The Writer’s Achilles’ Heel | Part 1


The Achilles Heel

Image by texmex5 via Flickr

There are two words that strike fear and tension into a writer’s mind:

Synopsis

Query

But if you want to be published, these are two steps that you will need to take to walk through the gateway of publishing. 

Why do these seemingly simple processes strike such fear into most writers?

It is time to take the arrow from Achilles’ Heel and use it to point you in the direction of Success.

After all haven’t you already achieved something incredible by creating a plot, writing a story and finishing a manuscript. Why then should these words stop so many writers in their tracks? Why are these two steps sometimes the ultimate Achilles’ Heel in a writer’s path to publishing success?

There are so many different “standardized” versions of a synopsis and a query. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that these two words can turn a confident creative into an unsure person filled with doubts. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a definitive list of rules of writing a good synopsis and thereby insuring an effective query. 

Most writers will try to put the SYNOPSIS off as long as possible until eventually we get that magic call/email that our manuscript has been found interesting enough to submit it. The excitement is soon paled by the looming terror of having to sit down and write a synopsis.

Perhaps as writers we are looking at this process back to front. Perhaps instead of leaving the synopsis to the end of the manuscript completion, we need to start compiling the synopsis during the writing process or even before we even start writing the story.

This is what I do. I start writing the synopsis while I am writing the first half of my first draft. For me a synopsis is not just a summarized version of the story that I am creating but it is a map that I am using to help plot my journey to my final destination: the climax and resolution of the story. 

There are no fail-proof methods to attack a synopsis, but here are some points that help me create a synopsis.

Every story I write or read starts with a character. Whether this be the Antagonist or the Protagonist, a story cannot happen without the main characters. You cannot stage a play without the principal actors. Once the main character is introduced, the story can begin. Everything else is just back-story that helps set a scene for the character to step into. Every protagonist needs an antagonist. This creates the CONFLICT which leads to the CLIMAX. The antagonist is usually the spark that sets the whole story alight. He/She is the reason that the Protagonist needs to ACT.

  • Think: Climax | Resolution | Beginning


This is the ultimate breakdown of your story. These are the most important points in your story, no matter what genre you write. Funnily enough, when I first get a story idea, what comes to me first is the crisis point then the what ifs start happening. That’s when I dig some more to get the beginning of the incident/story. Everything else in the plot arc of a story is just padding of these three plot points.

  • Voice & POV (Point of View)         

Who is telling this story? Are you, the writer, narrating it? Is your Protagonist telling the story? Is your Antagonist telling the story? Or is there a secondary character telling the story? These are the questions you need to think of to hear the VOICE of the story. The POV and the Voice gives the story and the characters life. Depending on which POV (who is telling the story?) you choose, the Voice will change. Like chinese whispers, each different person never tells the same story. The core elements may remain similar but the story is guided by who tells it.

  • The Story Arc | Conflict

This is your check list to make sure your story makes sense. Fiction must make sense. Truth can bend the rules of sense vs nonsense but fiction needs to be believable. Your story needs to have a timeline that works smoothly and each step in the journey needs to lead both the writer and the reader into the next step.

Once I have these four points worked out, I can write my story’s synopsis. Sometimes if I find that I am not sure of my character’s pathway to this story or their motivation, I will also use these four points to write a character synopsis. The synopsis does not need to be difficult nor does it need to be put off until the last unavoidable minute before you have to scratch one together in a wild panic. I also find that when I write a synopsis at the beginning of my first draft, it keeps me from hitting a block or stumbling point. Like a map, it gives me a clear path to my final destination. There may still end up being unexpected roadblocks but with just a few minutes looking back at my road map (SYNOPSIS) I am back on track.

If your story’s synopsis has become your Achilles’ Heel, try simplifying it for yourself. Even if you find you struggle with road blocks in your story, this way may just help you past them. By targeting these four points you may just find that writing a synopsis can in fact be a key to the difference between a good story and a great story. Don’t complicate things for yourself by over-analyzing the synopsis. You already have enough to do with writing and finishing the story as well as submitting it for acceptance or rejection.

Part 2 – Query will be posted on Friday so look out for that.

Coming up on Thursday, there is a guest post on a very common writing road block: Middle Book Blues.

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11 Comments

    • You are not alone. Writing readable prose is easy compared to blogging/ twittering /publicity. You just have to bite the bullet because that’s the way it is.
      And so do I.

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