Probably the thing I hate the most about querying (aside from the hours spent researching and emailing agents, only to get very polite but still disheartening rejection letters) is writing the synopsis. Not ever agent I research asks for one. Some will only want the query letter, others a few chapters, a blessed few who just want you to send the whole dang thing along. But many want a synopsis, so they know what the story is about before they decide to ask for more and dive in.
I get it. Agents don’t have a lot of time, and a synopsis is a quick way to figure out what you’re trying to sell them before they invest more of their reading hours on your stuff. But it’s hard to do.
Take a book you have spent years writing, where you’ve changed and reworked and perfected all the twists and turns. Now condense the whole thing into a page. Maybe two.
I have to decide what events are important enough to describe, what plot twists need to be left out because it takes too long to explain. I have to keep the whole thing concise, while also making it perfectly clear what happens, and why.
The issue for me is that the story has swollen to something so big in my head, I feel like I’m taking a mountain and shrinking it down to a vaguely detailed fist-sized rock: you look at it, get the gist of what it is, and can still imagine how impressive the real thing is. That’s not something I do easily (which is why I’m sure I failed miserably at #PitMad last time I tried), so I spend a lot of time staring at my notebook, or my screen, and feeling very frustrated.
It is useful, though. Not just because if I can figure out how to do it, writing a decent synopsis can get my one step (half-step?) closer to getting published. But also, if I learn how to shrink down the description of my story, I feel more confident when I describe my novel to other people: friends, family, maybe by some luck a person in the publishing industry. Other than it being required for some queries, I want to get good at this, so I will keep working at it, tweaking it, and I will
force ask very nicely that my friends and writing group mates take a peek and give me their own opinions, and maybe I can figure out how to concisely, and intelligibly, describe what the heck my novel is about.
What do you have trouble with when gathering your query materials? Do you have trouble writing synopses as well?
For useful synopsis advice, I’d check out Jane Friedman’s post on her blog.
This year, having a back yard and all, we decided to start a vegetable garden. Peas, green beans, zucchinis, hey even some kale, why not?
I had high hopes for lots of these things. Mountains of zucchini bread, fresh peas every week. KALE SALADS. It was going to be great.
Some things turned out like I thought. We consistently get some zucchinis. I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with. But other things worked out badly. The kale never came up (I think I planted it on the only patch of bad soil in the whole garden), and I discovered that peas are apparently the least drought-resistant things I could have planted.
Then there are our pumpkins.
We started a few seeds, and I thought, They won’t all come up anyway, so make sure we plant a bunch! And then they all came up. Then I planted them alongside the other vegetables, thinking, This can’t get too much bigger than the zucchinis.
They got much, much bigger than the zucchinis.
That’s an old picture. The vines have since spread even further, overtaking the cucumbers and encroaching on the strawberries. They’re growing up the back fence, so that I wonder what, exactly, will happen once pumpkins start appearing. And, oh man, are the pumpkins appearing.
So, the moral here? Read more about pumpkins before you try to plant a bunch of them in your cramped garden. Also, sometimes things don’t work out like you thought. That can be bad (R.I.P. peas, you will be missed) or they can burn out, really, really well.
Now do figure out how to make some pumpkin pie…
I’m back to that paper-wasting stage of editing, where I print out the whole danged novel, read it out loud slowly and scribble directly on the paper. As I’ve said in the past, this has always been the best way for me to get my thoughts out, and also to make sure I actually fix the mistakes I see rather than just let my eyes pass over them. I need it, so I don’t feel bad, plus I recycle everything afterward, so I feel even less bad.
I like this stage of my editing. I’ve gone through already to fix plot and character problems, I’ve already did the really hard parts of trying to make myself as clear as possible. So now, as I read, I find the little things. Weird spacing, misspelled words, changing the wording a little when I need a pronoun instead of a proper noun or I accidentally rhyme.
There are some times when I cross out sentences and paragraphs, because I can see where they aren’t needed, or I rewrite a phrase to make it sound just a tad bit better. But mostly, I find myself enjoying my story, feeling satisfied with the flow of the words, and with the emotions that it seems I just maybe finally got across clearly.
I like this stage of my editing because, for now at least, it feels like the hard work is done. I can enjoy what I’ve written, and feel confident that this is something that other people will like, that other people will read, that other people will publish.
And that’s why I have to hurry up and finish editing, so I can send this puppy out before my self-esteem comes crashing down again.
Books can inspire you to do a lot of things: learn a new topic, go somewhere, or eat something you’ve never heard of before. Or they can just make you wish that something existed so you could actually do it.
For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, here are a few of the things books have made me want to do.
- A Ring of Endless Light by Madleine L’Engle made me want to go to school for English. This is all because one person that the main character, Vicky, meets tells her that if she’s serious about her writing, she shouldn’t major in creative writing in college, but she should major in English so she can study stories. I may have been the only person I knew in middle school who knew what she was going to college for.
- My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George made me want to live in the woods. If I could get my own peregrine falcon, even better.
- Amelia’s Notebook series by Marissa Moss inspired me to fill my childhood journal with awesome doodles.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis gave my a lifelong desire to try Turkish Delight. (It didn’t work out so well.)
- And, of course, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling made me hope, hope, hope that I would be a witch. Still waiting on that owl…
Check out The Broke and the Bookish for more lists! What have books made you want to do? There are still so many other foods books made me want to try…
I’m sitting at my desk, staring at my screen. Specifically, staring at one paragraph in my novel. A paragraph that sort of gets at what I want to say…except, not really, no. The idea is firm in my head, but the words that will make it clear, understood, those are out of reach.
Or maybe, I’m beginning to suspect, they don’t exist at all.
My water cup has run dry, so I get up. Go downstairs. The rain has stopped, so I open the door and stand on the porch. The dog runs past my legs, and I breathe deep the smell of warm wet grass and dirt.
And I know what I want to say.
Just like that the words are in my head, perfect — or at least, perfect for now. I write them out, plug them in, and with a little bit of jamming they fit into the story. Not a one hundred percent fit, but I can sand them out later, when they’ve settled more, and I’m not quite so proud.
Right now it’s a relief to have found something workable. I sigh, and take a satisfied sip of water.
And I look at the next paragraph.
I keep trying to listen to audiobooks, and I’ve been listening to more music, but when walking the dog and doing the dishes, podcasts are still my favorite way to pass the time.
My Favorite Murder
My newest favorite podcast is My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. This is a true crime murder podcast where two ladies from LA describe their favorite murder (or murder attempt survival) stories that I found after the hosts had a guest appearance on the Cracked podcast. It’s a bit morbid, I know, but murder stories are fascinating (it’s why I have a hard time changing the channel when I come across a Law and Order marathon) and Kilgariff and Hardstark are having so much fun talking about everything that I get almost as much enjoyment out of just listening to them talk. Some of it gets really brutal (like Episode Seventeen, oh my god) so be prepared for that if you go to listen to this.
I’ll also just add that listening to a story about a pregnant lady fighting off a would-be murderer/baby snatcher is really good motivation while you’re running on the treadmill.
American Icons: The Disney Parks
Studio 360 recently replayed their episode on Disney and the Disney Parks on NPR, so I downloaded the whole thing for a car trip with my husband. Because if you didn’t know, we really like Disney Parks, and my husband particularly loves learning about the history of WDW and the like. If you have any interest at all in Disney, it’s a great listen. There are sound bites from people who love and hate Disney (Carl Hiaasen refusing to take his grandchildren to Disney World is kind of great), a story from a woman who played Snow White for years, and a gay love story involving a Disney dancer and a Prince Charming.
What podcasts are you listening to? I’m trying find some book podcasts, but I have trouble finding anything that I’m able to get really into, so any recommendations on that end would be fantastic.
Work load wise, I didn’t get a lot done this weekend.
I did some editing/rewriting for myself, one day. But I didn’t write any blog posts, I didn’t do any critiquing.
Yesterday particularly, you can’t say I did anything towards bringing my story to completion.
So what did I do?
I ran for two miles.
I watched The Mindy Project while I sewed beanbags.
I ate leftover barbecue on a porch.
I sat on the beach for two hours, reading, running my feet through warm sand, taking pictures of speckled rocks, staring at the ocean while I ate an apple and listened to families shout at each other and dip their children in sea water for the first time.
Work load wise, I didn’t get a lot done.
But I don’t think I wasted much time.
I’m not always sitting at my desk. I’m not always just writing pages of story. But there are lots of things that I do that I think count as writing.
- Trolling thesaurus.com because that one word is only almost correct, and I can’t remember the right one.
- Scribbling illegibly in my notebook as I try to work out my character growth/plot point/back story or whatever else is just barely out of my reach.
- Staring out the window. Watching that crow strut her stuff or just the wind through the leaves.
- Lying on the couch. Staring at the ceiling.
- Walking the dog, muttering to myself. (Probably scaring away the neighbors.)
- Cleaning the refrigerator.
The story doesn’t stop just because I’m not hunched over the laptop, I’m not done working it out just because I’m chopping onions or going to bed. If I can get into it enough, it just keeps churning, it just keeps untangling itself in my head. It keeps — I hope — getting better.
What non-writing do you do when you’re writing? Do you think you’re just as productive as when you’re churning out a thousand words in one sitting?
So a couple months ago I finished polishing up my manuscript, and sent it to my critique partner and posted it in my critique exchange group. I’d finished inputting criticism from the last round of critiques, and I thought to myself, “I’m in a good place.This will be easy.” Not that I believed that there wouldn’t be problems — of course there will be problems, there are always problems — but there would only be a few. Things I could fix in a few weeks. Then I’d clean it up again, and boom, off to agents I go.
While problems of plotting aren’t getting mentioned (thank goodness) and there don’t seem to be overwhelming instances of my characters not being up to snuff, my to-do list for this manuscript keeps growing, and growing, the more I read my criticisms. And I realize my original goal of being ready to ship out by the end of June was laughably naïve.
I know I can’t let myself get hung up on everything that critique partners tell me. Sometimes you just have to leave a piece of advice behind.
But, you have to take some of it, too. Especially when there are persistent problems — wishy washy character, descriptions that don’t go far enough — that you know about your writing, and that people are still noticing when they read it for you.
I want to be done. Not because I’m sick of my story (I wouldn’t have gone through this many revisions if I was capable of getting sick of it), or because I have other ideas (I do, though), or that I just don’t want to do the work (though yeah, I’m lazy). No, I want to be done because I don’t want to do it forever. I don’t want to be caught spinning my wheels, rewriting and editing the same things over and over again, never reaching a real stopping point. I don’t want to put of getting published. And I don’t want to keep finding so many problems that I decide my story is unfixable and quit on it altogether, burying it as far into my drawer as I can.
I don’t want to get frustrated, and leave my story unfinished. I want to see it through to the end, and make the best attempt that I can to put it out into the world.
To do that, my story, my characters, my writing, have to be as flawless as I can make them.
Which, unfortunately, means I’m not done, as much as I wish I was.