Essays, Misc

How Tackling the Dreaded Synopsis Helped Me

The dreaded synopsis.

Yeah, I said it.

I mean, who decided to curse the humble writer with the necessity of creating such a diabolic thing? I haven’t met anyone yet who enjoys writing them, and most people I speak to don’t know how, or struggle to get something decent on the page.

There’s a lot of information out there on how to write one. My issue has always been not knowing how to organize my ideas. What do I include and what do I leave out? When an editor someone asks for a 1 page synopsis and my book is 75k words, how do I whittle it down without missing something important???? Isn’t everything important???

Well, yesterday I gave the thing another shot but only because I had to. Someone had posted that a publishing company publishing big names was accepting submissions and guess what? They require a synopsis.

From the film Psycho
From the film Psycho

So, I searched the Internet and found some great articles, which I will list later. The difference this time, I think, is that these articles broke down the process step by step, added essential bullet questions to focus the thought processes, and added a checklist to be used before the final draft. I pulled what I needed from them and then started to build the synopsis. Cutting the manuscript from 75k to 1.5K was actually much simpler than expected once I applied the tips/notes to a synopsis I’d written years ago. I ended up with something that is the closest I’ve ever had to a decent synopsis.

From www.traditionalmusic.co.uk
From http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk

But that’s just the beginning. Some of you know that I don’t lay out my stories from beginning to end before I write them. My stories and books are exploratory for me, and I like setting out with nothing more than the barest of information to see where I end up. I rarely take notes, and if I do I almost never look at them again. They serve mostly to answer some problem or to clarify an immediate issue. Some people like a cluttered desk, I prefer a cluttered creative mind. To me, once something goes down on paper, the idea loses their luster. So I just take things one step at a time, teasing and developing threads and inspirations as they come. That said, retracing my steps and making sense of what essentially came from chaos is a major challenge, and that’s where the synopsis is a game changer.

It’s amazing how a story that was crystal clear when it was written can fade over time. As I wrote the synopsis for The Purple Morrow, the foundation of the trilogy became clear to me again. As I responded to the questions about the characters’ main conflicts, wrote summaries for the key players and their motivations, defined the stakes, and wrote about how the story concluded, it was like digging through mud and laying hands on a precious stone. In fact, I was relieved to know that despite being born of clutter, the overarching plot and subplots were clear throughout the three books. For example, I was able to see their birth and growth from book 1 to 2 (Wolf’s Bane). Also, the process revealed plot-lines that need development as well as outright plot holes that needed to be dealt with in book 3 (Berserker).

So, what do you think? What’s your take on synopsis writing? What resources have you found helpful? You can post links below to help others visiting the page.

Resources:

Jane Friedman: http://janefriedman.com/2011/10/25/novel-synopsis/

Fiction Writer’s Connection: http://www.fictionwriters.com/tips-synopsis.html

Writer’s Relief: http://writersrelief.com/blog/2013/01/5-common-synopsis-mistakes-that-fiction-writers-make/

Thanks for reading!

Author Interviews, Misc

Conferences and Public Speaking: Cairo Amani Reveals Another Side of Writing

Hello, all! I’m always thrilled when my friends do something cool when it comes to writing. I recently learned that Cairo Amani, who has graced us with their presence many times already, has done something extremely neat: spoken at an arts conference about literature. So, of course I had to find out more.  Please stick around! You won’t want to miss it, and if you’re interested in this kind of activity, maybe this will encourage you to get out there and try it. 🙂

Cai! It’s great to have you back. Can you summarize the purpose of this conference?

Steampunk to Afrofuturism was a two-day conference that offered space for writers, musicians, artists, and academicians to explore, expand upon, and rethink the implications of speculative humanities

image (3)

Why was it important to you to participate in it?

Science Fiction and Fantasy is such a huge part of our world and our upbringing and it has the potential for so much more than we realize. We are born hearing fairy tales not realizing that those fairy tales did and still can have relevance to our everyday lives. We use fantasy stories to teach kids, manners, trust, respect and then we stop. But what if we continued? The conference asked us as readers and artists to rethink the implications of Speculative Humanities–and we absolutely should.

I love those points about how, at a certain point, we stop using fantasy to teach and to socialize youth, as well as to deal with important life questions. I believe childhood that thirst for the fantastic never really goes away, and that we continue to seek it in some forms throughout our lives.

How did you go about getting to be a speaker?

Most events have a “Call for Papers”. I try to do a search for calls weekly, to see if there are any that pertain to speculative fiction, that are open (no membership required) and where my subject matter may fit. Then I send in an abstract, which is a short summary of my presentation. Then I wait–because so much of writing is about waiting.

How did you manage your nerves?

image (1)I am not sure I ever did. I went with friends, I called my best friend on the phone just minutes before the panel began–and then I made the audience laugh. Throughout my entire career my plan has always been to make the audience laugh. When you open with a joke the crowd is ready to trust you–when you laugh with the crowd, you become ready to trust them.

How does speaking at this event fit into your long-term writing goals?

My ten-year goal is to be a professional scholar–meaning I’d be completely self-sustained by writing, teaching and public speaking. Writing queer people and people of color into mainstream stories is my form of activism. But those stories tend to be less popular on shelves. Meaning, I have to work twice as hard to find a place for my stories, to make a place for my stories. Public speaking allows me to show people that there is a need while also inspiring them to fill the need–so I’m not the only one.

What was your favorite part of the experience?

After the whole thing was over, there was a luncheon for all the speakers. I feel like it’s super rare that I get to sit around a table with a bunch of other Nerds of Color and talk shop. It was exhilarating!

 What was the essence of what you spoke about?

image (2)My presentation “Harry Potter Could’ve Saved Michael Brown” addressed how more diversity in children’s literature could lesson Xenophobia as those children grow to be adults. It also touched on how diverse literature that already exists could easily replace the texts we do read.

Message to our readers today?

Life isn’t Tetris, there’s not always going to be a place for you to snuggly fit yourself. But don’t let that discourage you. Think about where you want to be and then create that space. Don’t wait for people to realize they need you–show them they need you. Then be present.

… … ‘life isn’t Teris’. Love that.

How can readers contact you to learn more about you and your future activities?

Please visit my website to shoot me an email. There is also a “Find Cai” tab-which leads you to my calendar. http://www.cairoamani.com. I hope to speak to you soon.

Thanks for checking out Cai’s incredible experience. Please leave Cai a message below and/or go check out her website and drop her a line there. Also, she is speaking at an event this weekend called: AFROFUTURISM | Conference: Designing new narratives to empower the African Diaspora. Check out the Facebook page for details!

Have a great rest of the week! 

Essays, Misc

When You Are Discouraged

I haven’t posted many articles about my ‘writer’s experience’ lately, mostly because I figured a series of depressing posts featuring my rants and raves wouldn’t be very interesting. Okay, maybe interesting but not very useful.  We all face moments of frustration and disappointment when we strive to succeed at something we are passionate about. The challenge becomes how to get out of that black hole and what to do with ourselves once we do. 

Months ago, when the first phase of this downward spiral hit, I was coming to grips with reality: finding success as a writer is extremely hard. Not to mention that no matter how good our writing might be, that is no guarantee that an agent or publisher will want to work with us.   

Reality check number two: wanting to reclaim control of my book, I cancelled the contract with the company that published it, but now I had the monumental job of doing everything myself: republishing the book, marketing and promoting it, figuring out the numbers and following stats and purchases, if there were any. I felt like I had made a huge mistake. The burden is massive. Fact is, I just don’t have the financial or time resources necessary to sell my books the way the experts say I should. And, I’m not an island. I have kids, a household to maintain and a fulltime job. No matter how much I wish otherwise, I can’t just dump my job to write fulltime. In order to maintain balance in my life, I had to sacrifice writing time to be present elsewhere. It was that, or burn out. 

Still, this current phase was different. I wasn’t feeling good about my writing. I’d produce something I thought was good, but the comments I got back all seemed negative to me. Then the doubts set in. Had I lost my touch? Were people just not into what I was writing? Did they not get it? And so on. And on…and on.

image from youthvoices.net
image from youthvoices.net

Part of this comes from the writing group I joined. The group itself is great. I love the social aspect. And chatting about the art-form we are passionate about while working together to improve our pieces is wonderful. However, we each have our individual styles, most often skewing towards literary fiction. I have often felt a little like a fish out of water. Sometimes I wondered if I would be better off in a genre-oriented group. But a big part of the reason I joined was to benefit from the lit-oriented environment. 

Anyway, I finally broke. And it was this breaking that led to getting out of that black hole. Below are two of the main things I learned: 

  1. Talk to the right people. I have a small circle of internet writing friends I trust, and they gave me a place to vent. I’m sure I tried their patience, but I appreciate their concern and the time they gave me. Then someone in the writing group mentioned an upcoming writing retreat, so I took a chance and contacted the host. Her name is Lise Weil, professor, founder of literary magazines, and award-winning writer, though I didn’t know this when we spoke. (Thank goodness because I would felt intimidated otherwise). Mrs. Weil ‘got’ my problem right away. When she voiced my own suspicion that my writing world had been ‘shaken up’, I immediately relaxed. The tension seeped out of me, like someone had just sucked the poison from a snake bite. Just having someone name your problem and empathize with you can get you back on track. Needless to say, I will be attending the retreat and I will be blogging about that. 🙂
  2. Always come back to your centre. Exploring new writing styles led me away from my own Voice. This insecurity caused me to seek approval and validation from others and to concluding my work was bad when things didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. I forgot that failure doesn’t mean the work itself is bad, or that I suck. It just means I need to work harder. And I must be patient. Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how I was feeling and inspiration led me to bang out a flash fiction piece to accompany it. It was raw and fuelled by angst, but it felt great to put my feelings in prose. The piece even won a flash fiction contest I was encouraged to participate in. Last weekend, I went for breakfast with Sharon from my group again, and we wrote short pieces based on paintings hanging in the restaurant. I had no idea what to write, but I shut out my doubts and let my fingers do the work. I was thrilled with the result.  The point is, these experiences reminded me that writing from the heart is what makes me happy, and that I most enjoy writing when I don’t always know where the story is going to go.  I feel alive when I’m not trying to be this or that kind of writer. When the most important critic of anything I write is me because what is on paper is my truth. 

And that is what I learned. I’m going back to basics, back to what makes me love writing in the first place—pure self-expression. Some will get on board and some won’t. I may never become famous, and people might not ‘get’ or like my work. But at least every piece will be me.

Picture by Amanda Staley
Picture by Amanda Staley