Language is a peculiar thing. It is fluid and organic, always changing and evolving. You can say the same thing using a different set of words. Tweaking your word choice can attach a different connotation to the particular phrase. Unfortunately, this makes it easy to have fillers and meaningless words in our writing without even knowing it. We need to learn to spot these filler words so we can tweak them into exactly what we mean to say exactly how we want to say them. Each word is important. Don’t let fillers sabotage the robustness of your idea! Here is a self editing (for fiction) checklist of words to watch.
‘Said’ is one of the most overused words in reported speech. Oh how I loathe this word. I realize my distaste is a bit subjective but for the editors who don’t mind the word still report it as being overused. This word is so ingrained in our writing dating back to those elementary school short stories. There are several descriptive words that you can use instead of “said”. For example, exclaimed, replied, retorted, and whispered and a million others.
An even better option is to rewrite your sentence having cut the word out completely and replace the word with an action.
Instead of: “You shut your fat, ugly face, ya backstabbing hussy!” Natzu said.
Try this: “You shut your fat, ugly face, ya backstabbing hussy!” Natzu grabbed Gray’s shirt and threw him across the mess hall.
See how I completely shaped a story out of a few words just by replacing the word said? You can add so much to your story by replacing this word. And yes, I stole Natzu and Gray from Fairy Tale, my favorite Anime. You should watch it.
What is a Believable Character?
More often than not, one of the main entrees of fictional, and even non-fictional, writings is the characters that make up the story. Bon Appetit! The best way to capture a reader’s hawk-like eyes and lure them into the depths of your wonderful pages is to create an engaging, lovable character. Someone familiar. Someone who, maybe, ‘wears their heart on their sleeve’. Here are a few things you should focus on in order to create a believable, genuine character for each adventure you key into paragraphs.
1. Character Coherence and Consistency
There are many ways to build up a believable character. One main focus should be on designing the character with a hint of coherence and consistency. While staying consistent with your character development, you begin to draw out its ‘voice’. A character that is coherent will display both the elements of personality and behavior in a way that the reader will fully grasp and understand.
2. Internal/External Changes
An intriguing character may also be called a ‘Round Character’. A round character is a character that has depth. Your character should undergo internal and external changes to better translate its entire expanse. Changes, both internal and external, should be portrayed in a relatable manner, even if the reader may never have stepped foot in those proverbial shoes.
If you’re struggling to “sell” your synopsis, it’s probably because you’re trying to “sell” your synopsis. As an editor, I LIVE for writing that stands on its own. You shouldn't have to sell yourself, but rather lay it all out on the table and see what happens. Confidence is key. I can remember one synopsis that left my eyes wide open in shock. It was my last submission for the day, my kids went to bed and I was ready for a long night of Drama Fever (because I'm obsessed with Korean Dramas!I you don't know where to start, try this one on for size! Goblin, the Great and Lonely God) but I'd realized I'd missed half the episode because I was thinking about the potential behind that dang submission. I’ve read synopses that provoke this kind of passion, but I’ve also read synopses that were truly cringe-worthy. So to promote the re-watching of episodes for myself and fellow editors, here is how to make your synopsis stand on its own.
Stick to MAJOR Plot Development
There is a fine line between interesting moments, and key moments. I want to know which plot points give your story momentum. Imagine this as your “elevator pitch”. If you’ve just written Cinderella, and you find yourself in an elevator with a publisher, you don’t want to try to explain that Cinderella is friends with mice, and that the mice are chased around by a cat named Lucifer. By the time you explain she’s met her fairy godmother, the door has opened and the publisher is yawning.
You may have a really unique subplot, in fact, most stories do. But, dont overwhelm your editor.
Make the General Character Arch Obvious
You should already have character arch in your story, but be sure to include this in the synopsis. Don’t assume the editor knows how the character has changed, based on the plot development. Character change is not always obvious, and if you expect the editor to pin their own attributes to the character in order to understand them, you’ve set yourself up for a HUGE misunderstanding later on.
Also, focus only on the main character(s). I can’t keep track of all the mice and the horse and the cat and the sisters and the Duke, and if I try, then I’m going to be too distracted to focus on what’s necessary.
Generate a Clear Goal, Motivation and Conflict
Again, don’t assume anything. Why does Cinderella want to go to the ball? I never liked high school dances, so maybe I don’t understand what the big deal is. Make the motivation clear. Help me connect to the piece, and don’t leave me wondering what the point is.
DON’T WITHHOLD ANY NECESSARY DETAILS. This happens so often. I know authors are excited about the ending, and want to unveil it in a bigger way than just within the pages of a synopsis, but that’s risky territory. Asking me to trust that your ending will be good without allowing me to read it, is like asking me to fall off a building and trust that you really do have a good pillow to fall on. I wish I could, but it’s probably not good for my health.
Don’t List It, Describe It
This is also a really common mistake when writing a synopsis. So many authors write in a way that sounds like they’re listing events and details. It’s overwhelming for me to keep track of everything if it doesn’t flow comfortably like the story does. And when you list, you become uninteresting, which isn't creative. I love my job because I get to read creative fiction pieces. If it doesn't feel creative, It's a pass for me.
I’ve written another article on this already, How to Write a Killer Query, but make sure you’re not reiterating what you’ve already stated before. Repeating a concept wont make it more noticeable or important. I don’t want to reread what I already know, so I’m more likely start skimming, even if I don’t mean to.
I realize some things have to be repeated, but if that’s the case, show me a different angle. If you already told me that the stepmother was horrible to Cinderella, but the you have to bring it up again, maybe explain that the stepmother is so evil because she is jealous of Cinderella’s beauty, compared to her daughters.
Don’t Be Lengthy
Pay attention to the guidelines. Each publishing house has it’s own preference on synopsis lengths, and if you’re too far over or under that preference, you’ve just put a negative spin on your work. Writing too much tells the editor that you’re not confident in your work, that you feel the need to explain yourself, and that you’re not going to be easy to work with. Writing not enough tells the editor that you're either rushing or lazy. And either way, you haven't followed directions, which is a bigger deal than you may think.
Use Your Tone to Your Advantage
Get me excited about your story! Your synopsis should be just as creative as your query. It’s more “nuts and bolts” but should reflect the tone of your story. I know I’ve put a lot of emphasis on the conceptual aspect of the synopsis, but sometimes the tone is enough to assure me that a piece has potential. Enthusiasm is SO critical because it leaves a lasting impression, and separates you from the crowd. If you follow the above, I'll be ready to read the sample with a good impression of you and your work. If you add this component to your synopsis, you'll leave me pondering your work in the middle of Boys Over Flowers, which is very good for you.
Shy away from rhetorical questions, and self promotion. As I mentioned in the beginning, let your work stand on its own. Use your tone to show how interesting your book is, but try not to add too much fluff to the synopsis.
As always, Happy writing! May your synopsis be strong enough to make an editor re-watch at least one episode of their favorite show.
Be sure to comment with any questions you have. Talking about books and publishing makes me happy :) And thanks for reading!
Hello hello! Welcome to the first installment of the Submission Series. So many authors worry to death about these tricky little queries (and synopsis and bios), but lets tie that bag of worry up and toss it off a cliff, eh?
They are Not as Important as You May Think
Think of your query as a paint primer. When we sit down to read through queries we read more than one in a sitting. Who knows how the last query has left the, because really, there have been some truly awful queries. So imagine I just finished a query that claimed the book would get me pregnant just by reading it (Yes, this really happened. No, it didn't work), and I land on yours next. I desperately need you to bring my focus to your story, so I can wash away the horribleness of the one before. Enter, Query. Set up your sample so that I'm ready for it when I get to it.
Do Your Homework