This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘synopsis’

How to Write a Scene in a Novel

In The Craft of Writing on February 18, 2010 at 9:00 am

Great! You’ve developed these wonderful characters who stand primed to flit about your magnificent setting and boy-oh-boy do you ever have an idea for a storyline. Well, it’s all for naught if you can’t compile these things into scenes and string those scenes together to make your story awe your readers.

Imagine a lustrous string of pearls. The first gemstone compliments the next which balances with the rest and strung together they lay upon a woman’s neckline to bring forth her natural beauty and give her a radiating sense of elegance. Now imagine that necklace where the jewels are a hodgepodge of odd sizes, hues, luster and even quality. All of a sudden we’ve taken the best of nature and the best of man and made them into something unpleasing. The same thing happens with your story if you don’t create your scenes as well as you’ve created your characters and your setting.

One secret many find useful is to write the last scene first, and the first scene second, at least in outline form. If you know where you need to go, the steps to get there will become much more obvious. Now some people recommend you consider what the characters want to happen, what they need. Personally, I disagree. Determine where you want to go and what steps you must take to get there and the characters will follow your lead.

Let’s get started.

First outline what you need on hand to create an effective scene. It requires emotion, action, dialogue, characters, conflict and setting. (Did I leave anything out?)

Next, determine what has to happen in a scene to move this part of the story toward the next. Ask yourself, “What must happen now?”
Don’t worry about what could happen or what should happen.
Be concerned only about what must happen. At this time, use only two or three sentences to write your scene. That’s all you need at first.

Now that you know what must happen, figure out who must be in the scene to make it work. Put only those characters necessary into it and leave everybody else out.

Next you determine where this scene takes place. It may be obvious after you asked yourself what must happen, but if it wasn’t, fix the setting into your mind. Consider having things happen in places that one might think out of place. Consider a teacher and high-school student discussing the child’s grades. You’d assume this would happen in the classroom, most likely after class, right? Why not have this discussion taking place at a racetrack or better yet at a bar. Now that would perk the scene up, wouldn’t it?

Okay, we’ve got what must happen, who’s in the scene and your setting. Now consider how it all ties together. A classic secret is to begin a scene as late in the scene as possible. Regardless, this next beginning almost calls out for recognition as it naturally piggybacks off the ending of the previous scene. However, give this a bit of thought, too, and see if you can’t punch up your creativity just a bit. For example, your student and his teacher are talking at the races when one scene ends. The next scene might typically start the following day in class. What if this second scene started on a Saturday as they watch the school burn down? The oddity of your settings may just give your novel a unique and imaginative spark. After all, why should all the surprises come at the end of a scene?

The next thing I’d like you to do is visualize your scene as if it were in a movie. If you can see it working visually, it’s probably got some strength to it. Try this first with only the characters’ physical actions and nothing more. When you close your eyes and “watch” your scene take place, look for those areas that stutter or slow the pace. Those are the parts that need work. After you’ve “seen” it play out, go through this process again, this time with the dialogue. Does it “hear” as well, too? If not, you know what needs work. Do this a third time within your setting in mind and you’re good to go. Visualization is the real secret to a good scene.

Okay, you wrote your three sentence scene and you’ve “watched” and “listened” to it and it feels good. Now’s the time to pen what some people call a scribble draft. It doesn’t have dialogue, setting or anything beyond simple physical actions. Make is a bare-bones outline. It’ll look something like this:

Jack runs down the hill.
Jill runs after him.
Jack falls down hill, dropping his bucket.
Jill does too and screams as she tumbles.
Both land in a heap at the bottom of hill.

After all that, now guess what you get to do? Yep, first draft. Now’s it time to put fingers to keyboards and clack away.

We’re now to our last step in writing an effective scene. Now that you’ve gotten a few scenes strung together. Reread them and ask what’s the worst that could happen if this scene or that were omitted in whole. If the basic storyline is unaffected by the missing scene, it’s unnecessary and should probably be cut from your manuscript.

Yep, it’s a lot of work, but you’ll get that beast wrestled to the ground and your story will emerge. Good luck.

By the way, read back to step one and you’ll see I recommended you first write out your scenes in just two and three sentences. If you do, put all these mini-scenes on the same piece of paper, a file of its own. Make a copy of that document before you expand them into full scenes. This is the start of your synopsis and the beginning of your outline. (You’ll thank me one day for this tip!)

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the soon to emerge novel, “Born to be Brothers”

Bookmark and Share

Advertisements

The Secrets of the Dreaded Synopsis

In The Craft of Writing on February 12, 2010 at 8:39 am

I’ve yet to meet an author who looked forward to writing their novel synopsis. In fact, many believe it’s more difficult to write than the novel itself. Not to say it’s easy, but a few simple tenets can get you started.

Let’s first ask if a synopsis is even necessary these days. From reading the submission guidelines of agents, I see many don’t request one and that leads me to believe it has lost much of its influence. However, some still do, and as an aspiring author never knows which agent will represent them, it’s a good idea to have it ready.

The second question is why would an agent would feel a synopsis necessary. The critical reason I found in researching this article is it can be THE pivotal item that gets an editor to read your manuscript. That’s enough for me right there. However, if you need more, consider the following. A well-crafted synopsis can assist the author in finding weak plot points and point you toward ways to polish your story arc. It also assists in improving characterization, plot and setting. Further, it is often utilized by various departments of a publishing house once they accept your novel.

We now know the if and why, but what about the what? What, after all, is a synopsis? Many confuse it with an outline which describes what occurs in the storyline, to whom it happens and when it happens. In contrast, a synopsis portrays the “why” of your story. The novel outline describes the action or what happens, whereas the synopsis offers the conflict or how your characters react to that action.

The essential components to a novel synopsis are:

  1. The Opening Hook
  2. Character Sketches
  3. Plot Highlights
  4. The Core Conflict
  5. The Conclusion

If you think about what the synopsis is supposed to accomplish, these five aspects make perfect sense. It will give the various readers a good feel for everything they might need to know about your story. Let’s look at each of these components.

The Opening Hook: Start strong. Remember this is about conflict, how and why your characters react the way they do. It is not about action, what happens to them. For example, you would not open with the first line following for it speaks of the action in the story, whereas the second tells the reader about the characters’ REactions.

Two men fight over a woman.

Two brothers lose their friendship when a woman comes between them.

As with any reader, the agent looks for something that will engage them. If your story doesn’t’ sound interesting right away, they’ll probably not read further. You’ve got ninety seconds, so power your way through them.

Character Sketches: This does not mean you describe your characters but rather get to their individual core conflict and the conflict between your two or three main characters. What makes your hero undertake his great quest? Why is your villain working with such diligence to thwart your protagonist? Think motivation rather than descriptions.

Plot Highlights: Give some detail to the first and the climactic scenes and a couple of those in the middle of your story. Use only those scenes that highlight the emotional action and conflict within your story. Make sure whoever reads your synopsis knows just how much trouble befalls your hero.

Core Conflict: Your Opening Hook will probably introduce your core conflict, but make sure you enhance it here. Don’t allow anyone to misunderstand the “why” of your story. If you have multiple conflicts, highlight the premier point then maybe the next couple of levels.

The Conclusion: Show the agent your novel is worked to its completion and flesh out the ending. They want to know the entire story. If they don’t know the ending, they’ll assume it doesn’t work. Tie together any major loose strings and point to a sequel if your novel is one of a planned series.

That’s all there is to it. With things spelled out like this, it doesn’t seem quite so onerous, does it? Use your writer’s voice as you did with your novel and the agent will have a good idea of what it is you’re offering for him to sell.

Best of luck and know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze



Bookmark and Share

Eleven Elements of a Successful Synopsis

In The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on December 9, 2009 at 9:19 am

Many writers have more difficulty writing the three hundred word synopsis than the one hundred thousand word novel. The reason for this? It’s a different type of writing. Regardless, the synopsis is something all writers who hope for publication need to master.

Not all agents will require a synopsis, but should they ask for one, it’s wise to have it ready for them. To improve your prospects for having an agent offer you a contract, insure your synopsis has the following components.

It MUST have a strong lead sentence.

This should at least hint at the core conflict of your story. Look at the following examples and, if you were an agent, decide which opening sentence would peak your interest?

“Joe is a night watchman at the local peanut factory.”

“Joe, the night watchman at a haunted peanut factory, is about to die.”

The initial amount of time an experienced agent will give an unknown writer is numbered in seconds. The secret is to engage his interest right away, you’re chances diminish with each passing moment. As his interest grows, so does the time afforded you. Grab his interest from the very start.

Insure your synopsis is logically arranged.

Organize your synopsis as you did your novel. Expect to expend as much effort editing this as you did your manuscript.

Write your synopsis with as much precision as your novel.

What does an agent need to know about your novel before he’ll consider offering representation? As you might expect, he requires a good story with well developed characters, effective dialogue and an author with sophisticated writing skills. If he does not see any one of these things by way of your synopsis, the odds of his offering a contract approached zero. Therefore, you should insure your synopsis exemplifies your writing skills at their best.

Introduce your major players. The agent does not need to know Joe’s height, weight and other vitals, but rather his motivations. Why emotions move him in your story? Is it love, revenge, fear? Make sure the agent understands who your major characters are, how they are interrelated and the conflict that interweaves among them. You should have no more than three major characters in your synopsis or your novel.

Plot your principal conflict points. Joe does not sound like much of a character unless, as mentioned in the opening sentence, the peanut factory is haunted. Suddenly what happens to Joe rises to a higher note, as do his reactions to his profession and the nocturnal guests. Make certain the agent understands all the major turning points in your novel and how your characters react to them.

Write your synopsis in the present tense. This may be difficult if your novel is set in the past, but do it anyway.

Use strong verbs. Just like with your novel, insure your synopsis is as well-crafted as is your manuscript. You may wish to review my post from yesterday about this subject. It may help.

Eliminate adverbs and adjectives. You did this with your novel, right? For the same reason, effective writing, do the same with your synopsis.

Get the punctuation right. If you miss a comma it probably won’t kill your chances of success. But then again, why give the agent a reason to say, “No?”

Include Your Story’s conclusion. No, I don’t mean to rewrite the words, “The End.” This means the agent must understand what happens to your protagonist by the end of your story. No surprises, okay?

Taking the time to craft your synopsis with as much care as you did your novel will enhance your chances for landing that all-elusive agent. And once you do, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze