Posts Tagged ‘writing’




squeezing out a synopsis

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For the first time in my life, I’ve written a synopsis when I haven’t written a word of the actual book yet.

It’s good to try these new things, I think, but I won’t lie to you: it’s been painful. It’s taken me two days, and many times in those two days I’ve felt as if I’ve been battering my head against a stone wall whilst crows of doubt lurked overhead, waiting to eat the choicest bits of my brains.

So many of the things that give a story richness and depth come to me as I write the actual words: the scene-setting, the intertwined symbols, the layers of emotion, the voices of my characters, not to mention the little funny details or extra dramatic oomph. And for me, that’s a big part of the joy of writing. This synopsis (and it’s still a first draft at the moment) feels like a skeleton without any flesh on it. I’ll have to attempt to add sinew, muscle, blood and skin as I revise the synopsis draft.

However. It’s been a really useful exercise for me in structure and planning ahead. Though it’s longer than a single page, I followed (more or less) the synopsis formula I’ve posted here, plotting events on a three-act graph and making sure that each event raises the stakes for the characters. For once in my life, I’ve figured out the secret twist before my own characters have (shock horror!).

The idea behind this is that it might help me to structure the book better at the scene and character arc level as I write it, and avoid my usual missteps, especially at the beginning when I tend to write and then delete 10,000 wrong words. I think it will be an interesting experiment, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

I do think that every now and then as writers, we have to be open to trying new processes. It can, maybe, push us in new directions, challenge our abilities and lead to something fresh.

Are any of you pantsers who have tried to write to a synopsis? Or plotters who have tried to just fly off into the mist? What was it like for you?

(Edited to add: @MsAlisonMay reminded me of a useful technique I’d mentioned on the course I taught a couple of weeks ago—highlighting different parts of your synopsis to see what you need more or less of. Here, backstory is green, plot is blue and emotion is yellow.

I can see that I’ve got emotion covered, but maybe I want to work on that plot aspect a little bit more. Thanks, Alison!)





a new resolution, and some common mistakes

Filed under: writing | Tags: , ,

I’ve been rather neglecting my blog lately, and I certainly haven’t been writing much about my favourite thing to blog about: writing. I think the big main reason for that is that I haven’t been doing very many courses or talks about writing craft lately, certainly not since early this summer. One of the major benefits of teaching something is that you learn so very much. And though I’ve learned a lot about writing, and even more about the business of publishing which seems to be changing every day, I haven’t felt the need to articulate it here on my blog.

But. Next week I’m doing something completely new for me: I’ve organised my own writing course, a one-day course in Advanced Novel Writing. I have eleven talented participants, all of whom signed up before the ink was dry on the tweet where I mentioned I was giving it. I’m very excited about it. I’ve led lots of courses before, obviously, but this is the very first one I’ve organised all on my own.

Planning the course has got me thinking about writing craft again, and it’s made me resolve to spend some more time on this blog talking about writing.

First, though, I’m going to talk about critiquing. I’ve been doing some critiques for various reasons, mostly of the first few pages of unpublished writers’ fiction, and this has brought up two issues in my mind. One, is that many, many unpublished writers make exactly the same mistakes. Here are the most common I have noticed:

  • Starting the story in the wrong place. Overwhelmingly, the problem is it starts too early, though very occasionally it starts too late
  • Overload of exposition or backstory, which slows down the pacing
  • Problems with choosing the correct point of view(s) for the story
  • Difficulty in presenting a sympathetic protagonist
  • Lack of clarity about which genre or market this story fits into
  • Lack of tension or conflict
  • A sense that this has not been edited or polished, and is exactly as it came out in first draft form, with little sense of how a reader will experience it
  • Too much telling, rather than showing


These are mistakes that I’ve made myself. In fact several of them are mistakes I make on a regular basis, especially in first drafts. I believe that in a lot of cases what separates writers who are ready to be published from writers who are not yet, is not that the published writers naturally write better, but that the published writers have learned how to EDIT AND REVISE better. We have a bigger tool box with more strategies in it.

Which is encouraging, I think. You can learn this stuff. Of course, you can forget it all again, as I do…but then you can relearn it.

The second thing I’ve noticed is that I’m frickin’ mean. I will not hesitate to tell you in the strongest terms that your manuscript has any or all of the issues above, not to mention several others that may be unique to you alone. I’ll tell you what I like about it, too, but then I will wham you over the head with a hammer, steal your candy, and run off laughing.

Well, not laughing. I don’t actually like being mean. I have strong opinions, but I constantly worry that I’ll crush someone’s dreams with a bit of misplaced well-meant criticism. I don’t mean to; like I said above, I’ve made, and still make, a lot of these mistakes myself. But there’s a danger that speaking as a published author or a teacher, I’m setting myself up (in others’ minds, anyway), as An Authority or An Expert, The Final Arbiter Of What Works.

And I’m not, by a long shot. I’m still learning. Despite what I might say on this blog, or in your critique.

Quick link promo: I’m interviewed this week over at Free Your Parenting, talking about potty training, tantrums and living in the now. Much like writing, really. And drop by The Heroine Addicts and party down with us to celebrate Christina Courtenay’s new novel, HIGHLAND STORMS.


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