QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New QueryTracker Sneak Peek

The new QueryTracker should be going live around February of 2015, and I'd like to show you just a few of the new features that it will include.

There's a lot more new to show you, but it is the holidays after all and I don't want to keep you. There will be more sneak peeks coming soon.

And if there is anything you'd like to see added to QueryTracker, there's still time to make suggestions. Just add any ideas you may have in the comments below.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Publishing Pulse for November 21, 2014

New At QueryTracker:

Since the last Publising Pulse, we've added four agent profiles and updated fourteen, including two who appear not to be agenting any longer. That's a lot of motion in the industry, so please make sure you double-check every agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page before sending your query.

If you're a QueryTracker premium member, then you can be notified whenever an agent or publisher profile is added or updated. If you're not a premium member, you can just check for yourself.

Publishing News:

This year's National Book Awards sounds like it was a rather … interesting event, with racist jokes (later apologized for on twitter) and an impassioned speech by Ursula K. LeGuin.  Also, awards were given out.

Bono is going to star in a comic book. Because why wouldn't he?

Simon and Schuster has made changes to their library ebook program, removing the requirement to "buy it now."

If you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books, their author RA Montgomery has passed away at age 78. May perpetual light shine upon him.

Oh, and bringing an end to the fun and games we've all been having on the sidelines, while authors lose revenue or else take bitter sides against one another, Amazon and Hachette have reached an agreement.   If you want some commentary about this (and who doesn't?) I recommend Hugh Howey's take.

Amazon updated the look of the author pages. I can't link to that -- just go take a look. (If you can't think of an author offhand, you can take a look at mine.)

Around the Blogosphere:

Smashwords wants you to know that ebook publishing only gets more difficult from here on out, but they have tips to help you succeed.

Goodreads compiled an infographic about reading trends by sex, and how often women read women and men read men.

Agent Janet Reid gives a newly-agented writer advice on mistakes not to make as a client.

New Republic features an essay from a writer either stunned or embittered by the notion that agents are searching for projects that make money. I recommend reading this because once the literary agent community finds it, they're going to start dissecting it on Twitter, and you should know what they're talking about.

Personal news:

This week saw publication of my novel, An Arrow In Flight, so my previous novel, Seven Archangels: Annihilation will be free until the end of today, and my Christmas novella The Boys Upstairs is now listed at $.99. If you love these blog posts, surely you'll love my books too. Right? Right.

Literary Quote of the Week:

"Don't let the fear of striking out hold you back." -Babe Ruth

Thanks for stopping by, and keep sending those queries!

Jane Lebak is the author of An Arrow In Flight . She has four kids, four books in print, two cats, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and tries to do one scary thing every day. You can like her on Facebook, but if you want to make her rich and famous, please contact Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Conquering the Cliche

Editor's note: I'm nose-deep in edits of my latest project... and I'm finding myself in need of some of my own advice. Enjoy the reposting of a much-needed lesson!

Whether a plotter or a pantser, a novice or a pro, every writer will eventually do the same exact thing—and that's stare at the screen, fingers poised over keyboard, planning a character's next move.

How you handle your character's next move will set you apart from the rest of the writing masses. Genre matters not; length matters not. What matters is whether or not that next move is a cliché.

A cliché is any expression, idea, or element that has been overused to the point of losing its original intent or effect. There are the obvious clichés, namely those turns of phrase that get used over and over (whoops, that was cliché).

They are comparisons and references and descriptions that are so overused that they render the very language empty and boring.

While clichés are most often recognized as those annoying catch phrases, they can also relate to larger things like character and dialog and plot. Clichés are wicked little buggers that weaken our writing and writers should do their best to find them—and fix them.

Do The Unexpected

Clichés are often found hiding in plain sight (another cliché) whenever we let our characters act naturally—and these are the clichés that doom us to failure (probably cliché).

By acting naturally, I refer to the character doing what feels perfectly natural to us. I like to call it "First Response Syndrome", an unhealthy story condition wherein the character acts upon his/her first—and therefore natural—response to a situation or stimulus.

When a character does exactly what we expect them to do, remember this—every other reader on the planet (cliché) is expecting them to do it, too. And that's kinda boring.

Say your character is waiting for a bus that doesn't seem to be slowing down for her stop.
  • The natural response is to let her wait safely on the curb so she doesn't get flattened.
  • The unexpected action would be if the woman takes off her shoe and throws it at the bus, cracking the windshield. That's more interesting.
  • More interesting, still, would be if the character jumped into the middle of the street and made the bus driver slam on the brakes (technically a cliché but you know what I mean).
Do the unexpected.

Of course, there's a difference between unexpected and ridiculous. You wouldn't have an arthritic ninety-year old grandma jump into the street to stop traffic. (Unless, of course, we only thought she was a ninety-year old grandma but was instead an escaped acrobat who's on the lam (cliché) and wearing a disguise. That is so not cliché.)

But, as I said—ridiculous is not a good thing and you don't want to pull the reader out of the story. You just want to keep them on the edge of their seat (cliché).

Actions aren't the only things that can be cliché in this fashion. Dialog can be cliché, too, even when it doesn't contain any overused expressions. Any character who says what we expect them to say suffers from First Response Syndrome and is in dire need (cliché) of a rewrite. Don't allow your teen protagonist to be a carbon-copy (cliché) of every other teen you know. Forbid your villain the pleasure of twisting his mustache and howling his favorite mu-hahaha laugh (no matter how cool it sounds, it's cliché.)

Breaking The Habit

It takes effort to break a bad habit (cliché) like writing in cliché. However, the story will reap the rewards (cliché) if you can train yourself to spot them and fix them by doing the unexpected.

For instance, doing the unexpected may cause your character to come to a realization about themselves or someone else. An unexpected response may lead to heightened emotions. An unexpected response may tell the reader something about a character's makeup that would otherwise take pages of description—in short, an unexpected response would show a quality that the writer might otherwise be compelled to tell.

Try this exercise: select a portion of your manuscript and print it out. Using a highlighter, mark everything that seems it might be cliché—look for those expressions that are done to death (cliché), scour your dialog for trite or dull responses, and mark off every reaction to a stimulus.

Then, evaluate each instance of highlighted text. Think of a different way to write over those overused phrases. Add color to dialog using emotion and fresh language. Make your character do the exact opposite of their original response.
Do any of the rewrites heighten tension? Make the character seem more interesting? Take the story in a new direction? If it's more interesting to you as the writer, it's going to be more interesting to the reader, as well.

What a lot of us fail to realize is that sometimes our stories get rejected not because our writing is bad but because our work is clichéd. Good isn't acceptable anymore—our work has to be great.

Our characters need dialog that is fresh and original and our characters have to be ready to do the unexpected. Thinking past the first response will add an element of surprise and excitement to your work—and a reader who has to keep reading to find out what happens next is the reader that stayed hooked.

A hooked reader—that's not a cliché... because that never gets old.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at www.ashkrafton.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press). Her paranormal romance WORDS THAT BIND (The Wild Rose Press) is now available.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sleeping with Symbolism

A few months ago, I re-watched the suspense movie Sleeping with the Enemy. The story is about a young house wife (Julia Roberts) who fakes her death in an attempt to flee her nightmarish marriage, only to discover it’s impossible to escape her controlling husband. I still get chills thinking about it.

During one scene, the abusive husband hits Laura and she falls to the floor.  She pushes herself up to a sitting position, her long red hair spilling around her shoulders, legs bent to the side. At that moment, she reminds me of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. When Laura tries to stand, after her husband leaves, her legs are shaking so badly, she resembles Ariel after the sea witch turned her into a human, and Ariel takes her first steps into the new world. In Sleeping with the Enemy, this image is symbolic foreshadowing. What her husband doesn’t know is that Laura has been learning to swim, to overcome her fear of the water. She is a mermaid, so to speak. Soon after, she fakes her death in a drowning accident and escapes to a new life. The "mermaid" scene also symbolically foreshadows Laura moving to a new world (like Ariel did). She escapes from the massive, ocean-front property on Cape Cod to a cozy house in small town Cedar Falls, Iowa. Even the style of furniture is a complete opposite between the two places.

That evening, after Laura’s husband hits her, he gives her red roses and red lingerie. They are supposed to represent his “love”, but they really symbolize the physical and emotional abuse (blood, danger) she suffers at his hands.

After Laura escapes her husband, she takes a Greyhound bus to her new destination. As it arrives, we see Laura looking out of the bus window and the reflection of the American flag waving in the breeze. The American flag symbolizes freedom and the home of the brave. It’s the perfect symbol for Laura’s courage and the new life she hopes to establish in Cedar Falls.

Symbolism works both at a conscious and unconscious level. When we read a book or watch a movie, some symbols will jump out at us, especially if the creators have done a good job drawing your attention to it. With other symbols, you won’t stop to analyze it. For example, if the scene takes place in a room with green walls, you won’t be thinking that the director wanted to reveal the subtext of life. But you can guarantee someone behind the scenes purposely picked that color because of what it symbolized, and not because it was her favorite color.

In the first season of Criminal Minds (spoiler alert), there was one episode (Compulsion) in which fire and the number three were important elements in the show. Among other things, fire represents anger and divinity (Symbols, Images, Codes: The Secret Language of Meaning in Film, TV, Games, and Visual Media by Pamela Jaye Smith). The FBI behavioral profilers eventually figure out that the unsub (i.e. the serial arsonist/murderer) was starting fires based on the need to test her victims. If they survived the fire, they were free of the wrath of God. The number three (or rather the triad of the number three) would set off the unsub. The creators could have randomly selected any number, but three (like other numbers) has a symbolic meaning. In Christianity, it represents the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  As the unsub lined up the three bottles of flammable liquid, before dousing her three victims with them, she made reference to the bottles as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

In the book (and movie) Where the Heart Lies, Billie Letts used a tree to represent life and growth. Pregnant seventeen-year-old Novalee (Natalie Portman) is abandoned by her boyfriend at a Walmart store. With nowhere to go (since her mother ran away with a guy years before), she secretly moves into the store. A woman (Stockard Channing) mistakes her for a young girl she once knew and gives Novalee a Welcome Wagon gift of a buckeye tree. As can be expected, the tree starts to die. Novalee tries to return it to the woman, who suggests they plant it in her garden, but only if Novalee comes by regularly to take care of it. This is the turning point in Novalee’s life (i.e. turning plot point). Ruth Ann’s actions are the first act of kindness Novalee has experienced in a while, and under the mothering of Ruth Ann, Novalee turns her life around. And of course (during the movie), we are reminded of this with regular shots of the growing tree.

In the buckeye tree example, the meaning behind the symbolism was obvious from near the beginning of the movie, and was carried throughout the story. In the Criminal Minds example, it was only obvious at the end of the show, when the behavior analysis unit solved the crimes.

Movies (and TV shows) are a great place to learn about symbolism, since the director, writers, set designers look for ways to insert it. Most of the time, we don’t notice it at a conscious level. It impacts us subconsciously. But when done well, it adds to the emotional satisfaction of the movie. If you apply the same principles to your stories, they will increase the emotional satisfaction your readers will get while reading your stories.

Do you watch for symbolism in movies and books? Do you pay attention to it in your stories?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website.  She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN and LET ME KNOW (Carina Press, HQN) are now available.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How To Survive Writing Through The Holiday Season

As I sit here, watching the guy crawl along the edge of the roof across the street, I’m reminded that the holiday season is upon us. That’s right, he’s setting up the Christmas lights for the house. And as I edit my manuscript and think about the other project I want drafted by the end of the year, I’m slammed by a daunting thought: how the heck am I going to survive?

Regardless of which holiday tradition(s) you celebrate, our writing time is often the thing that suffers the most. Unlike during the summer when we have to deal with the kids at home, we now have more expectations thrown at us. There are school performances, Christmas party invites, work parties (including those for your spouse). There’s holiday shopping, wrapping presents, cooking, visiting relatives. If you have relatives visiting you, it also means more shopping and don’t forget to clean the house. Plus you’ll need to entertain them. Watching you write isn’t entertainment.

In addition to these above demands on your time, our kids have school off, often for two or more weeks. And maybe you’re planning to travel to a hotter locale or to visit family. All of this will keep you from writing. All of this will also have negative consequences on other aspects of your life, including your health.

Tips to Survive the Holiday Season

1.    Set up a reasonable goal

Writing wise, what do you want to accomplish by the end of the year? Maybe it’s to finish the first draft of your current project. Maybe it’s to finish editing your book so you can begin querying agents in January. Maybe you’re working on a proposal for your agent and want to send it to her January 2nd. Now you know WHAT you want to accomplish, you need to decide if it’s feasible at this time of the year. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you want to write the first draft of an 80,000-word novel (that you haven’t started yet), and you’re not the fastest writer to begin with. This goal might be feasible in February, when you don’t have as many demands on your time. But at this time of year, you’ll want to rethink it and maybe set a goal of 50,000 words by January 1st.

2.    Set up a schedule

Pull out your calendar and figure out all the dates when you know you won’t be able to write. These include school performances, Christmas parties, the kids’ vacation (especially if they aren’t old enough to entertain themselves while you write), vacation time, relatives visiting. Also, pencil in the days when you know your writing time will with be cut short. For example, your in-laws are flying in on November 26th for the Thanksgiving weekend, and you haven’t organized and cleaned your house since their last visit in July. You’ll need to schedule a day or two for house cleaning duties. And don’t forget to schedule the cooking/baking you want to finish prior to their visit.

Schedule in your writing time. This is especially important if you won’t be able to write every day (for example, you tend to write four days a week). You’ll be less likely to forget that you had planned to write that day and fall behind on your goal.

Allow for flexibility in your schedule for unexpected events. For example, your boss moves up the deadline for a big project, and now you have to put in extra hours to finish it. You might need to rethink your priorities so you can make up the writing time. Instead of watching TV in the evening, you can write. Watch only those shows you can’t survive without (like the ones everyone talks about on Twitter as soon as it’s over, and you want to watch it before you see the spoilers).

3.    Reward yourself

For some of us, writing is a reward unto itself. We crave to write and get cranky if we go too long without working on our current projects. We don’t seek a reward for getting in our daily word count. That is our reward. If you’re the type of writer who can easily walk away from your writing without feeling guilty (until you realized you’ve missed the deadline for your goal), set up a reward system to motivate yourself to write on your scheduled days. Have small rewards for your daily goals and larger ones for your weekly goals. If you have a group of writer friends who are also working on their projects, you can update each other on your progress as a form of motivation (some people do this on Twitter and their blogs).

If you miss a day of writing because something unexpectantly came up, don’t berate yourself. Either pick up the slack another day or readjust your expectations. This depends on your goal. If you’re on deadline, you’ll be making up for this setback on another day, and will sacrifice something in your schedule that isn’t as important.

4.    Take time to exercise

It’s so easy to drop exercising from your schedule when you’re busy. Many an author has gained weight when faced with a fast approaching deadline because their exercise schedule was the first to suffer. On top of that, they don’t have time to cook, and rely on quick-to-prepare junk food. And at this time of year, we have enough delicious temptations to mess up our daily caloric intake as it is. The added benefit of regular exercise is that it helps with the stress many of us feel at this time of year, and helps with the creative side of writing. Whenever I get stuck on a plot point, I find running helps me figure things out.

Do you find the holiday season impacts your writing goals? How do you usually cope (or do you)?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website.  She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN and LET ME KNOW (Carina Press, HQN) are now available.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Publishing Pulse: November 7, 2014

This Week at Query Tracker
Congratulations to this week’s Success! Read J.A. Holton's story.

Ready to write your own success story? If you're a QueryTracker member (membership is free) you can view the database of more than 1200 agent and publisher profiles. Premium Members can be notified whenever an agent or publisher is added or updates their profile, in addition to receiving access to several other enviable features.

This Week In Publishing
How many words are hiding inside you? November is the perfect month for getting them out... it's time for NaNoWriMo 2014! Get started on your November novel today!

For DIY indies: a guide to creating your front and back matter.

Test your Agent IQ…you may be surprised at the answers!

After writing your press release (if you need it, here's a handy reference), top it off with the perfect headline. Here are five tips you need to read.

Curious about Kindle Scout? Victoria Strauss provides a nice explanation with pros and cons.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at www.ashkrafton.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press). Her paranormal romance WORDS THAT BIND (The Wild Rose Press) is now available.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


So, um, I'm juuuuust a little excited about this, but I turned one of my ebooks into an audiobook, and you can too.  In fact, you should.

In September, I came across Hugh Howey's article on Wattpad about discoverability and the indie writer. I paused when I got to the point where he said every writer needs an audiobook (actually, what he said was "Audiobooks make you look like a media empire.")

I'd considered it before but don't have either the tech or the voice to record my own, plus I have no idea how to distribute it. I'd considered podcasting one of my books, but that's as far as it went.

Enter ACX, Amazon's audiobook-making platform. And oh, wow. Once I got over the inital terror of "Aaaah, I'm doing somehing new!"it was kind of fun. If you've retained your books' audio rights, I really encourage you to do it too. I'm going to assume you don't want to narrate your book yourself or you don't already have an ongoing relationship with a narrator.

You create an ACX account, which then locates your books on Amazon. You figure out which book you want to turn into an audiobook and tell ACX a bit about your book, yourself, and what kind of narrator you want for it (gender, age range, style). ACX then makes your project available for audition. If you're impatient (and I was impatient) you can start sorting through voice actors' audition tracks and ask them to read a brief audition script from your book.

At this point, you and potential narrators are going to be gauging each other for whether you want to work together. I'm not going to lie -- it was intimidating as all heck to be contacting voice actors and asking if they'd like to work with me on my project, but it became fun after a while. I talked to four different narrators about my novella The Boys Upstairs before settling on Ryan Prizio, who impressed me with his enthusiasm and versitility. Eight hours after I contacted him and asked whether he'd be willing to take a look at my project, he'd recorded the first chapter. And even with zero guidance from me as to what my characters sounded like, he brought them to life in that audio file.

As an author, you may know exactly how your characters sound. Or like me, you may not. Ryan had me describe my characters and give a general idea of how they sounded in my mind, and one night he sat on his couch and recorded himself talking as each one of them. It was amazing listening to my characters speaking for the first time, and for the most part he nailed every one of them (except for the one I'd described to him poorly, and he perfected her on the second go-around.)

Your narrator will record the first fifteen minutes of your audiobook, and after you approve it, the narrator can record and submit the rest. You'll need a cover for your audiobook too, and bear in mind that the print and ebook covers won't be the right dimensions. I used this as an opportunity to get a brand new cover for my book, by the way.

Once the audiobook is finished and approved, ACX arranges distribution. They set the price (the only part that's not under your control) and make the audiobook available through Amazon, Audible and iTunes. If you've chosen a royalty-share with your narrator, then you didn't pay the narrator up front and ACX will split your royalties with your narrator, 20% of the price to you and 20% to your narrator. (If you're able to record your own book, you get to keep all 40%.)

One caution: going through this process, I can see where an author and a narrator could go head-to-head about the process. Keep in mind that just as movies are different media than books, so too with audiobooks. I'd urge you as the writer to let go a little bit: no one's going to render your book exactly the way you imagined unless you do it yourself. But think about how many different interpretations you've heard of any literary work that's been made into a movie or even subjected to criticism. Your book, once you're done, lives independently in the heads of the readers. Similarly, these narrators are evoking parts of your book you may not have heard the same way before. Let go a little and let the piece breathe.

At about the midpoint, my two main characters have a no-holds-barred confrontation in front of a number of onlookers. They're brothers, so they're both carrying a lot of baggage, and they're really good at pushing each others' buttons (because, as I'm told, they installed them.)  Whenever I read that passage, I hear Jay as offended/outraged and Kevin as mocking to cover up his own insecurities.

When Ryan narrated that passage, he read Jay as heartbroken. Baffled. Vulnerable.

They're the same words, exactly the same, and an interpretation that I think works so much better in audio format than it would have in print (where I'd still tend to interpret it as majorly pissed off and defensive.)

In another section, one of my characters was interspersing his actions with snippets of memory, and Ryan realized the reader wasn't going to be able to hear what I was doing on the page. Remember, narrators can't speak in italics, and they can't speak in graphs or charts. So we changed the text, and it worked because both of us were willing to communicate and willing to trust the other's skill set.

Work together. Make yourselves a team.

I dare you: tell me you don't want to do this. Tell me you don't want to hear your characters speaking to you through a pair of headphones. Tell me you don't want to reach a whole cluster of people who say, "I don't read books" but who will pay to listen instead. Try, but I bet when you think about it, now that you know it's possible, you really do want to do it.

So yeah, so far it's been a blast. I'm really happy with ACX, and I think my narrator did an awesome job. You can check out Ryan Prizio's website, and you can also visit his ACX profile to listen to his work. (Just be sure to leave him some free time to do the rest of my catalog!)

Jane Lebak is the author of The Boys Upstairs. She has four kids, three books in print, two cats, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and tries to do one scary thing every day. You can like her on Facebook, and if you want to make her rich and famous, please contact Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Creating the Dreaded Synopsis

We have had a lot of requests for information on how to write a synopsis. A synopsis is that dreaded summary of your story that can be anywhere from one to five plus pages. They aren't just necessary for when you're querying agents and editors. They're essential for when your agent is subbing your novel or novel proposal to editors.

Instead of re-inventing the microwave oven, I'm going to post this brilliant article from former QT blogger H.L. Dyer. If you have any questions not covered in the post, ask them in the comments.


Okay, QT's... as promised I am back to discuss how to create a rockin' synopsis.Now-- just like with a novel-- there is no single way to write a synopsis. There are many folks on these internets and in Pitchcraft texts such as Katharine Sands' Making the Perfect Pitch or The Sell-Your-Novel Toolkit giving advice on how to write a compelling synopsis. I'll include links to several of the online references at the bottom of this post.

In general, the recommended processes fall into one of two categories: to start with your one-word logline  and build up. Or to start with your novel and condense down.

While either method may work well for you, the best synopses in my experience were created using the second method. I'm going to describe the system I use for synopses and why it works for me.

When I first began preparing my manuscript submission, I drafted a 2-page synopsis using the "just describe your novel as briefly as possible" method. To admit that my original synopsis failed to rock would be an understatement. In attempting to be as brief as possible while "revealing all", I had virtually eliminated the component that makes a project unique.

I had surgically extracted my voice from my work.

Luckily, before I began submissions, I found another way.

A contest I was considering entering required an 8-page synopsis. I had read that agents or editors may request a "Chapter Synopsis," which is a brief summary of each chapter of your novel. So, I decided to write my chapter synopsis first, and then see where I was lengthwise.

Now, chapter synopses are not often requested. In fact, despite many requested proposals for my manuscript, I have yet to send my chapter synopsis for The Edge of Memory to a single agent. But I still strongly recommend you write one. Here's why:

1. For me (and for most writers I know), it is much easier to edit down than up. The chapter synopsis will hit all your main conflicts and give you the length flexibility to preserve your voice. Then you can cherry-pick the best bits when you trim down to the length you need. BONUS: Agents will request synopses of varying lengths. My requested synopses have varied from 1 - 8 pages. You can create these various lengths along the way as your editing progresses.

2. It's a lot less daunting to summarize a chapter than it is to summarize a WHOLE manuscript. The Baby Steps approach is nothing new, but it is surprisingly effective.

3. The chapter synopsis will help you to edit your novel Big Picture style. Our writing, our characters are personal. In the creative whirlwind of drafting a novel, we sometimes create scenes that don't resonate with the rest of the story. Once they've been created, and edited to polish the writing to a blinding shine, it can be easy to miss the fact that the scene isn't actually necessary to the story we're telling. Or that the characters have changed since the scene was written.

Each chapter, like a novel, should have a beginning, middle, and an ending. And the chapter, overall, should work to improve our understanding of the characters and to advance the plot. You might well discover while composing your chapter synopsis that a chapter or two needs reorganizing, or your novel may be stronger without them altogether.

So, here's my recommended method for writing your synopsis:

Step One: For each of your chapters, write 2 - 3 sentences to summarize. Use strong verbs and language that captures your tone and voice as much as possible. Focus on the CONFLICTS. For mine, I wrote three sentences for each chapter. The set-up, the conflict, and the resolution.

For example, my first chapter summary reads:

When a young girl collapses in an unfamiliar house, no one knows where she came from or how she ended up on war widow Thea Greyson's front porch that stormy night. Thirty years later, Beatrice is devastated by the death of the woman that took her in. But her grief turns to a sense of betrayal when she discovers the letter from her birth mother that Thea claimed was lost.
Which may seem familiar to you if you follow the BookEnds blog (where Jessica Faust critiqued query pitches over the holidays). Because, with some minor revisions... Hello, first-half-of-query-pitch!

Step 2: If you're having trouble identifying the beginning, middle and ending of a chapter, there may be a problem with the chapter itself. Revise your manuscript as necessary.

Step 3: Once you've written a few sentences for each chapter, check your summaries for chapters which are not working because they are unnecessary, tangential, inconsistent, etc. Revise your manuscript as necessary.

Step 4: Group your chapters into acts. Most story arcs follow a three-act format. The first act generally establishes the protagonist's starting place (the first act is also usually the shortest) and continues to the point where your catalyst drives or forces the protagonist to make or endure a change. The second act is represented by the series of events that bring the protagonist to the climax. In the third and final act, the story rises to its climax and resolution.

For example, in The Wizard of Oz, the first act would end when Dorothy lands in Oz. The second act would comprise the journey to the Emerald City, and the third and final act would consist of the climactic showdown with the Wicked Witch of the West, and the resolution where each character realizes they already have the power within themselves to get what they want.

Step 5: Get out your editing scalpel. Depending on the length of your novel and chapters, your chapter synopsis will probably be longer than your desired length. So now, within your three-act collections of chapter summaries, you'll have to start trimming. Based on the requests I've received, I would recommend trimming to a 5-page length, and then trimming further to 1 - 2 pages. You can always edit to other lengths if necessary, but the vast majority of requests are satisfied with one of those two options.

Step 6: Read your synopsis aloud to yourself, looking for words or phrases that fall flat or pull the reader out of the narrative. The end result should resemble the sort of descriptions you see for movies in TV Guide and the like. Brief and punchy... don't let yourself get bogged down in things like setting or physical descriptions of the characters.

Step 7: Check to be sure you've accomplished your basic synopsis goals. Have you established the main characters and their motivations? Have you demonstrated the main conflict and the obstacles preventing the protagonist from achieving his or her goals? Do the events of your plot unfold naturally without resorting to cliches or plot devices? Do your plot twists culminate in a climax? Is the resolution of the story conflicts thorough and satisfying (Have you tied up any loose ends?) Does the language and tone of your synopsis reflect YOUR voice?

If your synopsis has done those things, Congratulations!

You now have a synopsis that rocks. Yay, you!

Don't forget the Novel Synopsis Basics we talked about last week, or course. ;)

For other folks' thoughts on writing a synopsis, check out these links:

Mastering the Dreaded Synopsis
Writing a Synopsis From the Ground Up
Writing the Synopsis: The Basics to Get Your Book Synopsis Written
How to Write a Synopsis
Workshop: Writing the Novel Synopsis

ETA (2/9/09): Jessica Faust posted a nice guideline of synopses on the BookEnds Blog this morning.