Category Archives: Unsolicited Writing Advice!

How did you get along without it?

Stop the creeping evil of apostrophe abuse!

It was a pretty innocuous thing. We were out of juice, and since Sweetie was going to the store that morning, I asked if he could pick up some. “Put it on my list!” he called from the shower, which he had left atop the microwave. So I went to it, idly glancing at what items he had already amassed: light cream, yogurt, bread, banana’s–

I stopped dead. Oh no – in my own home? I grabbed the list, storming into the bathroom. “Banana’s?!” I cried. “BANANA’S?”

He stared at me, washcloth in hand. “Right. Bananas. Jesus, what’s the problem?”

I could barely sputter the words. “Look!” I said, holding up the slip of pink scratch paper. “Right there!” I said, pointing to the tiny blip of blue ink between the third a and the s. “What’s that!”

“What’s what?” he said, squinting through soap and the shower curtain.

“THAT!” I said, flicking the teensy squiggle. “You put an apostrophe before the s! You did it to make a plural!”

He looked at me like I just grew a third eye. “No I didn’t. And if I did, I didn’t even think about it.”

My jaw dropped. “You didn’t even think about it? All your life you’ve been reading and writing and pluralizing words just fine and overnight, the rules of grammar change and you don’t even notice?! My God – it’s like aliens have abducted our collective grammatical knowledge! They must be planting billions of plural-snatching apostrophes in our brains while we sleep!”

He twisted a wad of washcloth into his ear, cocking a brow. “You want the bananas or what?”

It was all I could do to whimper. How did this happen? I saw a sign at an ice cream parlor the other day: Birthday Party’s Available. And at a fast food joint down the Shore: Best Burger’s on the Island! Granted, sometimes possessive apostrophes get sloughed away when the word grouping falls into popular parlance – Pikes Peak, is one, and in my home state of New Jersey, the town of Toms River, the county seat. But where did this aberrant pluralization come from? You can understand wanting to abbreviate by taking something away, but this is ADDING baggage. Unless, as in the case of Birthday Party’s, the writer was absent the day they gave a lesson on turning words that end in y’s (yes, this is correct according to the AP Stylebook) into plurals by adding -ies. No. That can’t be it. It’s just too widespread anymore. An epidemic. With no vaccine in sight.

Which can only lead me to one conclusion: it’s those darn aliens. So close your windows at night, keep a  Strunk and White at the ready, and a firm eye out for pods in the basement.

 

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Ready…set…brilliance!

Vintage+woman+office+type+writerRecently I had shown my students several different ways to begin an essay. Instead of staring dumbfounded at a blank page (that is, if you’ve been blocked from echeat.com), I presented them with a few different starting techniques, such as posing a question, telling a story or exposing a fault in logic to name a few. Later on it led me to ponder what’s really the best way to launch a book? I’ve tried several techniques, but is there one sure-fire way?

After you’re writing for awhile you begin to settle into a few characteristic ways of doing things. Eventually they’ll be known as your “style.” Whether it’s a turn of phrase, a sense of irony, a humorous bent or any number of things indicative of your method of storytelling, your readers will recognize it and hopefully love it enough to come back to your work over and over. One of the most important indications of your style will be your opening, perhaps even your very first line. Depending on the genre, the opening is often approached in various ways, but I’m of the firm belief it should grab your readers from nearly the first line.

I once heard a comment from a genre writer that literary fiction is usually depressing.  Not that l believe this is true–I don’t–but one of its characteristics is a more variegated writing style that often takes longer to open. Many times the introduction is an unfolding, an intricate depiction of a landscape, situation or character. It could be more obtuse than easily recognizable, its meaning shaded by metaphor or symbolism. Often there’s an unreliable narrator or the characters appear doomed from the onset. The overall pace can be slower as there’s a lot more emphasis on the way something’s said, rather than on the speedy advancement of the plot. In fact, often there is no resolution, the story left open-ended so we could draw our own conclusion.

Not so much in genre writing. The lovers find their happily-ever-after, the mystery is solved, the planet is saved from destruction (actually, I don’t really know what happens in scifi; I’m just applying a happy ending with an intergalactic bent). And all this is initiated at a faster pace. Readers want the lovers to meet, the victim to die, and the alternate universe to appear as soon as possible. So how’s this accomplished? Why not try to–

Start in the middle – Forget the backstory and jump right into a situation already in progress. The cat’s up the tree, the car’s hit a pole, the cad’s been caught with the hussy–it’s all in your face and your protagonist hasn’t a clue how to deal with it. Dump them into a situation that’ll be hell to fix while sprinkling in backstory as the plot progresses. Think breadcrumbs along a trail.

Eavesdrop – Someone’s arguing or confessing or dishing over drinks, and there you are, a fly on the wall, privy to a candid conversation. Drop in a minimum of milieu and let your characters tell your readers what’s going on through their dialogue. Watch being overly explicit about what you say, though. Too much detail and your casual conversation can come off as an information dump. Divulge on a need-to-know basis.

Begin with the ending – One of the best examples of this technique is the 1950 movie classic by director Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard, starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden. The movie opens with Holden’s body floating face-down in a Beverly Hills mansion’s swimming pool, and in his own voice he tells you how he got there. It’s really not as anti-climatic as it seems as you’re dying (sorry) to know how he got that way. And if you apply this to writing a book, hey! they’ll be no angsting over how to end it.

That’s a just a few ways, and I’m sure there’s many more, but one thing’s for certain. If you don’t give your readers something to grab onto, they’ll be nothing to keep them turning the pages. The sooner you get them hooked, the easier it’ll be to pull them into the story and all the way through to the end.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrr…

Woman shouting in surprise

I’m always writing something. If it’s not this blog, I’m jotting into my journal (yes, paper, I still have one of those) or slaving away on one work-in-progress or another. While the first two are usually seat-of-my-pants entries, which to me, are about as much effort as launching into a brand new box of Skinny Cow Chocolate Truffle Bars  (have you had these things? Almost orgasmic, and a ridiculous 100 calories! With NO artificial sweeteners either!!), lately my WIP has been leaving me somewhat frustrated. Granted, I’m not very far into it, only about thirty pages or so, but I’ve been so stuck on minutiae, examining every word and phrasing, that I’m hardly making any progress. Seems I just keep picking it apart and rewriting over and over, staring at it so closely and critically I can practically read the coding on the screen. I’m telling you, my inner editor has gone off the deep end, and it’s nearly driving me nuts. What’s a writer to do?

First, a little self-criticism, followed by a bit of analysis. Editing, intrinsically, is always a good thing. Seat-of-the-pants writing, or as I like to refer to it, verbal vomit, will only take you so far. It’s like making popcorn: you always end up with a lot of old maids (talk about an anachronism, but you know what I mean). If you don’t get rid of them, you’ll end of breaking your teeth, and in your writing, your rhythm. I tend to edit often as I write, re-reading line after paragraph after page in each writing session, and more often than not, I find a lot of superfluous prose I can trim away. Ultimately come up with cleaner, more elegant writing. The problem arises when the editing impedes me from getting further into my story, and I end up shaping and reshaping the same piece of clay so to speak, which is where I’m finding myself now. Why in blue blazes am I doing this?!

Now comes the self-analysis part. I’ve determined there are a few factors. I’m thinking because of school my writing schedule is a bit more erratic,  so I’ve sort of lost my momentum.  But I’m hardly one of those people out there who say they’re too busy to write because, personally, I never understood that. Usually I’m too busy not to write,  as I’ve always found it a challenge to snatch blocks of time I could devote to writing, whether in the early morning hours, during breaks between classes or somewhere between dinner- and bedtime.  As is the old adage: if you want something done, give it to a busy person. Applies to me, because truly, I’ve never missed a deadline, and I always get things done. So why now?

Perhaps it comes down to self-confidence, and maybe I’m lacking a bit at the moment, which I’m sure all writers wrestle with now and then. Sometimes we lack the conviction it takes to be confident in our abilities, and since writing is such a lonely exercise, it’s not as if we have a boss or coach standing over us prodding us on. Or maybe I’m a bit cowed by that Great Unknown that lies beyond those obsessively crafted words, but how will I know how truly wonderful I am if I don’t move past them? Writing means many different things to writers, but don’t let anyone ever tell you it doesn’t take courage to bring out in the open what we’ve created so deeply within us. Sometime I think it takes the courage of a soldier. And yet, we still do it, don’t we?

 

Look up and shut up

IMG_2766In a odd spate of convergence this week, my freshman students have an essay due based on the observations of writer and MIT professor Sherry Turkle, whose editorial appeared last Sunday in The New York Times.  It’s Turkle’s contention in “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk,” that students as well as adult smartphone users should ask themselves the question, “What has happened to face-to-face conversation in a world where so many people say they would rather text than talk?”

Turkle uses data from a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center,  stating that 89 percent of cellphone owners said they had used their phones during their last social gathering, even though 82% percent of the same adults felt using them somehow took away from the conversation. Counter that with the “rule of three,” or how  a group of college students Turkle interviewed handle the use of devices in social settings. While conversing with six or so people at dinner, “you have to check that three people are paying attention — heads up — before you give yourself permission to look down at your phone. ” The idea is you can continue to converse “but with different people having their heads up at different times.” Turkle contends that this “rule of three” tends to keep conversation light, focusing mainly on topics where people feel they can drop in and out. By following the rule, the students say, ” You never have to be bored. When you sense that a lull in the conversation is coming, you can shift your attention from the people in the room to the world you can find on your phone.” But students also lamented the downside. As one college junior put it, “Our texts are fine. It’s what texting does to our conversations when we are together that’s the problem.”

Yet if you’re a writer, it’s not only your conversations that are suffering. Your writing is suffering, too. Because if all your talking is fluffy and all your observations are out of Instagram, Twitter, or Google, chances are your writing is as deep and as substantive as Jell-O. I once had someone ask me why a writer would interview people when she could get the same information online. Could she? Then from where did that information spring? From the info pixies? Too many of us rely on “research” done via online, because too many don’t want to do the heavy lifting that comes with face-to-face or real world interactions. I know of one popular writer of 19th century historicals who worked around this by first writing the book, then doing a quick online fact check before submitting. This same writer had an actual book published with a scene from the 1860s that featured a telephone.  You could say that a simple Google search would have corrected that in a snap. But how could it when the writer didn’t know enough about the era to know what to check?

The point is a writer needs to be observant, to turn his or her attention away from the virtual and into the world going on around them. Honing the art of observation is the first skill a writer needs to master before they could ever strike a key to start a story. Ask yourself: Is Wikipedia is the first place you turn to for research, instead of that hot history geek bartender spouting random facts as he pours your Guinness? If it is, then maybe you need to look up from Tinder instead of just sitting there swiping left.

Plotting for plot

shopping_groceryWhere do story ideas come from? Do they drop like rain out of the sky, or sprout beneath our feet like crack-in-the-sidewalk weeds? Do they barrel into us like a runaway train, or slip into our consciousness like a movie’s product placement?  Fact is, all of the above are correct. You just never know when a great story idea is going to hit you. But it’s also true you can’t wait for the Book Pixies to drop one into you lap. Great ideas have to be mined,  and there are several places where you can start digging. For instance…

1. Look to History – This method is the easiest of all. Just pick up any history book, open a page and point, and there’s guaranteed to be a story in it. How many bestsellers have been written about World War II? The Civil War? (A certain radish-hurling Southern belle springs to mind.) Or the Napoleonic Wars and hello! the Regency period in England? Honesty, how many United States history books ever even mentioned the Prince Regent, “Prinny,” yet his era spawned a wildly popular American subgenre of romantic fiction. Imagine today forty years from now. Meet-cute on Tinder? Love it!

2. News Stories, slightly libeled – There used to be a popular movie trailer come-on that went, Ripped from today’s headlines! Which nowadays has been slightly altered to read, BASED ON A TRUE STORY. It’s the same thing, but honestly, that CNN home page or local newspaper (newspapers–remember them?) is still a great source for plots. In a further variation on the above history theme, don’t discount headlines of yesteryear, either. Writer Peter Benchley got an idea for his book, Jaws, from the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks that started on Long Beach Island. Who could argue with that success?

3. Family – Oh, yes, the original source of embarrassment and inspiration. How many of you have a weird Uncle Albert or Aunt Ada, the hoochie dancer, your father the war hero, your mother the self-made CEO of a multinational conglomerate (if you’re the latter, have her buy you a publishing company, and never worry about plot again). As for my own family, I have an original ‘49er, a nightclub singer, and a somewhat tenuous relation to Wyatt Earp’s brother, Virgil. Trust me, you never know.

4. Steal From Someone Else’s Story – Seriously, this is a viable option. Now, I’m not talking about opening up some New York Times bestseller and jacking right from the page. What I’m suggesting is taking a book in the public domain, and tell the story behind the story, what happens before or after, or from another character’s point of view. Jean Rhys prequeled Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre with Wide Sargasso Sea, and more recently, March, by Geraldine Brooks, tells the story of the absent father gone-to-war of the March girls of Little Women. Who hasn’t read a book and thought about an unexplored secondary character and wondered what their story was? Now’s your chance to clear it up.

5. Take a Walk – Any walk, anywhere, from your own street to a street far, far away. Take in the sights, the sounds, the buildings and the people, sit on a bench in a park, in a cafe, on a bus, at a museum, on a beach, by a lake, on an observation deck. If you can, do it alone to keep distractions at a minimum, allowing yourself to absorb everything that floats, waltzes or rolls past you. Leave the phone turned off and the ear buds in your pocket, and let the milieu do the talking. You’ll be amazed at what it tells you.

Why this writer (and maybe you too) needs the beach

IMG_1725This week while I’m running around getting ready for classes to start next Tuesday, I came across this photo, and right away I started pining for the beach. It’s been a hell of a summer for me, and the fact I haven’t had my toes in the sand since Fourth of July weekend has left me  a bit addled. You see, at least for this writer the beach, or rather the Shore as we say in New Jersey, is an essential muse to my literary existence, and here are five reasons why…

1. The Horizon – Stressed? Have a bit of the old block? I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like zoning out at the beach. You sit your fanny in a chair, bury the toes, slide on your shades and simply fix your sight on the horizon. By the time your gaze glides past the sand and surf and out over the water, your blood pressure’s dropped twenty points. After a few minutes your mind blanks and oh boy, do the ideas start flowing.  Compound that if you’ve got your fingers clamped around a Yuengling.

2. The Surf – Still stressed?  Dive in. This is especially effective if the water’s particularly rough that day. There’s nothing like a wave ass-whooping  to bust the kinks out of those tense muscles. In fact, it’s practically mandatory for an effective day on the beach. Why? Because a dip is an absolute precursor to the…

3. Beach Nap – You’re heaving like a busted bellows, there’s sand in your crotch, and your hair looks like the wet mop coming out of Nardi’s men’s room after a Saturday night. So the only thing left to do is fall on your face and pass out under the sun. Let me tell you, I’ve solved more plot problems through the bizarre REM dreams I’ve had during these snooze sessions.  Or maybe they weren’t.  Hmmm…

4. Chat ‘n Chew – More often than not I have a friend or two (or three or four) along with me as a I sit on the beach, and often that friend or two are fellow writers. I cannot tell you how many books were started or finished in that rumpled milieu, whole characters developed, titles created, contracts debated. Often these brainstorming sessions are aided by a new pack of Twizzlers, various summer fruits – peaches, watermelon, plums, etc  – as well as the mandatory chips ‘n dip. Inevitably, this is supplemented with the Red Carpet chatter that ensues watching the various forms of scantily-clad humanity plodding near the shoreline, invoking even more spirited discussion. Oh–the stories we can weave!

5. And then, as I look to the West… – As our day on the beach comes to a close, and we trod homeward, after we shower, barbecue and before we hoist a few more Yuenglings, we venture to the other side of the Island and Barnegat Bay. In a blaze of red, gold and orange, the sun sets, staining a path across the water, eliciting oohs and aahs. And if that isn’t inspirations, well, I just don’t know what.

External Hard Drives, Leather and Otherwise

db3b094a0a9f7f84387592c2540a12ecUnless you’ve spent your entire life in a social void, you should know you never ask a woman past twenty-five what her age is. That said, you can assume I’m past that age (though not quite OF the age) when my age is all that obvious. So when I say I’ve been keeping a journal since I was sixteen, know I won’t be insulted if you take for granted I spent my teen years in the other century. (And don’t be a smarty; I mean the Twentieth.) In any event, I’ve been keeping one for a long while, and believe me when I say, it’s been my salvation for all those years in between.

Sometimes your significant other or your friends just aren’t enough as a sounding board for your troubles, and let’s face it, your honesty. There’s always that intrinsic filter that keeps your guard up just a little, and that’s where writing it all out can be such a release. A journal can also work as an external hard drive for your memory, a place to record what’s happened without all the exposure and potential future regret of all those impromptu social media postings (you’ll be the only one who knew you were sauced when you wrote that). But there’s one more purpose a journal serves, tailor-made for a anyone who considers themselves a writer: the fact that journals are specifically intended to be, well…written in. And just that fact that you’ve decided to keep one should be a commitment to keep on writing.

But just because you have one doesn’t mean you will, though here’s a bit of impetus beyond my mantra, writers write: a journal’s very existence will compel you to write OR ELSE. Case in point: my journal, a simple 4 x 6 leather-covered notebook, has a meaner stare than any animal of prey. I have never seen anything, inanimate or flesh-and-blood, that can produce such an overwhelming rush of guilt when ignored, ten times worse than your mother can when you’ve forgotten her birthday. And it doesn’t even matter if I keep mine in my desk drawer. Somehow, you’re always aware it’s there, as I swear, at times I could almost hear it calling to me. So sooner or later, you end up writing in it, and the crafty thing that it is, will then make you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something, and you know what? As the pages pile up you know actually have. You wrote.

But journals are more than just tableau rasas for inner angst; they’re repositories of sketches, plot points, anecdotes, snatches of dialogue, characterizations, and any number of tidbits you can draw from later on in your writing. I take mine with me whenever I travel, and some writers I know bring along a separate volume just to record that specific trip. After you’ve been keeping one for a while, you’ll find out an event just doesn’t seem fully realized until you’ve chronicled it, making it so much richer when you do. But most of all, for all its neediness, you’ll know it’s always there for you, ready and waiting to receive your genius, a touchstone into the writers’ world, one we can always access, with no judgments on our genius, and most importantly, no rejections ever.

So the book’s done. Now what?

retro-porn-3Last week I gave you a sneaky peeky of my new novel, and this week and next, I’m taking a well-deserved rest. But what do you do after all that resting is over? After you’ve nipped and tucked and primped and preened it until it’s pink and screaming? After you’ve made absolutely sure you couldn’t get it any better, after you’ve edited it one more time, after you’ve saved it in several places, and now you’re sitting back and admiring this positively stellar work of art? Well, I’ll tell you – now it’s Business Time. And what does that consist of? Let’s start with…

  1. The Dreaded Synopsis and Blurb– Oh my aching neck – is there anything worse than writing a synopsis? Yes, a blurb, which is a one sentence encapsulation, boiling your 85k word work of art down to its very essence. I thought of one the other day while I was making my lunch, so maybe they aren’t as hard as they seem. (Right!) Maybe because they’re all foreplay, and you don’t have to go for the beginning, middle and bang-zoom! Now synopses…well, they’re a bit more of a challenge. Used to be synopses were five to ten pages, but now my agent tells me the industry standard is getting closer to two. And that’s double-spaced sweeties, with the same formatting rules applying. And don’t make it a tease like the blurb–agents and editors will just spank the delete button if you try to play cagey. Give the plot, characters and theme, and make sure it covers your work from beginning to end and in the present tense. They’re looking for content, not for coy. Save that for your fabulous prose.
  2. More Dread – The Query Letter – There really is an art to writing these things, no kidding, and you do so need to get them right. Even before you begin your search for an editor or agent, create a good query shell as once you do, you can tailor it to each house or agency’s preferences. There’s much more information that ‘you’ll need about crafting one than I can give you right now, so click here to an earlier post for more in-depth instructions.
  3. Now do your research– What do you write? Romance, science fiction, mystery, commercial or literary fiction? Whatever the fiction (as it’s slightly different for non-fiction, and for that, I’m not quite the authority), you need to do your research so you’re targeting your work to the right house or agency. If you’re a genre writer – romance, sci-fi, mystery, etc. – there are some houses that still accept unagented fiction. It’s YOUR job to find out who they are. To do this, you might want to search the web for each publisher, pick up the latest copy of the Writer’s Market by Writer’s Digest or their Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck  Sambuchino, or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors or Literary Agents,. Or take a trip to the library and check out the Literary Marketplace Database (the definitive guide, a pricey subscription to get on your own, so use it at the library for free). But even those guide aren’t going to help if you don’t know what kind of fiction they buy. I always like to go to the local bookstore and browse the authors I feel my writing is most like, and then check the Acknowledgements page. See which editors and agents they thank, and that should send you in the right direction.  Another great source is the database on agents, Agent Query.  But nothing will get you in the door better than a personal invitation. Go to writer’s conferences, attend writer’s clubs, join national organizations for your genre. At conferences, you’ll have the chance to meet editors and agents in person during pitch sessions At writers’ clubs you’ll get to hobnob with published authors who might like you well enough to recommend you to their agent or editor. Put yourself out there! Face-to-face is always the most effective.
  4. Send it and forget it – Does the manuscript shine? Did all your research? Found the perfect editors and/or agents? Now start querying. Most, if not all agencies and publishers, post their submission guidelines on their websites, so do your research first. Send queries in small batches, though NEVER send an email blast to everyone at once, and NEVER use a form letter. If you’ve created a good template, you can tweak each letter for each specific agency/agent and publisher/editor. Thank your lucky stars and talent if a request comes back for a partial or a full, though only send attachments upon request or per submission guidelines..
  5. Now get back to writing – You’re only as good as your last book, and writers’ write, my dear. If you’re not doing what you should be doing, there’s no need to pay attention to any of the above. Now get back to work!

Pensmiths and Poseurs

vintage-college-girlsAs an instructor of the fine art of writing, I’ve often heard the question bantered about: Is writing truly something you can teach? Is it a talent intrinsic, borne of noble effort and semi-genius genes, or can Shakespeare actually spring forth from a million pant-hooting monkeys pecking a million IBM Selectrics? Although the Law of Averages favors our simian relations, I believe the difference lies in the impetus, which ultimately leads to how the writer is defined, and defines oneself.

In order to attain a college degree, most schools mandate two semesters of composition. Students read various works of fiction, non-fiction, drama and poetry, evaluate and analyze the works, so they could ultimately produce critical papers. Prerequisites include reading comprehension, sentence structure, and an understanding of the rules of grammar. At the end of two sections of Composition, students are expected to be able to express themselves clearly and succinctly, so they can carry that writing ability into their other courses and eventually, their field of work. So after years of writing papers and reports, and theses and dissertations if they’re working toward advance degrees, should these students now be sufficiently proficient enough to be considered writers?

Again, it all depends on the impetus.

I have known students who would rather be hog-tied and tossed into the runoff of a hard night of partying than face another semester of English 101 or 102, as opposed to those who live to jot their day-to-day in Moleskines or Marble Compositions, holed up at corner desks or coffee shops, far into the night or cracking the dawn. These are my kindred spirits, who never fail to fascinate me, who remind me I’m not the only one in the world who feels the same way. But what gives a person such a drive to record, reiterate, correspond, expound, create, blog? Whence comes this need for self-expression, this craving to get it out and put it down, whether anyone will every read it or not? I have no idea. All I know is I’ve felt this way for a goodly portion of my life, and there’s nothing that’ll alleviate it except the act of doing it over and over and over again.

So maybe that’s the difference between those who can write and those who call themselves writers. I believe it’s something you’re born with, like blue eyes or wanting to hit tiny balls with iron sticks on Saturday mornings (one thing I will never understand). Perhaps it’s true that one can learn where to put the nouns and the action words, or to spot alliteration or to cite from the Internet, but to describe the way you feel as your lover’s eyes reflect the moonlight? You can’t teach these things. Maybe writers are born with an ability both intra- and extra-terrestrial to crawl so deeply inside themselves, that we are able to become so immersed in the worlds they create for us.

Arrgh! Please don’t make me write a synopsis!

screamIt’s a sad, sad fact of the writing life that every book needs a synopsis if you want to sell it. I’m sorry, but synopses to me are like carbuncles on top of boils, about as compatible to my literary mojo as coconuts are to refrigerators. When I know I have to write one, it’s like I have creative mono I’m so not able to start. Fact is I hate hate hate the little bastards, as after all these years, my brain still fights writing one. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then welcome to Writer Hell, sweetheart. Your angsty little life is about to get so much worse.

A synopsis is your book boiled down almost to its skivvies. At the most it’s about five pages, but lately the going length seems to be around two. With such a tight page count, you might think it makes the writing easier, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Actually, it makes it so much harder. How hard? Let me search for a difficult enough analogy. Have you ever tried to gather a bunch of peeled grapes with one hand? That’s kind of what it’s like. (Actually, the literal version of that would be easier, but don’t let me disillusion you). You need to encapsulate all those slippery plot points from start to finish, naming your major characters, their conflicts and motivations, holding nothing back.  Don’t want to divulge everything? Then just include something like, Intrigued? Then request the full manuscript to find out what happens next! and you’ll win the race to the ‘delete’ button. (Please, just–no.) Do include a hook at the beginning and a satisfying ending, and no being cagey or overly creative, either. It’s just the facts, ma’am, and do remember to keep it in the present tense, and state your word count and genre under the title at the top. Also, it should go without saying to make sure it’s proofread, spell-checked, grammar-checked and formatted until it’s pink and screaming.

A synopsis, above all, is a selling tool. You need one to get an agent as after you do, she’ll need it to sell your fabulousness to an editor. A synopsis not only spells out your book, it tells an editor you’re capable of finishing one, as very rarely will she have your whole manuscript in front of her at the first pass. Because of their brevity, synopses, at least when they’re written well, can be succinct little works of art. With a well-written synopsis, you’re straddling the fence between novelist and journalist, as it’s a sign of polish and skill to write eye-catching florid-free prose when you’re concentrating strictly on the main points. When it’s done effectively and efficiently, it can make all the difference between rejection and acceptance.

Now go get ’em, tiger. I hate suffering alone.