Monday, May 31, 2010

Synopsis: I Did It!

Well. At least I think I did it. Knowing me, I'll continue to peck at it, snipping out this word or that phrase.

I wrote the book. That was hard. I wrote the query letter. That was harder. I wrote the synopsis. That was the hardest.

Why makes synopsis writing so difficult? In the first place, it's a challenge to write tight, tight, tighter while retaining the essence of your style and the tone of the work. Throughout the writing of the novel, we are adjured, "Show; don't tell." Suddenly it becomes, "Tell; don't show," because there's no room for the latter. Beloved similies and images end up on the surgery room floor, bleeding and mangled. Even some alliteration is left lying lifeless alongside the other carnage.

Secondly, advice contradicts advice. Some say single space; others, double. (So I compromised with 1.5 line spacing.) Some say the synopsis should be written in present tense, regardless of the tense of the tale; others say past. (The former gets the most votes, and that's the way one normally writes about literature, so I went with present tense.) It seems that every "expert" has his own way of formatting the first page.

One thing that most agree on is the importance of the synopsis. The majority of editors and agents require one. A critique partner who makes a habit of placing highly in prestigious writing competitions says that the value of the synopsis is that it allows the powers that be to see if the writer has a strong plot line to hold the story together.

My conclusion, after perusing many articles and guidelines, is this:
  • If the agent or editor to whom one wishes to submit gives specific guidelines, follow them to the letter. Heed the jots and tittles.
  • Do your homework. Read guidelines and advice columns, realizing that they will contradict one another. Adapt what you learn to make it work for you.
  • Write tight. Then revise it to make it tighter. 
  • Format it so that it reflects the professionalism of the writer.
Here are some links to jump-start your research:
Visit the blogs I list in the right column, also, since several of them discuss synopses.

Fellow writers, editors, and agents, if you happen to do me the honor of a visit to this blog, would you be so kind as to click on "Comments" and leave some of your own advice for those of us who struggle with the dreaded synopsis writing? Have you gleaned some jewel from a conference, workshop, or article? Please share. (By the way, I've never heard anyone say, "Synopsis? Piece o' cake!")

Write on!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

All in the Name of Research

Wednesday was an ordinary day down on the banks of the Ohio in southeastern Indiana. The sky over Madison was a brilliant cyan punctuated with puffs of cloud. A gentle breeze carried the fragrance of southern magnolias down the historic streets, through secluded courtyards, and around early nineteenth-century homes.

It would have been a perfect day to stay home and clean the bathroom, catch up on the laundry, brush up on my transformational grammar, and dust doodads, indeed, but I felt compelled to leave all that behind. After all, I'm a hard-working writer with research begging to be done. So I collected a couple companions and we headed off for the river town to visit the library, locate a good site for a second-hand bookstore for the aunt of my protagonist, get a feel for the neighborhood, and take some reference photos.

Enjoy some of the photos that will hopefully enrich the sense of "place" in The Second Cellar, my middle-grade historical fantasy in progress. (If you've followed this blog for long, you've already seen several reference photos for both of my manuscripts.)

I selected this cream brick home across from the library to be the site of the used-book store.
Kristi Rice, Photographer

Just a Brief Note about LOST

 When Lost first began, I was a fan. It was a captivating concept. The literary motifs intrigued me. I watched until the scriptwriters incorporated illicit affairs among some of the characters. In other words, I didn't watch it for long, though I continued to maintain a distant interest in the general storyline.

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management cites an interesting article on today's blog. Please follow this link to the article:
'Lost' Reading List: the show's creators discuss literary influences from Stephen King to Flannery O'Connor

I noted motifs from classical literature such as Homer's The Odyssey and the Holy Bible, as well.

Mama's Got Rhythm

This past Saturday, "Jack's Mama" told her far-flung, homespun highland tales at the Ohio River Valley Folk Festival in Madison, Indiana. (Jack's Mama is my pioneer mountain woman character through whom I tell stories from southern Appalachian oral tradition.)

At the conclusion of one set, two young men, probably in their early 20s, told me how much they enjoyed the show. "I love to listen to you tell," one said. "There is a rhythm, a cadence, to your speech. I love your pacing."

No one has ever said that before, but I really like it. The rhythm comes naturally to me, I suppose, but I do consciously pace the story. As a raconteur, I am very interactive with my audiences, working to draw each one into the tale. Pacing, working in tandem with the rhythm, is an important tool toward that end.

After the men left, I sat enjoying the balmy breeze coming off the river, and I thought about how storytelling compares with writing.  Rhythm and pacing are essential to our writing, as well. If a sentence is grammatically and mechanically flawless but is choppy or awkward, it may give the reader pause. Of course, there may be times when we want to slow the reader down.

The storyteller knows when to speak slowly and deliberately for dramatic effect. The writer can accomplish the same thing by making each sentence a separate paragraph, for example. Or she may incorporate alliteration, a well-placed dash, or longer, more complex sentences.

At the high point of the action or scene, the storyteller's sentences may become very short, little more than a series of phrases or clauses. The writer does the same thing. Whether spoken or written, such techniques achieve the same results.

Many have told me that I use dramatic pause well. I can tolerate silence. And nothing grabs an audience's attention more quickly. Whether I speak softly or crescendo just before the pause, I have the full attention of each one when I fall silent and just look around at them, eyeball to eyeball.

Compare that effect to the writer's hook lines, particularly at chapters' ends. (Did those last two words slow you down a bit?) Christian writer Ramona K. Cecil presented a wonderful workshop in which she said we should not try to write a good hook at the end of a chapter, but, rather, we should end the chapter at a good hook. That statement helped me tremendously as a writer. Those hooks are the dramatic pauses of writing. Why dramatic? Because the listener/reader can hardly wait for the pause to end so that the story can move on. In the case of the reader, she wants to get that page turned as quickly as possible.

What a compliment that young man gave. Mama's got rhythm. Do you? Dear fellow writers, I hope you'll leave a comment telling about how you consciously incorporate rhythm and pacing in your writing. Examples are welcome.

Write on!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I'm Back!

Dear Readers,

I've been on the road for awhile and unable to blog, but I'm back, so I will post a new entry, Lord willing, early this week. This one will be called "Mama's Got Rhythm!" Be sure to stop back, y'all.

Because of Christ,