Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Surprising tools in your writer's toolbox

Inciting incidents, voice, character arc, plot twists, cliche-benders, backstory weaving: these are all fantastic tools and devices used by the fiction writer.

On the other hand, the query letter and the synopsis are like the darkside - often referred to as the "dreaded query letter" and the "dreaded synopsis."

Therefore, I avoided them as long as possible. Though I did vaguely remember a post, maybe one of Elana Johnson's (great news about her, by the way: her debut book, Possession, releases today!) that recommended not waiting to write your query letter until you are done with your novel. In fact, write it as soon as possible during your drafting process (realizing of course that it would be a work in progress, too).That kind of stuck in my mind.

Nevertheless, I put it off. I had a 9 page outline, after all, and also one and two sentence versions of my pitch or logline; I couldn't see how a query letter could help my writing process (until it was time to query, of course). It's only 250-300 words, but querying seemed like the other side of the world. I waited until I had my first draft done, but that "don't wait" advice plagued me.

So before starting my revisions, I sat down and reviewed all the query letter tips I'd been collecting from browsing the blogosphere, and had my first stab at supposedly the hardest 250 words you'll ever write.

Yes, it was hard. And yes, that advice about "don't wait" was TRUE. The query letter forces you to find the most important things about your character, the conflict, and the consequences. It forces you to find what is unique and what has that certain "zing" that will make your story stand out and be noticed, and the one or two story questions that have the greatest potential for making readers want to find out more. Identifying these things made me realize how much more I needed to work them into the story during the revision process.

Same thing with the synopsis. I think the same advice applies. Don't wait until you think your novel is finished and polished. I figured the synopsis would be a piece of cake since I already had an outline. Not so. An outline is a tool for story-building, but like the query letter, a synopsis is a tool for story showcasing. Because a synopsis also requires a beginning, middle and ending, it really helped me clarify the structure of my novel, pull out crucial plot points and tighten things up. I wish I could describe the benefits of the synopsis writing  process more precisely. You think you have it all figured out, but both the query letter and the synopsis make you ask questions of your characters and your plot that you might overlook otherwise; or they make you look at your story a little differently - from more of an outside perspective.

For writing my synopsis, I used author Hilari Bell's article and this pdf produced by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers'.

For writing my query letter, I am indebted to wonderful posts by Nathan Bransford, Elana Johnson, QueryTracker, the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment, Jackee Alston, Shelley Moore Thomas, and most of all, Janet Reid, the Query Shark herself. I've read at least 100 querys on her blog, and her comments were so insightful. Not that I claim to have a polished killer query yet. Good queries take time, brainstorming and multiple revisions, just like good novels.

Here is the BEST QUERY ever. Or at least, the funniest. Still not sure who wrote it... but that's the point (grin). The comments are worth reading too for additional laughs, especially the "is this real?" and the "it'll never sell" comments.

And now it is time once again to 'fess up to my progress on Round of Words in 80 days goals. All I can say this past week is Fail. Blog posts are the only thing that got written or revised this past week. I have no excuses (the weather was finally nice here and it distracted me? Puh-lease!) Fellow writers and ROW80 friends, don't be kind. Be blunt.

What good is a query letter or synopsis without a polished novel? Ha. Still, what do you think? Wait or not wait when it comes to the query letter and synopsis?

Links to progress for Sheri Larsen (more great re-writing tips), Susan Kaye Quinn, and C. Lee McKenzie (finished short story, but lost her desktop again, smile).

p.s. Have you heard about #YAsaves and what prompted it? This is important. Lisa Gail Green has a great post on it.

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