Thursday, June 30, 2016

Polish Your Opening Lines with 8 on Eight!

Today’s magic number is … 34


Because that, my friends, is the number of days until the Pitch Wars submission window goes live!

*insert long, dramatic pause to let that reality sink in*

Hopefully, right now you’re feeling like this:

And like this:

But if you are human, the idea of entering your manuscript in Pitch Wars probably makes you feel something more like this:

And when you start thinking about what a huge opportunity it is, the pressure only increases. Over 40% of the 2015 mentees have signed with agents and new contracts are being inked all the time. With over 1600 entries last year, the competition is fierce. And writing a killer opening is more important than ever.

Fortunately, the good folks over at The Winged Pen (including yours truly) are hosting a contest on July 1st to help one lucky kidlit writer (PB, MG, or YA) polish his or her opening eight lines*.

To enter 8 on Eight, simply keep an eye on The Winged Pen blog and leave a comment when the contest goes live. If your name is randomly drawn from the Triwizard cup at 8pm on July 1st, at least 8 Winged Pen members will provide feedback on your first eight lines. For more information, read about the contest here.

Good luck!

*Winning this contest is no guarantee that you'll be selected for Pitch Wars, but getting feedback from 8 serious writers surely can't hurt. And please remember that even if you don't win 8 on Eight or go on to become a 2016 mentee, Pitch Wars can still be a powerful––and enjoyable––opportunity to build a community and support your fellow writers.

Jessica Vitalis is represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. An active member of the literary community, she volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and contributes to two blogs: Writing With The Mentors and The Winged Pen. When she’s not pursuing her literary interests, Jessica can be found chasing her two precocious daughters around Atlanta, Georgia (or eating copious amounts of chocolate). She’d love to connect on Twitter at @jessicavitalis

Monday, June 27, 2016

Finding and Working with a Mentor

My mentor and co-mentor, Mónica, and I met up on a beach in Florida.
Pitch Wars 2016 is just around the corner! One of the best features of the Pitch Wars contest is that writers get the opportunity to work with mentors who help them strengthen their manuscripts before submitting to agents. Best of all, writers can choose which mentors to apply to. That way, if they are selected as mentees, they know they’ll be working with someone whose opinions they value.

So how does one go about deciding which mentors to apply to, and how, exactly does having a Pitch Wars mentor work?

Since I had the tremendous good fortune to be selected as a mentee in 2014 and as a co-mentor in 2015, I thought I could share some tips from both sides of the Pitch Wars experience.

***Opinions are mine; please refer to Brenda Drake’s website for all official Pitch Wars rules, information, and guidelines.***

How to choose
The process begins when mentors’ wish lists go live on July 20. Brenda’s website will have links to all the mentor blogs, and each mentor will post a brief bio and detailed information about what categories and genres they are seeking, taste preferences, expectations, and other useful tidbits. So, of course step one is to read the mentor wish lists!

You will definitely want to take notes, and using a spreadsheet or some sort of organizational system will help track mentor information. You can immediately narrow your mentor list to those seeking the category and genre you write. (Seems obvious, but there are always a few wasted entries submitted to someone not mentoring that genre.) If a mentor mentions special interest in something specific that your manuscript has (could be horses, a particular period setting, LGBTQ, rare fairy tale retellings, etc.), that’s a strong indicator that they might be a good choice for you. Mentor wishlists may also discuss mentoring style, and you may get a sense of personality. In addition, some mentors take part in Workshops (on Brenda’s website), and Live Chats. These are great sources of information about the mentors and their styles and personalities.

Stalking Researching
Once you have a “short list” of potential mentors who are seeking the type of manuscript you’re writing, you will probably want to do a bit of stalking on twitter and/or other social media sites and blogs to find out more. You can check out any books mentors have published or that will be coming out, who their agents are, and who they’ve mentored in previous years. All these tidbits may leave your head spinning, which is where a good note-keeping system can be a huge help.

Finally, for mentors who have been involved with Pitch Wars (or other contests) in previous years, I highly recommend checking out their previous entries. This is what lead me to apply to the person who ultimately became my mentor (and now co-mentor) Mónica Bustamante Wagner. I loved the writing and concept of her previous year’s entry, and I figured that if we had similar taste in that respect, then there was a better chance that she would like my manuscript. Furthermore, I felt I could confidently rely on her judgement, knowing that she had similar values in terms of story and writing style.

Now what?
So you’ve applied to carefully-selected mentors, and you’ve waited through the grueling weeks until the mentor picks are revealed, and—HURRAY!!—you’ve been selected as a Pitch Wars finalist! Now your mentor will provide you with feedback to help you take your manuscript to the next level.

I was beyond thrilled when I received feedback from my mentor, Mónica; I knew, immediately, that she had discovered the key to fixing an issue that had been plaguing my manuscript and preventing me from moving forward.

But what if your mentor suggests something you don’t agree with? At some point in the revision process, Mónica advised me that my characters “laughed” too much and suggested that I could substitute the word, “chuckle.” But, for me, the word, “chuckle” has very specific connotations: an old man can chuckle, but my MC would never chuckle! The word didn’t fit my manuscript’s voice, in my opinion. Timidly, I explained this to Mónica. And of course she replied with something like, “Okay, no problem, just find other ways to fix your overuse of ‘laugh.’”

I believe communication is the key to a successful mentor-mentee relationship. Don’t understand a suggestion? Communicate. Wondering when you’ll get notes? Communicate. Disagree with something? Communicate. Confused by what other mentees are saying? Communicate. Completely and utterly freaking out about everything? Communicate.

At the same time, mentors have varying communication styles and schedules, and it’s also important to be respectful of your mentor’s time. Communicating every time you’re unsure of where to put a comma would probably be a bit much.

Your mentor selected your manuscript from among the many they received, and they are volunteering their time because they believe in you and your manuscript and want to help you move forward with your writing dreams. By respecting your mentor’s time and effort, and communicating honestly, you can make the most of your Pitch Wars experience.

Questions or tips about finding and working with a mentor? Please add a comment!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Parting Ways with an Agent

Signing with a literary agent is one of the many exciting steps a writer can take toward publication. Unfortunately, the truth remains that some writers will eventually part ways with their agent, whether for good or for not-so-good reasons. Often, this isn't a process we talk about, so despite the fact that a good many writers experience it, we end up feeling quite alone in the experience. Below, we've compiled quotes from writers who've had to part ways with their agents, in the hopes that you find some solace in the advice and encouragement if you are going through this (though we sincerely hope you find the most perfect of perfectest of agents the first time around!).

While collecting quotes, it was interesting to note that there are some common themes throughout. Even if you are unagented, we absolutely encourage you to read through each of these. There is some wonderful advice in here about what to ask agents before you sign with them.

"It took me so long to get an agent the first time (5 manuscripts!) that for a long time I tried to ignore my mounting feelings that it was time to move on. I was terrified that the first agent was the ONLY person in publishing who would ever connect with my work. But when I finally realized I had to - for a combination of reasons, including communication issues, editorial feedback that didn't resonate, and multiple manuscripts not selling - it was such a relief to move forward and be proactive again. I was fortunate enough to get a new agent within a couple weeks of querying. Not everyone is so lucky. But I encourage people who are miserable with their agents to think about whether they're better off staying in a miserable situation or taking the leap and perhaps being without an agent for a while."

"You never know what an agent-writer relationship is like until you’ve gone through it. My relationship with my previous agent worked until it didn’t. I left my agent because I knew what was in my heart: that I was no longer a priority. It was the only way I could finish the WIP I had stalled on. Leaving took courage. I didn’t know if I could get another agent again and how long it would take. The self-doubt was crippling and the second time in the query trenches felt worse, but in reality, it was a better request rate, etc.  My advice to a writer thinking about leaving their agent is to go with your gut and be professional."

"I parted ways with my agent because, time and time again, she was not enthusiastic about anything I wrote after that first manuscript. It was terribly disheartening, and it went on for years. S/he would not submit a manuscript s/he didn't like, which meant my career came to a halt for 18 months. By the end, I felt like I was writing to please him/her rather than myself--and still s/he didn't like it! After finally parting and adding the revisions I wanted to my manuscript, I received a huge amount of interest when I queried and was fortunate enough to, again, have a lot of options. This time around I signed with the agent who I felt was not necessarily the best match for my one project, but the best match for me as an author."

"Leaving my agent was both terrifying and empowering, scary and freeing. After more than a year of working with this person to take my books to that next level, I was going back to square one: once again in the query trenches, asking more agents to take a chance on me and my books. I was told it's easier your second time around, but even with that introduction--"I'm looking for new representation after amicably parting ways with my first agent"--I got a mixed reaction from agents. It's not a guaranteed request, because in the end it's up to your book to grab an agent's attention. I know that without my critique partners and close writer friends at my back every step of the way, I would likely never have been brave enough to start over and try again."

"The best advice I've ever received on working with an agent is that the agent should make writing easier for you, not harder. It took me a long time to come to terms (2 manuscripts and 1 1/2 years) with the fact that my agent was perhaps not the "perfect" agent for me. Parting ways was a difficult, but ultimately very healthy decision. We parted very mutually, with the understanding that the writing I was producing was very different from what I had been offered representation for. It was time for me to find an agent that had the same vision for my writing career that I did."

“I left my last agent after I had been with them for about nine months and had been on submission with one book. It was basically friendly, and I'd tell anyone wanting to query this agent that they would be great for authors with slightly different career goals, but we weren't on the same page. Ultimately, it's hard to tell how you're going to work together in the long term, based only on email and maybe a phone call or two (although I do think there were questions I should have asked and didn't, I was so glad to have the offer).

My first indication that things weren't going the way I hoped came when we were on sub. We had very different ideas about which publishers to submit to (namely, whether to include digital imprints and very small presses on the first round) and, while my agent agreed to only submit to the publishers I was enthusiastic about, I later found out they had submitted to publishers I had specifically asked them to wait on.

I definitely wouldn't recommend parting ways with an agent who is enthusiastic about your career just because your first book doesn't sell, but in my case, when that first book didn't sell, I didn't get the vibe that my agent was excited about the next book. They wanted to keep subbing the same book, where I was ready to shelve it and focus on my recently-completed book 2. Both are legit strategies, but what it came down to was that we didn't agree.

When I started feeling like my second book wasn't going to be given a lot of love, I initially gave myself a week to think about it. If I still felt that way at the end of the week, I would terminate the contract. I ended up only waiting about four days, though, because the thought of QUERYING, of all things, made me excited about my career in a way I hadn't been in a very long time. If the thought of being in the query trenches actually makes you happy, it's probably a good sign your relationship with your agent isn't working.

Parting ways itself was extremely painless. My former agent was professional about it and responded to my request quickly. I spent the next few weeks polishing up Book 2, and jumped back into querying with a much better idea of what I was looking for this time around. In the end, I ended up with multiple offers from some amazing agents, and a very hard--but exciting--choice to make!

If you're thinking about leaving your agent, the best advice I can give you is to trust your gut. Does talking to your agent about your career leave you feeling enthusiastic and reassured, or stressed and frustrated? If you have friends who are with different agents, how do you feel when you talk to them? Do you feel that your agent is doing as much (if not necessarily in all the same ways) for you? How do you feel when you imagine being represented by someone else? Being back in the trenches? Being unagented for awhile? For me, at least, the answers were pretty easy once I decided to listen to my heart.  Again, if a prospective client were to ask me about my former agent, I would have a lot of GOOD things to say as well. But it ultimately wasn't a good fit, and I'm glad that I took that leap, and eventually found an agent who is more in tune with my career goals.”

A few pieces of advice for querying writers: ask how the agent anticipates going on submission (print deals vs digital-first or digital-only; which publishers you'll sub to and for how many rounds), have the agent tell you specifically what they liked about your book and discuss revision ideas (how they respond to what they liked about your book might give you an idea for it they will like your writing voice across multiple books), tell them about other book ideas you have and see if they are interested, and ask who else in the agency will be involved (will there be interns or assistants who will read your work? other agents who will act as support and advisers?. The answers to these questions and your comfort level with them will vary writer to writer, and that's okay, but it's still a good idea to ask!

"I've left two agents since 2014. Both times, I had a gut-deep feeling that it was what I needed to do. Querying after leaving the first agent helped me find the second one pretty quickly, but it also caused me to rush my decision and choose wrong again. My takeaways were this: don't choose an agent for star power, and don't choose one just because you like him/her as a person. It's a business relationship, so choose the person whose vision for your work aligns most closely with yours, and who doesn't mind telling you what the plan is to sell your book(s). Communication is of supreme importance."

"While my former agent was as sweet as pie and checked all the boxes for enthusiasm, we weren't the best match professionally. My biggest concern was communications. In my corporate life, I work for a handful of clients. It's expected that I respond to communications same day. With agents, their "handful of clients" is quite larger, so responses may take longer, but my former agent once required three nudges, across a total of 8 weeks to respond to a pertinent email. I had a situation similar to this multiple times. We discussed the situations on the phone, but, unfortunately, her communication skills didn't improve. Another concern I had was her tenacity as an agent. She's was my avenue to an editor/elusive book deal, but she didn't have the drive I was hoping for, an example being our submission period of close to a year with only responses from a third of the editors she pitched. I personally didn't want her to simply knock on doors, I wanted her to knock them down. With a new manuscript, I made the scary decision to find an agent better suited for my career goals, and I'm truly blessed to have found my current agent. In just over a year of being together, she's secured me 3 book deals with 2 major houses, along with a TV option." 

“It probably took me longer to part with my agent than it should have, as I had a niggling feeling for quite sometime that things weren't quite working. I adored my agent as a person, but the business side of things just wasn't working. It was one of the hardest things to do (and scary!), but I owed it to myself to try and get my career on a more even keel. When I left, I had the prerequisite terror about entering the query trenches. At the time, I went through some hefty personal issues, so I put a query or two out, then stopped to deal with life stuff. Several months passed before I sent another few queries out and I ended up with 3 offers. However, it was perhaps one of the most anxious periods of being a writer. Giving up a sure thing for the unknown. But I absolutely recommend it to writers who just don't feel that their author/agent relationship is working. Be brave.”

"I knew I wanted to part ways with my first agent a year before I did. She was uncommunicative and ineffective, and terse and snarky when I did manage to get a hold of her. But I hesitated for so long because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find someone else who'd want to represent me. But I shouldn't have been scared. I shouldn't have waited. I found a new agent two months later. The fact is, by having that first agent, you've already been vetted. Yeah, technically you can include "seeking new representation" in your query's subject line, but I didn't in my new query. If your writing got you one agent, your writing will get you another. So don't let fear hold you back from biting the bullet. Having no agent is far better than having an agent who's stagnating your career. Even if the worst happens — even you don't find a new agent — any option is better than an agent who ignores you or doesn't prioritize your work. Remember, self-publishing is not just a fallback option these days. You are your own biggest advocate. Above all else, it's up to you to figure out how to connect with an audience. And just because publishing is slow as molasses doesn't mean you have to be. Don't let fear slow you down."

Other helpful resources:
On Parting Ways with Literary Agents 

*If you've parted ways with an agent and are interested in adding a professional, anonymous quote of your own, please feel free to contact us!*

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Art of Killing Characters

by Katie Bucklein

It's no secret if you know me or my books that I kill characters, and I enjoy doing it. But something I've learned over the years of writing, over years of reading books and watching movies and TV shows that have deaths abundant, is that there is an art to killing characters. 

There is a difference between killing characters for shock value, and killing characters to further the plot. And there's a fine balance between them that many don't get right. I can promise I didn't understand it when I first started out writing, and it took some trial and error to understand when and how a character should be killed. 

There's that old saying that if you don't know where to go in a manuscript, kill a character. I disagree. While killing a character could definitely throw a wrench in your narrator's story and untangle a plot knot, killing characters every time you encounter a plot knot would likely result in a manuscript riddled with deaths. And by killing characters that often, you risk causing your reader to no longer worry over or care for your characters' plights. I remember seeing someone I follow on Twitter talk about how often characters are killed in TV shows nowadays, and that it's lost its shock value. You go into a speculative fiction book or show or movie, and immediately begin to wonder who is going to die first, and how. 

I think a lot of this arises from Game of Thrones. It's no secret that GoT is infamous for killing characters, often in gruesome ways, but there comes a point when a character is killed and you simply just shrug. "I saw it coming when I started watching," you may think, and move on with your day. (Not counting Jon Snow's death, because holy painful.) 

Killing characters for shock value is not enough anymore. You shouldn't create a character for the sole purpose of killing them. While you can know from the get-go that the fate of this character is death, they absolutely must serve a larger purpose to the plot, and their death absolutely must impact your other characters, the world, and/or the plot (bingo if it's all three!). Shock value is never a reason you should have for killing a character. Shock value only gets you so far. Lopping off the head of a character just for kicks is pointless. 

Before I get into examples of good ways/times to kill a character, I want to share some advice from one of my critique partners. He and I have had many conversations about the art of killing characters, and he always has brilliant things to say. So directly from the mouth of Dylan Matthews

"I think it's less important that they die compared to how they die. Many years ago, nobody killed off characters. Now its en vogue because GoT and Walking Dead and a bunch of other popular media. It's almost to the point where not killing characters is cool again. 

At this point, readers are wary. The only way you can shock them with a death is to kill an important character. If you set up a character with the intention of them to die, then they're going to have a pretty complete arc - something that SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN WITH CHARACTERS WHO DIE. Seriously, that's the biggest thing for me. What saddens me about deaths is the potential of those characters. Say one of the characters is a prodigy who is bound to do great things. Important to the story, valuable, and has limitless potential. Then, unexpectedly, he's killed off. It's all that unfilled potential that really makes me cry. But seriously, isn't that what makes death sad in real life? All the things they were capable of accomplishing but never had the chance to? So many side characters that are destined to die aren't fleshed out. They're never vital to the story because if they were, the writer wouldn't kill them off. However, if the writer were to kill them off, it would plunge the story into a whole new direction. Writers don't do that. That's why their deaths aren't terribly sad.

Killing characters is cool in the writer's mind. But readers nowadays are expecting people to die, and they're looking for characters who have the potential to be knocked off. If I was giving advice, I'd say don't foreshadow a death, don't mock up a character from the start with the intention of having them die, don't kill off characters to make your story edgy, and kill off the character sooner than you want to (as in, if you slate him to die in chapter 20 with the big battle scene, kill him in 15 somehow - one, so the characters have to adjust without that that guy, and two, because nobody's expecting him to die in 15 with the scene in 20 looming). 

Best way to put it? Only if it shocks the writer will it shock the reader. The reader's going to see the set-up otherwise." 

So, with that in mind, I'll end with some good ways to kill characters: 

1) A character shouldn't die from old age. A lot of people won't view this as sad, since it's just a natural course of life. 
2) Never have them complete all of their goals before they die. It's painful and heartbreaking when a character isn't able to fulfill their goals, whether that be to fall in love, save the world, or find the final object they need to break the curse. 
3) Make sure they have strong relationships with at least one other character. It'll be sadder for the surviving character--and thus the reader--to say goodbye when they're not ready to let go. 
4) Make them fight against what ultimately kills them. If the villain succeeds in killing the hero, chances are you'll cause a few shed tears. (We all remember when Augustus Waters died, right?) 
5) (Reiterating what Dylan said) Don't let them reach the end of their character arc. Kill them before they complete the journey they're on.
6) If you're going to kill a minor character, ensure that the reader knows something about them, even a small thing. That guard who gets killed by an arrow shot over a castle wall? Introduce him earlier on in the story (with a defining feature if he's a nameless character) and make sure we see him talking with his little brother, the two of them smiling and joking. When his death is witnessed by the narrator of that story/scene, make sure they recall seeing him with his little brother. 

Of course, not every death must leave an impact on the reader. Think of Lord of the Rings. If every character who dies in the Battle of the Hornburg was well-known to us and meant to cause an emotional impact, we'd have sensory overload and likely lose interest in the movie right then and there. (But can you imagine Legolas dying? Or Gimli?! THE HORROR. That would definitely cause me to shed a few tears.)

My final piece of advice is this: There are fates worse than death. Being able to find and hone those fates will make the story all the sweeter. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Do's and Don'ts of Twittering During Pitch Wars

Pitch Wars is a nerve-racking time for many a writer. It’s hard to know what to do, what not to do, how often to do it, and what the general etiquette is surrounding conversation with the mentors. Twitter is an awesome place many of the mentors hang out. We’re there to answer questions, or just plain old chat with any/all hopefuls. That said, there are some definite do’s and don’ts when using the #PitchWars feed, so I thought I’d do a little post on using Twitter during the months leading up to, during, and post-Pitch Wars.

Do: Hop on and introduce yourself. The best way to start using the feed is just that: start using it. Everything can be found under #PitchWars, so jump into other conversations people are having, and don’t worry about interrupting. If they wanted the conversation to stay private, they’d have it via DM or email. This is a great way to make new friends, find CPs, and calm your nerves during the process.

Don’t: Jump into a conversation just to argue or stir the pot for your pleasure. Pot stirrers get side-eye.

Do: Ask questions of the mentors! It doesn’t even have to be a mentor in your category or genre, unless it’s specific to those things. The mentors who are on the hashtag are there because they’re willing to chat with you about your writing, your MS, something you’re unsure of, the industry, etc. And we're mentors because we've been around the block a time or two, so we have knowledge we're willing to share. Tap into it!

Don’t: Ask too specific of questions such as, “Are you interested in a time traveling troll who falls in love with a princess and then they have to fight the fairies for control of their land?” For many mentors, that crosses the boundary line they don’t want to cross. Instead ask, “Are you interested in fantasy?” or “Do you have an aversion to trolls?”

Do: Be positive and help fellow hopefuls! Don’t think of this as a Survivor type contest. Your positive energy and genuine concern of/help to fellow hopefuls will be noticed by the mentors. Alternately, your lack of positive energy/concern will also be noticed.

Don’t: Constantly bemoan the process, the mentors, Brenda, the industry, the agents listed, etc, etc, etc. Think of the mentors like your mom. We’re always watching, and we have eyes in the back of our heads.

Do: your homework! When the mentors are listed and the blog hop is upon us, don’t be afraid to chat with the mentors you’re considering. And it doesn’t have to be all shop talk! This is a great time to get to know the mentors you’re considering and see if you’d be a good fit, personality wise. Clicking with your mentor is a very important aspect, and, though I can only speak for myself, it’s also something this mentor takes into consideration when choosing a mentee.

Don’t: freak out if you never had conversations with your selected mentors and now fear you won’t get picked because of that. Mentors can tell your personality through many things; conversing on Twitter is only one.

Do: say thank you—to the mentors, and especially to Brenda and her assistants—and support those giving their time in whatever way you can. This is a lot of work, and work that isn’t always done without a price tag (both in terms of money and that all-valuable time). While a simple thank you is always appreciated and noticed, you can also help support the mentors giving their time by buying their books or checking them out from the library and spreading the word about them, and also by donating to help Brenda run Pitch Wars.

Don’t: whine about how much work you’re putting into getting your MS ready, wading through the 100+ mentor blog posts just to find the ones who accept your genre, etc. Believe me, we know how much work goes into it.

Do: keep following the mentors even if you didn’t get chosen. The urge to unfollow can be strong if you’re not selected, and I know it can be a little rough seeing someone else where you hoped to be, but the mentors are there and willing to chat with you even post-Pitch Wars if you should have questions on the process, the industry, etc. Don’t make a snap decision and do something that will only hurt you. Like my mom always said, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”

Twitter is an awesome and fun place to hang out before, during, and after Pitch Wars, so make the most of it! Swing by and say hi.


Monday, June 13, 2016

The Synopsis Is Your Friend (Yes, really!)

The Synopsis Is Your Friend

I am a weirdo for many reasons, not the least of which is that I enjoy writing a synopsis. (I also enjoy query-writing, but that’s another story for another blog post for another day.)

Drafting a synopsis is my number one revision tool. I’m (mostly) a pantser when it comes to churning out first drafts. Once I’m done, I find it difficult to gage if what I’ve written flows well. That’s where the synopsis comes in. By taking a stab at drafting a synopsis (in its initial stages—it doesn’t have to be perfect), the big picture plot becomes crystal clear. Things that are highlighted? Subplots that lead nowhere, storylines that need resolution or scrapping, character arcs that don’t…well, arc. After all, it’s the character’s growth (by way of the effects of the plot) that the synopsis should show us.

So, how do you do it?

I print out my manuscript (yes, the entire thing) and I boil each chapter down to its meat and bones summary—I’m talking only two or three sentences each. That gives me a skeletal outline of my synopsis. Each chapter’s summary will then read something like this: Main character wants to _______ BUT he’s thwarted by ________. It’s a “Character wants ABC….BUT…XYZ holds him back” formula. And you just continue onward through the rest of the novel, taking care to cut out extraneous details that either don't shift plot points or that either don't otherwise affect the main character's arc. Oftentimes it’s necessary to include the character’s emotional state as it changes throughout the novel, in order to show his or her growth. Don’t worry about the “show don’t tell” rule here. It doesn’t apply to the synopsis. In a synopsis, you can just flat-out tell us the character’s emotion. For example, “Excited about her new job, an impulsive Jane spends her last dollar on an Armani briefcase for her new boss.” And then remember to bring in the critical conflict in each chapter with a BUT (or "however"...or "despite such and such"--you get the idea). “Excited about her new job, an impulsive Jane spends her last dollar on an Armani briefcase for her boss, but when she learns that the position was also promised to someone else, she grows distraught.”

Additional points to remember:
  • ·      As you might have heard, you don’t want any teasers in the synopsis. This isn’t a query or pitch. The synopsis should give away all the plot details and should clearly spell out the ending of the book.
  • ·      Characters full names should appear in all capitals the very first time you mention that particular character. After that, no capitals necessary.
  • ·      To minimize confusion, keep the characters lean. I’ve heard different schools of thought on this, but I think the consensus is no more than 4-5 characters. Of course, as with all writing, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. If it’s necessary, then by all means include more, but make sure they are absolutely critical to the main character’s arc.

A few helpful resources:

  • Chuck Sambuchino's "5 Tips on How to Write a Novel Synopsis" is a terrific, brief introduction to the synopsis-drafting process. 
  • The master post that I always refer back to when I'm at the synopsis stage is "How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis" by NYT bestselling author Susan Dennard. Susan's website is packed with additional fantastic writing tips and resources as well. (It's my go-to site when I have questions or need a reminder.)
  • This will sound wacky, but when I'm stuck I peruse the synopses of my favorite movies on IMDB. Some are better than others, but it's a perfect way to get in the habit of visualizing the plot and character arcs as a whole, and how to pare it all down to 1-2 pages worth of critical information.

Feel any better? I hope!