we can. 🙂

Thank you, Dorothy, for the terrific advice! She will be with us all day so feel free to ask Dorothy questions or make a comment on the post. Thank you! 🙂

Your Own Fantasy Gone Wrong

E. Tip of the Day: Once upon a time I edited an anthology with Marty Greenberg entitled Fantasy Gone Wrong published by DAW Books.  The anthology centered around what else–fantasies gone wrong. The theme challenged authors to think outside the box of the usual ending and the stories turned out beautifully. Fun, humorous, and entertaining! I really enjoyed the process of working on this anthology.

Brittiany Koren’s Anthologies

Today’s E. Tip focuses on two tips.

1) If you want to stay current with the genre you’re writing for and don’t have a lot of spare time to do it, read short stories. Just do a search of Anthologies in a particular genre. You’ll be able to choose from lots of selections.

2) If you’d like to try your own hand at writing a fantasy gone wrong story, take a nursery rhyme and put your own spin on it. Do something different with that story you’ve never seen before. Instead of taking it into the fantasy genre, make it contemporary or add some science fiction elements to it. Get your creative juices flowing. You might be surprised with the results! 🙂

Make Writing a Habit in Your Day

E. Tip of the Day: Today I wanted to expand more upon Laurel’s thoughts from yesterday on treating writing as a serious business. Writing a novel, or even a short story, can take many hours to complete.

There are days when I can be working on a book for 4-5 hours straight without a break. I’ll be completely engrossed in the story I’m editing, trying to help the author rework this plot point or make a better connection with that character, or whatever it is that needs strengthening. Time goes by fast when you’re having fun, and I truly do enjoy editing. 🙂

But I can’t ever forget this is my business. My livelihood. The way I support my family’s needs and put food on the table. Every day I make a point to check messages, and yes, I admit there are days even I spend a bit more time answering emails and doing what my mentor always referred to as “busy work” than I do writing/editing. But I also know there are people depending on me. The authors. My family. Me.

Who’s depending on you to finish your current story? If writing is a passion for you the way editing is an all-consuming passion for me, than YOU are depending on yourself to be disciplined and serious about your writing. Believe in yourself. Be confident. Make a point of setting time aside for you to write–like clockwork.

6 AM Write 500 words

7 AM Eat breakfast

7:30 Get dressed for the day

8 AM Go to work

Or whatever your schedule is. The important part of making a schedule is keeping it. Be consistent, and make writing a habit in your day.

YOU can do this! I believe in you.

Must…Edit…Manuscript

Random Thoughts on Editing:

Recently a friend and I were having dinner together. She asked me during the course of the meal about my profession. Was I the type of person who woke up in the morning and jumped right into editing a manuscript? Or did I have to slowly ease myself into it. The question was an easy one to answer.

Does Editing Love Me? Does It Not?

 

I wake up in the morning and the first thing I think about in the morning when I open my eyes is all I want to do is edit. Yes, I’m one of those people. Some days I can do this. I’ll wake up very early, in the wee hours of the morning, and begin editing on the current book I’m working on. And some days, I’ll have other pressing matters and I won’t start editing until the afternoon.

But no matter when I edit, it’s a joy for me. Always.

I enjoy working with writers who are just beginning their career, and I enjoy working with seasoned professionals. Each manuscript has its own challenges and surprises. Each work is a labor of love and I dedicate myself to making it the best I can.

The Dreaded Suspension of Disbelief Comment

E. Tip of the Day: The words every writer wishes they didn’t have to hear-This pushes the suspension of disbelief. And the same words every editor holds close, using them sparingly for those times when they think the writer may have gone off the deep end in their plotting.

What does it really mean? Pushing the suspension of disbelief is exactly that. The writer is pushing their character into a scene or situation that character does not belong in. And for the character, there’s no way out of the situation they’re in unless they do something that is not within their abilities and/or personality to accomplish.

How to fix this problem? I’ve given a couple of easy solutions.

1) Set-up. Show your character early on in the story in their normal environment showing that character doing the activity that may save their lives later on. For instance, how to hot wire a car. If your character doesn’t know the first thing about hot wiring a car, and later on in Chapter 20 has to hot wire a car in order to get away from bad guys it’s going to seriously make the reader doubt how this character had the knowledge to do it. However, if you set up in Chapter 2 that the character hung out at his uncle’s garage and played around with junked cars, one day even being shown by the uncle how to hot wire a car, then it’s believable they would have the knowledge to pull off the stunt. Getting the suspension of disbelief comment marked in your novel has been completely diverted–this time. 🙂

2) Listen to your inner muse. If your character is running away from the situation, screaming “I can’t do this, I just can’t!” there’s a reason. That character is right. Listen to your subconscious–your character’s voice. Find a different solution instead.

3) Bring in another character. If there’s another character with the experience you need to pull off the scene, use them. Who says your main character has to solve every problem by themselves? True, the main character should be solving most of the conflicts, but it’s okay for them to get help once in a while from a friend, or even an enemy. As long as the scene is set-up properly, and this other character doesn’t fall from the sky from out of nowhere. Hypothetically, it should work.

4) Using a super power, mental disorder, disease, or other outside influence. Using amnesia as the example here, it is possible for a character to do something out of the ordinary if they no longer remember their previous life. As the writer, you’re starting over with the character’s essence, and rewriting their history–for a time. Use these outside influences sparingly so as not to push the reader into doubting the character’s new abilities. In these situations, be very careful there are only a few episodes of the character doing something out of character. Later, if necessary, you can explain why the character did what they did, and why.

Hopefully these tips will help you avoid getting that comment, “This pushes the suspension of disbelief” the next time you’re getting edits back from your editor. And if you do receive the comment here or there in your manuscript, remember it’s okay. There are ways to fix it. Just don’t be afraid to ask your editor for suggestions on solutions if you can’t think of any. Good luck!