Friday, May 8, 2009

Writing the Successful Synopsis

~Sia McKye~

Most of us have heard the groans of authors when it comes to writing a synopsis. I don't think I've ever heard or read of an author saying, "Oh, that's easy. You just do this, this and that—it's done." Uh, right. That's why we hear grown people almost in tears over it. Also why some authors won’t query agents or publishers requiring a synopsis.

I've look at a lot of sources—agent websites, writing websites, books and some pointers from my writing group. None of who have said, "Oh, easy-peasy." I admit that I've allowed that negative connotation influence me. I think the problem is, we have to confine our synopsis to one, maybe two pages. That should be simple, right? Two pages max. The problem comes in when we are talking about condensing a hundred thousand word document into one or two pages. Tell the story in one or two pages? Are you nuts? At that point we're looking at a mountain we have to take down with spoons and put it into two wheelbarrows. Not so easy.

I read an interesting quote by the author of A Higher Justice with regards to writing one. He said, "The goal is not to explain the entire book. The goal is to get the editor, agent, or reader hooked enough to read the sample chapters and see the market potential." I was always under the impression that we were supposed to tell the whole book and that was my stumbling block.

To overcome that mental picture of a mountainous mass to condense, I've decided to break it into workable sections. I'm only looking at it section by section. Not quite so daunting then.

From what I understand, a synopsis should have five key elements, according to the book, Give 'Em What They Want:

The opening hook—the opening sentences should pull the reader into the synopsis.

Plot highlights—detailing major scene of the story. Incident, reaction, and decision. There were some suggestions under this point, which I found interesting and helpful, in identifying those major scenes.

Quick sketches of the main characters—their motivations and conflicts, especially with each other.

  • Do I need this scene to make the primary plot hang together?
  • Do I need this scene for the ending to make sense?

Core Conflicts—No conflict, no story. Makes sense to me. There were some traditional categories of conflict, which I'd never heard of.

  • Person vs nature
  • Person vs society
  • Person vs self

The Conclusion—tying up the loose ends without a cliffhanger. Editors and agents are not fond of guessing. You have to spell out your ending.

The argument is, if a writer can address these key elements, the synopsis shouldn't be too hard to write. I'm not convinced of this, but I'm going to try it. For sure, these points outlined here help an author to be sure all the essentials are addressed in your story, whatever the length of it is. I'll work on the elements and then when I'm comfortable with that, I'll work on the structure.

What are your thoughts on this? What have you found that works in writing a synopsis? Any good resources you’d recommend?

Any success stories?

I'm married to a spitzy Italian. We have a ranch out beyond the back 40 where I raise kids, dogs, horses, cats, and have been known to raise a bit of hell, now and then. I have a good sense of humor and am an observer of life and a bit of a philosopher. I see the nuances—they intrigue me.

I’m a Marketing Rep by profession and write fiction. I have written several mainstream Romance novels one of which I’ve out on a partial request. I’ve written and published various articles on Promotion and Publicity, Marketing, Writing, and the Publishing industry.

Aside from conducting various writing discussions and doing numerous guest blogging engagements, each week I promote and share authors’ stories, on the laughter, glitches, triumphs, and fun that writers and authors face in pursuit of their ambition to write—Over Coffee.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Writing Happy Endings—The Beauty of Romance.

I know I’ve mentioned, a time or two, that I love a good romance. One of the reasons I do is the happy ending. The fun is seeing what the characters go through to get that happy ending—sometimes parroting life, at times holding love as something worth fighting for. Life is full of horrific happenings. Love is strong and I happen to think it’s one of the strongest and most enduring qualities. It survives being poor, wars, sickness, and even death. It holds hands with hope and the belief the world isn’t so bad if you have love and share love.

My guest today is Romance author Stephanie Julian. She shares why she likes happy endings. Pull up a chair and join in the discussion.

There is coffee, tea, and yes, now a nice pot of hot chocolate, plenty of scones and muffins. *sliding a crystal bowl of Junior mints near Stephanie. We can’t have withdrawal pangs, Steph, lol!

Thanks for having me, Sia. Do you mind if I bring hot chocolate? I don’t do coffee. Or tea or alcohol (though I love Fuzzy Navels and Mojitos). I don’t smoke either but I do have a wicked addiction to Junior Mints.

And romance.

I’ve been a romance reader all my life, since I first discovered Harlequins in the mid 70s. I think I was eight or ten. I was a pretty precocious reader, graduating to Bertrice Small and Rosemary Rogers by the time I was twelve.
I also read a lot of fantasy, including Tolkien, Eddings and Brooks, and every Stephen King. But even as I enjoyed those stories, I was always looking for more romantic elements. And was vaguely disappointed when a book didn’t have enough romance.

At college, I majored in English. I loved Shakespeare but of course I was the one who wanted to rewrite the ending of “Romeo and Juliet.” The greatest love story of all time and they both die? What the hell? Yes, it’s an amazing written work but I’ll stick with “As You Like It,” thank you very much.

That preference for a Happily Ever After is why I write romance. People who don’t understand or look down on the genre don’t fully understand the appeal.
Why do you want to read a book where you know the ending? That question is one you hear a lot from people who read books where all the major characters die at the end, usually in horrible fashion.

I read romance because I like to believe that life isn’t always so dire. That there is hope and love does triumph even when your world is crumbling down.

Pollyanna much? Maybe. But isn’t that the beauty of romance?

When Rhett Butler walks out of Tara and away from Scarlet, I knew one day she’d follow him and win him back. Same goes for Ilsa and Rick in “Casablanca.” Actually, I just finished working on a ménage so maybe Ilsa and Rick and Victor… Maybe not. But Ilsa and Rick are meant to be together, even if they have to wait until Victor dies heroically liberating death camps.
In my Magical Seduction series for Ellora’s Cave, an entire society of Etruscan magical users has hidden itself in our society, clinging to their old ways while trying to fit into modern life. They still retain their magic; they worship deities (who just happen to be living among us, as well) and fight to keep themselves and their families safe in a world that, if they were exposed, probably wouldn’t look too kindly on them.
Some of them have horns, wings and pointy ears and can change into wolves and other animals. But these stories are first and foremost romances and the central story is always two (or three) people falling in love amid turmoil, suspense and conflict.

How they overcome their obstacles to live Happily Ever After is the best part for me. Yes, writing the sex scenes is fun and exciting but having the story unfold before my eyes is even better. I’m not a detailed plotter. I have a general idea of the story before I start but I typically just start to write when I finally have the main characters in my head.

I had a leg up on that plot for “Seduced by Danger,” the sixth book in the series, just released from EC. It’s a continuation of the story told in “Seduced by Chaos.” I knew Michael and Cara before I started their book and I knew where their journey would take them.

They were going to have a pretty rocky road but, at the end, they would come through and be stronger for it. Together.

And isn’t that what we all want?
Stephanie Julian is an avid reader, who used to have a book-a-day habit. Then she realized she not only wanted to read books but write them, too. Romance has always been her first love, the sexier the better. Hot men, strong women and a heaping helping of magic dominate (and she does mean dominate) her blazing hot stories.

When she's not writing, she's, well... she's certainly not cleaning. And she only cooks when her guys complain that they're hungry. Otherwise, she's got her fingers on a keyboard, her butt in a chair and her head in the stars.

For other books in the Magical Seduction series by Stepanie Julian, visit Ellora's Cave

This and other titles in the series are available now.

SHADOW MAGIC (on the left) Featuring Seduced by Magic and Seduced in Shadow, books one and two of the Magical Seduction Series.

Monday, May 4, 2009

DANGER: Laughter Ahead—Smart Bitches Working Together

I love a good Romance.

One of the enduring qualities that draw us to romance time and again is the fact they are love stories and traditionally they have an emotionally satisfying ending. Romance stories can be set in practically any time or place. Some like their romance sweet and some—like me—love them hot.

Sarah Wendell, my guest Over Coffee is unabashedly, a lover of Romance novels. Sarah, along with Candy Tan, is part of the dynamic duo known as Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. You may have read their very popular blog by the same name, Together, Sarah and Candy co-authored the popular book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels. As a writer, I have collaborated with others to write. I can tell you it’s not easy and it’s not always smooth sailing, particularly when blending different writing styles and voices into a cohesive end product. So, I wondered how the two of them were able to work together to write such a fantastically funny, irreverent book, especially considering they don’t even live near each other?

I had questions and Sarah was happy to give some me answers:

Sia said, when I asked what she'd like me to write about, that she "was interested in how the two of you took a project such as this and worked together to produce the finished product--I'm sure the tale was full of the usual frustrations, glitches, laughter, and the satisfaction of a job well done. [What were] the reactions of those authors you did contact when they found out what you were doing?"

Since we started the site in 2005, Candy and I have been in the same place at the same time exactly twice. Once in Dallas at the 2006 RWA National, and then in San Francisco at the 2007 RWA National Conference. It could be their new slogan! "RWA: Bringing Smart Bitches Together - and Damn the Consequences."

So we're very used to working online, despite the four-hour time difference between us, and the complete differences of our schedules. When it came time to writing the book, we had a few goals:
  • it was absolutely not going to be reprinting of any content that already appeared online.

  • it would be longer pieces and fun ideas that we really couldn't produce within the limitations and confines of a blog. So we had ideas from illustrations to games to Choose Your Own Man-Titty.

  • it would be part analysis, part fun, part goofy, and all awesome. Or as awesome as we could make it, anyway.

I started out by drafting an outline of things we wanted to touch on in each chapter, and we divided that up and added or subtracted as necessary. Ultimately we emailed chapters back and forth, editing and resubmitting to each other until we had a workable manuscript.

That was about 18,000 words over the limit.


So we edited—same process. The thing about working with Candy that I like best is, well, two pronged. A hemipene of positivity, if you will. First, from the start of the website to the formation of Beyond Heaving Bosoms, our goal was partly to crack each other up. Few people make me laugh as hard as Candy, and few people impress me more with their creative ease and twisting subversion of language. Second, we are each other's best editors. She's very, very good at taking content wherein I am way too long winded and cutting out the unnecessary parts.

The best part of writing the book, however, was how enthusiastic folks were when I contacted them for interviews. By the time we had the complete manuscript with all the edits, I realized that in a unique way, Beyond Heaving Bosoms spans sub-genres and publishing houses and unites authors and readers (two traits that are often conveniently housed in the same person) with one common message: that romance is wonderful, sometimes hilarious, and absolutely ought to be taken seriously. I think that because we were clearly writing an affectionate guide to the genre, the people we contacted for interviews were receptive and very generous with their time (thank you!).

I had email interviews and phone conversations with authors whose books I've adored, and publishers who I've only seen on panels at conferences or seen mentioned in the acknowledgments of a book, and all of them said, "I'm so glad you are doing this." To be honest, their enthusiasm made the writing part so much easier, and also so much more intimidating, because I then had to do justice to their faith that we could adequately represent the entire genre and what makes it wild, wooly, and wonderful. No pressure, or anything.

The one person who wouldn't return my calls or email messages? Fabio.

John DeSalvo, on the other hand, was a marvelous interview subject and I learned about the entire process of creating a romance cover from him, and artist Jon Paul.

The reactions of the people we contacted while writing Beyond Heaving Bosoms was probably the first and greatest indication that our approach to the genre and our affectionate examination of it from the best of the best to the mullety of the mullets, might be received by an equally eager and enthusiastic audience. So far, our reader mail, reviews, and the reactions from people at our book signings have been tremendous confirmation of what we suspected all along: that smart, savvy people love romance novels, and love nothing more than finding fellow romance lovers who recognize honestly the diverse power of romance novels. We're pleased and proud to be among the smart women and men who read romance.

By day Sarah Wendell is mild mannered and heavily caffeinated. By evening she dons her cranky costume, consumes yet more caffeine, and becomes Smart Bitch Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

The site specializes in reviewing romance novels, examining the history and future of the genre, and bemoaning the enormous prevalence of bodacious pectorals adorning male cover models. In April 2009, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels was born, published by Touchstone Fireside and co-authored by Sarah and her partner in nefarious deeds, Candy Tan.

Sarah has spoken at Romance Writers of America’s national conference, at the Romantic Times BookLovers’ Convention, and at several RWA chapter conferences and meetings. Sarah was invited to speak as part of the closing plenary panel at the first academic conference devoted to the romance genre, Love as the Practice of Freedom, at Princeton University in April 2009. Her writing has appeared in Narrative Magazine, Tango Magazine, and in the SmartPop book Grey’s Anatomy 101: Seattle Grace, Unauthorized. Sarah has appeared on The Today Show, the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s Steven and Chris Show, and on Too Many Books. Sarah has been quoted in The New York Times, The New York Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Los Angeles Times Book Blog, Metro:New York, and Publishers Weekly.

Picture of John DeSalvo is published here with John's permission. Thank you John, :-)