Friday, June 12, 2009

Writing a 2 Page Synopsis...OY!

This week I had a request from an agent I was really excited about. Stoked would probably be a word you could use for my emotions when realizing she wanted to see my story. Then I read her letter. She asked for the first 30 pages which was no problem at all. The first 30 were set and ready to go. Then I read the rest of her request… a two page synopsis.


The dreaded synopsis. I know I said the same thing when I talked about writing a query. Everyone dreads a query, but a full synopsis is definitely a different beast. How do you summarize the whole book from start to finish in 500-600 words (two pages double-spaced pages)? That is exactly what I asked myself after I received the request. I’m not saying my synopsis is great, or that I even know how to write one, but here is how I went about mine.

1. First, I went chapter by chapter and wrote a sentence or two about each one. What was important in the chapter?

2. Once I finished going through the chapters the synopsis was four pages and a bunch of choppy sentences with no flow. At a loss, I stared at it and didn’t see how I could possibly cut it in half. That’s where the soul searching comes in. Ask yourself what the real conflict is in the story. THAT is what your synopsis should focus on.

3. Now I have the four pages staring back at me, what next? I read through and deleted all the unneeded stuff; Subplot, side characters or things that didn’t fall into the real conflict and solution in the story.

4. Left was the important stuff. From the first line to the last, the synopsis should tell the heart of your story. If not, go back and figure what’s really important. That should be all you care about at this point. Is it worthy of even a word when we’re talking about 500-600 within two pages? No? It ends up on the cutting room floor.

5. Here’s the second hardest part (the first being #3 and #4). My guess is you have about three pages, maybe a little less. It’s time to not only transition the paragraphs into your story, but to find all of the unnecessary words that are taking up space. Each line…each WORD is taking up valuable space. It better deserve to be there. That is essential.

6. Now that you’ve looked at each work, read it over 100 times. Read it out loud. Does it tell your story the best way possible? Is there conflict and resolution? Is everything clear?

7. Now have your critique partners read it over and comment. They know your story (or should) almost as well as you do. Do they think the synopsis portrays the story?

8. Here’s what I found invaluable. I had my husband read my synopsis and help chop it. He has only read the first 60 pages of Lost and Found. He knows the basic idea but has no attachment to the side characters or subplots. He was able to give a new perspective that I couldn’t have, nor my crit partners.

9. Now send that synopsis out if you think it’s the best way to tell your story. Make sure it’s double-spaced (if it’s more than one page), 12pt, Times New Roman with 1” borders. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to breathe.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hurricane Higgins vs. Marley and Me

Every pet owner has stories. Get them in a room together and you soon have a you-think-that’s-bad-my-dog/cat/etc-did-this conversation on the go. And it takes a while to shut them up. If you don’t like pets, you might want to stop reading about now.

One of the most popular pet stories today is John Grogan’s, Marley and Me. I loved that book. I laughed, I cried, and that was just the preface. As a dog owner, a lab owner, I found much to identify with in Grogan’s portrayal of a crazy, but loveable hound, and his people trying to figure him out.

But I found myself wanting to have a conversation with Grogan (and I’m sure other lab owners did as well) to let him know…Marley had competition. You see, my husband and I have a problem child of our own, a chocolate lab named, Higgins.

Who very quickly earned the nickname, Hurricane Higgins.

In the four years we’ve had Higgins he’s: shredded a braided rug, peed on a friend’s cat when they were puppy sitting him, destroyed four TV remotes, dragged my mother-in-law across a busy street – to get to the other side, has eaten numerous pens and stained his teeth blue, has had shoulder surgery and recovered in his crate for two months, but his most dangerous habit….

Shelf surfing.

Higgins is a large lab, 95 pounds – he’s tall and lanky. His nose comes up to our kitchen countertop and often stays there as I prepare supper, nudging my hip to throw off my balance so I’ll drop some tender morsel.

We had one scare with Higgins, two years ago, when he ate a wire bristled BBQ brush which we placed on that countertop. That’s right. He ATE it. We rushed him to the vet who fed Higgins a bag of cotton balls soaked in chicken broth, hoping the cotton would wrap around the bristles and protect his innards as they passed through his system.

The poop watch lasted for days, but finally every last bristle made a showing, as did the BBQ brush handle – in two pieces.

We thought this was the last of Higgins’s shelf surfing days. Surely he had learned his lesson, and WE had learned our lesson, and we’d all never have to go through this again.

We were wrong.

A few days ago we were preparing to BBQ chicken kabobs (are you seeing a trend here? Higgie does like BBQ.)….so, those are chunks of chicken on foot long wooden skewers. I was in a hurry to get supper going due to edits I’m currently working on – with a tight deadline and all I wanted to do was hide in my office and write. My husband and I were motoring around the kitchen, we put the plate of skewers on the countertop and went to turn on the BBQ. When we came back, there were five kabobs instead of six and Higgins was wagging his tail and licking his chops. We didn’t believe our eyes and actually went looking through the house for the missing kabob.

He couldn’t have, we thought. Not a foot long skewer! Higgins followed us around, looking far too satisfied. That lasted about five minutes. Then he was gagging and coughing up blood.

Long story short – emergency surgery. The skewer was removed from his stomach INTACT… with two chunks of chicken still on it if we really wanted to BBQ them. Ick.

I’m happy to announce Higgins is recovering well and should be his old self in a few weeks. My edits are almost finished and I'm typing with "cone-head" Higgins lying at my feet. Although he has already tried to sneak outside to play with his fur sister, Willow (our yellow lab who is, thankfully, the opposite of Higgins – she’s our gift for sticking with our choco nutbar).

From now on Hurricane Higgins will watch supper preparations from afar…like from the depths of his crate and come out only when those countertop landmines have been disarmed, and shrink-wrapped, and are safely in the fridge.

So here’s to our pets and their quirks - may they all live as long, as crazily, as Marley and Higgins.