Writing a synopsis – Yes, another method

I don’t claim to write query blurbs or back cover copy well. I can’t form an elevator pitch to save my life. I can barely write a first draft of a book. However, one thing that sends most authors fleeing to a corner in the fetal position is something I enjoy—writing a synopsis.

Executive With Head In Hands By Crumpled Paper Balls

I can’t explain why, but I love whittling a story down to two to three pages. And I’m going to share with you how I do it.

My process is easy, but time consuming. Here we go!

Step 1:

Outline your novel chapter by chapter, or scene by scene, depending on how you organize your work. When I say outline, I mean two or three word phrases to indicate the main thing that happens in the scene/chapter.

Lightstorm outline1

Step 2:

Identify the following sections in your outline (these are based on the romance genre, which is what I write. Obviously, you may not have a “Romantic Raise” moment)—

  • Inciting incident
  • 1st Act climax
  • Crisis #1–MC will often attempt to “fix” things, but fails
  • Romantic raise #1 (increased romantic tension)
  • Crisis #2 (up the ante)
  • Romantic raise #2
  • Crisis #3 (midpoint)
  • Romantic raise #3
  • Crisis #4
  • Black Moment (also known as 2nd act climax)
  • Romantic resolution (the “I love you” moment, or “Let’s go for it” moment)
  • Conclusion

The number of Crises or Romantic raises will differ, depending on your story, but the shorter you want your synopsis, the fewer you want to highlight (maybe 2-3 max for a 1-2 page synopsis). Use your judgment when prioritizing these.

Lightstorm outline2

Step 3:

So far, we’ve only been working on setup. Now we’re going to construct the actual synopsis. I have adapted Nancy Richards-Akers’ method (I’d link to the blog where I originally found it, but apparently theromanceclub.com is now an insurance and investment website), and though she’s no longer with us, I want her to receive credit for this part.

Nancy’s method includes five parts.

  • Heroine
  • Hero
  • Plot
  • Story
  • Resolution

She suggests a three or four paragraph description of your heroine. I actually think one paragraph serves just as well. Another paragraph to describe your hero. These two will give some background information on your characters, giving the reader a good idea of why there will be conflict. The characters’ family situation or education status doesn’t need to be included if it’s not pertinent to the internal or external conflict.

Lightstorm outline3

What Nancy calls “Plot,” is actually the conflict. At least, that’s how I have to think of it to keep it separated in my head from “story.” One or two paragraphs about the main conflict is all you need.

Lightstorm outline4

“Story” refers to the progression of events. I find that some of that is included in the first three sections, by default, but those are less chronological than this section. Remember all those bullet points you marked off in your outline? Here’s where they go (without repeating what you’ve already mentioned, of course. This might include the inciting incident and the first crisis). If you MUST add other characters in for the synopsis to make sense, try to do so without naming them. Agents refer to “name soup” in queries, and I find synopses have a similar problem. The acceptable names (in my humble opinion) are for the hero, heroine, and villain. That’s usually it. In my story, Lightstorm, those are the only three I introduce by name. Everyone else is referred to by their title or relationship to the MCs. I believe this keeps the synopsis from becoming muddled and confusing.

Lightstorm outline5

Finally, you need to add the conclusion to the story. My last paragraph includes both the plot resolution and the romantic resolution. This is not the time to leave editors or agents guessing at the ending. This is not the time to use a hook (unless your book is a cliffhanger). That’s for the query blurb.

Lightstorm outline6

Step 4:

Add emotion! I cannot stress how important this is. Show the emotions. Use evocative wording. Let your wordsmith skillz shine.

And you’re done! Using this method, I average two to three pages in a synopsis of a 90,000-word novel.

What methods do you use? Let me know if you try my method and how it worked for you!

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Rainbow Lollipops and Unicorn Poop – Blogging at Demons, Dreams, & Dragon Wings today!

Message StonesEver since my daughter, Thing 1, was old enough to talk, she’s periodically had nightmares. She couldn’t always tell me what they were about, but the fear was always there. My solution: run interference. If you’re thinking about something else, then you tend to forget the scary.

(I also told her that angels like to bowl and lightning and thunder were their strikes. I’m sticking to that one.)

When she was old enough to make up her own distractions, she settled on rainbow lollipops and unicorns. Now that she’s seven, I still go to her bed if she wakes up with a nightmare, and I sit there and ask her what she’s supposed to do. She tells me, “Think about rainbow lollipops and unicorns,” smiles, and closes her eyes. One of these days, she’s not going to call for me after a nightmare. I’m certain I’ll be both proud and sad when that day comes.

Lately, she’s been obsessed with the color of unicorn poop.

Read more…

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When enough is enough

On Thursday night, I sat down with Mr. Pierce to watch a movie I’d looked forward to for months: Identity Thief.

Now, my mother, as well as a lot of my friends speak so highly of Melissa McCarthy that I have a “Like by association” emotion for her. I was told Bridesmaids was THE movie to watch. I did. And I didn’t like it. In fact, the scene most of my friends cited as the BEST scene in the movie grossed me out so completely that I’ll never go shopping after lunch again.

I chalked it up to having too many uncomfortable scenes and moved on.

Then I saw the previews for Identity Thief and thought, hey. I like Jason Bateman. I like Amanda Peet. I like Jon Favreau (I do wonder if he pronounces his name with the r and the v flipped like Brett Favre does…). The scenes I saw in the trailers were pretty damn funny.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Don’t keep reading if you wanted to see the movie and haven’t yet.

Movie Poster for Identity ThiefOh. Dear. [deity of choice].

I thought Bridesmaids had too many uncomfortable moments.

I knew I wasn’t enjoying it, so about 30 minutes into it, I started looking at it from a writer’s perspective and analyzed it. That’s when it hit me: they added too much to the storyline. As if “you have one week to bring the person who stole your identity back to Denver or you lose your job” wasn’t enough of a time crunch. Not enough suspense.

The stakes just weren’t high enough.

Nope. They needed a drug dealer to send thugs after Diana (Melissa McCarthy).

But that’s not where they stopped. They ALSO sent a bounty hunter type asshole after the pair, because Diana skipped her court date. Okay, so this one would have worked okay if they hadn’t put the drug dealers in. Except the bounty hunter guy was a TOTAL dick, and not just to Diana and Sandy (Jason Bateman)–he threatened to burn down a hair salon if the owner didn’t give him confidential client information about Diana. (Is it wrong that my first thought was: insurance money! My second was: call the cops on his ass.).

But WAIT! They also needed to up the stakes later in the movie, and cause Diana and Sandy to lose the money they had. What’s the best way to do this? Snakes! Yes, snakes in one’s pants. Oh, but they didn’t stop there, either. They had TWO snakes! One in Sandy’s pants, and the other to wrap around his neck, squeeze, then bite him. In the neck. Oh, and then Diana rips said snake away from Sandy…by the tail. Um…funny, but I didn’t think you could do that without significant, I dunno, skin being ripped off, too. And that’s if it was non-poisonous. They never specified. I would hope it was not, since he received no medical attention and was fine the next day.


Kitty’s face says it all.

So, I have a point to make in this blog post–it’s not just a review of the movie. My point is: use this movie as a learning tool. Yes, you can keep throwing things at your hero and heroine to make things more difficult, but you must learn when enough is enough. Don’t add the drug dealer thugs. Don’t add the snakes. Hell, leave out the weird cowboy fetishist, too (I didn’t mention that one earlier, but…you have to see that one for yourself). If the stakes are high enough to get you to the ending, don’t feel you need to add something else into the mix. You don’t HAVE to answer that last “What if…” when you’re plotting. Learn to say no.

If you DO raise the stakes, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Is it beneficial (or necessary) for character growth? Is it just for laughs? Is it because the original premise isn’t strong enough? If it’s because of this last one, the answer is obvious: rework your premise.

file0001088907384Adding charcoal briquettes to an unlit fire doesn’t do anything but add charcoal (and wastes them once they’re lit). Use the briquettes sparingly and make each one count.

Holy shit! Did I just make a metaphor? Go me. *grin*


If you’d like to see me analyze/break down a movie I think is damn near perfect, then see my blog post at Demons, Dreams, & Dragon Wings. 

What are your thoughts? Do you analyze movies to help in your writing?



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Setting new goals for 2013

I’m determined to get my mojo back. I have a story to write, and several to edit. And I can’t be sidetracked by life anymore.

When I started writing, I wasn’t bogged down with a bunch of rules or an understanding of story structure or theories on what was a better POV (point of view) for certain sub-genres. I just wrote. Granted, that first manuscript needed a significant overhaul, and is probably the reason I dread revisions more than any part of writing.

♪♫ I’ve lost that lovin’ feeling. Whoa, that lovin’ feeling. ♪♫ And dammit, I want it back.

There are a couple of things I plan to do to get it back. First, find a time that works best for me in terms of productivity and creativity. I know I’m not an early morning person (if you find me out of bed before 9 am, it’s under duress, I assure you), so expecting to write 2000 words in the 6-7 AM hour is…well, it’s asinine. But I’m not really a nighttime writer anymore, either. I get sleepy by 11 PM, so my days of writing from 10 PM until 3 AM are done. Besides, the kids are in school from 8 until 2:30, so it’s more ideal to get work done during those hours.

mnn2SRkThe second thing I’m going to do is set goals for each day. While the kids are in summer camp, I only get three days a week alone. Come August 7, they’ll be back in school every day and my goals will be more frequent. For every day I reach my goal, I’ll get a reward. Until Labor Day (first weekend in September), I’ll allow myself to go to the pool. If the weather’s not conducive, I’ll read a book, or take a nap. Something I enjoy.

Third, I’ll remove distractions. I plan to spend a lot of time at a Starbucks or other coffee shop with my laptop, notebook, and NO INTERNET. Yes, I know Starbucks has wi-fi, but if I don’t sign into it, I can’t access it. I’ll turn off my laptop’s wi-fi if I must. But I’m too distracted by Facebook, emails, and Twitter. They must go.

oa6pg8CFinally, I’ll have a game plan going into each writing session. I’m using some of the tips put out by writers advocating 10k days (like Rachel Aaron or P.D. Martin) , but I’m only aiming for 5k. Mostly, I want to try handwriting what will happen in the scenes before I actually write them, in a listed format. I think this will help me break through any roadblocks BEFORE I write.

With all this, I WILL have a finished story by the end of the year, if not way earlier.

Oh, and I hope to start blogging more regularly again. My progress, my plans to look into self-publishing, my cover art…and I’m sure I’ll have swag/books to give away from the Romance Writers of America Conference that’s happening next week.

Life? Bring it on.


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Blogging at Demons, Dreams, and Dragon Wings today!

I’m talking about story structure and Rise of the Guardians.

I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately. This is not entirely uncommon, but the interesting part is that I’ve been watching them with an eye toward story structure. This is especially easy when the movies are PG-rated Pixar and Dreamworks films meant for kids—kids who want to watch said movies over.
And over.
And over again.
So, by the fourth or fifth time, I start noticing things I hadn’t noticed before. Things like story structure. Conflict. Character arcs. All those things I have to pay attention to in my own stories.
When I write, I tend to employ a screenplay method. My first drafts are usually heavy on dialogue and blocking (i.e., X character walked to the door. Y character placed her hand over her heart and swooned. Z character laughed. My blocking is better than this, I promise). Scene description, motivation, internal thoughts, visceral reactions…all these things are layered in during revisions.
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