Don’t panic. I’m not going all-out academic linguistics on you, but we need to take a moment to consider the quirks of the American English language (as opposed to British). More to the point: what is said vs. what is meant.
When I say: “Wow, that garbage can is full.”
It means: “Get off your butt and lug out that Hefty bag, would ya?”
When my husband says: “Can I help with dinner?”
It means: “Have you been on Pinterest all day or what? Why isn’t the food on the table yet?”
When the sales clerk says: “Have a nice day.”
It means: “I don’t care a rat’s behind what kind of day you have as long as you fill out the survey on the bottom of the receipt and make me look good.”
When words are spoken face to face, it’s easier to decipher because of body language. But when the written word is your medium of choice, it’s all the harder to convey what a character actually means. On the up side, this can be used to an author’s advantage by choosing words that convey characterization via dialogue.
Or it can leave your reader scratching their head and relegating your book to the bottom of the stack on their nightstand.
What to do?
The best way to make each of your characters say what they really mean (and not give the reader a different expectation) is to know your character well before they speak. This requires some groundwork before you begin a new manuscript. Yes, this takes time, but in the long run it will pay off.
Know your characters. Know them well. Then use the words that flow out of their mouths to solidify who they are in your reader’s mind. Those are the kind of characters that stick with a reader long after they’ve closed the book.
But Don’t Overdo It
I love sarcasm. Give me a character who’s snappy and snippy with their dialogue and bam—instant like fest as far as I’m concerned. So it surprises me when my snarky personalities aren’t always well loved. What’s the deal?
Apparently I’m in the minority. Surprisingly, sarcasm doesn’t head the list of likeable traits, which can work against an author while crafting characters. It is your job as a writer to make your reader fall in love with your characters . . . or at least want to have coffee with them.
What authors do you know who have mastered the art of dialogue?
“A synopsis is a cold thing. You do it with the front of your mind.”
~ J.B. Priestley, English novelist, playwright, broadcaster
Is it only me, or do you break out in a cold sweat just thinking about having to write a synopsis? I can write novels. I can write devotionals. I can even whip out a mean shopping list. But writing the dreaded synopsis brings out the idiot in me. Perhaps, indeed, I have lost the front half of my brain somewhere along the way.
So what’s my problem? Am I giving this too much importance? Am I trying to fit in too much information? Has there not been enough dark chocolate in my diet of late?
Regardless, there’s no getting around the fact that every writer must construct a synopsis in order to sell a manuscript. Think of it as the bones of your story, or if you like, the short story version of your novel.
3 WAYS TO WRANGLE A PLOT INTO A SYNOPSIS FORMAT
1. Introduce your main characters, focusing most on goals, motivations, and conflicts rather than on physical attributes.
Hint: Think back cover copy.
Example: It takes a thief to catch one, and there’s none better than reformed cat burglar (MOTIVATION) Officer Doug Harwell. He’ll stop at nothing to rid the Boston streets of crime (GOAL)—until the beautiful pickpocket Rhianna Davis enters his life (CONFLICT).
2. For the body of the synopsis, set up each paragraph with the actions, reactions, and decisions made by those main characters.
Example: Bob kisses Donna under the apple tree (ACTION).
He makes her forget she’s already engaged to Bubba (REACTION).
Donna decides to break off her engagement and run away to join the circus instead (DECISION).
3. Tie up the loose ends.
Never—ever—leave an editor guessing, no matter how cute you think it is. Cliffhangers are great for chapter endings, but not for a synopsis finale. You must include the resolution to your story.
There you have it. Put together your story idea into a two-page format before you dig into chapter one so that you have a road map to follow as you compose.
DO NOT LIVE AND DIE ON SYNOPSIS HILL
Are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse? I’m not. Shoot, I’m not even prepared to make dinner tonight. I’ve got more important things on my mind, like should I stick to my synopsis or deviate in a whole new direction even though I’m two-thirds of the way finished? Don’t smirk. This is a serious crisis.
What do you do when you suspect your storyline might be one of the living dead?
First off, don’t panic. I never do. Oh, I did on the first three or four manuscripts, but now I see a pattern. I get bored with my own story. Yeah, I said that out loud. And newsflash: If the author’s bored, the reader will be bored. It’s a valid reason to stray from your original outline, but there are a few other reasons you might want to consider when deciding if you should revamp your plan or ditch it altogether.
You might want to change your synopsis if:
1. You thought of a better idea for an ending.
2. A new character shows up and takes center stage.
3. You realized an angle to turn the story into a series.
4. You came across information that makes your original idea not only implausible but outright impossible.
Remember, a synopsis written before a story is finished is more of a guideline than a legal contract. It’s okay to change things up, unless you’ve already got a contract on the piece. Then you’ll have to clear it with an editor first.
It’s that time of year to start reserving your campsite or cabin or airline seats. Yay for summer vacation! But who’s got time for that?
Your week is slammed—chock full of appointments and meetings and paperwork that you don’t want to fill out in the first place. And, dutiful writer that you are, you realize you must make time amidst the chaos to write or it’s not going to happen. So, you whip out a crowbar and pry open a block of precious hours to work on your bestseller. It’s hopeful. It’s a handhold on your rockslide of a schedule and you’re looking forward to it.
Fast forward. The blessed time has arrived for you to lose yourself in the muse and surge ahead in your WIP. Java in one hand, laptop in the other, you cozy up in your favorite chair, ready to write and—
Apparently your muse didn’t get the memo. Your mind is blank and you are exhausted. Panic sets in. This is your only chance to write for the week and you don’t want to blow it. So you sit there with a crazed look on your face, whimpering.
Yeah. I hear you. I’ve been there. Frequently. Take a deep breath and read on because I’ve got a few tricks in my writerly bag that often are helpful.
Close your eyes for a moment and listen to your characters. Just listen. Then open your eyes and write down what they’re saying. That’s right…I’m giving you permission to simply write dialogue. Don’t worry about attributes. You can go back and do that later. Simply start typing in a conversation between two of your characters (any two) and something magical will happen. You’ll get lost in the dialogue and pretty soon your word count will sky rocket.
Show & Tell
Open up to your collection of pictures that inspire your particular story. And if you don’t have any, then use this time to get some. What am I talking about? Well, I now keep pictures of each of my stories on Pinterest (hereis an example). You don’t have to use that site, but you can look at my board and it will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Pre-Pinterest days I simply opened a Word file and kept them there. Pre-laptop days I cut out pictures and tossed them into a file folder. Sometimes all it takes to get you writing is to physically look into your hero or heroine’s eyes.
Slash & Burn
Go back to a previous chapter and edit. Even if your muse doesn’t happen to show up during that entire block of time, at least you’ll be making some kind of headway on your WIP and you’ll feel a lot better about it.
Release the pressure by telling yourself it’s quality not quantity. Focus on writing a single paragraph of description, either describing a character, a setting, an object…whatever. Make it a game by throwing out convention and using prose that’s crazy and you’ll find that one of two things will happen. It will either spur you into a creative new bent for the scene and you’ll move on in your story, or you’ll wonder what kind of drugs you’re on and snap out of it.
Honestly, is there any situation that chocolate doesn’t make better? Go for the biggest brownie in the batch and see if that doesn’t put you in a better frame of mind
There you have it. Try one. Try all. Or go ahead and share with us other surefire ways you’ve tried to plead with your muse to pack up the suntan lotion and get home.
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s that holiday time of year. You know the routine. Parties and calories galore. Crowds and credit cards smoking from overuse. Getting together with relatives you haven’t seen for an entire year.
And—worst of all—having to answer the inevitable, “How’s your writing going?”
Oh, on the surface, it’s a harmless enough question. Much less in-your-face than a glitzy-gaudy Christmas sweater gone wrong. Don’t misunderstand, either. I’m not dissing the genuine interest that others hold in regards to the writing journey. In fact, the question shows care and concern from loved ones.
Still, why in the world do those four simple words, “How’s your writing going?” always drop me to my knees?
Because this question is like a bag of potato chips. You can’t have just one, folks. It’s the follow-up questions that sucker punch a writer into a drooling idiot . . .
“You still haven’t finished that book?”
“You still haven’t been published?”
“You still haven’t gotten an agent?”
“You still haven’t heard from Publisher X?”
“You still haven’t made it to the NY Times Bestseller list?”
The definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results. This year, stop the madness. You know those questions are coming, so writers, let’s be proactive. How? Plan ahead.
Share an interesting bit of research you’ve uncovered.
An engaging tidbit of information oftentimes turns the conversation in a whole new direction. And who knows…you just may have found someone who can add to your knowledge base on a particular subject.
Prepare a fun and snappy comeback.
You don’t have to feel defeated because you “still haven’t.” Lighten up the situation with a quippy reply. Don’t just grin and bear it. Really yuk it up.
No, not your finger. Flip the question back to the questioner. Be honest and admit you haven’t whatever-they-asked, then ask them if they’ve accomplished one of their goals yet. Only use this tactic, however, if you really care. Otherwise, you’re going to come off as a sour grapes connoisseur.
Remember, ‘tis the season to be jolly, not crabby. Instead of cringing in the corner at the next holiday gathering, go out there and have fun!
Have you heard of the term bait-and-switch? Yep. This is one of them, and for good cause. If the title had read “3 Reasons to Outline,” would you seriously have stayed tuned? Not only is the topic of outlining boring, it often causes big hivey welts to break out on some people. So if you need to slug back a few gulps of Benadryl, go for it, and let’s move forward with…
3 REASONS TO OUTLINE
1. To keep from crashing head first into the lack of confidence wall.
Yes, you can write an entire novel without drafting an outline, but the chances of losing steam and curling into the fetal position about midway through are pretty high. What you thought was a plot screeches to a halt. Characters wander around like zombies on steroids. Your narrative is a flaming train wreck of twisted words. Reaching this state of mind has a way of sucking all the confidence marrow from your bones. This is where an outline comes in handy. Think of it as a safety net and/or anti-zombie mega-gun. When you hit midway in your story, you can reach out and grab the outline rope to pull yourself up to the grand summit of a finale.
2. So you know where you’re going.
I’m not a huge map fan. I can’t fold the dang things. I know. I know. There’s this great new invention called MapQuest. Yeah. That’d be great if I had a smart phone—which I don’t. Even so, there have been a few family vacations where I’ve been awfully thankful for a map. That’s what your outline is. Writing a story is a lot like going on a road trip. Sure you can throw your bags in the car and hope for the best, but what happens when you hit construction? Or worse…road closed? That’s when a map is your best friend. Same thing with a meandering story. An outline will keep you on track to end up where you wanted to go.
3. It works out the kinks.
Don’t get me wrong. Writing an outline is not a magic pill that takes you to happy writer land (but if you could market that, you’d make scads of money.) Planning out the major scenes ahead of time, thinking through all the what-if-that-happens scenarios, straightens out your plot so you’ll be less likely to have to rewrite unnecessary chapters.
Convinced yet that outlining is the greatest thing ever? I wouldn’t be, either. Outlining sounds about as much fun as scrubbing the toilet—outlining as in Roman Numerals and sub-points and all that analytical falderal. I say it’s time to start thinking outside that no-fun box and reinvent the outline.
Newsflash: there’s no law that says you have to write a text-on-screen outline.
Maybe you’re a Pinterest type of person who creates story boards. That counts. Perhaps you love the smell of dry erase markers and get off on mind mapping a tale on a large whiteboard. Shoot, I even know some writers who adore 3M sticky notes and plan out a novel by decorating a wall with their scenes. Go ahead and get creative. That’s what fiction is about, folks.
One parting thought to shoot down the scare factor of outlining. You have my permission to outline only chunks at a time. If scribbling down the entire story totally freaks you out, just do the first third, then take a break and write the first chapter. Before you end the first third, however, you should plan the next third. Savvy?
Outlining does not have to steal the joy from your writing. Turn it around to enhance the joy of your writing…and keep from having a nervous breakdown halfway through.
What about you? Are you fans of the outline or more pantsers types?
There’s no way around it anymore. A writer has to market. You can flail your arms and scream like a little girl all you want, but other than scoring yourself some raised eyebrows or possibly a straitjacket, you will need to market your writing. Allow me to teach you the three most important words I taught my children. No, it’s not “please” and “thank you”…it’s “Get over it!”
Now that we’re past the lecture, let’s move on with some ideas to get your book out there that don’t involve the standard lukewarm fare of Twitter and Facebook. Not that I have anything against social media, mind you. It’s just that all the authorly Who’s from Whoville are already there, shouting their little lungs out.
Create a “Night Out” Event
This is a great way to cross-promote local businesses and your book. Look for small restaurants, clothing stores, kitchen gadget shops, whatever you can possibly tie into your book. Approach them with an idea to have a Women’s Night Out or Man Cave Night wherein you’ll offer to do a reading, or demonstration, or if you’re really confident, to be the chump in a rousing round of Stump the Chump for cheap little prizes.
Locate some meet-up groups in your area that might be interested in your book. Does your story have a sweet little dog as a character? Find a dog walking group. In my recent release, A HEART DECEIVED, I talk about the cook’s fantastic marmalade, so I’d go for a cooking group. Offer to speak to those groups for free (with a handy dandy book table at the back for afterwards). Need help finding a group? Meetup is the place for you.
Unless you live in Podunksville, USA, you’ve probably got a local company that ships products directly to customers. Ask if you can place postcards advertising your book in with their shipments. Obviously, if your novel is a romance, you probably don’t want a card going out with an order of hedgehog vitamins (not even kidding…check this out). Make it related in some way.
Yes, Tupperware ladies are still around, but they’re not the only ones who do in-home parties. Pitch an offer to some reps to come along to one of their shows and do a short reading as an icebreaker. Sales people frequently love opening a conversation with potential buyers by talking about a novel instead of trying to do an immediate hard sell. It gets your name out there, and more importantly, gets people talking about your book.
My latest scheme involves offering a BOGO (Buy One Get One) for my recent release. Since my book is set in England, I used the Keep Calm-o-Matic site to create my own poster. For one weekend, July 12-14, I’m offering to mail a signed copy to anyone who can show me a receipt for a book they’ve purchased. Details here.
Remember: the goal of promoting your work is to entice people to buy. Whapping them upside the head with BUY ME, BUY ME not only isn’t going to work, it’s going to annoy potential buyers to swerve way around your train wreck of a marketing ploy.
After all, one can own only so many bookmarks before the recycle bin is filled to the brim.
Victor Watts just signed with Sarah Freese. Victor is a great writer, and we look forward to what he will contribute to the WordServe team!
Bill Donahue, leadership and community expert writing nonfiction.
Arnie Cole and Michael Ross signed with Authentic Publishers to write The Worry-Free Family.
Cris Krusen signed with Baker Books to write Buried Treasure: History Makers of the Faith. A look at 12-15 little known people of faith who made an impact in the world, even though they were not known as full time ministers.
Ema McKinley signed a one-book contract with Zondervan for her miracle healing story, Jesus in My Room. Cheryl Ricker is her collaborator.
Lisa Velthouse signed on with Lauren Scruggs to collaborate with her on Believing You’re Beautiful: Choosing to Be Who God Says You Are. Tyndale will publish in 2014.
Bob Welch signed with Thomas Nelson for two books: 52 Life Lessons from Les Miserables, and 52 Life Lessons From A Christmas Carol.
What We’re Celebrating!!
Very happy, proud, and honored . . . for Julie Cantrell who was awarded two Christy Awards (the Christian awards for the previous year’s novels) at last week’s ICRS convention. She not only won in the “Debut Novel” category, but the Christy’s also added a new category this year: Novel of the Year. And Into the Free, Julie’s first novel, was awarded the best novel in all of Christian publishing for 2012. Wow. A starred review in Pubisher’s Weekly, a New York Time’s bestseller…and now this. Way to go, Julie! It couldn’t happen to a nicer lady.
Jan Drexler’sThe Prodigal Son Returns continues to do well. She recently received news that she is a double finalist in the TARA contest. Way to go, Jan!
Jordyn Redwood’s debut novel, Proof, became a finalist in the Carol Awards in the “Debut Novel” category. Awards will be given at this September’s ACFW in Indianapolis. As we all like to say around here, “Strong work!”