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The 4 Horsemen

These aspects of the writing business suck. No nice way of putting it. They’re miserable, stress inducing pains in the hee-haws. And they generally take years to learn (which is no guarantee you’re doing it right.). Especially if your head is as hard as mine. I just couldn’t get the feeling that I was conveying the story right. Or that my voice really mattered since it was just a layout of the plot.

But it’s not.

Each of these aspects are independently important, but one can definitely lead to the other and thankfully, a lot less misery for you. Before we begin, though, keep in mind that the synopsis portion is the brainchild of my good friend and author, Lyn Cash, AKA Sunny Lyn. She’s a hero, folks!

LOGLINE & BLURB:

You’d think it’d be easy to write explanations of your own book. But it’s not. It’s a pain. You have to fit an entire story into a few lines or pages. But what do you put in? How do you know if you’ve done it right? What belongs in the little things and what do you have to take out of the big things. First off, you need to know what each one is. I like to think of them as The Four Horsemen…because submitting often feels like trying to survive the Apocalypse.

Now, commonly, people think a blurb is what goes on the back of a book. It sort of is. It’s both more and less. There are four things a writer must master to have a successful career: The LogLine, The Blurb, The Short Synopsis & The Long Synopsis. Each one is a nightmare unto itself, but thankfully, if done in the right order, you can do one and expand it into the next. The key three things to include in ALL of them is this: Hooks, Characters, Conflict. The more room you have, the more you can expand into motivation, plan to solve problem, etc. But if you don’t have those three things at even the shortest level, your logline, blurb, SS or LS is incomplete and will likely fail. Today we will cover the first two.

The Logline is a one or two line sentence that conveys the hooks of your story, the characters and the conflict, usually into a compelling statement or question that draws the editor (readers don’t see these too often) into wanting more. Loglines are used at the top of a query letter and most effectively in an editor pitch, where you have to describe your book in 25 words or less. They maximize your time and the editors interest.

ex) “Girl next door Jenna McCain’s lifelong plan to marry rancher Cord Erikson would have gone off without a hitch, but how was she to expect his ex-wife to interfere…and bring a baby along?”

Hooks: Girl Next Door, Rancher, Secret Baby
Characters, Jenna and Cord (includes villain, ex-wife)
Conflict: she’s loved him forever, he has a past, can she get in the way of that and live with herself?

Now that you have those elements in a sentence, you can use them to stay concise while you enlarge The Logline into The Blurb.

The Blurb causes trouble because it’s much larger, roughly 30-200 words. It is the length of the back of the book and it, too, must contain the three elements listed above. If you do a one paragraph blurb–my personal favorite–you discuss both main characters in the same paragraph. You START with your hook and your character. Move next to your alternate character’s problem (conflict). Then wrap it up with what needs to be done to solve the problem. If you choose the two paragraph type (the 200 word version), then you will need a paragraph for each character that states their individual hooks, character, conflict and plan to solve their issues.

To help you do this, I’ve created a way to build a paragraph blurb using three simple questions:
1) HOOK: Why do people want to read this book? Because “Girl Next Door Jenny McCain is finally marrying the man of her dreams.”

2) CHARACTER & CONFLICT: Why is this important? She’s spent her life in love with Cord Erikson, despite heartbreak and loss, and now their day is finally here. Or, it would be, if Cord’s ex-wife hadn’t materialized on his doorstep, holding a baby she claims is his.

3) PLAN TO SOLVE PROBLEM: What do they need to do to solve their problem?With the wedding just around the corner, Jenny knows that Cord has an impossible decision to make. Can she finally stand up for their love, even if it means raising another woman’s child?

Then, when you have those sentences, combine them in a para:
“Girl Next Door Jenny McCain is finally marrying the man of her dreams.She’s spent her life in love with Cord Erikson, despite heartbreak and loss, and now their day is finally here. Or, it would be, if Cord’s ex-wife hadn’t materialized on his doorstep, holding a baby she claims is his. With the wedding just around the corner, Jenny knows that Cord has an impossible decision to make. Can she finally stand up for their love, even if it means raising another woman’s child?”

Since this is a completely made up story so far, an exercise for you might be to try to write a paragraph for Cord using this process.

Remember, editing is always a writer’s best friend. Things to look for when going over your finished blurb, is where you can remove to make it more stream-lined. Connective words can be a real word-cutter: but, that, and, and whatever possessive pronouns you don’t strictly need. Particularly with blurbs, you want to avoid buts, ands and especially thats. They can drag a sentence into the ground. Keep the pace quick and direct. That’ll grab people every time.

SHORT SYNOPSIS:

Ahhhh, the Apocalypse continues.

The Third Horseman of our evil writing duties is the Short Synopsis. Now, if you remember our last two examples, you’ll see how each grew from the previous by adding a bit more information. Your key ingredients of Hook, Character, Conflict must be present in all, and right from the get-go. But, where the logline is about the mainest character, the blurb should be a paragraph each about both core characters. Heroine is usually first because the editors know that readers need to relate to the heroine. (Courtesy of Brenda Chin: “The reader MUST relate to the heroine and fall in love with the hero.” This is a golden rule of romance. Learn it. Live it. Love it. And just to keep this difficult, both of these things need to happen as early as possible. First chapter. No “Eventually we’ll get to know her”. No “We’ll be in love with him at the end”. This is part of your unspoken hook. If the reader doesn’t connect with your characters immediately, they won’t keep reading. Period.)

I’m going to give credit where credit is due and admit that I didn’t come up with this next step. Your favorite naughty girl and mine Lyn Cash did it. I am admittedly not smart enough to have figured out how to make the jump from good blurb to good synop. I have sucked–without vacation–for 8 years at writing synops. Just could never get it together. She’s the briliant one. I’m just the loud one.

Now, to start your short synop, you can pick up your blurb and call that the first two paragraphs. There are some rules, reportedly, to writing synops. I’m no great purveyor of rules. They blind you to your own instincts in my own opinion, but some of them are there for purely common sense purposes. We’re going to include those here:

Things you need to know and put into your synnop:

1) What is the situation?: Let us know who your characters are at the start of the story and what they are into that’s going to make their lives difficult and why they are willing to enter this adventure. “Candy store owner Elizabeth Clarke is in trouble, Bickner Chocolates is claiming she stole a formula from them and she can’t prove she didn’t.”

2) Plot points: Create a list of the main plot twists: “Elizabeth goes undercover at Bickner to discover who is stealing her recipes; She’s caught by security, who agrees to help her after hearing her plight; Elizabeth discovers the traitor and turns them in.” No details. Simply the order in which the most important aspects of the situation happen. Make a separate list for both primary characters.

3) Turning Points: People define these differently. To me, a TP is the point that twists the relationship in a new direction. These are usually separate from the plot points, but can coincide. Make a list of them, you should have a minimum of four in any complete novel:

The Meet: Introducing the characters changes something for both of them–new course.

• 1st Change: When they discover something about one another that changes their original impression–he sees a moment of her humanity instead of her career driven desperation. she sees a kindness in him that is at odds with the hard ass schmuck he’s been so far–OR overturning previous positive impression–she discovers he’s friends with her enemy, he learns she’s a vindictive cow.

• 2nd Change: Accepting that the other is not so bad because they are forced by their situation to deal with one another or simply accepting their sexual attraction and acting on it, despite believing the other person is less than stellar.

• 3rd Change: The Black Moment. The party is over. Faced once again with eachother’s shortcomings–or percieved shortcomings–the pair will part and learn what life is like without the other. Mind you, they should definitely NOT enjoy this period. If they do, you’re doing something wrong.

• 4th Change: Resolution. Having despised life alone, they come back together with acceptance and change from both parties. This is your happy ending.

There are multiple combinations of this list, The Meet and 1st Change often are combined, or 1st and 2nd Change are combined. Or, you can do all five. It’s up to you, but you should have an exact list of what each point is for them as a couple.

Now, your job is to combine all of these events in a fast, subjective and punchy set of paragraphs (alternating who you’re discussing by para) to create a page of synopsis.

Things to avoid putting in your short synopsis:

• Secondary and especially Tertiary Characters: Don’t need em, don’t want em. Leave em out. Trust me.

• Details: We don’t even really need to know what city they live in. That includes what color hair, how tall, why they’re pysically attracted to each other. Nada.

• Padding words: Though, but, and, actually, Then, So. You’re adding word count and really, you don’t have the room. One or two isn’t a bad thing. But definitely try to keep them out of your sentence structures.

Now, how do we combine all of this crap I’ve dumped on you? You write sentences that cover a LOT of ground. You’re not here to be fancy or flowy. You’re here to get the story out concise and with a little bit of your voice. But the key word is PUNCHY. Nothing long, nothing artful. Get to the point and move on. Move from plot point to plot point, intersperse with turning points where they come in the course of the story. Add a little bit of the tone and remember to stay in present tense.

Here’s an example:

Candy store owner Elizabeth Clarke is in trouble, Bickner Chocolates claims she stole a formula from them and she can’t prove she didn’t. Unable to decide which of her dedicated workers has sold her recipe to the chocolate mogul, Elizabeth decides to infiltrate the company herself–until she’s caught by a security guard on overnight duty…at least, that’s what he looks like.

Undercover agent Russ Stover’s luck couldn’t be worse. The night he’s waited months for is being blown by a loopy candy cook with delusions of theivery. Rather than start all over, he takes her with him to uncover how the choco-magnate is secreting out drugs with their sweet treats. But how is a guy supposed to do his duty when there’s a sugar coated redhead next to him, ready to eat?

Elizabeth refuses to be sidetracked by Russ’s refusal to explain what he’s up to. Getting away from him, she finds the research dept, unknowingly setting off alarms before finding proof that her dearest friend has betrayed her. Russ rescues her from the factory before they can be caught, but at the cost of his own case. Elizabeth’s guilt compounds her hurt and she offers to do what she can to make it up to Russ. Whatever she can…

Taking advantage of Elizabeth’s guilt isn’t really what Russ wants to do, but neither is going to bed alone. Besides, Elizabeth’s former employee is just the person he needs to get back into Bickner’s illegal activities. What’s wrong with mixing some business with sweet pleasure? The only problem is, the more tastes he gets of Elizabeth, the less interested he is in catching the bad guys. Until she finds out that she’s little more than a means to an end. Then Russ is on his backside on her curb and sweetness is nothing more than a bitter memory.

Not liking to see how empty his life is without Elizabeth–or admit it was empty before her–Russ throws himself into his work. But Bickners isn’t about to leave a loose end like Elizabeth alone and now the only way to protect her is to put them away. Making use of her former employee, Russ invades the factory once more and unearths the drug supply hidden within. The Bickner’s venture is over. Elizabeth is safe. So why does he still want to see her?

Elizabeth’s life hasn’t been going so well. Missing Russ, having trouble trusting her new employee, she’s none-too-thrilled when the press hoardes her to ask about the fall of Bickners. Learning the truth of the takedown–and Russ’s part in it–Elizabeth rushes to his apartment to find him. He’s surprised to see her, but he won’t let her apologize. He admits he was wrong to hide his case from her and to let her think she meant nothing more to him. Elizabeth offers a second chance, for both of them. He still has his sweet tooth and she’s sure she has a lifetime’s worth of sugar to keep him satisfied. Russ is too busy sampling the goods to even think about arguing.

Now, I’m not callling it nobel peace prize winning, but it gets the story across in a single page. Sunny’s rule of thumb, 1-100k book=1 page short synnop. If you go over that, you’re going on too long. Keep it short, keep it sweet. You’ll see better results.

LONG SYNOPSIS:

This is perhaps the fuzziest of all the synopses, because while it’s the most specific, it’s also the least trained. Generally, the long synopsis is the tool of the published author and thus not deeply needed for the submitting writer. So no one really gets into it the way they should. I’m not sure I’m about to get into it the way I should, but I do want to make this point perfectly clear: When you start advancing to revision/rejection and out of form letter status, you should consider learning not only this tool of the trade.

I find that with Long Synops, it’s hardly ever what it is…but what it isn’t, that sets it apart. Keep these points in mind whenever you get the urge to send one along.

What A Long Synop ISN’T:

• less than five pages
• single spaced
• short on details
• short on characterization, motivation or conclusion

You will be laying out your story, truncated, yes, but with plenty of information and plenty of pages. How many you use is often dictated by category. Because, you see, the Long Synop is your big gun. The ammo is expensive and hard to get, so the key to knowing when to use it…is knowing when not to.

When NOT to use one:

• with your initial query letter
• without a specific request from an editor
• when giving a pitch of any kind

But how the hell do you write it, right?

The average long synop is 5-10 pages. This kind is utilized most often and it’s the one I heartily recommend. There are authors who write as much as a 30 page long synop. I would not do this unless you’ve hashed it out with your editor exactly how much detail she would like. She will not welcome a book on your book without an invitation. Also, always double space your long synopsis. I can’t say that loud enough. Unless you’re dealing with someone who has given you specific instructions to single space, double should be your default. We whine about reading a lot, but no one reads more than an editor. Don’t drive them to blindness.

If you’ve been following this series, you’ll realize that you need the previous step to achieve the best results with your synopses. You’ve inserted voice and interest into the short synopsis–which should really never be more than two pages. My recommended route is to build from your short synopsis. All of your needed elements are already there, as is your story outline. All that is needed are the words we love to say: details.

This is not “padding”. You aren’t looking just to inflate your word count. You are “layering”–adding details of emotional response, sexual attraction, plot motivators, etc. Read each line of your current short synop and see where you can fill in more blanks. For example, long synopses are where editors get the skinny on your secondary characters–who are they, what role to they fill in your character’s lives?–as well as learning more about any particular villain. This is not to say you should go buck wild and tell us their childhood food aversions, but finally, you are able to explain what their purpose is. (And if you can’t find one…you need to go back to that ms.) Keep in mind that you will still need to maintain your tone and much of your concise sentence structure and you should be fine.

Now, some authors actually use quotes from the ms to illustrate points of interest. If used sparingly–pretend it costs you a hundred dollars every time you do it–this is acceptable. However, the caveats are as follows:

• Be sure it’s worth quoting–doesn’t move the story forward, don’t use it.
• If you have less than ten pages in your synop, don’t use it. Believe it or not, you just don’t have the space.

If you layer your short synopsis correctly, you should have a nice long synopsis that already contains all of your required elements along with the complete ending. Should you have an epilogue you didn’t add into the short, this is the time to put it in. Double check for flow, tone and voice and get it out the door. Few things will ruin a synopsis faster than time to obsess. If you have a CP, run it past them. This should not be a 6 pass event. Once, maybe twice if drastic changes are needed (and if you had a complete short synop, they shouldn’t be) is all that you need.

The final tip about synops: They are NEVER more important than the book. A selling tool, a skill to be desired, yes. But if you put as much time and energy into the synop as you do the book, you won’t have a chance to sell it. Write it good, write it right, write it gone.

Then get onto the next project.

THE LONG SYNOPSIS:

This is perhaps the fuzziest of all the synopses, because while it’s the most specific, it’s also the least trained. Generally, the long synopsis is the tool of the published author and thus not deeply needed for the submitting writer. So no one really gets into it the way they should. I’m not sure I’m about to get into it the way I should, but I do want to make this point perfectly clear: When you start advancing to revision/rejection and out of form letter status, you should consider learning this tool of the trade.

I find that with Long Synops, it’s hardly ever what it is…but what it isn’t, that sets it apart. Keep these points in mind whenever you get the urge to send one along.

What A Long Synop ISN’T:

• less than five pages
• single spaced
• short on details
• short on characterization, motivation or conclusion

You will be laying out your story, truncated, yes, but with plenty of information and plenty of pages. How many you use is often dictated by category. Because, you see, the Long Synop is your big gun. The ammo is expensive and hard to get, so the key to knowing when to use it…is knowing when not to.

When NOT to use one:

• with your initial query letter
• without a specific request from an editor
• when giving a pitch of any kind

But how the hell do you write it, right?

The average long synop is 5-10 pages. This kind is utilized most often and it’s the one I heartily recommend. There are authors who write as much as a 30 page long synop. I would not do this unless you’ve hashed it out with your editor exactly how much detail she would like. She will not welcome a book on your book without an invitation. Also, always double space your long synopsis. I can’t say that loud enough. Unless you’re dealing with someone who has given you specific instructions to single space, double should be your default. We whine about reading a lot, but no one reads more than an editor. Don’t drive them to blindness.

If you’ve been following this series, you’ll realize that you need the previous step to achieve the best results with your synopses. You’ve inserted voice and interest into the short synopsis–which should really never be more than two pages. My recommended route is to build from your short synopsis. All of your needed elements are already there, as is your story outline. All that is needed are the words we love to say: details.

This is not “padding”. You aren’t looking just to inflate your word count. You are “layering”–adding details of emotional response, sexual attraction, plot motivators, etc. Read each line of your current short synop and see where you can fill in more blanks. For example, long synopses are where editors get the skinny on your secondary characters–who are they, what role to they fill in your character’s lives?–as well as learning more about any particular villain. This is not to say you should go buck wild and tell us their childhood food aversions, but finally, you are able to explain what their purpose is. (And if you can’t find one…you need to go back to that ms.) Keep in mind that you will still need to maintain your tone and much of your concise sentence structure and you should be fine.

Now, some authors actually use quotes from the ms to illustrate points of interest. If used sparingly–pretend it costs you a hundred dollars every time you do it–this is acceptable. However, the caveats are as follows:

• Be sure it’s worth quoting–doesn’t move the story forward, don’t use it.
• If you have less than ten pages in your synop, don’t use it. Believe it or not, you just don’t have the space.

If you layer your short synopsis correctly, you should have a nice long synopsis that already contains all of your required elements along with the complete ending. Should you have an epilogue you didn’t add into the short, this is the time to put it in. Double check for flow, tone and voice and get it out the door. Few things will ruin a synopsis faster than time to obsess. If you have a CP, run it past them. This should not be a 6 pass event. Once, maybe twice if drastic changes are needed (and if you had a complete short synop, they shouldn’t be) is all that you need.

The final tip about synops: They are NEVER more important than the book. A selling tool, a skill to be desired, yes. But if you put as much time and energy into the synop as you do the book, you won’t have a chance to sell it. Write it good, write it right, write it gone.

Then get onto the next project.


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