Jilly: Cut and Paste

Cut and PasteHappy Fourth of July tomorrow to the other Ladies, and to all American readers of 8LW!

I’d love a day or two of picnics and fireworks, but what with the constitutional upheavals over here, the incessant rain, and the many things I still have to accomplish before I leave for RWA Nationals, my fun will have to wait until I get to California.

This week’s writing task was to nail the Dreaded Synopsis for my romantic fantasy WIP. Or rather, a couple of synopses, since I needed a 500-word version and another that could be up to ten double-spaced pages. Synopsis writing is a necessary evil that sucks the creative life out of me, which is why I’ve been putting it off.

We learned in class at McDaniel that the opening pages of a story will show if you can write, but a synopsis will demonstrate whether you can plot. I understood that intellectually, but I never really embraced the concept until a couple of years ago, when I tried my hand at judging contests. I would read an entry that really grabbed my imagination and note my expectations for the rest of the story based on the promises I thought the author had made to me as a reader. Then I’d move on to the synopsis and discover that the rest of the book veered off in an entirely different direction, the main characters changed goals or behaved in a way that took me completely by surprise, new characters arose from nowhere, or there was no coherent plot at all. Perhaps the problems arose because the contestants hadn’t actually written the rest of the book yet. Whatever the reason, it was an eye-opener.

The painful benefit of writing a synopsis is that when you boil a story down to the bare bones, flaws in the structure become glaringly obvious. The exercise highlights every leap of logic, inconsistency and plot hole that got cunningly glossed over in the drafting phase. Which is a good thing, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.

In the past I’ve tried listing the turning points and then expanding those and smoothing them together. I’ve tried writing it from scratch as a 500-word short story. I’ve tried listing the scenes in an outline and blending them. I went through all of those processes this time around, and I got an end product that made me feel something wasn’t quite right.

I couldn’t pinpoint the problem so I tried something new. I wrote the scenes on library cards, used different colors for different characters and events, tacked them on to a piece of board and shuffled them around. For some reason, the exercise got my brain really engaged with the story structure. I changed a few things around, realized a few things were missing and others I really liked didn’t belong in the story, and then the synopsis pretty much wrote itself. It may not be an enthralling read, but I think it’s a competent piece of workmanship.

I’m not artistically inclined, so my storyboard wasn’t pretty (see photo above). What I wrote on the cards was a simplistic version of information I already had on my computer, but something about physically assembling the cards and sticking them on the board made my mind respond differently. I’m really pleased with the outcome, and I’ll definitely try this again in the future.

Do you have any tips for tricking your brain into taking a fresh look at something? Could be the Dreaded Synopsis, or your first draft, or something entirely different.

PS Sorry about the tea taxes, and all that 😉 . Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

7 thoughts on “Jilly: Cut and Paste

  1. What seems to work best for taking a fresh look at things for me is to talk to someone about it. Either as I’m telling my story or from their reaction to it, and the questions they ask, new ideas pop up.

    • I always thought I was a ‘write the first draft with the door closed’ kind of person, but I found out recently that talking the story through as I wrestle with it really helps me. I like it for brainstorming/problem solving, too, so why not structure? Hm. Must cogitate 🙂 .

  2. This is exactly how I’ve trained conference programmers and business book authors to create detailed TOCs (tables of contents) for years now! I’m thrilled to hear you use it as an aid for fiction plotting as fiction plot is my ginormous weakness and it never occurred to me I could use my old comfy tools for it.

    • Anne, I’m glad you’re thrilled – how funny that you know this technique so well and never thought to apply it to plotting fiction. It was exactly what I needed. Wishing you ginormous success with all your plots from now on 😀 .

  3. Ameri-exit seems to have worked out for a few hundred years, at least, so tea taxes are forgiven. (-: I think I speak for all Americans on that (lololol, as if).

    I really like the synopsis, because I haven’t had to consider it as a marketing tool yet. It’s solely a technique to see if I know where my story is going (someday, I’ll have to use it to pitch my story with, and THAT synopsis will be hard to write). I think it’s important not to think of it as an end, but a means, and a means that must be repeated often throughout the story. Whenever one is blocked?

    I don’t know that it’s really helped me when I’ve been blocked. It’s always been a part of my process to make an outline at some point when I’ve written non-fiction, but that doesn’t work as well for fiction for me because when I write non-fiction, I write the outline when I have most of the facts. For fiction, I am discovering the facts through writing, and then when I’m done writing, I generally don’t have to write an outline because it’s written. (At least, short form gets done that way. Long form? A struggle.)

    What helps me when I’m blocked is to take some time. Sleep. Meditate. Watch movies and read books that are not close to the genre, but maybe close to the problem. Random stuff can be best, but it’s really a lottery when one chooses to write random stuff.

  4. No worries about the tea taxes. Evidently we’re sending you American football, so what goes around comes around! 🙂

    I have not tried this card-arranging approach for a synopsis or anything else, but it might be in my future as I work on this project. I agree with you about talking things through, though—that’s always helped me a great deal.

  5. Pingback: Elizabeth: Self-Publishing 101 – Taglines, Loglines and Concepts – Eight Ladies Writing

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