Marji Laine

I Love a Good Mystery!


Writing a Synopsis

I’ve learned quite a lot about writing synopses over the last several weeks. Mostly from my failures. I’m still not sure I have everything together, yet, but I thought I should at least share what I have learned.

The summary has to cover the major plot points and address the protagonist’s journey. Efficient, but inclusive, the writing must give

spoilers, completing the picture of the concept. Vague writing has no place in this type of proposal. And while concise, the synopsis should still interest and enthuse. After all, it’s the first impression that an agent or editor will have of a writer. Geared to hook the reader with an overview, a writer’s entry will go a long way to achieving success when the reader comes to the end and is excited to keep going.

Yeah, well, that’s the plan anyway.

I started my synopsis going through my protagonist’s arc. Her regular life and goals started my essay. Then I explained how my inciting incident thwarted her progress. That much was easy, but I write mysteries and suspense. As I tried to describe the plot and all of it’s twist, my writing became hopelessly confused. Even I was confused and I wrote the thing!

So I started over. This time I thought I had a handle on it! I explained my protagonist’s arc from her point of view, then I added a major plot point from the hero’s point of view. From there, I set up the antagonist’s point of view, describing the details of the plot that way and finishing it up with general paragraphs that tied all the strings together.

It was better. Less distracting. But boring. Thank heaven for my critique partners. Lynne GentryJanice Olson, and Kellie Coates Gilbert took me by the hand and walked me through a new process. With their help, and some blogs that I found on the subject, I finally think I have a well-rounded read that hits the high points without becoming confusing or bogging down into details.

Let me tell you how I did it.

First, I used Beth Anderson‘s suggestion of breaking down my story data into single sentences. Doing that, I could easily see what were actual plot points and what subplots got in the way. This became the skeleton for my synopsis.

From there, I used Vivian Beck‘s suggestion of beginning with a back cover hook. She also suggested  an introduction to my characters. I sort of weaved that into the starting place of the story that I’d already figured out. I added the Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts like she suggested too. I’d learned a lot about that from Susan May Warren’s book on the writing craft From the Inside Out.

After that, I went back to my plot points and added each as a couple of sentences. Making sure I used the Action, Reaction, and Decision that Vivian Beck suggested. (And she gives a great example of it!) I’d also learned that before, from a couple of the craft books I’d read. Just hadn’t thought of using it in a synopsis! Bravo!

From there, I added my ending that I’d penned in my skeleton with some muscle and skin on it. But I wasn’t done yet.

As a final section, per Kellie Gilbert’s advice, I nutshelled the protagonist’s arc and a broad theme of the book culminating in the spiritual lesson that my protagonist learned. (I do write Christian fiction!) It easily fits on a single page, reads smoothly, and covers the most important pieces of my story without getting knotted in the myriad of details.

As with any writing, but especially in this first impression piece, avoid to be verbs (passive), unnecessary adverbs or descriptions, and be careful of grammar rules. Oh, and synopsis writing should always be in present tense.

Your Turn: Do you have any tips for synopsis writing? 


Learning from Failure

I'm so pleased to be involved with an awesome group of folks in the DFW Ready Writers. They are a local chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers. Last Saturday, I got to go to the January meeting of the group and the new president, Janice Olsen, suggested that we, as writers, can learn a lot more from our failures than we can from our successes.

Seems like that's true of anybody, though. When I taught elementary, we had a discipline expert come in with a discussion on empowering the students. Her focus was to teach them that their behavior is
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Tightening Things Up

My critique group is invaluable. These ladies have inspired and challenged me like nobody's business. Their goal is to find anything that might be caught by a reader that makes the narrative stumble. It can be anything as small as a comma or as huge as shallow characters. They catch POV head-hopping, author intrusion, and continuity issues. Though they, thankfully, don't have to catch those issues very often!

What I hear most often is "tighten it up." It took awhile for me to figure out the aspects of those
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Write Tip: It’s a Process – New Goals!

I teach a high school writing class. Have had some of the brightest writers involved, but every year, I have to teach them the Writing Process. We spend a while discussing Planning tricks, ways to get their thoughts in order and collect some topics for their writing. They find out quickly that turning in a Draft is unacceptable. (I have a pretty high standard.) After only a few classes, they start taking advantage of sending their work to me for notes on Revision. I’ll usually give them some Edit notes as well before they turn in their Final Work.

My students have figured it out. They now completely realize the benefits of each step in the process.
I’ve learned the benefits, too.
In preparation for the 4th Round of ROW80, I set up my story, outlined the events, jotted down my scenes according to POV and posted them all in a day-to-day time line on a huge story board. I researched some topics that I’d needed to get started, too. That was my Planning. 
Since October 3, I’ve been writing for at least 2 hours every weekday to get through the Draft. I didn’t end up missing a day, although I missed my word count goals a couple of times. Missing a little here and there didn’t matter, as I tended to write a little over the weekend. Enough to make up the difference anyway.
Now I face the next step. My goals are officially changing. I have two completed novels that are begging forRevision. Both of my novels need the same type of revision. Since I’ve already set up queries, proposals, and synopses for the earlier book, and collected beta reader input, I planned to start with that one. But I’m passionate about the one I just finished. My mind tells me to step back, but it’s so darn close, much closer than the earlier one is. So I’m going with my heart on this one.

My writing goal is changing drastically. Still Monday through Friday, my goal is to thoroughly revise 10 pages per day, that will cover a chapter or most of one. I intend to use my critique group notes, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, and some excellent lesson blogs posted by Susan May Warren to dissect this story and piece it back together. Tight and Creative.

My wish is to have the revisions completed and ready to shop by January 1. Not sure I can actually make it, but I’m gonna give it my best shot. Will be taking it for Editing critiques at the same time. Editing is always much easier than revising!
Hopefully, all of this work will pay off with the next process of my final step of Publishing.
I know most of the folks reading this post have published or have a dream of publication. What is your best advice or experience you’d pass on to me or any aspiring author?


Unravel the Mystery of Grammar!

I love my critique group. Like superheroes they open their laptops and design wit and wisdom through every line! With their help, I will avoid the neon signs marking novice writing and glaring amateurish errors. Here’s what I learned just last night:

  • Make every word count.
  • Keep statements turned toward the positive side.
  • Cut up three-line sentences.
  • Start sentences with intention.
  • End with strong words.
  • Avoid using pronouns to begin or end sentences.
  • Avoid using it or this anytime
  • Avoid repeating words – oops.
  • Use a comma before the word “and.”
  • Don’t apply quotations marks outside of dialogue – oops, again.
  • Action verbs intensify sentences.
  • Eliminate passive, helping verb usage with -ing words following.

Checklist gold, the expert suggestions from this group confirm one major truth.

 . . . I still have a lot to learn!
What suggestions can you add to the list? What grammatical tidbit wormed it’s way into your noggin lately?


It Knocks at my Brain!

I get to go to Brain Knockers tonight. Notice I said, "get to." Now let me explain what goes on there.

I email a section of my WIP (writer's shortcut for work in progress) to the other gals of the group and we meet together. In my turn, I read my section aloud. That's probably the worst part. I'm a character actress, full of quirks and voices and accents, but straight reading causes me to skip words, hesitate and just plain stutter.

But I'll painfully endure the struggle through ten pages at a time. I've had four kids. I can do anything for a few minutes, right?
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Literary Contortions

Jody Hedlund's article on flexibility inspired another article by Elizabeth Spann Craig. Her article inspired me, as I happened to read it first. Both are excellent and worthy of your time.

Both blog authors are also published authors and write from their publishing experiences. I'm still in the pre-published stage, so I have a different slant on the flexibility focus.

When I started this journey, now about 2 1/2 months ago, I felt totally alone.  I know my forte is brainstorming and building ideas with others, but writing is a solitary career, right?
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