Dreaded…

A pain in the neck, bent over your computer or tablet, typing or writing, it is the dreaded synopsis. DREADED, that is the adjective most often accompanying the word synopsis. And I do get it. It is hard to write, to think through your whole book. You must decide what is a main plot and what are the sub-plots. You must decide who are the main characters, when and how are they included. And whether it is 50K or 90K, it is a lot of thinking to do. But do it you must.

SCBWI Carolinas recently sponsored an online program, Wait! What? A Synopsis? not too long ago. The gist of the presentation was that the synopsis should represent not only the plot but the motivations of the main characters. And Yikes! all of this in under 600 words! One page!  And, at the same time you want to do two, maybe three things:

  1. show the uniqueness of the story
  2. show the believability of the characters
  3. show the ending

And that is not, as Stacy Whitman put on my synopsis, ‘spoilery’ [which may or may not include a dash].

There were multiple corrections on my synopsis for typos and I blame that on my learning to read by sight and not by phonetics and on a mild case of dyslexia which translates into poor mechanics. Sigh. Excuses done!

The most important addition to your writing and publishing according to Ms. Whitman is the synopsis shows that you have thought out your plot and can distinguish it-from beginning to end- along with the main characters in your story. Somehow that seems basic, but no. To me it’s like the pitch. How would I pitch this story?

In BECOMING THE ONLY, twelve-year-old EMILY POUVERAIN DELAQUA, living in the shadow of her successful grandma after whom she is named, struggles with death, intimidation, and deception. A contemporary middle grade novel of 54K words, BECOMING THE ONLY is a genre mash-up of Moon Over Manifest meets a middle grade The Brief History of Montmaray. 

The question I have to answer, I have come to realize, is does the synopsis augment or betray the pitch. Augment is far better, right? Therefore the synopsis should include good details, the
most telling details including the motivation of the main antagonist, whoa!

I like this image because I have come to realize it is true, motivations are the muscle of the story, the heft that brings the story from being a plot with a beginning, middle and end–a hundred pound weakling–to a robust and fulfilling story and it is for story we strive, amend, revise, and edit.

As pain in the neck as it is, a synopsis speaks to the truth of my story and for that I will work it and work it and work it so that I can do the exact same thing for the story itself.

 

 

 

 

 

The White Cottage Mystery

The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham

The Exceptional! Took the first few chapters to get back into that British detective, cozy village/cottage sensibility and mode, but then really enjoyed the story. Sort of an Orient Express vibe to it as the cast of characters all had excellent reasons to dislike, nay, loathe Mr. Crowther. And a loathesome man he was, although today we might not be so shocked and awed by his manipulations and mental cruelty.

After the first chapters as I was settling in for a great read, I also looked up Ms. Allingham. The fact that she was J.K. Rowlings favorite read was incidential, what I loved was that this first book was originally serialized and that made the chapter structure so much more interesting and beautiful, the handling of each of the main characters, the retuning to them when unable due to timing, proximity or alibi made them an unlikely killer. How much fun to be a reader at that time where you had to wait for the next installment!

And when W.T wrote to Jeffery that he had abandoned the case I felt sure he had found the killer and yet this was one of the few times I was actually baffled as to who was the killer in this story. Masterfully done! The reveal was an Aha! Moment for me and I suddenly saw all the clues line up. Delicious. I shall read more of Ms. Allingham, definitely.

Conferences

Just saw the new schedule for the 2018 NYC Midwinter Conference and I am impressed. Instead of the NYC conference being more about marketing, it is distinguishing itself as very craft and publishing related for both writers and illustrators. The choices are hard….getting a real understanding of writing history from Laurie Halse Anderson to understanding pacing with Phoebe Yeh….I mean Wow!

Sometimes I wonder if I really do get anything out of these programs, but I have to believe my writing is better, much better than it would be without it. I have learned, I have improved and not only in my writing but in the way to set my story apart in the query and in the synopsis.

I am torn between taking a session on nonfiction or the importance of pacing…oooh, so many choices. As regional advisor and the host of a conference it is hard to get to, no more than that,  it is hard to concentrate on the actual information being delivered by the presenter.  So for me  the LA conference has always been more important to me the writer.  Now the NYC program is full of very craft heavy and experienced well spoken presenters. YAY!  Good news!

This is a departure for SCBWI and one that while appreciated, the element of being able to meet with multiple agents and editors and hear their spiel has been invaluable, but, there is a note that is also worthy of SCBWI “you are invited to submit a query to a maximum of two editors, agents, or art directors whose masterclass workshops you have attended. Please be sure to target your submissions carefully according to the guidelines given to you by the workshop leader. We encourage you to use at least one of your workshop choices for the rare hands-on opportunity to work with our master authors and illustrators.”  Nice, so that too may have a hand in what I will sign up for. 

I have two completed novels, two WIPs and one, maybe two nonfiction to propose. The question is what to go to. I will probably change my mind a hundred times between reading the schedule and actually attending the conference.  Thank heavens for the time to be able to sift through and figure it out.

Maybe the issue is do I be brave and go out on a limb? Or do I look for more savvy on writing?  I’ve discovered that it is not in getting into the right programs but in feeling you’ve got the right information to go forward. So that’s what I will attempt to do for February, 2018.  Sigh, a long way away!

Done!

I like that word. Done. When you say it it is a puff of air, it is hard, singular and finite. 

I am done with a synopsis [well, almost, awaiting a critique on that one] a query letter [one more critique and it will be] and the novel itself. Weighing in at 54768 words. A lot! True not a 90,000 word great american novel.

I have lost count on the number of revisions to this story. It began as a short story with adults in the main character roles. And I liked it, sent it to Ellery Queen for a contest and got nothing back. Which was okay. I didn’t really expect anything. It was really my first attempt at working a story after thirty years of writing abstracts of articles, job descriptions, policy papers, work procedures, how-to’s for managers and supervisors, newsletter and employee handbooks. It was a challenge to add in more words, to describe a room, or to see a scene through the eyes of a character and it started me on this path, this one that I am on now.

It took me a while to understand that writing for adults, while hard~ please do not get me wrong~ was just not the same thing as writing for a kid. And then it took me longer to understand writing for children today. The stories I read as a kid, mostly were either historical fiction where the event was the pivot point, or mysteries where the murder/theft/crime was the pivot point. I mean, consider the girl detective of the post war period. She was clever, confident. You knew somewhere along the story she was going to be in jeopardy, but you also knew she was going to get out of it.

There were the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, and the one lone boy, Encyclopedia Brown. No, I take that back, there were the Hardy Boys. They were always more about the mystery than the kid!  And I loved that. It’s not that I didn’t care about Nancy and her cousins Bess and George, it’s that their lives really did not intrude on the story. They were somewhat independent even though Nancy was when I was reading them, rather young for the responsibilities and opportunities she had to go off on her own. I think too, I always liked that George was a girl!  I was less interested in their lives and more interested in how in a small town like River Heights there could be so many crimes. [I find I have the same problem today with series that are outside major cities, that involve so many murders.]

I digress. Done! The story, the action, the mystery and how it unfolds has been less of an issue for me than the internal story. When I was first asked to describe the emotional journey of the character I immediately thought of my best Sarah Berhardt imitation~ flat of the hand across the brow, a slight sinking of the knees and a huge sigh. It took me a long time to grasp the need for children to connect with a character before they connect with the story. At least that is one of the ways I see it.

We are ruled in our social media by emotions. Do I like? Why is there no don’t like on Facebook? We use pictures~ jpegs., gifs, memes~ to describe what we are dubious about putting into words in places that almost require, nay, demand, the quick short cut. So while we are describing our emotion, it is nothing unique! nothing original. When I use a smily face with stars  in it’s eyes, do I mean it the same way that some one else does? Okay not a lot to worry about, because most of us do not spend that much thought on others thoughts.

But in a book, short cuts do not work for emotions, or better stated, they shouldn’t work for emotions. For a child to read the story and get what the writer means, it should be clear, upfront and a goal sought after through the whole book.

Upteenth revision later, I think I am as close as I can get by myself. When the synopsis critique comes through. When the second query critique comes through, I think I am ready to submit. Not that I did not submit before, I did. I tried and no, nothing. But this time, I think I have a best hook. I think the writing is the clearest and cleanest and most soundly representative of the main character I can come up with. Ha! We shall see.

In truth, tho, Done only means one thing.  there is another story to work on!

Blindsided

I had a critique at a recent SCBWI conference. And. I did everything wrong.

I have had a string of very good critiques, one not so good, but on the whole, good stuff. And, I have handled them all well. But this time. Whoa! Was I surprised. I suppose it was because I had had a really good critique on the same manuscript not that many moons before. I was feeling confident! The previous critique had mentioned all the great features of the manuscript: voice, character, setting, plot. What more is there? And the one issue was the name of the book.

Naming is hard. I often wonder how Adam and Eve came up with all the names for the animals even the ones who are not indigenous to Eden. But I digress. The title to me was a running gag line throughout the book. Death by bananas. No that wasn’t the title, but it could have been.

So in the more recent critique I did change the title. Good so far.

Then Boom! The initial fifteen minutes of face to face time was so far from any thinking process I have had, or any feedback I have received from my critique group, or from the beta readers, or from other critiques about the manuscript that I was thrown into outer space. Well, for all the good it did me in the session, I could have been in outer space. It was cold, dark and unfortunately I remember little else of the time. I froze. I do remember being upset. I’m not sure I handled myself well and for that I am embarrassed! I truly blew an opportunity.

But almost like Sisyphus compelled to roll that stone up a hill, and almost as a punishment,  I’ve toted this critique~ the two pages of the SCBWI Gold form and the ten pages I submitted AND the synopsis around with me for months. The psychic weight was difficult. It hung on me, depressed me, and almost took away my enthusiasm for the story.

Still, I do not succumb easily to failure. I always have considered failure nothing more than another door opening. I trudged on. I attended a couple of online programs on query writing. What was the essence of the story. Not the hook, but the central concept. What was important about the story. I studied pitching on line. I participated in a program on how to write a synopsis, read blogs and continually wrote and rewrote the story line for my critique group.

At issue is that I like this story. I have been writing it in one form or another for maybe twenty years. There are so many parts that are me…the main character, the grandma, the interaction. I can see those things in my own life as well as in video format.

It has taken me a couple of months to actually pick up and read the written critique, I found that the critiquer liked the story too. “The writing is restrained, never giving information dumps or otherwise overly explaining backstory. I like how you allow Emily’s story to unfold slowly, forcing the reader to follow the breadcrumbs trail you are providing about her situation. I really like the presence of a very strong matriarch in this family with a powerful corporate/scientific career–unusual in kid lit.”

What was I thinking? Well. I wasn’t, was I? So. Now I have read the entire critique. The two pages of the SCBWI Gold Form.  The ten pages, heavily annotated, and the synopsis, also annotated. And I remembered something I heard from an agent who attended a Carolinas conference several years ago. That it was, is, harder to critique a bad manuscript, than a good one. With a good one, you can point out all the ways the writer can make it better. 

And, you know what? I am grateful for this critique. It is right. I strayed from my original voice. I over-reacted to the story device. And, while I disagree heartily with the opinion that the character is a ‘little bit of a cipher’ I now get what the critique is trying to tell me.

Here’s hoping. #amthinking #revising #amwriting