Each time I attend a writing conference I’m reminded that one of the trickiest things to do correctly is write a synopsis. And yet the synopsis forms the basis of a query, so the more powerful you can make your synopsis, the better your query.
I’ll post on queries soon, but I’d like to give you a worksheet on synopses here. This worksheet will hopefully guide you through the steps you need in order to craft the strongest synopsis of your work.
Keep in mind that much of what drives your story lies deep inside you, so don’t try to do this simplistically. Get to the heart of your story, and not only will you have a better synopsis, you’ll discover things that will inform all your work. And it follows that a great synopsis – which is ideally a paragraph – will contain the nuggets of that most precious of all sentences, the logline. And the logline will arm you for the elevator moment. (More on queries, loglines, and elevator moments -check here.)
Okay kids, this novel is an incredible read – moving, mysterious, and deeply engaging. It is not for the faint of heart, nor for the easy-reader; it’s a novel for those who love to think and be prodded out of their comfort zone. I devoured it in a single day. Lindsey Lane’s debut YA THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN (out now from Farrar, Straus, Giroux) is a not-put-down story of the disappearance of one Tommy Smythe, a brilliant if odd teen. Here’s a portion of the School Library Journal review and summary: “The story unfolds through interviews with witnesses, scraps of scribbled notes from Tommy himself, and private moments between seemingly unrelated people. Tommy’s disappearance is at the forefront of some stories, at the back of others. Chapters are arranged by lead-characters or items, some more hard-hitting than others, but the picture of a small border town caught up in a mystery and bound by its secrets is an intriguing one that Lane does well. Some chapters do deal with more adult subject matter (drug use, teen pregnancy, racism, prostitution) and adult language is prevalent throughout, but isn’t gratuitous. Give to fans of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s I’ll be There (Little, Brown, 2012) and Todd Strasser’s Give a Boy a Gun (S. & S., 2002).” Full disclosure: Lindsey is a dear friend. I’ve admired her work for as long as we’ve known one another – almost ten years! And we are agency mates, clients of Erin Murphy. I couldn’t be more pleased. Now, not only do we get to hear about this beautifully written novel, we’ve got a surprise – the first appearance of the novel’s trailer! Here’s Lindsey: Please give readers a synopsis of EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN.
Instead of writing a synopsis of EVIDENCE, I’d like to debut my book trailer on your blog (yay!!):
I was sucked into the story right away, and I confess that one reason was that Tommy is such a strong presence even in absence. How did you come to feel about Tommy?
I’m glad you felt Tommy’s presence strongly. Originally, he showed up in one of the stories when the novel was linked short stories that all occurred around this patch of dirt by the side of the road called the pull out. It was my critique partner Anne Bustard who said, “I think this particular story might be a bit bigger.” That’s when I went back in and did a floor to ceiling kind of renovation of the book and Tommy became a thread through all the stories.
I love the multiple points of view, the interweaving story lines. Did you write this novel in a linear fashion?
Do you mean did I write it from start to finish with a beginning, middle and end? Nope. When it was linked short stories, I wrote them one after another. Boom. Boom. Boom. But after I had the piece of Tommy going missing, I had a time frame so I had to weave each thread in relation to the moment he disappears. That’s all when I added in the first person sections of the kids who knew Tommy. Gradually, I found that what I was doing was writing around the negative space. If you have something or someone who goes missing, what remains is cast in sharp relief. Even if Tommy wasn’t part of another character’s life, his absence still affects that character. Like, when you lose your keys, you are kind off course looking for it and all the people you ask if they’ve seen them start looking and they go a little off course. Or worse, when your child wanders away from you at a store and you and everyone around you goes into a freak out until you find her. So if the center of a story goes missing, everything wobbles. I wanted all the stories around Tommy to have that feeling that life is just a little bit off course.
You know, Tommy would say that I did write the novel in a linear fashion because I wrote it in linear time whether or not I went back and shifted the structure of the book. That’s the kind of guy he is. I feel his presence every day. I probably always will.
The notes are brilliant, allowing us to see not only more deeply into Tommy’s way of thinking, but they connect the story of his disappearance with the physics of dimensional possibility. Was that something you came up with early on?
Almost as soon as Tommy showed up in my imagination, I knew he was a bright geeky kid who was a little bit off socially. Once his absence was a central thread, I started keeping Tommy’s journal. I wanted to know the way he thought. I wanted to know who he was. What I discovered was this brilliant kid who was in the middle of having his mind blown by particle physics. I knew his journal was important but all that I included in the manuscript that sold to FSGBYR was that little snippet at the beginning, which is still there. My editor Joy Peskin loved it so I included a bit more when I did a revision for her.
I believe I recall that this novel was inspired by true events. Is that correct? If not, where did it come from?
In the category of truth is stranger than fiction, I was double checking facts and I called the Blanco Chamber of Commerce because I set EVIDENCE in that neck of the Texas Hill Country in a town about the size of Blanco and I needed to check a few facts. I told the woman who answered the phone what my book was about and there was this long pause. “We had a boy that sounds just like your character who went missing a few years ago.” Then my side of the phone went silent. Turns out the boy came back but he had whole town in an uproar for a couple weeks. Wild, eh?
As for the stories in the rest of the book, they aren’t real but they are inspired by real events. For instance, when I interviewed Karla Faye Tucker on death row many years ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about how her story had led her to kill someone. Like where did the stitch in the fabric of her life break so that the whole tapestry unravels one very bad night? She haunted me until she showed up in this book.
Truth and factual events captivate me. Then I like to go back and look at the why and how of it. I’m a sucker for epiphanies. I love the aha of life.
That’s an amazing story. We were at Vermont College of Fine Arts together, a memory and friendship I cherish. Was any of this novel a part of your Vermont College experience?
When I graduated from VCFA, two stories–Comic Book and Lost–are in my creative thesis. But what was really important about the VCFA experience and this novel was faith. Faith in my writing. Faith in following and developing an idea. Faith that my ideas were worthy. I don’t know if I could have found that faith without going to VCFA. Every month for two years, I leaped off a cliff and sent my advisors pages and pages of writing. Each month, I made those pages better with tools in my writer’s toolbox. The VCFA experience was pivotal in my development as a writer and certainly this book.
You know the title of this novel comes from a quote in the bible about faith: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In way, this book is a result of that faith in myself as a writer.
What’s your typical writing process? Plotter, or pantser?
Hmmm, I bet I’m going to write every book just a little bit different every time. Even though, I probably pantsed my way into this novel, I held each thread in my head before I wrote them down. I knew where I was going with each section. I knew who the characters were.
On the next book, I purposefully journaled for quite a while. I figured out the characters, the backstory, the crisis and the climax. What was most important was finding the inciting incident. It is the moment that makes the story unravel to an inevitable conclusion. I think of backstory as the hand of god. The reader will believe one coincidence at the beginning of the book. I try to make sure that one coincidence will make all the dice in the hand of god fall on the table. Gradually. Inexorably. Fatalistically. Lovingly. (I have to absolutely love my characters.) After I finish drafting and let it rest, that’s probably when I will do that hard work of making sure it hangs together on the arc of a plot. I do like to write intuitively when I’m drafting but I’m holding the story in my head so I have a map of where I’m going. If writing a novel is like a road trip, then I’m all about the surprises along the way in the first draft. I still get to the destination because I have the map but I’m stopping at cafes and pull outs and overlooks all along the way.
What are you working on now?
The working title is Inside the Notes. Here is the inciting incident: A young girl arrives in Boston. First time away from home. She is staying with a couple near the music conservatory where she is studying for four weeks. As she is unpacking, the clock radio in her room clicks on (the coincidence) and she hears men’s voices reading poetry and letters. It is a prison radio show. The girl knows her father is in prison for killing her mother when she was two years old. It is the first time she has considered he might be real and have a voice. The journey begins.
Kendra Levin of Viking has acquired my first middle grade, CHATELAINE: THE THIRTEENTH CHARM in a pre-empt. It’s slated for a winter 2016 release.
I can’t wait to share Kat’s story with you. Here’s a synopsis:
CHATELAINE is a middle-grade novel set in a rundown Scottish castle during WWII. The lady of the manor has set it up as a temporary boarding school for children escaping the Blitz. But something is not right with that castle or that lady, and the children begin disappearing one by one. There are clues that hint that a spy is in the house; there are signs that can’t be denied that there is a sinister magic. It’s a race against the clock for one girl, her two younger siblings, and her new best friend to get to the bottom of things.(more…)
I’m pleased to announce that my second novel and the companion to FAITHFUL, FORGIVEN, is now available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle for $2.99.
If you haven’t read FORGIVEN – and I hope you’ll give it a try! – here’s the synopsis:
Kula Baker never expected to find herself on the streets of San Francisco in 1906. The daughter of an outlaw, Kula is soon swept up in a world of art and intrigue – a world she hardly dared dream of back in Montana. She meets handsome David Wong, whose smiling eyes and soft-spoken manner have an uncanny way of breaking through Kula’s carefully crafted reserve. Yet when a mighty earthquake strikes and the wreckage threatens all she holds dear, Kula realizes that only by unlocking her heart can she begin to carve a new future for herself.
This is the second launch for FORGIVEN. Unfortunately, it’s been out of print for almost a year, but fortunately my options as an author with an out-of-print book are now greater than ever.
I’ll share a bit of my journey in case you’re curious or in the same position.
First and foremost, here’s my new cover, designed by Elijah Toten:
I couldn’t be happier with the design, which pulls together an image of San Francisco after the earthquake and fires of 1906 with the period flavor of the girl’s clothing and the sense of searching that dominates the novel.
I found Elijah after scouring the web for cover designers and choosing him for the clarity of his designs. I also had advice on all matters including cover design from Chris Eboch and Dotti Enderle, who have much experience with e-book creation. And I should add that Elijah’s price was extremely reasonable.
After returning my electronic rights to me, my publisher graciously supplied me with an epub version of the manuscript. This was great, because it allowed me to retain much of the interior design; but Amazon uses mobi files, not epub, and I’d decided to launch with KDP Select because the terms are better for me.
My web designer Lynn Kinnaman helped me by converting the epub first to Word and then to mobi, and then we set up the book to publish. We had to go through several corrections but Amazon makes that easy by allowing you to preview the text since sometimes glitchy little software errors do creep in. I looked through the text carefully because I find it no fun to read an ebook with quirky issues.
If you have a final, clean manuscript in Microsoft Word, it’s much easier to go from there, but all interior design has to be removed. Frankly, I was thrilled to have Lynn’s help, as my left-braininess doesn’t extend to the tedious job of formatting.
It felt like it took forever, but really the process was very easy, thanks to all the advice and help. If you have questions, please fire away!
I’m pleased that my contemporary young adult short story Jewels, set in New York City, is included in this anthology of work by Bozeman-area authors. The anthology, published by Bangtail Press, is available exclusively at Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana.
Here’s an excerpt from Jewels:
Wren pulls on a knee-high and slips her right foot into the shoe. The leather glows; her foot is dainty. A princess foot. She slips on the left. She steps away from Violet, away from the saleswoman, walks across the floor to the mirror, where only her feet appear, her torso sliced off at mid-thigh.
Her feet, in those emerald skins, could walk right out of the store and no one would know it was her. They might think, that’s Violet’s BFF. That’s Violet.
“I’ll take them,” she hears Violet say. Wren turns. Smiling, Violet leans toward the saleswoman and hands over a credit card. Wren purses her lips.
She slips off the shoes and tucks them back into their box. “Not quite right.”
Violet yanks her arm. “Oh, come on! We’ll be twins!” Violet grabs Wren’s purse and digs for her wallet. “She wants them.” Vi turns to Wren, lowering her voice, chanting, sonorous, “You want them.”
Wren lifts one shoulder and says, “Okay.” She takes the wallet from Violet and fishes out her card, placing it flat in the saleswoman’s palm. Wren feels hot, then cold, as her card slides through the reader.
Violet moves off, examining one pair of shoes after another. The saleswoman flips the tissue over the shoes, snaps the top down.
Wren edges over to Violet. “So, hey.” She takes Violet’s sleeve between the outermost edge of thumb and forefinger. “Tonight, then. We can wear them. The shoes. Be twins.”
Violet shrugs, plopping a shoe back onto the table. “Whatever.”
I have always had trouble with plotting, so I’m a big fan of collecting working solutions to planning the plot. Today I’m posting the latest in my personal collection of plot diagrams, something I’ve put together based on the best plot diagrams I’ve found and used. Here is my plot paradigm with some explanation…
The black line at the top is, of course, the classic Aristotelian 3-act structure, where Act 2 is twice as long as Acts 1 and 3, and the form is set-up, confrontation, and resolution.
Below that in green are the stages of the Hero’s Journey as outlined by Christopher Vogler in his now-classic writer’s guide The Writer’s Journey, based upon the research of Joseph Campbell.
In brown are the turning points defined for screenplays by the late Syd Field; they also apply perfectly to novels. You can find out more about these points in his books and DVDs.
In blue, I’ve placed the plot line defined by Martha Alderson in her Plot Whisperer books and workbooks. What I particularly like about this plot line is that it shows how tension increases to two high points, the Crisis and the Climax.
And in red, I’ve added the 14 “Signpost Scenes” defined by James Scott Bell in his Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure. I like the way that these signpost scene definitions are more colloquial than Vogler’s and add a few nuances, like “care package” and “pet the dog.”
Getting organized doesn’t have to be hard. It can even be fun – fun to see the mess disappear! And it’s easier to manage schoolwork when you’re organized. That means more free time and better grades.
Wow! How cool is that?
Start with “stuff”. Things like old homework papers are easy to sort if you use the “touch it once” rule. As you sort out your papers, decide whether each paper is a keeper, or should be tossed. Keep only things that will help you later – for example, handouts you need for a test.
The most important part of managing your study time is to be consistent. Set a homework time for each day and stick to it. Your brain will be ready to work when study time rolls around.
Study even when you have no homework. Review your notes or read a new book.
Take a short break after studying for 20 minutes. You’ll remember more and have more energy.
Using flash cards is the best way to remember facts. You can carry them in your pocket. Practice everything from math facts to vocabulary just about anywhere – on the school bus, or right before a test.
Writing is my passion, and if you share it, then I think you are truly blessed! Here are some thoughts I have about being a writer:
Noted children’s author Jane Yolen has a slogan for writers: BIC. It stands for “butt in chair”, and it helps to remind me that I need to write in order to be a writer. Even when white paper stares me in the face, I must start somewhere, with a word, a phrase, a sentence. Pretty quickly the words add up. But unless I’m writing, nothing gets written.
Persistence is the most important quality in a writer. It may even be more important than native talent. Some very talented people have never been published. Why? Because after a few fits and starts their writing languishes in a drawer. I’ve never had an editor come knocking on my door, asking to see my latest work. I have to be persistent, learn the craft, and send my work out.
I never assume that my first draft is gold. I rewrite everything. I take my work to my critique partners. I write, then let the work sit. Sometimes, I actually throw things out. Well, I don’t throw them out…I file them away. They are, after all, my children, and I love them even when they’re really ugly.
Me with Kathy Whitehead (on the left) and Shirley Hoskins (right), my critique partners for the first ten years I wrote for children. We met weekly, and I credit these ladies with all my early success. I now have a wonderful new group of writers in Montana, and we meet twice a month. A critique group is a crucial aid to writing success.
So what’s the best way to become a writer? “Read, read, read.” I try to read everything, especially things in the genre in which I work.
Joining a group is a great motivator. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a nationwide professional support and information group. I’m a member; in fact, I have been both a Regional Advisor and Assistant Regional Advisor for the local affiliate when we lived in Texas, and I’m still very involved here in Montana. This brings me closer to what’s happening in the industry. I treat myself as a professional, and I take my own work seriously.
As part of taking myself seriously, I believe you are never too old and never too “good” to learn. The craft of writing is rich and I feel I’m still scratching the surface of skill. Part of my time learning was spent at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and my time there were two incredible years working with some of the best writers in the industry.
This article first appeared in Highlights for Children, May, 2006
“Here it comes!” my son Kevin shouted.
We felt a rumble beneath our feet. We heard a noise like a roaring train. Boiling water shot out of the ground and blew high into the air.
We were watching a geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone covers a big part of Wyoming, plus parts of Montana and Idaho. Geysers, hot springs, and mud pots fill the park. That’s because much of Yellowstone sits on a giant volcano! (more…)