Friday, February 22, 2013

Synopsis - What is it?

synopsis (plural synopses)
  • A brief summary of the major points of a written work, either as prose or as a table; an abridgment or condensation of a work.
Did you learn anything?

  • early 17th cent.: via late Latin from Greek, from sun- ‘together’ + opsis ‘seeing.’
Did that help you any?

While the dictionary is a very useful tool, and I find the origin of words sometimes interesting, just exactly what is a synopsis? 'A brief summary' sounds so terribly formal, and it reminds me all to much of school and homework.

Look at it like this. Imagine yourself a bit rushed for time, but you simply MUST tell your friend all about this story idea you just got, or maybe you just gotta pass on the details about this really great book you just read. (I hope mine might fall into that category someday haha). That's what a synopsis is.

The first time I was asked to write one was for my first book, King by Right of Blood and Might. They gave me specific guidelines to follow, but basically it worked out to be about 1% the length of the book, so that's pretty much what I stuck with. That translates to about a page of synopsis per 100 pages of book.

On my website, I posted a synopsis of all of my books, published and not yet. Friends have told me they would prefer to see a sample there, but I can't decide what. Maybe I'll have to come up with a good blurb - but I digress.

So, for most people, most manuscripts, 1% is 3 or 4 pages. Okay now; that's a good length to aim for, but the real question I'm sure is 'how do you write one?' Go back up to the top. You're telling your friend about this book or book idea, but you don't have much time. Just walk up to someone in your family and tell them about the story. Don't explain anything (we'll talk about that here in a bit). Don't answer any questions. Just tell them about your story from start to finish. Yeah, all the way through to the end. No hangers. No 'you gotta read it to find out how it ends'. All of it.

That is your synopsis -

Once you have it all typed out, then just like you would with your original manuscript, you need to go back through and make sure names, places, and events are in a clear chain. Potential readers of your book are going to be reading this - or at least I hope mine do - and just like in your book, you don't want your reader to get confused and lost. All you're doing is hitting on the main chain of events; all the dialogue and all the background details are left out.

Look at it this way. For your manuscript, everyone tells you to 'show don't tell', well for your synopsis, all you do is tell - no showing at all. Like I said, you are 'telling' someone about the story.

Now, as promised above - about explaining:

There are times when writing up a synopsis can actually help your manuscript. I've said it before in other posts and in other contexts: "If ever you feel the need to explain something about your book, you need to get that information into your book." Sometimes when writing a synopsis, the gap where an explanation is needed is a glaring hole, or you just can't get from page 2 to page 3 because the chain of events is all screwy. That's when you know you need to go back to your manuscript and iron something out.

So, that's a synopsis. Why don't you sit down right here and tell me about your story? I'd love to hear all about it.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Overused Words

I suppose we all have our weaknesses. I have a few, but I'm learning to spot them. At the moment I'm looking for 'that' and 'had'. I've been looking so hard lately, when I see it in the published books I'm reading, they kind of jump out and slap me. It's a bit of a bummer. Sometimes I hate the editor in me.

You know when you write a sentence that has 'that' around every corner, that there is something kinda overdone. This was one of my worst sentences, but you get the idea. Word has this really nifty feature that will allow you to find all these overused words in one fell swoop. Just click on the finder and mark the little box that says 'find all'. Then you can go to your document and hit your favorite highlight color. I happened to pick red for my current document, mostly because red is something of a theme, not that there is anything more than black and white, you understand. I also used 'Claw' as the font for the chapter titles. It's a really cool font where all of the letters are made out of curved claws. Look it up if you've never seen it; it's kinda cool. This kind of thing makes me wonder what kind of cover I will end up with for this book. But I digress.

Here's a paragraph:
It took a little prodding and cajoling, but eventually they got an abridged story that explained the reason behind his desperate struggles. They also got a promise that his knife would never be over by the door again, but then, that apparently, was another lesson he was supposed to learn, since they all laughed uproariously when he said it.
Here, 'that' is used three times. A lot of times 'that' can be simply left out. Sometimes a little rewording is required.

Same paragraph, fixed:
It took some prodding and cajoling, but eventually they were able to entice an abridged story out of him explaining the reason behind his desperate struggles. He also promised them that his knife would never be over by the door again, but then, apparently keeping his knife close was another lesson he was supposed to learn, since they all laughed uproariously when he said it.
Getting rid of two out of three 'that' is pretty good, I think. I also got rid of a couple other little yuckies, 'got' and 'a little'. There's always something better to replace 'got', and 'a little' is one of those indefinites you should avoid anyway.

'Had' is another word I tend to use too much of. For the most part, unless it's being used to indicate a possession, it can usually be cleared away in much the same way.

Here's a paragraph:
Canis silently dished her up a bowl of the gruel Leo had laced with dried meat, then dished himself up one as well. They ate in silence. When the gruel had cooled, they dished out a portion for each of the wolves too. The pot was polished out by several of the different wolves; each of them hoping there might be a crumb another had missed. Using the last of the tea to wash out the pot, Canis and the others began to prepare for the night. Peace wasn't to be had just yet, as the woman couldn't hold her bladder any longer.
So many 'had' puts this paragraph dangerously close to past tense, and really only one of them indicates possession.

Same paragraph, fixed:
Canis silently dished her up a bowl of the meat-laced gruel, and then dished one up for himself. They ate in silence. When the gruel was cool enough, they dished out a portion for each of the wolves too. The pot was polished out by several of the different wolves; each of them hoping to find a crumb or flavor missed by another. Using the last of the tea to wash out the pot, Canis and the others began to prepare for the night. Peace wasn't to be had just yet, as the woman couldn't hold her bladder any longer.
My writing tends to be kind of prosaic, so in a final draft that last 'had' might also go. We'll see, but it sounds much better than before - much more 'now', if you will.

Anyway, these are the two words I'm currently combing out of my document. As my first paragraph showed me, I need to look for a couple more. As I said before, I have 'that' highlighted in red. I have 'had' highlighted in a blue-green color. My goal is to have very few of these words marked. Since I tend to slip into reflection, 'had' will probably be the hardest word to eliminate, but if I can get the rest, I'll be happy.

If you're curious at all, my website has a writing tab where I've accumulated some writing tips I find very helpful. My writing improved greatly once they were pointed out. It was kinda like not realizing how dirty the window was until it was opened.

So, my current editing project is to comb out the fleas called 'that', 'had', 'got', and 'a little'. I have my flea comb already hard at work. What do you look for in your edits?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Black Wings by Kathleen Toomey Jabs

The best advice I've heard is to write what you know. Kathleen Jabs has done just that. Black Wings is set in a world she knows well. If someone were to ask me if this story is truth or fiction, without doing any research on the matter, I'd have to say I honestly couldn't tell. I am not personally familiar with the area, but it certainly feels like I'm right there sitting in the car with Bridget when she's driving, or walking across the yard on some clue hunt, or even climbing through dusty air tunnels headed to places no one ever goes.

Military training can put you in close proximity with someone, and it's entirely possible to develop lasting bonds. I'm sure there's even a term for it. Bonding under stress, or shared burden, whatever the reason I know it's possible, and being room mates of only two to four people over a span of years of tough training turns you into family somewhere under the skin. And as with family, no matter the estrangement, you tend to keep track of them.

When news that her room mate, Audrey, dies in a plane crash off a carrier, Bridget was devastated. Their last words had been harsh and feelings were bruised, then they both got busy and time passed. Now Audry was dead. That by itself was bad enough, but there were all the rumors floating around about female aviators and how they shouldn't be allowed to fly, and some of those rumors were specific to Audrey, and Bridget knew they weren't true. Her orders were to squash the rumors, and in the mean time she had to find some way to handle the death itself. She wanted to write the obituary. She wanted to meet with Audrey's mother. As if all that wasn't bad enough, reports came across her desk and they were way later than they should have been. Now she was suspicious. Was it an accident? What REALLY happened? What was NOT in all those reports and rumors?
picture this painted black

Throughout the book, Bridget searches for answers. Answers that will allow her to lay Audrey to rest with the honors she deserves, WITHOUT any doubt. Bridget also searches back through her memories of when it all began - clear back at the beginning, when Audrey stepped on that first set of Navy Pilot's Wings in their room at the academy early one morning and saw that they were painted black. Then they started showing up all the time, in hidden places no one could drop one by accident, and certainly not over and over again.

In order to understand the why, she must find the who. Who hated Audrey so much? Oh there were many who fit that description, but then Audrey may have been partially at fault there. She wanted to fly, and no one was going to tell her she couldn't. There wasn't a single qualification they required of her, she didn't pass and surpass. She had to. If she wanted to succeed in her dream to fly, she had to be better than the best. She was female, and EVERYTHING was stacked against her.

So - Who hated Audrey? Who had opportunity? Who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time? And WHO wanted it all covered up? Bridget finds the answers, but you'll have to read the book yourself if you want answers too. They will make you scream and claw at the pages with frustration and fury, and wrench your heart out with sadness and even a little shame. Have a read; you won't regret it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Helping Writers

I really do like helping other writers. I know how vital it can be to have a fresh pair of eyes going over my work. I mean someone else's brain might spot things my brain is very willing to overlook. But if I can in some way guide a new writer to learn early on the skills I had to learn much later, after writing already a dozen full length manuscripts, then their journey to publishing will be much easier for them. It is easier to learn it right the first time, rather than unlearn what you've been doing and try to figure out the better tactic.

Spending time in town has it's perks. The other day, we went over to the house of one of my son's friends. I've been there before but this was my husband's first visit so introductions were all around. The oldest daughter is the writer in the family, writing 'all the time' I'm told, and by hand. Last time I was there, she wasn't home. Of course my son introduce me as a 'real author' with 'published books'.

The reason we were there was something very computer related between my son and his friend. We must have been there for at least an hour, and maybe two. The whole time this girl sat at her little schoolroom desk and wrote in her notebook. I'm sure she was completely shy about asking a 'real author' to take a look at her work. I wasn't about to try to overshadow her by offering first. Sadly she didn't get brave enough until shortly before we were getting ready to leave, so I only had a few minutes to skim through three or four pages of her writing.

It was amateurish, but I didn't expect anything else. I might have been the first person to actually help her with her writing. Romance - yeah, she will go far. She already has a very good instinct, and that is important.

Given only minutes, the first, and I thought, the biggest piece of advice I could think of to give her was to tell her about showing versus telling. You've all heard it. You all struggle with it; I know I do. How do you show your reader something rather than tell them about it?

Her sentence was something like "I walked into the filthy house that smelled of cigarette smoke and stale beer." I don't remember if that's the exact sentence but it's close enough for here. My advice: You don't have to tell me the house is filthy, you've already shown me that by saying it stank. There was more but that was the gist of it.

Did she understand? I hope so. Maybe someday she'll get online and I'll get to see what kinds of seeds I've planted. My next advice was to tell her father to get her a computer with a Word program. Apparently she already had one but it was broken. I pointed to my son, the computer fix-it guy. "So fix it." Sadly it was one of those things that cost more to fix than buying a new one. I hope they do. Online writing help is all over the place. Even the Word program can be a lot of help - it was for me.

Given such an opportunity, what kind of advice would you have given?