Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Writing a synopsis, novel-writing software and where to get help

Okay, it's going to be a quickie tonight because I really need to get on with editing my novel!


Writing a synopsis

This is just a bullet point list of what I found out when I was searching the web looking for advice on synopsis writing (examples given are made up off the top of my head and not taken from my own synopsis):

  • A synopsis should ideally be a page long (some sites recommended no longer than 600 words)

  • You should write it in the third person (even if your novel is written in the first person)

  • You should write it in the present tense

  • It's not a bad idea to start by stating what your main character's goal is (if it's a character led novel) i.e. "All Amy wants is to meet the man of her dreams, fall in love and live happily ever after. Unfortunately for Amy life just isn't that kind..."

  • You should detail only the main events and the main characters. Don't try and include all your characters and all the subplot. It's the main character's story that counts and how she changes as the novel progresses

  • Reflect the style/tone of your book in your synopsis. If your book is funny make your synopsis light-hearted and if it's more serious reflect this in your synopsis. The agent will look to your synopsis to get a feeling for the tone of your book and whether or not you can catch his/her attention and keep it

  • End the synopsis by showing how the main character has changed i.e. Amy realises that there is no such thing as happily ever after and that it's more important to enjoy your life instead of wishing it away

  • Don't leave the ending dangling. Don't write "to find out whether Amy chooses Josh or Patrick you'll just have to read the book" or "Josh or Patrick, who will she choose?" An agent needs to know the whole story to work out if your book is marketable and they're not about to wade through your 90,000 manuscript to find out
  • In the very last line of your synopsis you should summarise the themes of your book i.e. "Amy's Choice" is a romantic-comedy about dreams, love, friendship and growing up

Novel-writing software

I should have mentioned this in my previous post but I forgot. Once I'd worked out a rough chapter outline I started using the YWriter software. It's free, it's easy to use and it allows you to split your books into chapters and scenes so you can see and edit your novel in seconds without having to scroll through a 481 page double-space Word document!

It also allows you to set yourself a target word count and a target date for completing your novel and how many words you need to write a day in order to achieve it. If you miss a day the daily word count needed will go up. It's a great incentive to sit down and write (or that count will go up even more if you miss another day).

YWriter also keeps a tally of how many words you've written and displays words written vs total count in a similar way to the counter on the left of my blog.

Oh yes - and you can export the whole novel into a format suitable for opening in Word (I did that when I was finished and was astonised to discover I'd written 481 pages!)

Where to get help

If you're struggling with your novel you may find it helpful to join an online writing community. There are lots of them around so here's a selection of the ones I've looked at:

Slingink - a free writing community. They don't specialise in novel writing but they're a chatty and friendly group who make newcomes feel immediately welcome. There's a place on the discussion board to post work and I'm sure they'd happily critique a posted first chapter (but it may take a little while before someone does it). Just make sure you return the favour for someone else. No writing group appreciates members who just take.

Writersdock - another free writing community. Part of the discussion board is set up for people to talk about novel writing and critique each other's work. The writers here are friendly and it's a mixed group - some beginners, some intermediate and possibly some more advanced. Writerdock also invite famous authors to answer questions on the boards

WriteWords - £35 for a year but also offers a database of agents (some complete with comments from WW members who have experience of using or contacting the agents) and details of publishers.

Although there's a short story and flash forum the focus of this community seems to be novels and groups have been set up for all the genres (chicklit, woman's fiction, historical etc) and there's even a synopsis group. Depending on the group you join it may be a little quiet or more busy. Again you'll receive critiques on uploaded work but you must critique other people's work in return or you'll receive a polite email telling you to pull your socks up!

This site also benefits from some 'site experts' all of whom are published authors and they have been know to offer helpful advice on newbies work.

So - that's that for now. Next I'll blog about the different critiquing services I've heard of (the ones that have been most highly rated by the people who have used them).

p.s. feel free to add synopsis advice/links to other writing communities in the comments box.


Sarah Dunnakey said...

Thanks Cally - you are a star this is all really useful stuff

Lane said...

This is all excellent Cally. Many thanks. I have downloaded ywriter and my tiny brain seems to be able to actually use it:))