Nov 4, 2014

Synopsophobia -- Part II

Okay, so this is part of the synopsizing that gets a little trickier because it's not just about laying the foundation for the story. It's actually getting into the bits and pieces that facilitate the events and changes the characters go through in their personal character arcs as well as the romance., I'm going to give a recommendation and tip my hat to Cathy Yardley. She wrote a fantastic book called Rock Your Plot, which is like a compilation of all these different methods of structuring your novel, put together in a way that makes sense and allows broader understanding of structure. Best of all, explains what the job of each element of structure is in clear and easy to understand terms. It's a quick read, it's only $2.99, and I can honestly say that I understand structure now, during my sixth book, because of this book. Pick it up. Take a couple hours. It's fabulous.

I'm going to paste another chart below I made for myself after reading this book. I'm not going to really go into what the different bits are for(read the book for the big insights!), but listing them and the chart to better explain how I use these different structural elements to work through my 3-GMCs when outlining a book.

And here is where it gets a little harder to explain. For a bare-bones short category romance, you have six plot threads, three per character. Both Internal and External character arcs advance the Romance Plot, which should be the main thrust of your story. But the vehicle that starts the story is usually something to do with the External plot. So that's where I begin. 

The Inciting Incident generally comes to me with the story nugget, so that's not something I spend much time digging for. Good place for me to start. I whip up six of the above charts(I have blank ones that don't have the WHOA-BIG LETTERS in them). Six charts, one for each of the three plot threads per character. In that first box I sketch out how the inciting incident pertains to that specific plot thread. What it means for the heroine's External GMC, Internal GMC, Hero's too. How does it advance the romance plot. Some of these will be duplicated, but I keep the six cards going through this because not every event will read the same way, though there will be some overlap. And all of those insights can spawn ideas for scenes that could come next.

I go through that above charts and all the GMCs and explore turning points and where to up the stakes, etc. This all sounds very formulaic and obvious, but there is something about the act of actually writing out the story questions in keeping with the appropriate thread that solidifies the concept for me. Otherwise, my ideas have a tendency to remain nebulous and undefined. I think I know what it is, but until I put words to it, I really don't know anything.

And this epiphany is where I differ significantly for this book from books-past. I had been trying to blanket make every pinch or plot point work for both characters, but that's not really how things work. You're moving two characters through an external plot, and they react internally to the things that happen. But maybe one of them has a growth-making reaction during the event... and the other only reacts to that event three scenes later... when something else happens to get them over the hurdle. Your turning points don't have to line up across both characters. And if they don't? Even better, you have more scene ideas to work with. 

Getting ahead of myself. Rewinding! I do this for every each of the eight points above for the six threads and that's when my scenes start to materialize. Not in order, either. I write each scene idea blurb on an index card, and then shuffle them around, adding and subtracting cards for scenes that link or facilitate the turning point scenes. I'll still probably only end up with about 70% of the scenes I need(if that) this way. I get something more detailed than an overview, but less detailed than gets dull for me :) 

When I'm actually in the trenches, writing the first draft, it is a different filter and I might find out that what I had planned won't work at all. This happens to me at least twice for every book. When that happens, I stop what I'm doing and figure out what should happen, and how that affects the rest of the plot, and then I go back to it.

I've also found that if I use more than the barest, fragmentary description for what a scene is(think: Scene Title), then I get bored with the idea before I write it. So only when I think it's important that I remember to include something specific in a particular scene do I go into any detail on it. Otherwise, the spot on my outline just says something like: 
    • Barfing at the fish market.
    • Changing Room Shenanigans (Where'd she get them scars?!)
        • Hero tries to make her talk, but she isn't up for it. Something something... angry red scars
Short. Blurby. I have a nebulous idea of these, and in this instance keeping it bare keeps me interested rather than keeping me from knowing what is going on. But this blurby manner also is why I go off track a couple times per book. It's a trade off: Either I plot it to the Nth and know everything and therefore no longer care enough to write the book, or I make sure that I can hit all the major turning points with a description that is a bit dodgy and leaves me plenty of room to run amok inside the story. I choose the second, the lesser of two evils.

This blurby outline is actually what ends my synopsis, and that's why I say it might not work for unsigned writers--you're still hoping to dazzle with your wordsmithery and in this format you only have that first page of Quick Backgrounds to dazzle(Which can be done, but ... I don't know if anyone else's editor but mine would like this format). But if you include an outline of scenes, at least the editor can see at a glance that you have a whole idea.

So I'm sharing this as a story planning tool, as it's nearly impossible to have a story that is not sufficiently driven by conflict or which creeps at a slow pace this way. I'll try to get an example synopsis together to post in the next few days. I'd use the current book, but talking too much about a book is also bad for my mojo...  Muses are persnickety things.

First part of this post is here.

Edited: Because I wrote this in the morning and I was a bit word-drunk, as in I'd been working most of the night and used up my brain juice! It's still rambly, but a little more coherent.

Nov 3, 2014

Conquering My Synopsophobia


I'm going to share this in the hopes that it can help someone else. I'm by no means a expert, but when I find something that works so well for me, I like to share.

Also, I need to preface this post with a few disclaimers:
  • I write short category romance which means a tight word count(~50K). Although I expect that every romance needs all three GMCs per character, it's imperative for my process that I know all three GMC before I start writing if I don't want to waste lots of time with revision.
  • On the Plotter/Pantser scale(At least today), I'm about 70/30, leaning toward plotter. If you're a pantser, I think it can be helpful if you can define these things before you start writing.
  • This might not be the thing you want to send to your editor if you're still uncontracted. But I personally am using this as part of my new-book-starter-kit... since it helps me envision the book enough that I have a good foundation before I start writing. Makes it easier for me. As with all writing advice, Your Mileage May Vary.
  • If you're unfamiliar with the concept of GMC(Goal/Motivation/Conflict), Deb Dixon's book is now available in e-format

Like almost every writer I've met, I have harbored an intense loathing of writing synopses. Before my current project, when I've started a new book, I've written (at best) a three page synopsis for my editor for proposal. And they were quite rambling things.

Old Synopsis Format

  • First two pages: Heroine and Hero's backgrounds, focusing on formative moments to explain Internal and External GMC. (Note: only 2 types of GMC focused on here)
  • Third page: How the story started. And usually I could give at least three chapters worth of stuff... how I saw the story beginning.
  • That synopsis format always ended with me flailing and an announcement to the effect of: THERE WILL BE A BLACK MOMENT AND HAPPILY EVER AFTER, BUT THAT'S ALL I KNOW RIGHT NOW. I'M SORRY. (I'm neurotic, I apologize for everything.)

New Synopsis Format

  • First Page: The Quick Backgrounds page. Where each character comes from, what kind of personalities they have, what they're doing at the start of the story. Not really a place for the GMC's. Quick means quick. Short. A couple single spaced paragraphs. If there is anything else of note(like pertaining to the External plot), I give it a quick background too.
  • Second and Third pages: A single chart that lists the GMC for Internal, External and Romantic threads for each character.
  • 3 GMC Chart
  • Fourth+ pages will be in tomorrow's post! And it will make pantsers want to scrub their brains, no doubt... but it's part of my own personal new synopsis glee.
That's it for today. Tomorrow I'll explain what's in the final section of the synopsis and how I manage to summon it before writing these days.