Month: July 2020

Saturday writing tips: the blurb and the synopsis #writing #writingtips

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I’ve worked with lots of writers who can compose the most beautiful prose, bring scenes to life, make me care about their characters, keep me turning the page, but these same writers find it almost impossible to write a synopsis or a blurb.

So first of all – what’s the difference?

A synopsis is a short summary of your book that makes up part of a submission to agents or publishers. A blurb appears on the back cover of a physical copy of your book, or next to the book’s cover in listings on retail sites. It’s a short description of your book and its purpose is to attract the reader’s attention and make them interested.

When writing a synopsis, the first thing to do is to check what the agent/publisher is looking for. They may well specify a length and may want you to write a chapter by chapter synopsis. If there are no specifications, then I would advise sticking to one page, single-spaced, six hundred words maximum.

Remember to write in third person (even if your novel is written in first person). Use active voice and present tense.

Now to the actual writing of the synopsis itself.

When I was studying literature, we learnt a lot about narrative structure, and although it might not initially seem like it, most novels do fit into this basic structure:

Set up – main characters introduced. Introduction of the problem.

Conflict – the main body of the story. There is a catalyst that sets the conflict in motion. Characters go through changes because of this conflict and develop – the character arc.

Resolution – the problem is confronted and solved – or not – and loose ends are tied up.

To write your synopsis, it’s really helpful to look at your novel in these terms and break it down into this structure. Start with the set up – who is the protagonist? The other main characters? What is the problem?

Then move on to the conflict – there may be more than one. Decide what conflicts, plot twists and turns are really important; what do you need to include for the ending, the resolution, to make sense? How does this conflict change the main characters?

Finish with the resolution. Remember – this isn’t a blurb. The agent/publisher needs to know how your novel ends.

Be short, concise, clear. This isn’t the time for showing off your beautiful prose. That’s what the sample chapters are for.

Write-a-Successful-Synopsis

When you’re tackling a blurb, remember that it’s important to keep it short. This is NOT a synopsis. You want a couple of two to three line paragraphs. Too much and you risk giving too much away and turning off your reader. Too little and you might miss the mark.

Mention your main character(s). It’s important for your reader to know who the book is about.

Be precise. There is no place or space for vagueness, long-windedness or clever clever vocabulary in your blurb. Short, sharp, to the point.

Make it interesting. Obviously. What’s intriguing about the story? Why would I want to read it?

Don’t give away the ending. It might sound silly to even point that out – but it does happen.

Don’t compare yourself to other writers or compare the book to other books. Tell your potential reader that you’re the next Hilary Mantel or Stephen King and you’re more likely to come across and arrogant and annoy them more than anything.

Watch out for clichés or overused words and phrases. Try and be refreshing and new. And interesting.

Here are some excellent examples:

‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo

This is Britain as you’ve never seen it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl Woman Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .

‘The Book Thief’ by Marcus Zusak

It is 1939. In Nazi Germany, the country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier – and will become busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed forever when she picks up a single object, abandoned in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and this is her first act of book thievery. So begins Liesel’s love affair with books and words, and soon she is stealing from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library . . . wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times, and when Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, nothing will ever be the same again.

‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live. 
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than…. fine?

‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty-Williams

Meet Queenie.
She just can’t cut a break. Well, apart from one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That’s just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Stuck between a boss who doesn’t seem to see her, a family who don’t seem to listen (if it’s not Jesus or water rates, they’re not interested), and trying to fit in two worlds that don’t really understand her, it’s no wonder she’s struggling
She was named to be queen of everything. So why is she finding it so hard to rule her own life?

Hopefully these examples will inspire you – happy writing!

SUMMER SPECIAL OFFER – 10% DISCOUNT ON ALL EDITING SERVICES #WRITINGCOMMUNITY #WRITING #EDITING

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It’s been a busy time here in lovely Cenarth. When it hasn’t been raining, I’ve been busy growing vegetables. I’ve never grown veg before and I’ve become a bit obsessed – so much so that Belle the cocker spaniel has taken to dropping her tennis ball in the middle of the beds to get my attention!

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There are lots of lovely flowers blooming now, and the garden is looking gorgeous – I’ve never been very good at gardening so I’m feeling rather proud!

And yesterday I realised a bit of a lifelong dream – we rehomed six battery chickens! Meet Virginia, Hilary, Sylvia, Emily, Charlotte and Mary.

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They’ve already produced four eggs, and have succeeded in terrifying the dogs!

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But while I would love to spend all day pottering about watching the chickens and the river, and faffing about with the vegetable beds, I do have an editing business to run!

If you’re considering editing then this special summer offer may convince you to take the next step in making your work the best it can be. I’m offering a 10% discount on any bookings made this week, for any of my editing services. So editing packages now start at just £4.00/$5.40 per thousand words.

You can find more details about my editing services here. And there are some lovely testimonials here. 

If you have any questions at all, or would like a sample edit, then do get in touch.

 

Saturday Writing Tips: Clarity #writingtips

clarity

‘Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly.’

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, proposition 4.116

The Oxford dictionary defines clarity as:

 The quality of being clear, in particular:

The quality of being coherent and intelligible

The quality of being easy to see or hearsharpness of image or sound

In fiction writing, as in any other type of writing, you need to be clear – your words, your sentences, the pictures you build, must have clarity. Otherwise, who are you writing for? As an author, you have stories you want to share, so you must bear in mind your audience, your reader and what they will do with the words you choose to give them. This doesn’t mean you can’t be clever, that you can’t be creative, that you can’t build wonderful metaphors, use fabulous imagery and weave complex, intricate plots and storylines. But you must have clarity in all you write. What are those ingenious metaphors for? They are there to help your reader understand – to tell your story. What is that beautiful imagery for, if not to help your reader imagine your worlds, your characters, your visions? And if your plot makes no sense, then why should a reader waste time with your work? You are not writing in a vacuum, you are writing for a reader and your reader must know what you are conveying with those words.

So how do you ensure clarity in your writing?

Pronouns

pronouns

One common issue I deal with all the time when editing is confusion resulting from  the use of pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘his’, ‘her’ etc. It’s crucial that the noun the pronoun is referring to is clear. For example:

The car hit the barrier but it wasn’t damaged.

What wasn’t damaged? What does ‘it’ refer to – the car or the barrier? In this sentence it could be either.

Similarly:

John gave Adam his money.

Whose money? Adam’s? Or John’s? Make sure it’s clear who the pronoun is referring to.

Passive voice

active passive

Passive voice can make your writing seem wordy and unnatural. Using active voice makes your words more immediate and gives them energy. Find out more about active vs. passive voice here.

Ditch the clichés

cliche

Clichés don’t work in fiction because they are stale and overused. They are phrases other people have made – your story and your characters deserve fresh, new words and phrases that are all their own. Again, think of your reader. If you fill your work with stale old clichés, you give the impression that you can’t be bothered; you can’t be bothered to think of exactly the right words to use, you can’t be bothered to think of something fresh and new, you can’t be bothered to create new phrases and sentences. So why should a reader be bothered with you?

Cut, cut and cut again

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One of the most common comments I use when I’m editing is ‘do you need?’ Writers should apply this to every word they write. Do you really, really, really need it? And if not, then cut it. For example:

When she went to the shops that morning, there were crowds of people thronging the streets.

Now if every word matters, what can be got rid of here?

It might be important that she went to the shops that morning, so we’ll leave that in, but you can cut ‘there were’. These two words are hardly ever needed.

When she went to the shops that morning, crowds of people thronged the streets.

So it’s only two words – but it’s two words you don’t need.

The same goes for ‘she felt’, ‘she saw’, ‘she knew’

As she walked to the shops, she saw two cyclists coming towards her.

Why not simply –

As she walked to the shops, two cyclists came towards her.

Another particular pet hate of mine is ‘she began’ or ‘she started’. Why write ‘she began to cough’ instead of ‘she coughed’? Or ‘she began to speak’ instead of ‘she spoke’?

and what about ‘Off’ or ‘off of’?

The short answer is ‘off’.

The long answer is:

You don’t need to say:

She pushed him off of the bridge.

Just

She pushed him off the bridge.

Other words that can often be cut are ‘seemed to’ or ‘appeared to’. Be firm and clear in your writing and your meaning.

She seemed to quiver at the sight of him.

is much better as:

She quivered at the sight of him.

These are just some examples of how you can bring clarity to your work. I’d love to hear other tips and advice.

 

‘A Little Bird Told Me’ by Marianne Holmes #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Little Bird

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In the scorching summer of 1976, Robyn spends her days swimming at the Lido and tagging after her brother. It’s the perfect holiday – except for the crying women her mum keeps bringing home.

As the heatwave boils on, tensions in the town begin to simmer. Everyone is gossiping about her mum, a strange man is following her around, and worst of all, no one will tell Robyn the truth. But this town isn’t good at keeping secrets…

Twelve years later Robyn returns home, to a house that has stood empty for years and a town that hasn’t moved on, forced to confront the mystery that haunted her that summer.

And atone for the part she played in it.

Narrated by Robyn, this novel transports the reader between the long, hot summer of 1976 and twelve years later, when Robyn and her brother Kit return to their home town. Both are trying to come to terms with the events of that long ago summer.

This is a clever book, well-written and intriguing. The author builds a real sense of time and place, and it’s easy to picture those summer days, and then the dreary grey of a rainy autumn. Robyn is interesting and her relationship with Kit is warm and honest, one that anyone with an older brother will recognise.

There’s a very well-executed twist at the end too.

Robyn’s confusion and fear are sensitively but realistically portrayed, as are her feelings of powerlessness – feelings that lead to consequences neither she nor the reader expect.

But the first two thirds of the novel did feel very slow and it also felt at times as though the narrator was being deliberately obtuse in order to fool the reader, rather than for the purposes of the story itself. This did spoil things for me and I was quite frustrated at times, and a little confused.

The last third of the book makes up for that though, with that satisfying twist.

An interesting read, with lots to recommend it and I will read more from this author.

4 stars

 

 

 

Saturday Writing Tips : Contractions in dialogue #writingtips

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A very quick tip here for writers struggling with dialogue.

One of the issues that I find in a lot of the manuscripts I edit is that the dialogue can seem forced and contrived. Realistic, believable and authentic dialogue is a must for a good novel, and authors need to make sure they get it right. But many new writers think they have to write ‘properly’ and they think this means eschewing contractions.

Generally, if you want to make your dialogue flow and for readers to believe in it, then you need to use contractions (there are exceptions to this, in particular types of fiction). Think about it. How many people do you know (however posh they are and however ‘properly’ they speak) who say things like this:

‘Please do not walk on the grass.’

The answer is no one. No one ever (except perhaps the queen and probably not even her) speaks like that. It sounds horrible.

So remember:

‘Don’t’ not ‘do not’
‘They’ve’ not ‘they have’
‘Should’ve’ not ‘should have’ (and definitely NOT should of)
‘I’ll’ not ‘I will’
‘Can’t’ not ‘cannot’
You get the point.

There are three things you can do to improve your dialogue:

Listen – actually listen to people talking. This has the advantage of also often being very entertaining.
Read – when you’re reading, make a note of dialogue that really works, and why it works
Speak – read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound right?
Contrived, formal, awkward dialogue is, I’m afraid, the sign of a writer still learning their craft. Get it right, and your writing will be smooth and professional and your dialogue a pleasure to read.

Saturday writing tips: Write the right word – homophones #writingtips

weekend writing tips

I don’t often post on my blog at the weekend, but as it’s the time that a lot of writers who also have a day job might get some time to focus on their writing, I thought it would be a good idea to start a new series of writing tips on a Saturday morning. so here’s the first in the series – cracking those annoying homophones. Enjoy!

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A homophone is a word that is pronounced in the same way as another word, but has a different meaning and is spelt differently. They can cause writers, and in turn their readers, confusion.

One common example of this is ‘there’, ‘their’ and they’re’. Since I’ve been editing I’ve been surprised by how many people get this wrong. It isn’t always that a writer doesn’t know the difference, but often the wrong word has been used accidently and just hasn’t been picked up. But if you use the wrong version in your published book, readers will think you don’t know what you’re talking about (there’s another one – your and you’re) and will lose their trust in you and your book.

So, just in case:

  • there – refers to a place or is used with the verb to be: ‘There is a lion in the zoo; look, it’s over there.’
  • their – shows possession. ‘It is their lion.’
  • they’re – the contraction of ‘they are’. ‘They are looking at their lion.’

Other commonly mixed-up homophones I’ve come across are:

  • waive and wave
  • for, four and fore
  • to, too and two
  • discreet and discrete
  • wrings and ring (‘she was ringing her hands’ should be ‘she was wringing her hands’)
  • fazes and phases

A homonym is a type of homophone in which the word is spelt the same, pronounced the same way, but has a different meaning, so, for example:

homophones

One of the best ways to make sure you’re using the right word is to have someone else read over your work, whether that’s a beta reader, a fellow writer or an editor. Sometimes we’re so close to our work that we don’t notice these relatively simple errors. A fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference. and don’t rely on Spellcheck. it won’t always catch these errors.

Spotted any amusing or weird homophones? Do tell me about them by leaving a comment below.

‘Sleep’ by C. L. Taylor #BookReview #FridayReads

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All Anna wants is to be able to sleep. But crushing insomnia, terrifying night terrors and memories of that terrible night are making it impossible. If only she didn’t feel so guilty…

To escape her past, Anna takes a job at a hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum, but when seven guests join her, what started as a retreat from the world turns into a deadly nightmare.

Each of the guests have a secret, but one of them is lying – about who they are and why they’re on the island. There’s a murderer staying in the Bay View hotel. And they’ve set their sights on Anna.

Seven strangers. Seven secrets. One deadly lie.

‘Sleep’ is very well-written, has a fascinating setting, and, while I’m usually good at guessing the culprit, I had no idea who it was in the case, until very close to the end.

So the novel works very well on that level, and if a good solid mystery is what you’re after, then this should definitely be your cup of tea.

But, having read the blurb, and some of the reviews, I was really expecting this to be an edge of the seat, scary and thrilling read. Unfortunately, I didn’t find that to be the case. While there are all the elementsthere for a creepy, terrifying suspense, I just didn’t work for me on that level.

A shame, but I have previously read ‘The Fear’ by the same author which I really enjoyed, so I would definitely read more of C. L. Taylor’s work.

three and a half stars