A Writing Book Worth Adding To Your Library


So it's no secret that I'm kind of a glutton for writing tips, techniques, and insight. It's one of the reasons I maintained a blog for writers for over two years and still have the occasional post on writing here. There's always more to discover. I can never learn enough about this thing that I do for a living. (And maybe secretly I'm hoping to run across that tip that makes this whole crazy writing process easier. Ha! See, I'm delusional as well.) 

So even though I have a shelf full of books on craft already, I do occasionally let myself wander to the writing section at the local Barnes and Noble. This usually results in hours sitting on the floor in front of that section, skimming the books until I find the ones that I can't put down. This past weekend, I had a little time and went on a bit of a shopping spree, buying three new writing books. (I was supposed to be shopping for clothes. That didn't go so well.)

I've only made it through one of the three pictured above so far, but I wanted to share that one with you.

The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises


Successfully starting and finishing a publishable novel is often like fighting a series of battles. You not only have to work hard to shape memorable characters, develop gripping plots, and craft dazzling dialogue, but you also have to fight against self-doubts and fears. And then there's the challenge of learning to navigate the ever-changing publishing industry.

That's why best-selling novelist James Scott Bell, author of the Write Great Fiction staples Plot & Structure and Revision & Self-Editing, came up with the ultimate novel-writing battle plan: The Art of War for Writers.

You'll find tactics and strategies for idea generation and development, character building, plotting, drafting, querying and submitting, dealing with rejection, coping with unrealistic expectations, and much more.

With timeless, innovative, and concise writing reflections and techniques, The Art of War for Writers is your roadmap to victory.

This was a quick read but it was full of wisdom for both new and experienced writers. Like I said in my review below, I pretty much love everything James Scott Bell has to say. If you're not following him on The Kill Zone, fix that now. : )

Here's my Goodreads review...

The Art of War for WritersThe Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm discovering that I just kind of love everything James Scott Bell has to say about writing. His advice is always to the point and eminently practical, and he gives great examples to boot. This is an easy, fast read but it's filled with great nuggets of wisdom. The last section is more focused on writers who are still aspiring to publication. But I found the first two parts, especially the section focused on craft to be chock full of tips I wanted to write on index cards and pin up around my office. A great addition to any writer's craft library.

View all my reviews


For other suggestions on some of my favorite craft books, check out this post:  Twelve Writer Woes and the Books to Cure Them 


What's your favorite book on writing? Or which craft book have you gotten invaluable information from?

The (Not So) Dreaded Synopsis

We've all heard the term the "dreaded synopsis", right? Yes, that horrible beast of thing you have to write summarizing a whole 100k book into just a few scant pages. It's like a dark cloud hanging over you. I know I'm not the only one who queried the agents who didn't require a synopsis first just so I could avoid writing  the damn thing. (Tell me I'm not the only one who did that.)

I mean, what's to like about the thing? You have to cut out parts you want to put in, your voice can get drained because you have so little room to work with, you don't have space to talk about that kickass secondary character you worked in. God, why do agents/editors put us through this form of torture? *insert melodramatic music here*

Okay, so I thought all those things. Every time I had to write a synopsis for a completed book I wanted to bang my head with a blunt object. It was painful. The writing, not the banging, I didn't actually do the blunt object thing. 

So when I got my *cue angels singing* book deal, I thought--yay, down with the queries and synopses for-evah!


Queries and synopses NEVER go away, dude. They just get called different things. The synopsis becomes a proposal and then the query becomes writing your back cover copy. (Yes, you will end up writing a lot of your back cover copy because the marketing department hasn't read your book so probably aren't going to get the blurb just right.)

And guess what, with proposals, now you have to write your synopsis BEFORE YOU WRITE THE BOOK. *plugs ears to block out the collective screams of pantsers everywhere* 

As a pantser, I can tell you I was absolutely terrified of doing this. I don't plot ahead. I don't know what the story is going to look like until I write it. I actually was trying to figure out how I could write the book really fast just so I didn't have to write up a proposal. But alas, I'm not that fast of a writer. And yes, it'd actually be kind of nice to get a book deal and confirmation that said book will be published one day before I write the actual book.

So after going to a few workshops on writing synopses, off I went to draft synopses for books 3 and 4 with deep fear in my heart.

And guess what I discovered?

Writing them before you've written the book is SO MUCH EASIER. Like wow. Like I finished one synopsis each day. For reals. And Sara, my lovely agent, liked them!

And I realized all this time why writing them after is so hard. After you've finished the book, you know every little detail and nuance of your story. You have a buttload of information you're trying cut down to the bones. But all that content can overwhelm you. You can lose perspective on what is most important to get across.

However, when you try to draft it before you've written the story, all you can do is write it in broad strokes. You don't know the details yet, so you only focus on the big turning points. And bam--there's your synopsis. 

I'd heard of people writing queries before writing their books and thought that was nuts, but now I get it. You're not locking yourself into some strict guideline like an outline would. You're just giving yourself a general map. You put yourself on the right highway even though you may take unexpected side streets along the way. It's really been a revelation to me.

So here are my...

Five Quick and Dirty Tips For Writing a Synopsis:


1. Try writing it before you write your story--even if you're a pantser. (Haven't you been listening to my testimonial? "This is life-changing, man"--she says in her Cheech & Chong voice)

2. Set aside a paragraph each for your two (or three) main characters at the beginning and fill in their backstory.

This was something I learned in the workshops I went to. We often get bogged down in the synopsis because we're in present tense and trying to work in the characters' backstories at the same time, which makes things feel disjointed. So just pull the backstory out as a separate thing. You can structure the synopsis with headings like this:

  • Hero--His backstory and the important little tidbits about him (one paragraph)
  • Heroine--Her backstory and a few things about her. (one paragraph)
  • Antagonist/Villain/Etc--one paragraph
  • Summary: "As the story opens..."<--This is where the summary starts. Your opening. You can focus on the action now that the backstory is already fleshed out.

3. Don't worry about subplots and all your secondary characters. 

Stay focused on the main plot thread, goal, motivation, conflict, and characters.

4. Don't lose your voice.

I went to one workshop where the presenter said you pretty much have to lose your voice in a synopsis. I totally disagree. I have read and written some very voice-heavy synopsis and think they're more compelling that way. (Note: This is not writing the summary in the voice of your character, but in your author voice and style. If your story is dark and  ominous, your synopsis should read that way as well.)

5. Get in and get out.

Yes, you'll read on some websites that a synopsis can be one page for every 20 pages of prose. Well, really, who wants to write and/or read that long a synopsis? If I wrote one that long, I'd no longer want to write the story because I would've already told it (the pantser brain.) You can summarize a full-length novel in 1-5 single-spaced pages in my opinion. My synopsis for book 3, including the character paragraphs, was 2.5 pages. The one for book four was 3.5. If you're venturing into 8-10 page land, you haven't cut it down to the most important parts yet.

So there, try those things and I bet you'll be able to scratch out that "dreaded" that always precedes the word "synopsis". You may even find it *gasp* fun like I did.

So how do you feel about the synopsis? Have you ever tried writing one before you write the story? If so, are you a plotter or pantser? What tips do you have that help you write a synopsis?

*This is a repost from Fiction Groupie last year. I'll be back from RT Con tomorrow and will return to my normal blog schedule. :)