Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Villians of a different ilk

By CiCi Barnes

Before I regale you with my wit and wisdom of the day, let me say "Happy St. Paddy's Day" to all you Irishmen out there. May the wind always be at your back.


The word evokes different images in all of us. We’ve talked quite a bit about the villains we love to hate and the villains we actually like.

Today, I would like to talk about a different kind of villain. The one who makes me cringe just at the thought of him. The one I dread confronting above all others in my endeavors toward getting published. A necessary villain if one is to succeed in writing.

The dreaded synopsis.

Let’s all imagine the cartoonish Snidely Whiplash for a moment, sneering lips, twirling mustache, evil laugh. That’s my synopsis lurking in the shadows.

He hides behind a cape, in disguise, ready to pounce on me when I least suspect it. I’m writing along, getting the hang of the writing do’s and don’ts. I’m making progress, up to three chapters in my WIP du jour. I send my work out to critique partners for general consensus, then take their suggestions and revise my first three chapters. I look up contests for dates and guidelines. I go back to my first chapter to edit, revise, critique, and revise yet another time. Then, back to the guidelines again.

Send in the first chapter and synopsis, it says.

I suck in a deep breath. Synopsis? Nooooooooooooooo.

Snidely Synopsis whips out his rope and lashes me to the chair, twirls his menacing black moustache and throws out a laugh. “Bwaahhhhaaaaa. Write me, write me, my damsel in distress,” he says, all oily and sneering.

The back of my hand goes to my forehead. “No, no, no,” I say with an exaggerated shake of the head on each denial. “I can’t write a synopsis right now. I’m not finished with the book yet. I don’t know what my characters are going to do.”

Therein lies the crux of the situation. My characters take off on a journey of their own once I’m into my ‘pants in the chair and fingers on the keys’ mode. No matter, that I’ve written a carefully planned outline, time line and detailed characterization charts. My characters laugh at me. What? You want me to do that? Ha! I laugh in your face.

They are definitely in cahoots with old Snidely Synopsis.

How can I write a synopsis without knowing the entire story? I know my starting point and my destination, but the journey is a mystery at this point. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. It’s like taking a trip to a place you’ve never been before without a map, or should I say, GPS, in this day and time. My characters have their own ideas. Often they’ll fight with each other on which route to take, who leads and how fast they want to get there.

Snidely continues to crack the whip and demands, “Write! It only takes one or two pages, woman.”

Gasp! “You can’t summarize a book in one or two pages.”

My first synopsis in the world of writing romance was a detailed, chapter-by-chapter event almost as long as the book itself. I managed to get it down to ten, but knew it would never fly. I elaborated on unimportant stuff and left out some poignant details. Nevertheless, I whittled it down to seven. The first five pages detailed the first three chapters nicely, then the last two pages smacked in a ‘here’s how they solved it and lived happily ever after’ sentence. Failure was creeping up behind me before I’d really gotten out of the starting gate. I can write a 100,000 word novel but I can’t write a two-page synopsis? What’s wrong with me?

Enter my hero to foil the nasty Snidely Synopsis. A helpful soul who tells me to get Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict book. I did.

In it, she writes: A character wants a goal because she is motivated but she faces conflict.

Aha! (We all know about those moments, don’t we?) I throw in my heroine’s name and what she’s wanting out of life, then I relate what is motivating her toward this goal and finish with a flourish of what’s holding her back. Act I, Scene II – I now switch to my hero’s name, explain his big to-do and why he can’t have it and I’m on a roll. Toss in the old who, what, where, when and why deal – I remember my English teachers from the Dark Ages pounding this into my brain, but I had pushed it aside until Snidley Synopsis entered stage left – and now I have a workable synopsis that doesn’t fry my brain and scare away the editors and agents. All the little details my characters want to throw in can wait for the book itself. The big picture is on the page, at last.

I won’t go into all the details here, but you’re in luck. Georgia Romance Writers is having a workshop on April 18, and guess who our speaker is?

Ding, ding. We have a winner. Yes. Deb Dixon in all her glory, goal, motivation, and conflict. You can go to the website – www.georgiaromancewriters.org – to get the rest of the who, what, where, when and why.

There you have it. The villain of my writing career. I’ve managed to crack the whip at old Snidely and beat him back a little. So, now I ask you, what is your writing villain? Let’s have the gory details, and if you’ve tamed that villain, we’d all like to know how.


Debbie Kaufman said...

Absolutely hysterical CiCi. I just went through my own synopsis drama trying to get one ready for the Daphne contest. Two pages, double-spaced. I wrestled it to the ground, but just barely.

Tammy Schubert said...

Ah, the dreaded synopsis. Yes, that's one of my villains. The other one is the gremlin inside. The one that constantly looks over my shoulder and says, "Nope. Not good enough. Who do you think you are trying to be a writer?" The list of negativity with this little gremlin goes on and on. It's a constant battle, but one I plan to win. I'll face a dreaded synopsis any day of the week rather than listen to my gremlin.

Tami Brothers said...

Great post, Cici!!! Definitely something that will resonate with a lot of us!!!

I LOVE Deb Dixon and can't wait until her workshop next month.

Thanks for putting a hilarious spin on such a scary part of the writing process...

Keep at it, girl!


Tami Brothers said...

Ohhhh!!! And Happy St. Patrick's Day to all of you, too!!!

Susan May said...

A synopsis still gets the best of me. I like them better after I realized it's like telling someone about a movie while stopped at a red light-High highpoints/relationshop. I, at least, see a need for them now.

Anna Steffl said...

I totally agree that the easiest approach is working with the GMC framework. Trying to smush down the story didn't work me, either.

If it is any consolation, I've never read a synopsis that made me say wow, I gotta read this book. I judged a biggie contest winner. Man, the manuscript was extra-fabulous great. If I had the whole book, I would have read it right there and then in one sitting. But the synopsis...I actually laughed (not in a good way) when I read it. Of course, I haven't read thousands of these babies, so there probably are ones out there that set pants on fire.

Great post, Cici.

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi CiCi,

Wow, girl, you put a nice humorous spin on an icky subject. Synopsis' are my weakpoint...right next to query letters when you're not able to send a sampling of your writing. The fact that I've never had anyone ask for a sampling after reading my query has GOT to say something about my query...so guess that's my other villain.

Happy Patty day to you also and consider yourself pinched if you don't have green on!

Great post.


Dianna Love said...

LOL - Snidely Synopsis. That's too funny. I feel for those of you battling that evil villain.I don't miss having to do the bloody things at all, but at least now I have a way to pull one together with less effort than when I first started writing.

Deb is wonderful and you're going to love her workshop. Wish I was here - I'd be at the meeting (I'm speaking in Las Vegas that weekend). Please tell her I said hello. (and wish she'd visit more often)

Here's a St. Patrick Day wish for all of you:

May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light,
May good luck pursue you each morning and night.
~Irish Blessing

CiCi Barnes said...

Synopses, gremlins, and queries. Oh, my!

I see we've all got our demons of the writing world. But as you said, Debbie, we've got to wrestle them to the ground and show them who's boss. Especially, that little gremlin, Tammy. Put a choke-hold on that fellow, then send him into the ropes.

I'm glad to see so many of you, like me, wrestling the synopsis. I guess I shouldn't be glad, but I mean it's nice to know I have company - as in, misery loves it. When I get frustrated and complain to the world, there's someone out there who can sympathize.

Diana, I hope to one day be in your corner of the writing world, where those necessary evils are less overwhelming. Have a great weekend in Las Vegas (and no, what happens there, doesn't have to stay there. You can give your fellow GRW members all the juicy details.)

Love to all and Erin Go Braugh!


J Perry Stone said...

Count me in. I HATE the synopsis. Truth is, I think it might actually be easier to write a synopsis before you ever start the book than after. Less temptation to include the tangents.

Debbie, I'm still flabbergasted yours is 1 1/2 pages.

CiCi Barnes said...

I think you're right, J, except, in my case, my characters would assassinate it right out of the starting gate. They love to make their own tangents.


Carol Burnside said...

What black hole did my comment go into? (sigh) I'll see if I can re-create.

Carol Burnside said...

I'm with J. Perry. Wrestling the synopsis into submission before writing the story is SO much easier. Of course, the written story seldom resembles the synopsis because I'm more pantser than plotter. But hey, I have the GMC bones to work with! *g*

Marilyn Baron said...

The synopsis is right up there in the villain department. What you said was funny and so true. You can write 100,000 words and that's easier than writing a 5-7 page synopsis. I'm looking forward to the Deb Dixon workshop, too. It would be difficult to get a synopsis down to two pages but I've done it.

Marilyn Baron

Ana Aragón said...

Great post, CiCi!

I've tried to write the synopsis after writing the book and that's a killer. I prefer writing the synopsis before I get into the story. Then I use the synopsis as a roadmap of my story. When things change (I'm a pantser, of course!) I then go back to the synopsis and make changes. I keep doing this throughout the story.

When I write "The End" the story for the most part is encapsulated in the synopsis. I haven't felt the need to "add" in the fluff, because I never had it in the beginning.

Of course, that's just the last two books. Before that...read CiCi's post.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all!


Cyrano said...

I loved this post and all of your clever references to Snidley, that dastardly synopsis villain. Very, very funny!
I think every author at one time or another has had trouble writing a synopsis. And getting the bugger down to five pages...Geeeesh! How the hell do we do that?
It's funny that you mentioned writing five pages on the first three chapters and then stuffing the remainder of the story into the last two. I've done that many, many times, and still do. I wonder why that happens? I wonder what the psychology behind that is? Argggg, synopsis, that dreaded, evil, antagonist. Will we ever learn how to get it right? I certainly hope so.
I guess the old saying might apply here, Practice makes...well, almost perfect.
Good luck to you Cici. Foil old Snydley and write a short, sweet synopsis for all of us.
Have a beautiful evening!

Linsey Lanier said...

Better to have a great book and so-so synopsis than the other way around. I just got The Plot Doctor's workbook (Missy Tippens recommended it at our last meeting) and realized I needed a synopsis for my WIP to figure out what happens next and to keep everything straight.

So I'm going through the grind without even a contest to spur me on! But when I get it done, I will no longer be stuck.

Cici, you are so right. The synopsis is one of the wickedest villains I know.

Very funny and entertaining post!


CiCi Barnes said...

Nice to know I have plenty of company. Maybe we can all band together and defeat the dastardly Snidely Synopsis.

Also, glad to know I have some fellow pantsers out there. Kudos to those who can plan and stick to it. My characters just don't allow it, so I quit trying to have it all oraganized before I start the story.

Thanks to all who commented. Onward and upward to another day of writing and fighting off our writing villians.


Maxine Davis said...

I don't know why I'm a day late leaving this. I'm definitely part Irish - maiden name is Kelley, but I didn't really celebrate yesterday so I can't use that as an excuse.

Your post is fantastic and so very true and so helpful. Thanks.