Wednesday, February 29, 2012

LTUE Recap: Self-Editing

Tristi Pinkston is an amazing lady. I don't know how well-known she is nationally, but she seems to keep cropping up in all the circles (and writer's conferences) I frequent. She's published oodles of books, sets up blog tours (the book tours of the future, folks), and has her own editing service.

So, of course, it was awesome that she taught us how to self-edit.

Here's just a few of the highlights (I missed the first part--sorry!)

  • Big Words: Only use big words once per book 
    • Also "there were myriad colors on the wall" NOT "there were a myriad of colors on the wall"
    • After that you can't use myriad EVER again
    • Synonyms are fine: epiphany on page 5, realization on page 57, discovery on page 134...
  • Punctuation: if you don't know how to use punctuation properly, Google it: they'll give you examples
  • Pronoun confusion: when you say he/she, reader needs to make sure you know what you’re talking about. Can’t just use "he" if there are two men in the scene. Any ambiguity = spell it out
  • Speech tags
    • “Said” is NOT invisible when it’s used every line 
    • Use beats instead of speech tags . . . but not every time: characters shouldn't move that much
    • Avoid hissed, grunted, moaned: don’t use hyper substitute speech tags without very good reason 
    • Make sure whatever you put in there is physically possible 
    • Put the action in between dialogue instead of using it as a speech tag: “There’s a spider!” She gagged. “Kill it!” 
    • Mix them up 
    • Use "Replied" after a question. 
    • Use “Asked” if she just asked a question—not "Said"
    • Be creative [My note: but not too creative. I read a story once where the MC, in a tense moment, "ejaculated" one of his statements.]
    • “Mark said,” not “said Mark” 
  • -LY adverbs 
    • If you need to use one and you can’t think of another way to explain it, go ahead and use one 
    • Don’t use two sentences to convey what a single LY word can do 
  • Sentence structure
    • Don’t use repetitive sentence structure (boring) 
    • Patterns of speech shut brains down 
    • Don’t start every sentence with speech 
    • Don’t do action-action-action-description of action 
  • Establishing POV 
    • Whenever you start a new sentence or chapter, make sure the reader knows whose POV you’re in 
    • Most easily: use character name in first sentence 
    • Not: “Betty put the groceries in the car. Bob wondered what she bought.” 
    • If we are vague about whose head we’re in, our readers will be confused 
  • Transitions 
    • Often authors will change subjects without indicating that they are doing it 
    • Bad: Sara wondered what to do.  “I need lettuce.” 
    • Fine: Sara wondered what to do. She decided to change the subject. “I need lettuce.” 
    • [My note: I have a whole blog post on this one, though I wasn't smart enough to call it transitions.]
  • BUT: Almost always but not always need a comma before the word "but"
    • No one but you would think that = exception
  • THAT: Don’t need the word “that” as much as you think you do: search and destroy (unless it changes the meaning) 
  • OF: Avoid useless uses of "Of": she stepped off of the porch 
  • Active/passive – sometimes passive is more accurate 
    • She was standing by the window when he came into the room = she was already at the window when she came in 
    • She stood by the window when he came into the room = she stood up when he came in 
  • On to vs Onto 
    • She climbed on to the stage = Climbed on is the verb, so two words 
    • She is holding on to the past = holding on is the verb 
    • She lifted the box onto the table = lifted is the verb 
  • Awhile = “for-a-while” so don’t say “for awhile” = redundant: Can say “Sit for a while” or “Sit awhile” 
  • Character arcs: Need to see some growth in the character from the beginning to the end: Learn something, progress 
  • Plot Arc – the ending should be satisfying, the reader should want to recommend it, read the next one, etc 
    • Need problem, resolve the problem 
    • Problems should be solved by the MC, not a flaming dragon (unless the dragon is the hero or is well set-up): don’t rely on coincidence 
  • Don’t waste work – put it in a separate file and use it later 
  • Betas: Take what betas have to say with salt – only use it if it will improve the book 
  • 'S: Mostly: James’s not James’ (this goes back and forth: just write it like you’d say it) 
Admit it: you love her too, now, right?

Monday, February 27, 2012

I Can Find the Sugar ALL BY SELF

I really enjoy a sweet romance. It doesn't matter if the romance happens in a “romance” book or if the romance happens as a subplot. Romance is always good for this reader.

I also enjoy redemption tales, plots about healing emotional scars, stories about people working together to accomplish a common good (major or minor), and yarns about truly discovering who you are. I’ve been known to tear up just because a bunch of people who already liked each other all decided to do something good together. My heart warms when someone manages to change their life for the good. I grin when characters pet wiggly puppies.

Yes, I’m a total sap.

So here’s the thing. If you give me a book with a romance, cute dogs, a hero with emotional and/or physical scars that need to be healed, a heroine who must overcome the wounds of her past to move into her future, and a town full of wonderful people who are determined to work together toward a common goal, I’ll probably love it . . . but I might throw it across the room in a huff, instead.

Here’s a tip to avoid provoking my ire: HIDE THE SUGAR.

I don’t care if the entire book, front to back, is packed full of saccharine goodness. I’ll read and enjoy every bit of it and lick my fingers afterward. BUT. If you (or any of your characters) ever point any of it out, I’m gone. That’s not because I’m embarrassed to catch myself reading such cavity-inducing fare. It’s because, if you think you need to point it out, you’ll make me feel like a dim-witted two-year-old.

I haven’t taken kindly to that since I was four. You can ask my mother.

In a way, this is a sub-category of the famous advice to SHOW NOT TELL. Let me illustrate:
Fine: Heroine notices that hero’s eyes are haunted, and wants to help, since she’s a vet and naturally drawn to wounded mammals. Wise Woman character also notices and, keeping her reasoning to herself, sets out to help Hero heal his soul with a plan that will also, coincidentally, help save the town, provide a home for a local stray dog, and help Heroine overcome her rocky romantic past.
NOT Fine: Heroine-the-vet notices that hero’s eyes are haunted and wants to help. Later, when she sees him again, she notices and remarks to herself about the same thing. When her BFF asks about him, she ponders on how he looks wounded, both physically and emotionally. Wise Woman character engages Heroine in a conversation about how wounded Hero appears. Wise Woman character lays out her master plan for Heroine, who agrees that, yes, that would be the perfect plan to engage Hero’s skills, save the town, heal Hero’s poor wounded soul, and convince him to adopt the stray dog that has already decided to adopt Hero.
Please tell me you can see the difference.

I picked up the published book described above because I wanted a sweet contemporary romance story. I kept reading through some rather off-putting maid-butler dialogue because I really, truly am drawn to these sorts of plots. I simply could not continue past the “let’s fix Hero and save the town” conversation.

I don’t care if your characters want to fix each other, save towns and souls, and develop elaborate plans to do so. More power to them. I don’t even care if they work so long as you don’t spell them out for me ahead of time. Especially in a straight romance: I already know how it ends, so if you preview the plot for me, what do I have to wonder about?

I’m not two. If you just show me your characters going about the actions required by their elaborate plans, I’ll eventually figure out what they are, even if they never spell them out. I’ll figure out what the purpose of the plans are, even if no one tells me. I might actually conclude that the plans are clever, even if you don’t have one of your other characters around who can point it out to me.

I can find the sugar—and the message behind it—all by myself.
So, how do you like feeling like a two-year-old?

Friday, February 24, 2012

LTUE Recap: Breaking Into the Market

Obviously I had to go to (and go-pher) this panel. Just look at all the cool authors!

James Dashner, Jennifer Neilson, Jenn Johansson, Kasie West, Brodi Ashton

Here's what they said:

James Dashner (THE MAZE RUNNER series)
  • Luck definitely plays a part: he feels like if certain events had not gone his way, he’d still be an accountant
  • Every step taken in his career has been both a lucky break and wouldn't have happened without the previous steps (Hunger Games came out right after Random House bought the Maze Runner, so suddenly MR got more attention in-house, and they advertised it as "If you like Hunger Games....")
  • When in a writing group, you have to be strong enough to decide what to listen to. Use the Rule of 3: if three people say the same thing, it’s probably true. You have to be strong enough to disagree, and ignore advice you don’t like. 
  • When he was first starting out, he wouldn't even go home 2-3 nights a week: he'd go write in a library or a bookstore instead. Now, he makes a great living writing full time.
  • Don’t get discouraged by the odds and the numbers: the vast majority of the people trying to get published suck. People at a writing conference are already ahead of the curve.

Jennifer Nielson (THE FALSE PRINCE, coming April 2012)
  • You have to be ready to grab onto the luck when it happens
  • She spent so much time focused on the rules, she wasn't finding her voice. She finally decided to throw out the rules, didn't care about getting published, decided to just have fun. Forget what you know, write what you are.
  • In a writing group, thick skin will come back to benefit you when you’re published: taking and giving criticism, being humble, etc, will help with future reviews, editors, and so forth.
  • She's a full-time writer, has a goal to have husband wean off of his career to start to explore his own dreams
  • The only way to fail is to give up: if you are willing to do it, you will succeed. Find the door that answers who you are as a writer and go through it.

Jenn Johansson (Debut INSOMNIA... available soon in Germany and Italy)
  • On luck: In the US, romance is the bread and butter. Europe likes thrillers. European Literary scouts look for US books to recommend to foreign publishers. One found her book, INSOMNIA it sold in Germany and Italy. Because it's a thriller, it will likely do better overseas than it will here. 
  • Find what you like, then do that.
  • If she could go back, she would have moved onto the next book sooner.
  • Nobody can tell you what the right path is (even an agent or editor). There are more paths to pursue than ever, and no one can tell anyone else what to do. 
  • It is difficult to get into foreign markets with self-published books. 
  • If it’s not a priority, you won’t find the time to write. Keep writing while you’re waiting on querying, etc – don’t put it off because you’re waiting to hear back from an agent.

Kasie West (Debut PIVOT POINT coming January 2013)
  • Luck is preparation meeting opportunity. 
  • When she was starting out, she was too much in a hurry, trying to get ahead. She realized the author of The Traveling Pants had lots of author friends... realized later that they all "grew up" together. She wishes she had been more patient with herself.
  • She found her writing group online. She read blogs she liked, of people she connects with. Their group is online: they send stuff to each other over the internet.
  • If writing is something you want to do, you’ll make time for it. 
  • Publishers are still paying good money for books.
  • Don’t be afraid to interact with agents on Twitter

Brodi Ashton (Debut EVERNEATH. Duh.)
  • With her first book, she got over 100 rejections from agents, finally got one, then revised 6m during the Fall of 2008... when the market crashed. Someone told her if she sold a book that year, she’d be right up there with Jesus. It was rejected 15 times.
  • She wrote her next book, and her agent didn't like it. She queried new agents and immediately got 10 offers, then signed with Michael Bourett.
  • She wishes had put her first book aside much earlier: big writers write hundreds of books, write lots of different stories, but new authors tend to think we’ll make it or break it on one book.
  • Writing groups: keep trying one on until you find one that fits.
  • She supports her family with her writing now (!!!)
  • Finish your first book, query in batches: send out 5 queries, if no requests, tweak the query

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LTUE Recap: Writers on Writing

Yes, I know. I suck at recapping. I've been back over a week and haven't shared hardly anything. I'm repenting right now.

One of the absolute best reasons to be a gopher at a conference is that you have the perfect excuse to meet all the awesome authors on the panels. So, naturally, I made sure I signed up for the Writers on Writing panel, featuring four really fuzzy guys:

Tracy Hickman, Brandon Sanderson, L.E. Modesitt, David Farland
Sorry. I guess my cell phone doesn't have the best camera.

Still, you know it's going to be a phenomenal panel when Brandon Sanderson declares that he's going to moderate because everyone else knows more than he does. I know, right?

So here's the highlights, left to right:

Tracy Hickman said:
  • Talent without discipline is a waste of air
  • You have not yet written your best work
  • Black Swan novels can't be engineered: they are an accident of the universe. He's more interested in the Craftsman Writer, who has consistent stories to tell, and can consistently produce work that changes and moves their audience.
  • After all this time in his writing career and all the apparent success, he still has obstacles he has to overcome. "You just have to rely on faith to get you through that."
  • Publishers need to realize that they’re not in the business of making books anymore: they are in the business of arbitrating quality.

Brandon Sanderson said:
  • Chasing trends is a bad idea unless you're really excited about the trend. If you're just chasing it, you'll write mediocre stories.
  • After failing to sell over and over again, Brandon looked at why he was writing: he wanted to get published, but had to ask himself how many books he’d write even if he never got published. He decided that he’d keep writing for the rest of his life, even if he never sold a book.

L.E. Modesitt said:
  • “If it doesn’t the hell say it, it doesn’t the hell say it”
  • If you're a novelist, BE a novelist: Don't try to cram novels into short stories
  • The editorial side of things is a lot more restrictive than the reading public: Stick with it, and there’s got to be somebody out there who likes what you do
  • Every writer with every book is in the hardest time: we are only as good as the last thing we published. Beyond that, readers want to be entertained, if they didn’t like your last book, they’ll let you know.

David Farland said:
  • Write for the love of it: if you have fun, you'll write better and longer
  • Story isn’t a bunch of unrelated incidents happening to a person, but you need to look at what the story is really saying: what characters do I need to express it?
  • His teachers in college wanted him to write literary fiction, to "let the world know who you are." David responds: "I don’t care who you are. There are 7 billion people trying to explain how they’re unique and different."
  • When he decided to write what he liked to read, it became completely different. "To do anything else was immoral." He wasn’t going to be untrue to himself by trying to write something he didn’t like reading.
  • It doesn't matter how you get your audience: hot air balloons are fine. 
Amazing, no?

Monday, February 20, 2012

I Got Tagged!

Donna Weaver tagged me on Saturday and this one is rather interesting: I have to get to write my own questions!

First, here's the rules (with a slight alteration by Donna):
The Tag rules: 1. You must post the rules! 2. Answer the questions and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged. 3. Tag eleven seven (because it's a magical number) people and link to them. 4. Let them know you’ve tagged them.
#1... check.

Now, here's Donna's questions, with my answers:

1. If Abe Lincoln and George Washington got into a fight who’d win--and why?
Hm. This is a toughie. George Washington kicked England's butt on American soil when England was better equipped, better, trained... and very far from home. Abe Lincoln got his own country to stop fighting with itself. Plus, he was a lawyer (apropos of nothing but still cool) and had a lot of experience with failure. Abe's scrappier. He can take George.

2. What was your favorite book in 2011?
Duh. EVERNEATH. It's technically a 2012 book, but I read it in 2011.

3. If you had a magical snail that could grant wishes, what would you ask for?
I've always wanted to be able to fly....

4. What would your last meal be if you were on death row?
I can barely decide what to have for dinner tonight. I'd probably go with lobster, though, just because I haven't ever had it and I know it's expensive. Not that I'd be able to eat.

5. Who is your favorite, Bill or Ted? Why?
George. (I've never seen a movie with "Excellent" in the title, but George is always cooler.)

6. What will your weapon of choice be for the coming zombie apocalypse? Why?
A scythe and a hooded cloak. The zombies will think I'm Death and will run away because they'll know instinctively that they can't escape twice. And if they're too stupid, I'll have a big knife on the end of a long stick.

7. Who is your favorite literary stalker?
Edward. It might be creepy, but I thought it was sweet that he went to her room every night. Intentions matter, yo?

8. If people were thrown in jail for bad habits, what would you be thrown in jail for?
I plead the 5th.

9. What is the most distant place you've visited or lived?
Washington, D.C. Unless you count locales when I was the size of a bean. Then it's England.

10. If a spaceship were to land outside your house right now, would you get in it? If yes, where would you ask it to take you--and it could be anywhere you wanted to go.
Yes: Kolob. But just for a visit.

11. Who is your favorite author?
Unfair question. I love too many, and my favorite changes based on who has the most recent book out. See my left sidebar.

Okay, so now for my own questions:
  1. How many books did you read last year? What was your favorite genre?
  2. Which popular genre have you tried and tried but can never really get into?
  3. Which literary character is most like your ideal spouse? Which is most like your actual spouse /  significant other? Why?
  4. Besides writing and reading, what is your favorite pastime?
  5. If you could play God and change one thing about the world, what would it be? Limitation: you can't mess with free agency.
  6. Which writer's conferences have you attended? If you had unlimited time and money, which conferences would you attend?
  7. You're on a talk show, talking about your newest bestseller. The host announces a surprise guest: the author you've always been inspired by, but have never met. Who comes out on stage? What is your reaction?
  8. If you could design the cover for your WIP, what would it look like?
  9. Which literary villain scared you the most?
  10. Pantser or outliner?
  11. Which one of your characters would most benefit the world, if made real? Which one should stay fictional--for all our sakes?
Now for the hard part: choosing who to tag. Might as well pick on... my writing group! (Obviously, Donna and Barbara Jean can ignore this tag.) Best part of that idea? They're already listed over in the sidebar---->

Also, I can contact them all in the same place! :)

Yes, I'm lazy.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Feeling Kinda Insane

Okay, so last year I sat back in awe as many of my blogger friends joined the A to Z challenge. This year *gulp* I'm going to be one of them.

This recent insanity came partly because I met two of the hosts during an elaborate writer-girly slumber party at Donna's house over LTUE. Konstanz Silverbow and Elizabeth Mueller were both also Donna's guests and, since Donna did the challenge last year, I didn't have a prayer. Inside of two days, I was brainwashed.

Hurry on over and sign up: the list closes on March 31st. If you've never done a blogfest before, this is definitely one you want to check out. It's a great way to jump-start your blogging, attract new followers, find cool new blogs, and meet new blogger friends. The basic idea is to post one blog for every day in April (excluding a few select days to equal 26 total), and to post one post for each letter of the alphabet.

The only thing that makes this possible? Scheduled posting. I'm starting now.

*Brainstorms "A" words*

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why I Love James A. Owen

Okay, so I just met the man last week, but gee wiz, is he inspirational! He was the Keynote Speaker / Guest of Honor at LTUE last week, and I hated that I had to stop taking notes long enough to count alllll the people in the room (I was gophering his address, of course).

I honestly can't say enough about his address. It was basically his life story and all the times he got kicked in the teeth by life, dusted himself off, and chose to continue to succeed.

My favorite quotes from his address:
We all have something unique to us that no one else will completely understand: our point of view. We have to decide how much we believe in what we see, even if it means telling the entire world they are wrong.
There are two secrets to drawing: 1) Making lines on paper, and 2) Choosing where they go.
If you really want something, no one can stop you. If you really don’t want something, no one can help you.
I took simply pages of notes, but there is some awesome news: you can read it all for yourself in his ebook: Drawing Out the Dragons. And, for a VERY limited time, you can read it for free. He posted today that he wanted to give away 1000 in the next 24 hours. I'm not entirely sure when 24 hours ends, but it's gotta be soon. Hurry over!! UPDATE: You can still download the ebook for another week: (Thanks, Heidi2524.)

Then, watch for his soon-to-be-scheduled Authors' Advisory Conference Call. Yeah, I'm jacked, too. :)

Monday, February 13, 2012


I spent the last three days at LTUE and it. Was. AWESOME! But I'll have to give you the report(s) later.



I drove down Wednesday in time for dinner with my mom, sister, niece, and nephew, then drove to Donna's house, chatted with her and two other LTUE house-crashing friends (whose blogs I'm too lazy to link to at this moment), then got up at 5:45 (!!!) so we could be there by 7 but we were late because parking was FREAKING FAR AWAY, then I ran around the conference all day long, left at about 7, dinner, late to bed, up at 6:30, back to LTUE at 8, more running for 14 hours, late to bed again, up early to pack my junk and get there by 8 again, running until 5:30 when I went back to Donna's house for my junk and vehicle, picked up my bro's gf, drove to Sandy, dinner with bro, gf, sister, her dh, up late talking to the fam at my mom's house, up early so I could leave by 8, drove allllll the way home in time for 12:30 church, arrived at 12:00 to find my own dh hadn't written the 8-year-old's talk, wrote the talk, rushed to church, endured a meeting then choir practice after church, home for dinner, did a little email catch-up, a bit of TV, unpacking, some reading (yay reading!) before bed, and I'll be back to the day-job Monday, and if you think this sentence is long IMAGINE how I feel.

*Sets the blog to post at 7:30 am Monday morning*

*Resolves not to read TOO late*

*Misses LTUE*

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Conference Necessities

It's that time again: I'm abandoning my husband and children, climbing behind the wheel, and driving off to the wild, wonderful world of a WRITER'S CONFERENCE. If you're a writer and you haven't yet crammed yourself into a building with hundreds of other writers, REPENT! You won't regret it.

Packing for a writer's conference is an experience in and of itself. This is a partial list of the things I consider essential to life and happiness while I'm gone:

Audio Books. When hubby is driving (which happens whenever hubby is in the car), I read quietly to myself. Why should I have to abandon all that great fiction immersion time just because I also have to keep the vehicle between the lines? Even though I'll only be driving for a combined total of about 8 hours, I always make sure to have several audio books with me (thank you, public library), so I can switch the book if I decide one of the narrators is annoying or the books aren't as compelling as I thought they'd be.

Comfortable shoes. No pumps, heels (kitten, high, or otherwise), or pointy-toed death-traps for this girl. I'm there to move. Especially while I'm gophering (or fighting for the best seats), I need to be able to quickly get from one room to the next, and I can't do that if I'd rather amputate at both ankles. Pain might breed conflict, but it's a bad thing at a conference. Fashion is good if you can get it too, but my basic black shoes will serve me just fine.

Food. This particular conference doesn't provide food... or lunch breaks. So I'll need portable snacks and sandwich wrap makings so I can grab a quick bite in between panels, gophering, and hob-nobbing.

Mini Laptop. It's light, portable, has a brand-new extended-life battery, and is all ready to take tons of notes. I'll try to be better about sharing this year....

Cell Phone. Mostly for tweeting, because using hashtags to instantly broadcast cool quotes is awesome. #LTUE

Paper and Pen. Because when the laptop battery dies and the cell phone charge is in the orange, you still want to be able to take notes.

Business cards. These are a must for anyone going to a conference. If you're just starting out, don't worry about making them fancy (unless you want to). My first year I printed mine at home, with a picture of a fledgling robin (haha), my name, and my email addy. I still make mine myself at the local copy shop (which makes them look all shiny, even when I cut them out myself). You just want something you can hand people so you don't have to write your contact info over and over again. Also, the name tag necklace thing they give you is the PERFECT place to carry business cards. Slip them in behind the tag and they're always at your fingertips.

Books to Read. Just because I'll be busy from sun-up to sun-down doesn't mean I won't have time to read. Last year I stole Donna's ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and stayed up much too late reading it. This year I have a fine selection of library books that should keep my time filled.

Books to have Signed. I don't have money to buy all the awesome books I HAVE TO HAVE, but those I do have can now be signed. Especially EVERNEATH.

Okay, so I need to stop now or I won't have time to actually pack anything. If you're going to be there, tweet me and we can try to get together - I'd love to meet you in real life!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ye Olde English

Prithee, when thou hast characters which spring from time – Lo! – long gone by, take heed for thyself that thine own people might perchance yet understand their discourse. 

For thou knowest or can surely surmise that the usual denizens of long ago who spoke with the lilt of yesteryear had not access to sufficient of the written word to spend their days in perusing it. Nor – and this, perchance, is the more salient point – nor will they deign to travel forward along the continuum of time for the purpose of comprehending and interpreting thy words for the ignorant amongst the present generation. 

Thus we reach the sad conclusion that those of whom ye write cannot also read, while those who may read thy works are not those of whom ye write. It is therefore of necessity that ye write of those whom ye write, but to those who will read. This additionally requires those of whom ye write to adjust their diction accordingly, that those who will read may understand the words which they speak, which thou dost write.*


*Even old-time characters have to use modern English, or the modern English speakers - your readers - will have a hard time relating to them. Avoid modern idioms, modern slang, and references to things that date to modern times, but everything else is the same. K?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Nothing like attending a funeral to make you ponder the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Especially when it's such a great guy, like my husband's Grandpa Frank.
Grandpa Frank's Big Fish didn't normally get away
You know what else makes you ponder that sort of stuff? Great writing conferences, like this one:
If you are or can arrange to be anywhere near Orem, Utah next week, you really need to come. It's cheap, it has over 100 panels and other events, and, for the second year in a row, it has... wait for it... wait for it... ME! Yes, I'm moderating again. I'll be on the following panels:

Thursday, February 9, 10:00 am
Podcasting for Writers (Perfect, right?)
Also on the panel: Daniel Coleman, Stephen Gashler, Robert J Defendi

Thursday, February 9, 2:00 pm
Tolkien and Lewis: why they are still relevant after seventy years 
Also on the panel: Michael R. Collings, Jessica Harmon, James A. Owen

Friday, February 10, 7:00 pm 
Why we love horror 
Also on the panel: Nathan Shumate, Michael R. Collings, Jenn R. Johansson

Then, in all my spare time, I'll also be gophering. Yes, you should be jealous. There is nothing more fun than getting a back-stage pass to all the conference fun. And all I have to do is carry some water, hustle hither-and-yon with an important-looking clipboard, and boss people around (five minutes, Mr. Sanderson)!


So who's coming?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How NOT to Write a Synopsis: Breakdown

Okay, so I didn't have time to write a fake bad synopsis, and I'm certainly not going to post my own first synopsis draft (it's really boring), so you'll just have to imagine for now. Maybe later I'll have time, but we had a death in the family yesterday and, well, grief and funeral travel really sucks the extras out of your day, you know?

So here's the quick and dirty on why each of my tips from Monday were a bunch of hooey. I preface this by pointing out that I am NOT 1) an agent, 2) particularly experienced in writing synopses, or 3) going on more than just my limited experience, here. If you disagree with what I'm saying (especially if you find an agent who disagrees), feel free to disregard.
  1. Don't start with a 1-page synopsis. Just don't. Maybe later, after you've written a longer one, you'll be ready to try for the 1-pager. Starting out to write a 1-page synopsis is like deciding to swim the English channel once you've conquered the breast stroke. You're not ready, and you're going to choke. (Well, okay, so you might be a lot better at this than I am, so if you are, assume I'm talking about me. I'll just wait here for when you need oxygen.)
  2. Don't sweat the spacing, etc, in your rough draft. Each agent has different guidelines and the ones who don't, don't care. Some say they want it 4-6 pages double-spaced. Give them what they ask for. Some want a "brief" synopsis, which is probably between 1-3 pages, single-spaced, but can also be 2-6 pages double-spaced ("brief" likely doesn't mean more than that, unless you're writing a law brief, which is a whole different blog). If you're at all nervous, scour the agency website for specifics and consider tweeting them or people who have queried them in the past. Chances are, if they don't have specifics, anything close is fine.
  3. Lots of online articles explain how to go about deciding what information to include. None of them advocate ignoring your manuscript while you do it. Putting too many details in is FINE while you're writing the rough draft. I actually think it will help you to keep some sort of tone and flavor. Edit later. Decide later what can stay and what doesn't justify its presence. Don't bleed out your synopsis. It doesn't work for your writing, and it doesn't work for your synopsis.
  4. Short sentences rock. I felt so dumb when I figured this one out. I had these huge sentences in my synopsis so I could hurry through the plot. They sounded exactly like huge long sentences normally sound: clunky, hard to read, and impossible to understand. Breaking them up helped with the flow and didn't actually increase my word count that much. D-Oh!
  5. Same paragraph rules apply in the synopsis as apply in regular writing. Crazy, huh? Everything in the paragraph should relate to everything else in the paragraph. If that means that your synopsis will have lots of different paragraphs, well, good. That's an excellent sign that lots of different things happen in your book. If you can find a way to show that two different events are connected, wonderful: let them share a paragraph. Just don't talk about how Bella almost got raped by a gang of thugs in the same paragraph that you talk about how lots of boys asked her to the prom.
  6. Halfway through, you are GOING to worry that your synopsis is running long. DON'T. Yes, it's running long, but if you're anything like me, your manuscript's rough draft ran long, too. That's why they invented editing. Just keep writing for now. Let the subplots crop up when they want to and trim them back later. When you look at everything together, you'll be better able to decide what is part of a subplot and what is related to the main action. I promise, it will be faster and easier to do it this way than to try to cut things before they're on the page. So long as you don't try to turn in your rough draft, you'll be fine.
  7. Brandon Sanderson says that, if you're going to solve problems with your magic, your reader has to understand how it works. (Who hasn't pointed across the room and said "Accio Book!") If, however, you aren't going to solve problems with it, you don't have to explain it. Same holds true for your synopsis - even if you're not writing a fantasy. If something is essential enough to be included in the synopsis, it's essential enough to explain. That explanation might be a tad bland, but it still has to be done. Spice it up if you can, but get it in there. Don't just say that "Harry uses magic to summon his broom" (HP GOF, #4), say that "he lifts his wand high and declares 'Accio broom!'" See? Not much longer and a heck of a lot more interesting. 
  8. More essential is explaining anything that impacts your character's motivations. Like emotions. Compare "Mr. Darcy proposes and Elizabeth refuses him" with "Mr. Darcy, in a long speech about how he loves her despite her odious relations, proposes marriage. Elizabeth, shocked and offended, vehemently refuses." You don't want agents wondering WHY your characters do what they do. You're not just trying to prove that you can plot: you're trying to prove that you can plot WELL. That means you must show that actions are followed by reactions and that your characters aren't just making choices willy-nilly.
  9. Synopses are boring, yo. If you can throw in an extra word or three here and there to help spice them up, DO IT!  Agents have to read these things. Don't go crazy, but you can say that the nurse used the nasty-tasting Skele-grow to painfully regrow all of Harry's arm-bones, even though the name of the potion isn't essential. Be careful with this one, though: too many colorful details will bog the synopsis down worse than having too few. Err on the side of bland, but edge close to the line when you can.
  10. In my first synopsis, I rushed past the climax and barely touched on the denouement. So dumb. That's where everything comes together. If the plot makes sense, it HAS to show in the climax. Don't skimp here. Explain every detail in your rough draft, then cut it back, looking for clarity and excitement rather than brevity. Mine is now about a third of my entire synopsis.
  11. I'm still struggling with this, but I do believe that it's essential to have someone who hasn't read your book read your synopsis. There's just no other way to figure out if everything will make sense to an agent - who hasn't read your book. Just bite the bullet and sacrifice one of your kind friends who won't get the full joy of reading the book as it was meant to be read. You can make it up to them later. Acknowledgments are nice. (No, I didn't get to help Brodi with any portion of her writing process, despite constantly begging.)
  12. Treat the synopsis the same way you treat your manuscript. Don't just dash it off and hit send. Write it. Let it sit. Edit it. Send it to a friend (see #11). Let it sit. Edit it again. Agents may not expect it to be perfect, but, seriously, they have your 300 word query letter, your 300-3000 word writing sample, and this synopsis to decide whether you're a good enough writer to take a chance on. Don't wonder later if things would have been different if you'd just taken some time.
  13. There are as many ways to write a good synopsis as there are different books and different authors. Research how others have done it and figure out what works for your book and your writing style.
  14. When all else fails, this is still very helpful: 

What pitfalls did you fall into while writing your synopsis? Do a gal a favor and tell me where they were, huh?