Saturday, January 30, 2010

Synopsis Psychosis: Part Three. The End and an Example

Yesterday, I wrote about complications as the points you must concentrate upon as you write your synopsis. Each complication (or twist) in your plot is a paragraph of your synopsis; you write from complication to complication until you get the resolution of your story, which is The End.

One thing I didn’t touch on (because I didn’t want anyone to need a Xanax) is the second part of the definition I trotted out in part one. So that you don’t have to go back, I’ve repeated the full definition here:

synopsis [(si-nop-sis)]: A narrative showing your story’s progression with an emphasis on character growth as affected by the events in your plot.

In part one and part two, we looked at how a synopsis is a narrative showing your story’s progression. The progression is described a paragraph at a time, one complication at a time. But wait, there’s more. Your synopsis also must tell how your character changes or grows because of the events (especially the complications) in your story.

Your character is different (or should be) at the beginning of your story than they are at the end. Every good story shows a character’s experience of a life-changing event.  In the best stories, the main character(s) have learned something and gone through some sort of emotional/physical/mental trial and emerged a better, stronger person (hopefully) at the end. (In a bad story, everyone dies and no one's learned a thing. At least, that's been my experience.) If they could emerge from their pages and tell you anything at the end of your story, it would be, "If I knew then what I know now..."

The writer needs to think of their character’s objectives, reasons and obstacles in order to discover whether or not s/he has grown or changed. In the very best stories, they may have not even achieved their objective but they've still grown and learned. (Sometimes they learn what they thought they wanted wasn't what they wanted, at all.) But, that's up to you to decide.

Anyhow...yesterday, Clarice offered Stu herself in exchange for the cost of body work to his car (which her son dented). I've added a new sentence (in pink). It tells her (emotional or mental) growth/change due to the events in the plot.

The last thing Clarice needs in her new life is a hunky guy with a crappy attitude. Especially one who seems to have a thing against her Austin. But she does owe him a substantial amount of autobody work and on her single-mom salary, she may as well owe him the moon. So she offers him the only thing she has: Herself. But only if he promises to leave her and her son alone after one night of anything-goes sex. She feels humiliated but exhilarated at the same time. For the first time ever, what she does with her body is her choice and she's in control.

As she becomes more self-assured, she's going to become less of a doormat for her demon spawn child. She'll become a better mother and even become more open to the love of a man who doesn't treat her badly.

Here's Stu's paragraph. Again, his (emotional/mental) growth/change due to the events in the plot are in pink:

Stu is tempted but asks Clarice to be his personal assistant for the space of a month, instead. Paying the salary of a person who cooked, cleaned and shopped would certainly cover the cost of the car repairs.  He’d have the added bonus of a clean house, food to eat and less distractions. But he doesn’t count on how distracting Clarice can be…why would such a lovely, kind woman—even if she is the mother of a hellion—have such low-self esteem? The question tortures him more than his more carnal fantasies of Clarice in his bed and he resolves to learn more about his enigmatic neighbor.

Stu, whether he realizes it or not, has not only changed his goal but is going to open his home and heart to this woman, probably losing his commitment to bachelorhood as well. Of course, we're going to have to work the child in there, too. But now that I've told that Stu is resolved to learn more, it's easy. ;)

And that's that.  No, I haven't gone all the way to the end of the story here, but I've shown you one way to conquer your fear of writing synopsis. I’ve given you a (albeit muddy) technique to visualize your story and then layer on the words you need to tell it in a narrative form:

1) Visualize your story skeleton.
2) Find your complications (things get worse when).
3) Create one paragraph for each story complication.
4) In each paragraph, point out the character(s)’ growth or change as a result of the complication.

As for your voice/style: that comes with your word choice and your sentence construction. It's part of the craft of writing. If you're committed to being a writer, you will practice your craft in all its forms, fiction as well as nonfiction. You can make writing a synopsis just as interesting and even fun as writing a novel. Stop looking at a synopsis as a lifeless, horrible thing and electrify it with the excellent writing of which you are capable. If you want to continue the skeleton/flesh/fat thing, imagine you’re Dr. Frankenstein. Use active verbs to animate your synopsis and make it strong with a lean form and muscular word choices.

And now…for a critique! I chose Vanessa Barger's synopsis from my hat, though I don't see the title of the book on it. Thank you to everyone who sent their synopsis to me!

Let's see how Vanessa did. I'll highlight her character objectives, reasons and obstacles in yellow, highlight her complications in red and then use a green font for her character growth. Things I feel could be deleted or condensed will be placed in orange font.

ISADORA ALLSOPP has a family history that would make a strong man squeamish.  For the better part of five years, she’s managed to forge an identity apart from her family, and make a name for herself in the airship business.  Just when things are looking up, she wakes to find a tall, dark, and handsome stranger waiting on deck for her.  He is a gift from the Timekeeper, one of the most powerful and dangerous people in Europe.NOTE: On her story skeleton, this would be the inciting incident. A good place to start the story and a great place to start her synopsis.
The Timekeeper and Isadora share a secret – Isadora is the Timekeeper’s younger sister.  In order to get Isadora to meet with her, she assigned a bodyguard; NATHANIEL MACLAUREN.  He’s everything Isadora has ever dreamed of, and it scares her to death. The last man she gave her heart to betrayed her, under her sister’s orders, and she has vowed no man will ever do so again. 
Isadora sets out to answer the summons,trying to keep her bodyguard at arm’s length.  That’s difficult when the man insists on being three feet away at all times.  Nathaniel has his own set of issues with The Timekeeper.  He takes the assignment seriously, having been blackmailed into the arrangement. He is biding his time and protecting his charge in order to get close enough to kill the Timekeeper and take back what she has stolen. (Notice how Vanessa's included both her hero/heroine's information; she's woven it together quite nicely.)
Nathaniel is a Peer of the Realm, and a Sky Pirate.  His family, impoverished after his Uncle squandered the family fortune and died in his cups, has relied on his enterprising to maintain their standards.  The Timekeeper has discovered it, and taken his youngest sister as a hostage for insurance.  Why he was chosen for this particular job, he is unaware.  All he knows is that he must get Isadora to the Timekeeper in one piece in order to keep his own neck from prison and his family honor intact.
That proves to be harder than he thought.  Despite Isadora’s hurry to get rid of him, they run into trouble.  (Well done! See what Vanessa did? She introduced her character and then went right into the complication, even using the word "trouble".) First storms drive them to a friend’s Fueling Station, where they are driven off almost immediately by threats.  As soon as they leave neutral airspace, Sky Pirates attack the ship.  Only Nathaniel’s fast talking save them, but as part of the bargain Isadora is forced to act the part of lovesick woman to Nathaniel’s hero.  He’s been growing on her as the days go by, and the act isn’t as hard to keep up as she thought it would be.  (emotional change/growth)
After a night trapped together while the other Sky Pirates decide what to do with them, Isadora must admit the two of them have more in common than she thought.  She also has to admit to herself that Nathaniel is quite appealing.  She opens up to him more and more, and their relationship progresses to something more than just friends.
After a few days, they arrive at the Timekeeper’s home.  Things appear to be going well, until the Timekeeper reveals Nathaniel’s motivation and true identity.  Feeling the sting of betrayal again, Isadora vows to get even with both of them.
The Timekeeper wants Isadora’s key to a chest, delivered by courier to The Timekeeper on Isadora’s 28th birthday.  She believes it holds the key to a family mystery which could reveal the location of a lost “family heirloom” rumored to be plans for an alternative form of energy.  This would make the Timekeeper not only rich, but also control the world’s power.  She has already accepted payment from prominent members of the European Underworld for the plans, and her time to produce them is running out. (I'm thinking this could be deleted. It's good stuff BUT, it's also fatty. Vanessa's synopsis is actually four pages long--I asked for a two page synopsis, and if she was submitting this to me, I'd wonder if she would be willing to make requested changes to her manuscript. An author needs to follow guidelines to the letter; some editors would reject her story simply because she didn't.)
Isadora tries to escape, and the Timekeeper has her locked away.  She discovers her cell to be shared with Nathaniel’s sister, Juliana.  The reasons behind his betrayal are made clear.  Isadora decides to forgive him, and gets working on an escape plan. 
Nathaniel frees them, deciding to risk the Timekeeper’s wrath.  He and Isadora steal a ship and the chest, escaping narrowly.  They retreat to Nathaniel’s home to try and unlock the chest.  Isadora gets distracted from the chest as she and Nathaniel enlist the help of everyone they know to avoid being caught by the Timekeeper’s minions.
They run to Isadora’s friend, Cornelius Latimer, an inventor with dubious morals but astronomical intelligence, and ask him to try and crack the code.  Everyone is stumped until they are attacked and Isadora bleeds on the chest.  Her blood catches in the grooves on the carved lid, and the lock releases. 
The Timekeeper is brought to the lab, where they are all being kept prisoner.  No one will open the chest until the Timekeeper arrives.  When she does the contents are revealed to everyone.  The Timekeeper is (where she opens the chest and is) dismayed to discover the energy source plans she had anticipated are merely blueprints for an airship. 
Isadora and Nathaniel, and Cornelius extract her oath she will cease trying to ruin their lives and leave them alone.  In a hurry to get away before her associates appear, she agrees.  They review the plans and learn that what was left was a magnificent invention, and Cornelius her friend (One thing that is often suggested and just as frequently ignored is to keep character names to a minimum. For one thing, I find adding character names means I need to tell about them; it adds fat. Keep it lean by describing secondary characters by their function in the plot.) begins work immediately.  Nathaniel and Isadora share an awkward moment, and Nathaniel leaves without expressing his feelings for Isadora.
Her pride will not allow her to follow Nathaniel, and she convinces herself that her background is not appropriate marriage material for a Peer.  She stays with Cornelius until the completion of the airship.  The day it is finished, Isadora has decided to start running merchant orders on the Continent to distance herself from Nathaniel, her family, and her feelings.  She is passing over London when Nathaniel appears, confessing his love.  Isadora finally gives in, and admits she loves him as well.  He proposes, and she accepts. 

Overall, this is a good start as a synopsis. Vanessa did a great job moving from point to point; I can see her complications/twists. One thing I'd suggest she do is deepen her character's growth; why does Isadora finally give in? What makes Nathaniel change his mind or finally decide to confess his love for her?

I'd like to know, too, what actually kept them apart. Pride? Distrust? I think if Vanessa uses this and focuses on expressing her characters' growth as affected by the events in her plot, she'll have a bang on target synopsis.

Thank you so much, Vanessa--and everyone else--for submitting your synopses to me and allowing me to hack them apart on my blog. You're brave souls. I applaud all of you.

Please give them all a hand by leaving a comment. I hope I've helped you; if you can take away one small bit of this, I've done my job. Happy writing!

Sorry for the delay.

Sick kids. Sick Mommy. Sick Daddy.

It's 2:58 a.m on Friday into Saturday. and the three-year-old might fall asleep soon. Ear infections suck. (Ooh! Idea for my w.i.p....)

If my head doesn't explode from compacted sinuses/fever, I'll post the rest tomorrow.

Again, I apologize. But in the world of priorities, it's always family (kids!) first. Much to my chagrin and disappointment.

Greatest apologies...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Psynopsis Sycosis, part two: Things Get Complicated

Yesterday, I left off at “the inciting incident”, also known as “the moment of change” or even, “the call to adventure”. (For more about this particular use of the term, I suggest you read ChristopherVogler’s The Writer’s Journey.) I don’t want to go into this too deeply here;  for our purposes, all we need to know is this inciting incident is the information you want to place in your first paragraph, following your character introduction.

In your rough draft, it helps to write something like, “the trouble begins when…” and then go on to describe the trouble. Let me show you what I mean using yesterday’s inciting incident paragraph:

(the trouble begins) When the boy’s baseball smashes a hole in his car’s windshield, Stu knows it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. What he doesn’t expect is the hellcat who answers the door next door; with her wide eyes and fiery spirit, she’s everything in a woman he tries to avoid: a distraction.

Not too scary, really.

Each paragraph following this one is another complication/twist/turn/conflict or problem.

Let me repeat. You’re not going to write every single thing that occurs in your plot.

I often wonder if that’s what makes some writers feel overwhelmed. "What’s important? What’s extraneous? How can I tell? Oh my God! I’m hyperventilat—" Thud.

You want to focus on that skeleton, remember? Lean muscle, no fat. If you get lost, go back to your beginning paragraphs and look at your protagonist’s objectives, reasons and obstacles.

The last thing Clarice needs in her new life is a hunky guy with a crappy attitude. Especially one who seems to have a thing against her Austin. But she does owe him a substantial amount of auto body work and on her single-mom salary, she may as well owe him the moon. So she offers him the only thing she has. Herself. If he promises to leave her and her son alone after one night of anything-goes sex.

(Oh my gosh. Can it get any worse for Clarice? Sounds to me like she’s going to repeat the same pattern of her old life. But, it’s a heck of a complication, in my humble opinion. Did you see that coming? I didn’t, and I’m sitting here writing the synopsis.)

 Now if here’s where—if I wasn’t an experienced synopsis writer/reader— I would go into a huge thing about what happens next by describing everything blow by blow: Stu decides he’d be an idiot to say ‘no’ but then gets an attack of conscience or bad housekeeping. After dinner from the local deli (because he hasn’t done any shopping) on paper plates (because he hasn’t done the dishes in days) he decides to come up with a different arrangement. Especially when he realizes he has no clean sheets. He asks Clarice can be his cleaning woman/cook/valet for the space of a month; paying the salary of a person who did all those things would certainly cover the cost of the auto body work to remove the dent Austin made in the hood with his ball.

But—yay!—I know enough to go back to Stu’s objectives, reasons and obstacles: To do his research to save the family foundation, but he keeps getting distracted by the noisy kid next door and now, the kid’s sexy mom. So, what fat can we trim from our fake synopsis paragraph?

Remember to Breathe

Wait—before we move forward. Are you breathing? Hyperventilating? Do you need to get a cup of tea or a cookie or something? Take a walk? Clear your head? Are you suffering any bouts of psychosis?

Take a deep breath. Think about what we’ve discussed. Here. Look at a picture:

Notice where we are: the first complication. Why is this a complication? Because both of these people are endangering their goals by becoming more involved with each other. The key phrase here is: …endangering their goals. Because I write romance, my characters’ goals are in direct opposition to their attraction to one another. I get to play the push/pull game. If you write a different genre, you’ll have different rules to follow and games to play with your plot, but each paragraph of your synopsis will describe the complication your character(s) encounter which will endanger the achievement of their goals.

Holy crap. I think I’m going to hyperventilate.

No, wait. Instead, I’m going to brainstorm a list of “trouble transitions” for my complication paragraphs:

1) things get worse when…
2) the conflict escalates…
3)  all seems lost…
4) everything goes wrong when…
5) even the best laid plans go bad because…
6) things go from bad to worse when...
7) but then...
8) everything crumbles when...
9) things appear hopeless when...

I could go on, but I won’t because I think you get the idea. Every complication in your plot is a paragraph. So, let’s go back to that paragraph and cut the fat off to find the muscle and flesh out that skeleton.

Stu is tempted but  decides he’d be an idiot to say ‘no’ but then gets an attack of conscience or bad housekeeping. After dinner from the local deli (because he hasn’t done any shopping) on paper plates (because he hasn’t done the dishes in days) he decides to come up with a different arrangement. Especially when he realizes he has no clean sheets. He asks Clarice can to be his cleaning woman/cook/valet personal assistant for the space of a month instead. P;paying salary of a person who did all those things would certainly cover A personal assistant's salary would equal the cost of the car repairs.  the auto body work to remove the dent Austin made in the hood with his ball. He’ll have the added bonus of a clean house, food to eat and less distractions. But he doesn’t count on how distracting Clarice can be…

From here, I’ll move to the middle point of my story skeleton and the next paragraph as I describe how Clarice once again distracts him from his objectives. And, once again, because I write romance, I’ll need to describe how being around Stu all the time is almost like being a wife again. And—why that’s a complication for her.

Speaking of complications, tomorrow’s post will finish up our discussion and I’ll complicate everything by critiquing a synopsis. Don’t panic.It’s bound to be an extremely long post, however; I might break it into several parts just to make it easier to upload. I hope to have it posted earlier in the day than this post but…well, life with a three-year-old can be…complicated.

I hope to see you tomorrow; if you have any comments/questions/criticisms, please feel free to post ‘em.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Synopsis Psychosis, Part One

It’s inevitable. Whenever someone sends you their synopsis, you receive something like this:

Here’s my synopsis. It sucks.
When I write a synopsis, my voice changes. It sounds awful.
I hate my synopsis.
I can’t write!

For some reason, writing a synopsis inspires…psychosis.

psychosis [(seye-koh-sis)]

A severe mental disorder, more serious than neurosis, characterized by disorganized thought processes, disorientation in time and space, hallucinations, and delusions. Paranoia, manic depression, megalomania, and schizophrenia are all psychoses. One who suffers from psychosis is psychotic.

Or a writer.

What is a synopsis?

synopsis [(si-nop-sis)] A narrative showing your story’s progression with an emphasis on character growth as affected by the events in your plot.

Before you hyperventilate (or hallucinate), let’s break that definition down into manageable pieces:

A narrative showing your story’s progression…

That’s understandable and not at all cause for paranoia. Think: plot line.

Remember this from your high school and college English classes?

Well…let’s forget it. That thing has disorientation written all over it (among other things. Denouement? Okay, yes, it’s French. But it sounds like something you’d scrape off the bottom your shoe, not the resolution of conflicts within a plot. Oh crap, I stepped in denouement.)

Instead, for the purpose of writing your synopsis, I want you to think of your plot like this:

There. That’s far less frightening. We can discuss this without fear of anyone passing out or vomiting or anything wretched.

I want you to imagine your plotline as a skeleton. You’ve got a skull, a spine, a pelvis (that would be your middle) and feet. (He’s lying down.) At any rate, it’s just the bare bones. And since we’re imagining, you’re a forensics person. Or an archeologist, if you look good in a fedora. Either way, you’re working with this frame—this skeleton—to build a story. So…how do you start?

Begin at the beginning.

The most important thing you must do at the beginning of any story is introduce your characters and their goals, motivations and conflicts. (Some people prefer to describe these at their wants, reasons and obstacles.)

Generally, the character with whom you begin your story is your protagonist, and this is the person you’ll introduce in the first paragraph of your synopsis. Just as in your story, you’ll want to introduce their goals, their motivation and their conflict.

But instead of showing all these things, you’re just going to tell them, in the simplest way possible. Just the facts. No dialogue. Think of it this way: You need to put flesh on your skeleton. But you want it to be lean and muscular, with no fat. (Hmm…I should have named this “Put your Synopsis on a Diet”. ) Anyhow, that’s where your adjective+noun+name character tag comes in handy. (See Friday’s post.)

Confirmed bachelor, Dr. Stu D. Leeman only has thirty days to complete the research that will earn him the grants to keep his family’s foundation intact. But when a new neighbor moves in  his peace—and his concentration—is shattered. Repeated requests to keep the kid quiet get him no where. In fact, they only seem to make things worse. 

Not a great start, but it will do. Notice how I’ve introduced my protagonist. He’s got a name, he’s got a goal (finish his research), motivation (to keep the family foundation from falling apart) and he’s got a conflict (a new neighbor with a noisy kid). Hopefully the editor reading your synopsis gets an idea of his personality just by looking at my adjective+noun+name combination.

Notice, too, that I’ve managed to put a bit of my voice—and more importantly, his—in this, by calling the boy, “the kid”. By using this term I can imagine him sitting there, rolling his eyes, wishing “that kid” would just. Shut. Up. (And keep his baseball away from the Lexus in the driveway. But that’s a detail you can show in your story. Not here. Not necessary. As pretty as Stu’s silver Lexus is, I don’t need to describe it in my synopsis.)

Since I write romance, I’d want to write a second character paragraph for my heroine. But that’s it. I’m not going to go into the life and times of any other person in my book, not even the noisy kid’s. I might refer to him by name, but it would be a quick introduction as part of my heroine’s paragraph. Because as integral as he may seem to you (and her), in terms of your story, he’s only a device to get these two folks together and cause some more conflict.

Gasp. I know. The horror. You do all this work to make the child realistic, believable and even—maybe—likeable. But in the end, he’s just fat on your skeleton.

Clarice O’Banshee moved to Smallville to escape the memories of her abusive marriage. With son Austin in tow, she’s determined to start a new life. And all would be perfect, if not for her demanding and arrogant neighbor. But along with a new life, she’s got a new attitude. She’ll never give in to a man’s demands again, especially when it concerns her little boy.

Do you see her goals, motivations and conflict?

From here, I can segue into my next paragraph by discussing/telling/introducing what English teachers (like me, once) like to call “the inciting incident”. Some people call it a moment of change, or a call to action.

But all I have to say is

When the boy’s baseball smashes a hole in his car’s windshield, Stu knows it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. What he doesn’t expect is the hellcat who answers the door next door; with her wide eyes and fiery spirit, she’s everything in a woman he tries to avoid: a distraction.

This brings us to the end of today's discussion and the middle of our synopsis (the topic of tomorrow’s post.) I hope you feel a bit better and less psychotic. The key, from the beginning is: keep it simple. All those fancy schmancy plot charts and sticky notes some people tell you to use will drive you crazy. (So will the French.)

Tomorrow, we'll discuss the rest of our synopsis definition: ...with an emphasis on character growth as affected by the events in your plot.

On Friday, I’ll be discussing The End of the story/synopsis (the denouement, if you like). And I’ll be critiquing one of your synopses to see how you put flesh on the bones of your plot skeleton. Any questions? Please ask!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fiction-focus Friday: Character building

So last night I worked on my workshop and realized: Crap, this is a lot of stuff to think about. 

One bit o'stuff I touched on is your character tag.

 I'm not sure where I learned about the character tag formula I'm about to show you so I can't give credit where it's due. Somewhere out there, is a writer who came up with this:

adjective+noun+name=character description


devoted mother Clarice O'Banshee

Using this device, it's easy to wrap your character into a neat little package. Even more so, if you somehow manage to incorporate your character's goals and motivations into their adjective/noun combination. "Devoted mother", for example, tells you a lot about Clarice. You know that she's got a child, that she'll do anything for that child and--maybe--there's going to be some story-problem involving her child which will propel her into some serious external or even internal conflict.

Maybe the child is kidnapped. Maybe the child is injured. Or maybe she's created an evil monster whose faults she can't see:

Spoiled brat Austin O'Banshee

But wait! Does she see her child as a spoiled brat? No! However...the hero of your story might:

Confirmed bachelor Dr. Stu D. Leeman 

Incidentally, this is one place where cliches and stereotypes aren't a bad thing. Now if you write something like this:

Confirmed bachelor, Dr. Stu D. Leeman isn't wild about his new neighbor. Or her kid.

you put your reader in Dr. Stu's  point-of-view, which helps to put a little life--and your voice--into your query or synopsis.

But that's something we can discuss next week. Think about your character tags. Do you use them?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thoughtful Thursday: Qualities for a good query.

Okay. Stop yawning and pay attention. This is important.

It's all about first impressions.

Before I became an editor, I thought everyone was like me. For each and every submission, I spent hours making sure all words were properly spelled, margins were correct, the font was the acceptable size and shape and that there was nothing which would detract from the professional image I wanted to convey.

Judging from the manuscripts I've had the opportunity to review in recent months, however...I'm a perfectionist.  (Actually, I'm an ex-English teacher, but that's a scary post for another day. Like Halloween.)

At any rate, it appears I'm not the norm.

In an attempt to make everyone else an anal-retentive,frightening perfectionist just like me, I give you the following suggestions to make a good first impression with your query.

1) Pick one font size and stick with it. 
I're trying to make a point. This is a cover page and here is my title (don't miss it). Or, This is my prologue. It's not the real story which begins on page 10. Unfortunately, the only point you're making is that you're not as professional as the author who knows how to properly format a manuscript.

2) Puh-lease, proof read your query! I won't go into the whole "donut relay on spill chick" rant again. (If you want to read that, click on this link: Monday Manuscript Fix.)  But really. Here's a tip: Don't read your query as if you're reading a book (or a letter, for that matter). Unless it's written in Hebrew, read it from right to left. (If it's written in Hebrew, of course, read left to right. And for those of you who don't know what I mean by that, click here.) Reading it in the opposite direction from the way you normally write and read forces you to focus on each word instead of the context. You should catch your spelling errors that way. And if you can't, find a good (human) speller to proof it for you! Please! I'm begging you. Because it's so  hard for me not to make fun of you, even if it's not nice or professional. (I must flea! I will...join a circus. A tiny one, with a little trapeze because I have vertigo.)

3) Hyperbole sucks. Seriously. You're not trying to sell a Shamwow. And you're not writing a review. So reading something like, "This engaging historical sci-fi romance with paranormal elements is an action-packed page turner that your readers will flock to!" makes me say, "This bubble-headed silly person with nonsensical elements is an unprofessional dimwit that my stomach revolts to." 

Learn the proper format for a query. (Lisa Collier Cool's book,How to Write Irresistible Query Letters is a good place to start.) Tell me about your protagonist, his/her goals, motivations, and especially, their conflict. Hook me with a story question if you must. Give me an indication of who you are or how you see yourself as a writer. But please...please...don't sell. And if you must--keep it soft. I mean, like, quiet. Please.

4) And finally--don't try to disguise your synopsis as a query. I'll catch on after the first four paragraphs. (Usually, anyway.) Since I'm expecting a minimum of two and a maximum of four paragraphs, my eyes start to glaze automatically...then my attention starts to wander. (After the bridge washes out on page 322, Lord Fickletoy...Wash! That reminds me. Did I transfer the stuff from the washer to the dryer? Did I use bleach? That cheap bleach is pretty good, I least, I'm not noticing that my socks are any less white than they were with the more expensive bleach...I'd better go check...)

You may now commence to yawn. Sometimes, you just can't help it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's a two-yay day!

First of all--shameless plug time--I received confirmation today that my erotic novella, In the Cards, is going to be released on February 1st from Blade Publishing.

I'd post the pic of the cover, but it's over there ---->; in my sidebar. Somewhere.
It's got Zach on the cover. He's my hero. I wish I could yank him out of the pages of the book and keep him, even if I had to fight my critique partners for the privilege. (It would be a knock-down, drag-out catfight, I'll tell ya. I had to fight for him even in rough draft form.) But here are the first few pages.(WARNING: This exerpt contains adult language, adult themes and one incredibly hunky cowboy.)

     When Zach O’Connor walked past a group of women, the world ended. And here at a hotel crowded with romance writers, women who lived to create the ultimate romantic hero, the world ended in chaos. 
     Alexis DeMille stood beside a potted palm and watched her oldest and best male friend create pandemonium as he walked toward her with a smile on his perfect face and tight, faded blue jeans clinging to his perfect butt. 
     His battered black Stetson fit just so on his head, highlighting the vivid blue of his eyes. His boot heels clicked and his spurs cha-chinged, growing louder as excited convention-goers’ conversations sputtered into stunned silence.
     Suitcases tipped as their owners gave up balancing them to watch him pass. Folders of carefully organized papers slipped from limp fingers to sprawl open, contents skidding across the floor. Handbags slid off weakened shoulders with thuds; tubes of lipstick, compacts, and pens clattered onto the floor. Coins clinked and rolled under lobby tables and chairs.
     By the time Zach reached Alex, the floor was littered with personal items and, women were drooling like diabetics in a chocolate factory. 

     Ignoring the devastation, he dropped his dufflebag at her feet, tossed his saddle — his saddle, for Chris sakes! — on one of the hotel chairs and pulled her into his arms. “Alex! ‘Yo, sweetstuff, how’s it hanging?”
     “Not at all, thanks. I’m hang-free.” Alex tried hard to ignore the scent of him — leather, horse, and warmth — and the feel of his manly days’ end scruff. Tucked in his embrace, heat flushed down one side of her body and up the other, landing somewhere around her female bits where it sat, simmering in its usual useless anticipation. She tried to ignore the stares of her colleagues, as well. Unsuccessful on both counts. She slipped out of his grasp. “Trust you, Zach O’Connor, to bring the United Romance Writer Organization’s well-oiled machinery to a grinding halt.”
     He winced under his hat. She noticed that several years of cowboy-ing, sun, and age had put tiny wrinkles in the corners of those engaging blue peepers.
     Not that you could really see them through the camouflage of his thick, black eyelashes.
     It really wasn’t fair for all that gorgeous-ness to go to one person. God had been working overtime the day He made Zach.
     “Should I turn and look? Is it that bad?”
     Alex peered around his shoulder. Recovered convention-goers were now whispering as they stared.  “It’s worse. Turn and wave or something, so they can stop oogling your butt.”
     Obediently, Zach did, he turned and—Oh, God, no, not that—touching his hand to the brim of his cowboy hat. He nodded. “Afternoon, ladies,” he drawled, silky-smooth and sexy enough to cause a girl to come on her feet. His spurs cha-chingied as he turned to look down at Alex. “How’s that?”
     “Useless.” She shook her head. “They’re going to have to call maintenance to mop up the drool.”
     “Stop being dramatic. Where’s our room?” He bent and grabbed the horn of his saddle, hefting it over one of his broad shoulders as if it weighed nothing.
     She felt the sighs of three- hundred romance writers brush against her skin like a summer breeze.Dear God. Make him stop! “I’m dramatic? You’re the one wearing spurs.”
     He lifted his foot and turned his ankle to look. “Oh. Yeah. I forgot.”
     He forgot. Of course he did. And elephants could fly. “You sound like a gunfighter in a bad Western when you walk. I hope you’re not using them on Stars.” Alex hefted up his duffle bag, staggering under its weight. “Holy mackerel. You didn’t stuff Stars in here, did you? You do realize they don’t allow horses in the rooms?”
     Zach snorted. “Haha. Let’s go. I want a shower.”
    She started for the room, questioning the wisdom of asking Zach to create a workshop for cowboy-romance writers. Though—at the time—it had seemed like a great idea. She’d just finished reading yet another book where the author made a horse sound like a motorcycle, and it had driven her crazy.
     Research, people. It’s all in the research.
     So she’d emailed Zach, and the rest was history. One member of the Conference Committee owned a farm and volunteered her barn and riding ring for the workshop, and the space for Zach’s horse. Zach—who she hadn’t seen since Christmas—was available and willing to help out. And the attendees were willing to dish out any fees for this special, off-site workshop.
     The only glitch in the plan was the dirth of rooms at the hotel. She and Mr. Incredibly Gorgeous but Terribly Annoying had to share an executive suite at a reduced rate.
    Darn. A bigger room, a lesser rate, and time spent with an old friend. It was hardly a glitch at all; more like a bonus.
    At least that had been her attitude until an hour ago, when her editor had sprung a new project on her. Something dangerously new. Embarrassingly new, even. And asked her for a quick plot summary by the end of the weekend, complete with character information for the marketing department. If only she wasn’t such a stickler for research…if only she couldn’t help but imagine Zach was her hero, too.

Oooh. What do you think? Isn't he just...sigh.  Keep checking back: I'll be announcing a contest to win free e-copies of In the Cards.

Second of all, I received a request to give a presentation on Writing Romantic Comedy, May 1st, to the Rhode Island Romance Writers. I'm so excited. One thing I always held in mind as my prize for being published was the chance to do workshops and presentations for other writers. So this is a dream come true!

Of course, I have NO idea what I'll say: I don't know how I write funny, I just do. But I've got time, and a few thoughts of how to approach the presentation. I wonder if I should wear a silly hat?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Manuscript Fix: Spell check this, please.

Dear Authors: Another week has passed and another group of hopeful writers have proffered their manuscripts, thus giving me another Monday Manuscript Fix rant:

Do not rely on spell check. Do not relay on spell chick. Due knot relay in spill chick.
I know it's easy, and convenient and that nun of us make spelling mistakes. We never type the wrong word of a sentence. We really don't knead to ask someone else to proof red four us, either. Even if we've red something a 1,000 times and can't sea it anymore.

(Honestly, I don't no what these editors are complaining about.

My heroine really did flea. She did! She was the soul supporter of a children!)
Here's a list of words commonly misspelled and missed by spill Czech:

And there are more. Lots and lots moor. I can't list them all because I'll brake the internet. However, I suggest you start peaking through your own righting and find them. Crate your own list of miss spelled worms and take it on the bulletin bored over your desk for a quick reference. 

You're acquiring idiot will be glad you did.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


My sister took these pics. She can. Her children are grown-up and she has a life, again. These are places that the characters in my books might go, too.

These are winter scenes at Point Judith, in RI.  I don't know about you, but when I look at these, I can feel the chill wind in my hair, smell the salt and hear the swish-hiss-sizzle of the waves on the rocks. I can hear the gulls scree-ing overhead. My cheeks feel cold from the winter air, my sneakered feet sink in the sand and I feel utterly at peace. The world is a magical place.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Manuscript-Fix Monday: show and tell

One of my crit partners posted a question about showing vs. telling this weekend--always a fun topic. She said that sometimes, she can't always tell the difference between the two in her own writing. And you know, it's hard to, sometimes. I don't blame her for feeling overwhelmed, especially when someone points out "this is telling" in a crit but doesn't explain why. (I'm not saying this happened to her, by the way, because I have awesome crit partners and they'd  never be so ambiguous.) I told her to look out for excess adverbs and adjectives in her writing.

I can see you, over there in the corner, rolling your eyes. What's wrong with adverbs? Why are people always going on about adverbs? I like adverbs. They do the job. Sometimes another word just doesn't say what you need to say, the right way.

To you, Ms. I Like-lys, I say this: Using adverbs is lazy writing. And--when you use them you are usually (see, that's an adverb) telling (which I'm doing, by the way), not showing.

Let me show you what I mean. (Ha.) Here's a sentence from my current w.i.p. Nuts Over You:

Vampira, Queen of the Undead, sat at the kitchen table, flipping casually through a magazine.

Okay. Not a bad sentence. It's grammatically correct and yes, it shows you what my heroine (whose real name is Dale, by the way) is doing: flipping casually through a magazine.

When I reread this sentence, I targeted the adverb. Casually. Okay. Fine. What does that convey to the reader? She's reading slowly? She's reading as if it doesn't matter? Perhaps. But this sentence is in my hero's point of view. He's not happy, right now. He's just struggled to put a three-year-old down for a nap for three hours. And he comes out into the kitchen to see a woman he doesn't like (yet), reading a magazine.

I'm going to change this sentence to give it an extra boost. Remember, I'm in my hero's point of view, so I'm going to look at Dale through his eyes. (That's a key point to remember when you're trying to show, not tell.) Here's my new sentence:  

Vampira, Queen of the Undead, sat at the kitchen table, flipping through a magazine as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

Okay, that's a little better. As a reader, (who just struggled through putting the child down for a nap with him), I'm starting to think he got a raw deal. Did she read the magazine the whole time? He was singing his voice raw in the other room, with a bladder about to explode, and she was reading a flipping magazine?  That is so not fair.

With that in mind, I'm going to use this to create an emotional bridge between my reader and my hero, by going into deeper point of view to explore Shane's world:

Vampira, Queen of the Undead, sat at the kitchen table, flipping through a magazine as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

Of course she didn’t. She hadn't been the one trying to put Anna down for a nap for three hours.

At his request. Shane winced. No, at his command. 

He’d told her that he was in charge of the child because he was the one with the early childhood education and she was just…

A warm body who could have sung to Anna while he took a bathroom break and maybe even got a cup of coffee or something…He wanted to punch himself.  Shane, sometimes you’re a real idiot, you know that?

What I've done is add some layers. We have an observation, which causes a mental reaction (a thought, I guess it's called ;) ), which leads to a realization, which leads to an emotional reaction and finally, a physical one (or the thought of one, because I'm not about to have Shane pop himself in the jaw, even if he deserves it). My reader is experiencing the world through Shane's eyes, here, going through his journey along with him and it's because I'm showing, not telling.

Now if I had stuck my original wording, casually flipping through a magazine, I would have conveyed a perfectly good action. But by working at it a little and not allowing my self to be a lazy writer, I've made a connection (or at least, I hope I did) with my reader.

That is the power of showing vs. telling. ;)

Your assignment tonight is to go through your current manuscript and look for -ly's. At each one, consider which words you can use to replace the word that says what you think you need to say, the right way. Remember to try to see the world through your character's eyes to include an observation, and a  reaction (mental, emotional or physical). Remember, it's through your character that your reader experiences your story.

Class dismissed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Not all pirates

...look like this.

In fact, some pirates probably look more like this: 

I wouldn't doubt this geek is the same one who uploaded a copy of my friend and fellow author, Jennifer Shirk's book, Role of a Lifetime,onto their site for people to download, read and keep. That seems like a good deal, except--it's stealing.

Anytime you download a book to your computer, keep it, distribute it, upload it somewhere else--without permission of the author--you're stealing it. The author is in no way compensated. It would be like someone coming into your house and taking something you've created--something you've worked on, cried over, despised, loved and finally launched into the world for people to enjoy--and keeping it for themselves.

Without even thanking you.

So anytime you come upon one of these sites, where your favorite books are waiting for you to download them--for free!--please remember you're committing a crime. An act of thievery, of piracy--and not even the swashbuckling, Johnny Depp kind.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lyrical Call for Submission

Call for submissions: Erotica/BDSM

Lyrical Press is actively acquiring all sub-genres of erotica, with a focus on BDSM.

Let your imagination run wild. Explore the darker side of sexuality. Shed all inhabitations and give free reign to your secret fantasies. Entangle us in a world where sexual boundaries are pushed and readers can dance on a razor’s edge of sex and danger.

Please note - Lyrical will not consider stories containing rape.

Sensuality level: Red hot
Length: 30,000 – 80,000 words
Key Characteristics: Strong sexual relationship between main characters. Elements of bondage and S&M that explore the dominant/submissive roles of a BDSM relationship. Multiple partners acceptable.
Deadline: None
Submissions eMail:

If you dare to write it, we dare to consider it.