Writing a synopsis for your novel is a daunting task. You have to summarize an entire novel in two-four pages. Shorter novels (200 pages or less) shouldn’t have a synopsis longer than two pages. A synopsis for a longer novel can go all the way up to four pages. Still, that’s one page of synopsis for every hundred pages–or even less if your novel is more than four hundred pages long.
I’ve been hammering away at the synopsis for my own novel, Moonshadow’s Guardian, for about a week now and while I’m proud of what it looks like now this has been an incredibly painful process. And, like any part of writing I struggle with, I’ve done a lot of research on how to write a good synopsis for your novel.
Save some time learning how to write the best synopsis possible by reading these articles:
The bigger your cast of characters the more difficult it is to write a synopsis that properly conveys your story. This article provides specific tips, tricks and examples of how you can make your synopsis great even if you have many different characters.
This past weekend I finished my most recent edit of Moonshadow’s Guardian, a YA fantasy originally written as a Nanowrimo novel. I’ve already edited this novel several times–it’s faced the most drastic changes of anything I’ve ever edited–and am mostly finished my query letter and synopsis. As I told my best friend the other day, it’s time to send this novel out to publishers.
And then she asked me the question: “Are you nervous?
I might have stared into the phone like it was an alien for a while, because here’s the thing: I’m not nervous. I already know some of the publishers I send my novel to will reject it. In fact, I know most of them will reject it. That’s part of the gig. They might all reject it for all I know.
And eventually I will be nervous. Once it’s been two or three months since I heard from anyone, when part of my brain inevitably starts hoping I haven’t heard back because my novel’s reached the finalist round, gotten all the way to the head editor of the imprint I’m submitting to or the second read from an editor I mailed it to directly. Eventually I’ll start to feel disappointed every time I open my inbox to find nothing from the publishers I’ve submitted to.
But for now I’m not nervous, and here’s why: I have put everything I can into this book at this point in my life. It’s gone through several drafts and been partially or completely critiqued by several different people. Before this most recent edit I sent it to one of the harshest critique partners I’ve ever had and the manuscript was returned with hardly any notes. And this edit was the fastest edit I’ve ever done, finished in almost exactly one month.
I have done everything I could to make this book the best book I can create, and I am confident it will be successful. Rejections are not necessarily reflections of the quality of my book. And if it does get rejected by every publisher on my list I know I have the dedication and resourcefulness needed to make self publishing work. I will find the money necessary for professional editing, formatting, swag I can hand out at events, whatever I need to make my career work. There is nothing I will not do to make this book a success. Except maybe sell my soul, because I need that for the next book.
If you’re nervous about submitting your book, you have every right to be, but remember this: a rejection from a publisher, even your favourite publisher, does not mean you wrote a bad book. A rejection with criticism even less so. If an editor takes the time to send specific feedback on your work it means they cared about it enough to remember it separately from the dozens of manuscripts they read in a month.
If you are willing to do whatever it takes your book will eventually become successful. Probably not a best seller, but something you can be proud of, something that sells enough copies to at least shut those irritating naysayers up, something that gets readers interested in your next book.
There are some exceptions to this–some stories really aren’t supposed to do anything other than teach us something about ourselves or help us get through a crisis–but if you truly believe in your novel you can almost always find a way to make it happen.
Anyway, I should get back to working on that query letter.
To write a great book, one that leaves emotional impact, you need a great many tools, but one of the most important tools is patience. In fact, patience is as important as passion.
Why is patience so important? Well, I think this quote explains it nicely:
“A good book isn’t written, it’s rewritten.” ~Phyllis A. Whitney
Rewriting is a natural part of the process, and every book needs a different number of rewrites to be transformed from a first draft into a great novel. Even the best writers sometimes go through seven or eight rewrites. And these rewrites often take varying amounts of time. Your first rewrite might take six months and your third rewrite might only take one–it all depends on how extensive the rewrite is and how much time you devote to it.
I like to joke that I’m often impatient with people because I’ve used up all my patience writing books, and to some extent it’s true. I don’t want to publish anything less than a great novel. So the only fiction I’ve ever submitted are a couple short stories and a novella. I have three novels in different stages of editing, and I refuse to let them go until they meet my personal standards.
A great novel requires you to feel with your characters. How else are you going to make your readers feel with them? When you’re crying during a death scene, it’s probably a sign that you’re on to something. If you can’t feel the anguish or joy of your characters, you’ll have a much harder time portraying those emotions successfully in your work.
This means taking the time to learn about your characters, how they feel about themselves, each other, the world. And to do it for all your important characters, not just the main character but the antagonist and the secondary characters as well, even a few of the tertiary characters.
And that’s just the work you need to do outside the novel. You have to do self editing and at least one edit with multiple beta readers. You might even want to hire a professional editor, whether you choose to self publish or seek out a traditional publisher.
Once you’ve finished rewriting, it’s time to write a query letter and a synopsis. These pieces might only each be a page long, but they can still take you a few weeks to perfect. And if they’re your first query letter and synopsis, you might want to get feedback on these too before submission.
When you send out your submission package, you’ll find yourself playing the waiting game. This can be frustrating when your novel is with a critique writer, and it’s a lot more unpleasant when you’re waiting to hear from a publisher. Traditional publishers can take one to six months to respond, and if they want exclusive submissions–meaning you can’t submit elsewhere until they respond–this can be six months of hope crushed in a two sentence form rejection.
I’m experiencing this first hand right now: I submitted a YA fantasy novella to an ebook publisher in March and every time I think about it I start to feel restless. This is the first time I’ve waited more than two months for a response on fiction, and it’s definitely a learning experience.
So how can you cultivate patience?
Unfortunately there is no easy one-size-fits-all cure for impatience, and it’s often a struggle spanning years or even entire lifetimes. In the fast paced world we’ve built it’s easy to want everything to be efficient, to obsess over how long everything takes.
But there are strategies we can use to build patience–or at least to stop obsessing over things we can’t control:
Submit often. The thing about submitting often is that you end up waiting often. In the age of email you can get a response within as little as a few minutes, but usually you’re going to wait at least a month. If you’re submitting to a big publisher, you’ll be lucky to hear back within three months.
You’re going to spend a lot of your career waiting even after your first publication. Working on another book? That means another submission process. Even submitting short stories and poetry can involve a long wait time, depending on the publication. And once you have a contract you’ll also have to wait for edits, galleys, ARCs and finally publication.
Remember that many great novelists take years. One of my favourite writers, Hope C. Clark of FundsForWriters, took 20 years to publish her first novel. A writer I worked with at Musa took almost 40 years to find a publisher. Many authors have devoted entire lifetimes to a single series.
If you’re trying to write great books, you have to be in this for the long haul, just like these authors.
Waiting should be a passive activity. It shouldn’t take up much of your mind at any given point. You should be concentrating on moving forward. Writing the next book. Working on your next short story. Getting a few freelance clients to supplement your income and keep you writing. Taking a writing class.
If you’re always working on the next thing, it’s easy to forget about the things you’re waiting for. Stay focused on the next project, the next goal, and by the time your response comes in you’ll be a better writer and maybe even have crossed some other things off your goal list.
Are you patient enough to rewrite a novel as many times as it takes? What about waiting to hear from a publisher? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
What separates a great novel from a good one? What makes one book stand out in your mind forever while countless others drift off to be forgotten? What keeps you coming back to an author, time and time again?
Your first instinct is probably to say something very writer-y. Something about the kind of plot, the worldbuilding, the characters.
But it isn’t really any of those things. I mean, it is–these things are all important–but these are the superficial things. What really makes a great book stand out from a good one is deeper than that. It’s emotion, the emotion being poured out of the book and into you.
The best books can make us laugh in one chapter and have us crying in the next. They keep us awake at night, afraid or excited for what comes next. When you finally put the book down you’re exhausted, because the best books are like emotional roller coasters. You feel every success, every defeat as if it were your own.
Let me give you an example: Clariel by the amazing Garth Nix. Clariel is the fourth book in the Old Kingdom Series. Most of these books have been published for a while, but Clariel only came out last fall, right around the time I started re-reading the other books.
Clariel is actually a prequel. It’s a shocking glimpse into what the Old Kingdom was like before Sabriel, when you find the kingdom in dire conditions, but it’s more than that. It’s the kind of book where a character can die only a few sentences after you realize you really do like them.
About two thirds of the way through you realize exactly how this book sets things up for the future you encounter in the other books. It’s a heartbreaking moment, and I spent the rest of the book holding onto a faint hope that I was wrong. In fact, this book is written so well that right near the end I actually believed I had made a mistake.
By the end of Clariel I was in complete shock, with about four different emotions battling inside me. I actually had to take time to process it and come to terms with it, and I read the author’s note at the end (which explained a couple things, including the next book) about three times before I processed it.
But I wouldn’t think this was such a great book if it didn’t break my heart. The best books leave you with strong emotions, emotions you’ll have again whenever you talk about them. They don’t just have good characters. They make you feel with those characters.
What do you think makes an amazing book? Let me know in the comments below!
I was having a hard time coming up with a blog post for today, then I remembered that I haven’t posted any of my personal fiction or poetry here in a long time. I debated sharing some of the background work I’ve done for the novel I’m editing right now, Moonshadow’s Guardian–I’ve actually shared some of the work done on my main character–but then I had a brilliant thought:
Every writer needs critique, preferably from writers with varying skills and experience. And my readers happen to be writers, all with different skills and experience levels.
So today I’d like to ask you, my loyal readers, to critique the first page of the YA fantasy novel I’m editing right now in the comments below. If you want, I’ll even critique the first page of your current WIP–details below.
And without further ado, here’s the first page of my novel, Moonshadow’s Guardian:
Loki’s dungeon stank of urine and sweat. The toilet in my cell was just a bucket which gremlins—short, green creatures with screwed up faces and pointy ears—came to dump and replace every once in a while. There were no windows. No chairs. No bed. Just a small room made up of four stone walls that didn’t care.
Still, Loki saved me from a worse fate. Nobody escaped the wrath of the demons’ Head Family physically or mentally intact. The smallest crimes were punished as brutally as the worst. I had avoided my fate for almost a thousand years, and they would torture me for an equal number of years. Demons didn’t believe in simply killing traitors the way humans did.
Loki stole me from their court room and brought me here. He seemed to be punishing me with boredom. Time spent braiding my long, black hair—my shape shifting ability didn’t work here—or pacing around the room. Pacing kept the silence at bay. In silence my mind went wild, imagining every possible punishment Loki could inflict. After what felt like several days of contemplation, I had concluded the worst punishment would be sitting in this dull room for another thousand years. My kind couldn’t exactly kill themselves easily. It would be the worst kind of existence.
Footsteps. I stared hopefully at the door. The footsteps didn’t sound like gremlins. They sounded heavier, like a person’s, a genuine person, the lady with wings who came in occasionally to offer me scraps of food, or Loki himself. I hoped it would be Loki. The woman with the wings who fed me was silent and stone faced and the gremlins just giggled to each other, as though I didn’t exist.
Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. Any and all advice is appreciated. I can’t wait to see what you have to say!
If you’re interested in having me critique the first page of your novel–or critiquing all of Moonshadow’s Guardian–email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always on the lookout for new critique partners.
After an excruciating process taking anywhere between a few weeks and several years, your first–or second, or third–draft is almost finished. Your adrenaline’s pumping and you’re ready to power through to the finish line.
As antsy as you might be to finish it, I suggest instead you pause and take a deep breath. It’s time to create a plan for after you’ve crossed the finish line.
Start by scheduling a couple says off. You can write, of course, but jumping straight from one book to the next isn’t a great idea. Give your brain some time to relax and refill the creative well by enjoying somebody else’s book or doing something fun. You might want to focus on stories very different from your current WIP so you can get out of that mode and prepare for the next project.
Speaking of which, make sure you choose the next project to work on before finishing your current WIP. Without a plan, it’s easy to stop writing completely once you finish your novel. Writers can be extremely indecisive. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap.
A good plan will include a start date, a deadline for completion and a list of things that need to get done before you start the actual draft. If you need to flesh out your world, do some research or develop your characters before working on your next project, write the steps you’ll take to do so out on paper. You’ll probably spend quite a bit of time figuring out exactly what preparations you’ll need to make. Don’t worry about it. Every moment spent planning is made up for with time saved during writing.
If there are some shorter pieces you’ve been ignoring to work on your novel, schedule time to finish these before starting your next book. You don’t want those unfinished tasks nagging at the back of your brain while you’re trying to write a novel.
Every writer plans differently. What matters is you create a plan that keeps you constantly writing. You don’t want to lose the momentum you’ve created writing the last draft.
It’s more than halfway through the month and your novel’s middle is sagging, your characters are refusing to co-operate, and you wish you’d never started it to begin with. Or maybe your characters are doing exactly as they’re told, and you’ve simply realized that you can’t stand them–or your story idea.
Don’t panic. As anyone who’s done Nanowrimo a few times will know, it’s bound to happen eventually. It’s perfectly natural to get frustrated with your novel. Writing a book in a month is hard, writing daily is hard, and sometimes an idea turns out to be less interesting than you originally thought. Characters can be impossible to work with and if the wrong one decides to die it can ruin everything.
All of that is perfectly natural, and it’s part of the insane, masochistic fun called being a writer. Be thankful that you currently have all the support of Nanowrimo behind you, and make some quick decisions so you can stay on track with your goals.
No matter why you hate your novel, there are a few things you can do:
1. Finish the damn thing anyway. Most writers go through a period of time when they hate their novels, even outside of Nanowrimo, and if the story still means something important to you, you have to grit your teeth and bear it. You never know, the changes might lead to something wonderful in the end. Besides, great novels are not written, they’re rewritten.
You might want to make some small changes of your own, perhaps killing the most annoying character if you can get away with it. Either way, writing a crappy novel is still an accomplishment, because most people never write a book at all. Truth be told, most don’t even get started. So you are a champion already, and if you reach that finish line, you’ll be truly different from most people. You’ll actually be able to say “I wrote a book.” And that’s the first step towards writing a great book.
All that said, you also never need to look at it once November’s over, and if you really hate it you can print it up and feed it to a bonfire.
2. Kill all–or most–of your main characters, and start over from a side character’s perspective. If your story’s dragging, it might be that your characters are the problem. Maybe you realized the main characters aren’t that interesting and somebody else is, or maybe you just hate them. Either way, it’s perfectly acceptable to kill them all–in as many words as possible, because death is great for word count.
Once your main characters are dead, start part two of your novel from a side character’s PoV. This way you can keep all your words from before and legitimately say it’s part of the same novel–even if you end up deciding later that it’s really two books, or even that your original main characters aren’t worth ten pages. Sometimes killing off characters is the best thing you can do for a novel.
3. Scrap it and start a new book. This may seem like utter madness so late in the month, but it’ll make the rest of Nano easier and depending on your point of view, you can even keep the words from your last attempt. Or you can find some bizarre way to tie your old book into the new book you’ve realized you’d like to write. You’ll want this to be a pretty superficial connection, so you can painlessly edit away the first part if you decide to later.
Of course, this all requires you to have a totally new novel idea, so if you don’t, I wouldn’t suggest going this route.
Remember, if you hate your novel, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve always ended up using one of these three strategies when I came to hate my Nanowrimo novel, and if they don’t work for you, I’m sure there are more out there. Don’t forget to ask the friendly folks on the Nanowrimo forums for help–they’re one of the most helpful communities in the writing world.
Everybody has their own tricks for winning Nanowrimo, and today I’ve gathered a few of these to help you get through the first full week of Nanowrimo:
1. Reward system– I usually reward myself with stickers for daily goals and sugary treats for weekly goals, and I save the nicest sticker I have for the end of the month. Other people reward themselves with new pencils or pens, fun excursions or plain and simple relaxation time. Everybody likes different things, so pick rewards that are meaningful to you–something small for your daily goal, something a little bigger for your weekly goal, and something truly rewarding for reaching your final goal.
Of course, having written a novel is its own reward, and you need to keep that in mind too. Just think about how happy you’ll be once it’s finished–even if it’s just because you can print it up and burn it.
2. Internet restriction– this can become a punishment if you fail to meet your goal, but it’s really about eliminating distractions. Some people completely turn off their internet until they’ve written. Others close the browser, and some just minimize it. Most people in this camp refuse to look at the internet at all until they’ve met their daily goal. A fair number of people write on specifically internet free devices.
Personally, I get myself to write by refusing to enter my local Nanowrimo chat room until I’ve gotten at least a thousand words down. Usually just getting started before I go into chat will make me more likely to participate in word wars, and often I end up not wanting to stop at all when I reach 1K. You can do something similar by refusing to look at your favourite time wasting websites until you’ve written at least half of your daily goal.
3. Make it easy– writing is hard, but there are ways you can make it easy for yourself. Most writers find having some kind of routine useful. Even people who can’t write at the same time every day can have routines for writing. Some people always wear a certain sweater or hat while writing. Others read a chapter of a book to get into the writing mood. Some find writing a basic list of what they did that day kicks them into the writing routine. Everybody creates their own routine, but there are some things that can make life easier for every writer.
Make your writing space somewhere you can’t avoid for long and make sure your story notes and sources of inspiration are close at hand. If there’s a drink you particularly enjoy while writing, have one as soon as you get home to kick yourself into the writing mindset. Keep a water bottle in your writing space too, so that you don’t have to get up right away when you finish your drink–after all, you might still be in the groove.
Writing a book will always be hard, and that’s what makes Nanowrimo worth it–the accomplishment. It will never be easy, but you can make it a little simpler by keeping everything you need on hand and building a writing routine.
Hi! My name is Bethlyn and this will be my second year participating in NaNoWriMo. My friend has asked me to “impart wisdom” upon her readers by sharing my tips, experiences, encouragement and anything else I can think of. This task has proven more difficult then I imagined and I have been sitting here, thinking, trying to come up with a good message for days. I haven’t done much Nanoing before, and although I did win my first attempt, I failed miserably at Camp Nano. What ideas could I share to encourage any newbies?
My first thought was to share with you how I plan out my story ideas. I have a strange way of corralling those plot bunnies, however. I call it “dream writing.” When I have an idea I really like, I start to focus on it. In fact, I begin to obsess over my idea and then, when I am ready to lay down for bed that night, all I can think of is that one idea. So, I start working it out in my head, impatient to start writing it. This little exercise is great for keeping all my ideas in my head, too, because I force myself to go over them again and again as I work out how to make them feasible. To help imprint my ideas in my brain until I have at least scrap paper on hand, I imagine myself writing out the ideas in order. In essence, I begin to write my story in a mental notebook. Eventually, I fall asleep, dreaming more of my story idea until I lose complete awareness of my thoughts. Therefore, I “dream write.” Somehow I doubt this will work for everyone, however, so what else could I share about my Nano experiences?
My next thought was to share about how my daughter, then six, joined in the fun last year and participated in the Youth Writers Program, which is NaNoWriMo for kids. Unlike regular NaNo, youth may set their word count goals. She, being in first grade, chose to strive for 1,000 words. After helping her, I think she could have done more. I was actually pretty amazed because she really kept a singular story line, although it wobbled some and there were discrepancies throughout the story. I found it very encouraging to help her, even though it often took away from my own writing. It was a great way to take a break without really stopping! Stopping can have this bad habit of making you not want to start again, especially for me! Together, we worked on her story, at least an hour a day most days. Sometimes she wrote stuff at school during recess, sometimes she typed. Most of it, honestly, she dictated to me and I typed it up for her. I found it extremely helpful to my own writing when I helped her though her thought processes until we could work out an actual sentence. I don’t mean editing, I mean helping her create a sentence, even if the grammar was incorrect or the sentence didn’t follow through. Everyone will tell you to write first, edit after NaNo, and that is what we did. However, like most first grade students, coming up with words is a big challenge and helping her there was helpful to both of us.
Not every NaNoer is a parent or a big sibling, though, so that isn’t the biggest help, either. I could say find a support buddy to help you. Drag your best friend into writing with you. Play big brother or big sister to someone else, but how will that work? Maybe it’d be grand, maybe no one wants to come and play. That is how I realized I could share my experiences. My experience boils down to a simple network. My own region last year made me feel unwelcome. I was instead adopted by a different region far from home. Invading their chat room day after day, I began to feel like I was one of them. Having the support of fellow writers was awesome! Without them, I could never have accomplished as much as I did, a 96,000 word story. On the home front, it was more challenging. My daughter, though supportive, had school. Sure, she was joining in, but only when she could. Her little sister, just turned one, got into everything. Mischief and Mayhem and stinky diapers distracted me every few moments sometimes. My Husband, though supportive in his own way, was anything but helpful in my endeavors to lock myself away and just write, write, write. He was supportive, yes; understanding, NO. That’s ok. You see, it doesn’t matter if you have a hundred people to support you or none; if they are in the room with you or not. Even if, like me, you can’t get to a single off the computer event; even if you feel ostracized from your own region; even if you are all alone, the NaNoWriMo forums are there and Hundreds upon HUNDREDS of Nanoers just like you are looking for fellow writers to support and encourage them.
My best bit of advice, the thing that really hit home with me last year, was to Reach out! Reach out; don’t be afraid to make friends. Don’t be afraid to fail, because not everyone wins…remember that old adage your teachers would tell you: “As long as you try your very best, you are a winner.” They were and still are RIGHT. I failed two Camp Nano Sessions. I think not having as much of a support network didn’t help me in the least. However, I had no support network because I failed to Reach Out and I failed to really TRY. I think that if I had tried, like I did last November, I could have gotten much farther, and so this month I plan to try twice as hard! I have reached out to another Local region and I’m still in contact with the region that adopted me last year. I’m going to Reach out. And whether or not I hit 50k, I’m going to WIN.
So will YOU!
About the author: I am Bethlyn Bechtel, a 28 year old SAHM from Pennsylvania (who makes Tonano a second home during Nano!!!) I have two daughters, age 7 and 2, who loves everything make-believe, which works out well with dress-up loving little girls! “I embrace my Inner Adult and let my Outer Child shine!” is my motto…for day to day life and for my writing as well. I love making friends, so feel free to look me up my Nano profile!
“It’s all well and good that Nanowrimo is next month,” you say, “but how does that help me if I have no idea what to write?”
In spite of what you might think about arduous novel planning, many people start Nanowrimo each year with literally no idea what they’re going to write, and others start with only the most basic concept. While this isn’t the approach I’d recommend, it works for some and even the most basic—or non-existent—concept can be the foundation of a winning 50, 000 word novel.
What I’d recommend is to devote every spare moment of this month figuring out exactly what you’re going to write in November. If you can choose a genre you’d like to write in, that makes your life a whole lot easier and you can easily use one of these methods to get your novel idea:
1. Combine tropes from your genre. Are you writing a fantasy novel? Well, what can you do when you put dragons, elves and an evil sorcerer together? If you’re writing science fiction, perhaps it’s more interesting to find out what happens when you put robots on Mars. Some genres come with a bare bones story already built in, such as romance novels, where at the very least you’re going to have two people who start out disliking each other fall in love.
Take as many typical genre tropes as you need to find inspiration for a great story, and try experimenting with the different ways you can mash them together to create a workable plot for your novel.
2. Use an idea generator. There are tons of idea generators all over the internet. Some are genre specific, such as this fantasy plot generator and others can easily be applied to any genre. There are also tons of random name generators online, so if you ever get stuck for a name, this is a good solution.
3. Steal a story. Of course, nothing is truly original anymore and everything’s been done before, so no matter what you do your story will resemble others. But sometimes an even better idea is to steal a story whole. You can appropriate an old folktale or steal the plot of your favourite novel, or you can go to the Nanowrimo forums and check out the adoption society, where you can adopt plots, characters and anything else you could ever need to complete your novel.
If you’ve already tried all of the suggestions made in my post about filling the creative well, it’s time to see what you can create by building upon what other writers have already done.
How do you get your novel ideas? Do you have an idea for this November’s Nanowrimo novel yet?