DragonCon: Writing a Selling Synopsis

Writing a Selling Synopsis

The first writing panel I attended at DragonCon was on Saturday, with Anthony Francis, Jade Lee/Kathy Lyons, David B Cole/DB Jackson, Esther Freisner, Bennet Coles, and Jennifer St. Giles/JL Saint, where they discussed the ins and outs of writing a synopsis that will sell your book.

Don’t

  • Ignore directions
  • Use bad grammar
  • Sell yourself, instead of your work
  • Use back cover blurb language
  • Conceal the ending
  • Use bullet points, it should be written in prose
  • Explain the magic system

Do

  • Write only 1 sentence for the setting
  • Describe what happens in 3 pages (then cut to 1)
  • Follow the directions – so editors won’t think you’ll be hard to work with
  • Cover plot points, but if the character growth is important, include it!
  • Go back to your novel and edit/revise if your synopsis exposes holes in your plot

Marketing Notes:

Marketing is in on the buy decision (w/big press), so your synopsis must appeal to marketing AND editors. It should demonstrate the following:

  • internal growth
  • External growth
  • the tropes it uses/subverts

2 Methods to try:

Screen writing

Try to follow the suggested script writing beats:

  • Inciting incident
  • Main Character’s intentions
  • How bad will it be
  • The surprise at the end
  • Lessons learned/resolution

Start with 1 sentence for each and build UP with those points.

Use a sense of pacing, and make your story sound thrilling.

List out everything until you’re done:

Write what happens:

then cut to:

  • 3 pages – long synopsis
  • 1 page – short synopsis
  • 35 words – query pitch
  • 25 words – elevator pitch
  • 140 characters – twitter pitch

Don’t expect to get it done in a day!

Suggested synopsis structure:

  • Describe main character and emotional actions
  • Describe second main character or villain and emotional actions.
  • Inciting incident
  • Plot point 1
  • Plot point 2
  • Midpoint
  • Climax
  • Epiphany

How do you get your Synopsis Written?

  • Remember your ABCs: Apply Butt to Chair – Jade Lee/Kathy Lyons
  • “I tell myself over and over and over again, no one is going to give me money until I write it.” – David B Cole/DB Jackson
  • I regard it as a big ole helping of creamed okra. I write it all disjointed and it’s horrible, but it works. Free form. Then, I clean it up.

 

What about mentioning series potential or how it fits into the series?

  • Book 1 HAS to stand alone.
  • Series potential IS attractive.
  • New authors can have a trilogy, or at most, 6 books.
  • If you say there are 19 in the series, you’ll scare off the publisher.

 

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TGC Review 1: Starting The Writing Process

Last week, you people voted… and were about as split as I was. So, I’ll be doing BOTH: reviewing the course and editing, but at half-speed.

The class is taught by Professor James Hynes, who’s more of a fiction writer than a genre writer, but I don’t hold that against him. Writing is writing and I know I jump genres, myself.

Starting the Writing Process:

Probably not the most necessary for someone who’s up to the editing stage, but as an experienced public speaker and teacher, this was also the high level review of what would be covered by the course itself.

He discussed the anxiety caused by the blank page. [I had the thought that the blue screen might be worse…]

The first thing you’ve got to do is hook the reader- using setting, characters, tone, whatever you can. But how?

Ways to sneak up on the beginning:

  1. The Artistic Question: What’s your big idea? What’s the story about?
  2. The Logistical Question: Who’s telling the story? What verb tense? What voice/tone?
  3. The Psychological Question: Are you ready to commit to the months/years of this?

To answer the artistic question, remember the 5 Ws of Journalism and fill them in:

  1. Who – Main characters, protagonist, antagonists, etc. Who’s the narrator?
  2. What – The inciting incident. The protagonists goals.
  3. When – Age of character, is the story set in the story’s present or past? (invoking hindsight vs immediacy and suspense)
  4. Where – The setting
  5. Why – What’s the character’s motivation? For their goal, for telling their story?

[At this point, the teacher gave an example and mentioned he was a Michigander. I had to giggle and contemplate geese…]

Next up, was the logistical question. He quoted someone and differentiated the story from the plot:

  1. The STORY is the chronological summary of what happened.
  2. The PLOT is the story, with all the causality and motivations added in

One thing people keep telling me at writing lectures is that a good writer starts In Medias Res – in the middle of things. Give the reader action (but not too cliched, don’t start off with a dream) and trickle expose in.  This class was no different, but he went on. NOTHING can truly start at the beginning. Even the Bible’s, “In the beginning” involves a pre-existing character- God. Thus, for anything to happen, things needed to align. Before you were born, your parents had to meet.

[At this point, he said something about how people who don’t outline make it up as they go along. To that, I’d like to comment that even outliners make it up as they go along! They just do the broad strokes and fill in with details later.]

Finally, it’s time to deal with the psychological question!

At this point, you’ve realized that since you’re making it all up, you have SO MANY CHOICES! Many people start to feel panicked at this stage and stall. They do research, clean their desk, wander onto facebook for a few hours…

The solution to being overwhelmed? Remember what you don’t  need to know yet.

  1. You don’t need to know where to start. Just start where you know something happens. You can backfill later, or throw it away if you find out the story starts later.
  2. You don’t need to know where you’re going. Very often, the story will lead you, just find out where it goes. If it’s convoluted? That’s what editing is for.
  3. You don’t need to follow your outline. If you did outline, but it feels too forced, that’s okay. See where the story takes you!
  4. You don’t need to be good to write the rough draft. You can always clean it up in revisions. This is where you find out what happens and who your characters are.

————————————————————————–

ASSIGNMENT: Without thinking too hard about it, try to recall a vivid image you may have seen recently, in real life or on television, and see if you can imagine a story to explain it. You can start with the Faulkner technique: Simply describe the image, such as a mother yelling at her child in the supermarket, then branch off from there, explaining why the mother is so exasperated or why the child is being so difficult. Then try Fitzgerald’s technique with the same image: Outline the life of the mother so far–her girlhood, her courtship, the birth of her child–and work up to the moment in the supermarket. See which approach works best for you.

[Well, as my superpower is justifying just about anything…. I’m pretty sure I’m more of Faulkner’s technique, if not his writing style.]

Note: I decided to keep to the same point of view and not revise my first draft. This is a practice exercise, not necessarily where I want to spend a huge chunk of time.

She was sitting on the tilted bench, half-perched, holding a moderately disappointing half-eaten lamb sausage sandwich. Her grey hair skimmed her shoulders as she tried not to bump into the ladies perched more firmly on the less-tilted bench center. Behind them was the crowded barn, full of fiber booths and eager crafters, all searching for their next project.

The bun holding the lamb sausage was a soggy mess and gave out, exploding vibrant yellow mustard all over her face and plopping onto the front of her beige, sleeveless top.

“Oh, great! Now I look like a slob,” she sighed in frustration.

“Here!” Her daughter spoke up from the ground, carefully seated on the trampled grass hill, between muddy patches. A napkin was being offered.

“Thanks.” In short time, the mustard was cleaned up and lunches were finished.

“Ready to do that last barn?” her daughter hopped up, swinging the green backpack that held their loot back on.

“I think I’ve got one more barn in me,” she replied, carefully making her way back to the path, down the muddy hill towards the trash can. She’d been wanting to make it to this craft fair for years. It wasn’t quite what she’d expected, but that hadn’t kept her from finding some pretty yarn. Looking down at her shirt, she sighed again.

“You can always button your over-shirt,” her daughter suggested.

The top two buttons were done before they took another step. She was glad her daughter had been able to make it. At first, she thought she’d wait another year, because her daughter was in a wedding, but the festival was the first full weekend. She hadn’t wanted to go with the knitter’s group from town. She didn’t know them that well and the sound of leaving in the wee hours of the morning and day-tripping on a bus did not appeal. Her hip wouldn’t like it. Plus, she wasn’t sure she had a full day of shopping in her. Then, her daughter invited her up. She could drive half the way the night before and leave the rest of the driving to her daughter. It was a much better plan and let her share all the patterns she’d been considering with her daughter, and get some suggestions on new projects to try. A perfect way to spend her Mother’s Day weekend.

 

***

 

She’d been wanting to attend the Sheep and Wool festival for years. Her whole knitting group usually took a bus, but she didn’t know them that well. Besides, her daughters were over halfway there. She’d rather visit and split the drive in half.

About a month ago, her youngest called.

“The festival’s the first full weekend of May, not the first weekend. I’m free if you want to go with me!” It wasn’t even a question. As long as the weather cooperated, she’d be there. Plus, it was Mother’s Day weekend and she’d get to see her girls. With any luck, she wouldn’t spend all her money on yarn.

She’d plotted for weeks, scouring Ravelry for patterns–wanting to try new projects. She checked the web, seeing what vendors would be there. Saturday morning came, cold and rainy. The weather report promised it would clear.

So, raincoat clad, they hiked in the noonday chill into the festival. Traveling though the vendor-full barns, she kept her eye out., hoping to find yarn for her projects, watching for her daughter to express interest in a yarn or a pattern that she was capable of replicating.

After two long barns, the promised sun arrived. Rolling up their coats, they stowed them in the backpack her daughter carried, along with the four skeins she’d already found.

“Ready for lunch?” she asked.

“Definitely.”

“It’s a Sheep and Wool festival, let’s go with lamb.”

One lamb sausage and one lamb BBQ sandwich later, and she was precariously perched on the end of a slanted and crowded bench–more leaning than sitting, while her daughter just plopped on a grassy spot on the hill.

Her sausage started off mediocre and the bun was rapidly disintegrating. Not quite what she’d pictured when she ordered. It did explain why that booth had no line, though. She’d tried to cover the disappointment with mustard.

Well, fuck.

“And, your mother just spilled mustard all over herself,” she sighed, self-consciously.

“Here!” her daughter swiftly offered up a napkin and the end of a water bottle.

She started with her shirt and then mopped what she could off her face.

“Do you have another?

“Yep!” She made short work of it, eradicating most of the mustard. With her over-shirt buttoned, the blunder was hidden from sight.

The Most Important Issue

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No one wants a 2/3rds compromise!

This week, there have been several big events. I’ve heard lots of talk about the Academy Awards and Super Tuesday.  One recognizing the supposed artistic merit of recent films, one attempting to find out who can get the most people to show up for them, in the search for the keys to my nation. Yet, in the background of these has been a more important topic, touched on during the Academy Awards by Chris Rock, and near and dear to my heart. Girl Scout Cookies.

To be honest, I have a history with the Girl Scouts. I was a Girl Scout for over 8 years, back in the good ole days when cookies were 2 boxes for $5, the way Cthulhu (may he sleep forever) intended. Repeatedly, I have found myself alone amongst the tides, forever surrounded and deprived. I have been SOBER in bars and ranted for dozens of minutes about the injustice done to me and my kind. The burdens and rationing required to be what I am.

A Tagalong lover in a crowd of Thin Mint aficionados.

For those unaware, or whose cookies come from The Other Girl Scout Bakery, Tagalongs are the love child of peanut butter and chocolate, the culinary sister of the Thin Mint. But, peanut butter, due to its amorphous nature–ranking it a solid only on mere technicalities, (like cats), requires a slight build up of cookie base to cup the peanut butter. Mint apparently needs no such boundaries and stays where it’s told.

I did the math last year and with my hazy recollections and lack of 2016 research, you can trust my numbers.

Tagalongs have a mere 15 cookies per box, while a box of Thin Mints boasts more than double that at 32 cookies! Who could hope to make 15 cookies last as long as 32? No one. Especially not an eight-year-old girl. A girl, watching her mother and her sister open their boxes of cookies, filled to the brim with two sleeves of cookies! Opening her own box, with barely contained anticipation, what should she see? Not cookies stuffing the box, from end to end, but a plastic separator padding half the box and keeping the cookies from touching.

But Morgan! (the Thin Mint lovers attempt to rationalize), your cookies are thicker!

Remember what I said above about doing the math? Why do you doubt me? It is true that my cookies are larger, but by volume and weight, each of your cookies are 2/3rds the size of a single Tagalong. If they wanted to compare, ounce for ounce and it was even, I might concede. But I’m still 6 and a third cookies short!

Blah, blah, blah, ingredient cost, peanut butter stability, not melting together. (And I’m not even going into how the cookies are somewhat of a shadow of their pre-Cut-All-Trans-fats glory (Samoas suffered the most there, including being 25-33% smaller than of old (the coconut, caramel, chocolate ring cookies)). If we average each type of cookie lover having a conservative 2 boxes of cookies a year for, let’s say 25 years, I’m due….

(Cookie monster has the right idea about how to accept payments and when they should be processed)

21 BOXES of cookies!

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things!

I could talk about the Hugo’s- the winners, the losers, and the No Votes.

Or I could talk about my favorite books growing up. My mother was a career librarian until she retired last year, so she always had the best recommendations.


I remember making my mother read to me the Caldecott Winning Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig many times. I remember feeling sad for Sylvester whose friends couldn’t recognize him and left him in the field alone, as a pebble. Happy when they were reunited. I’ve always loved the fantastic.

Sarah’s Unicorn by Katherine and Bruce Coville I read to myself and enjoyed thoroughly. I like the self-aware female protagonist who saves herself with twists on classic fairytale worlds. I don’t think I realized that My Teacher Is An Alien and the Magic Shop books were by the same author! But, I definitely enjoyed Bruce Coville’s work for older readers as well.


I’m an identical twin and always wanted to an author, so I had a sweet spot for the Sweet Valley Twin books and Elizabeth in particular. (Although, I was never that convinced Todd made a good boyfriend). I also read the Babysitter Club books and the Christy Miller books.

The Castle In the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop has a Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book award. I can’t remember if I tried gymnastics before or after I read this book the first time, but I loved it. It has hints of The Last Unicorn in it – (which I discovered on my mother’s shelf in college, never knowing she had it, just watching the movie every time I visited my aunt) – but they defeated the wizard by being clever and swift, not strong.


Newbury honorist The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. My big sister gave my twin sister this during the Christmas of 4th grade. I can still recite the prophecy at will. I tore through the series. I think Greenwitch may be my favorite. Or maybe Silver on the Tree. Hmmm, hard choice.


R. L Stine – I was a regular reader of his works – some of the Goosebumps and definitely all the Fear Street books in the library. I won the summer reading club and my prize was dinner with the man himself and several other winners! (Although, I definitely had a soft spot for the more spiritual creepiness of Christopher Pike.)


The Secret Circle series by LJ Smith was my favorite of her works. For most of high school, I reread them every autumn. Outsider Cassie, the pagan powers, dealing with small town politics and cute boys, I loved it all.


The Last Herald-Mage by Mercedes Lackey was my introduction to Valdemar. Definitely an interesting spot to start, but I loved it. I carried the 3-in-1 book to school to keep reading, on more than one read-through. (Sorry Mom! Didn’t mean to break the spine. Books that size aren’t meant to be carried like that.) She’s still one of the authors I follow.

Did you read these books growing up? Did you love them like I did?

Any books I missed?