Sarah Ann Hall

Reporting on writing in progress or, more probably, not; practising flash fiction.

Posts Tagged ‘synopsis

Writers’ Group – 1; Panster – 0

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At last month’s Writers’ Group we discussed submission letters, reading ours to the group and taking comments. The three sentences in my letter describing my novel elicited a question about what it is about my character that makes her choose to stop having chemotherapy treatment. My colleague said, ‘I suppose that’s in the synopsis.’ Well, no, I thought, but didn’t let on.

Being the panster I am, it was only when he made this comment that I realised my character is a control freak. As I looked from a distance at the emails she writes, and her behaviour though the timeframe of the book, this is blindingly obvious. I have been too close to see before, worrying more about the grammar of the writing than the purpose of my characters.

I did not change my submission letter, but I did re-work my synopsis. I introduced the newly identified, but always there, key personality trait and did a little tweaking while I was at it, removing redundancy, re-ordering events. I sent both out, with the first three chapters of the book, as I have been throughout the year, expecting nothing in return. But, hey presto, at the beginning of this week I received an email inviting me to pitch my novel. I am flabbergasted, over the moon, and completely unprepared. Thankfully I have a couple of weeks to learn ‘how to pitch a novel,’ as well as get it written and rehearsed. I am going to make sure I don’t trip over my shoes and waste this opportunity.

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Written by Sarah Ann

November 11, 2017 at 12:26 pm

I am not a plotter

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Last week, while house-sitting for a friend, I had the opportunity to write/ edit unhindered without feeling any guilt at closeting myself away or needing a quiet space. I did not read much of the reading book I had taken with me as, once my brain was back in the writing groove, I didn’t want anyone else’s thoughts in my head for fear of contamination.

On the train journey home I didn’t want to read either, so forced myself to concentrate on a short story prompt. I had a picture of a hare to work with. This has been on my list of jobs to do since the start of the year, if not before. I have thought about it a number of times, and even written down a few trigger words, but got no further. Sitting on the train there were no distractions and I made myself think about hares – boxing, spring, new beginnings. A female character emerged recovering from a broken relationship – boring. I looked out the window at passing countryside – green emerging from brown gave me new beginnings again. The weather was overcast and yielded no inspiration. What else had I spent the previous week doing? I’d looked after a child and made some enquiries about dance classes. My character became a child dancer. I zeroed in on the boxing hare. My child dancer became male, one who had had prospects, but no longer. He was taking up boxing instead. Why?

As you can see, I am not a plotter and my story grew as ideas changed through the initial scribble: uninterested parents became loving ones; the father developed a job as a risk assessor in order to be fanatical about insuring everything. After an hour, and my first change of train, I estimate I had written 700-words of a story needing lots of work, as well as research about ballet. Once redrafted the story might still be full of holes, but it doesn’t matter because, with notebook and pen, I wrote a story. It has a beginning – a boy in hospital; a middle – how he got there; and an end – what he’s going to do next. I was happy to have achieved my hole-ridden story because I’m good at filling holes and by the eighth draft they will be.

Train journeys being what they can be, I also wrote two blog posts, including this one, and a haiku, before picking up my reading book and finally allowing my writing brain to relax.

 

Priorities for the next fortnight: re-draft synopsis of novel and submit; work on short stories.

Ongoing projects successfully met: I have blogged a week after my last post; I have drafted my novel synopsis and edited it once; I have written a new short story.

Fails (as before): blog reading is too low; Italian’s make great pasta; what’s a piano?

 

Written by Sarah Ann

March 22, 2017 at 9:08 pm

It’s a Pitch

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After two days of pacing a friend’s kitchen reading my manuscript aloud, I have decided that it is good enough for me to send off to seek agent representation. My friend is away and I’ve been house sitting. The neighbours hearing me repetitively tread bare floorboards, and a constant chatter in an otherwise empty house, must think I’m mad.

It is two years since I completed the last draft. The time gap allowed me to read without knowing what every next line would be. I even read sentences and sections I don’t remember writing, which was gratifying. Thirty pages in, I was pleasantly surprised and decided the book was good enough to go.

Reading out loud enabled me to find the missing words and letters, the sentences cut off during the previous edit, and missing punctuation. However, even with this slower, more careful pace, there were still typos and the odd missing word when I ran a final spell and grammar check after I made my current edits, all of which were minor and mostly word or flow related. I wonder if I will be ever rid of the need to tweak, but feel the book is ready for a professional edit. I lack confidence in the starts to my chapters; the ends are better and have a neatness or hook that pulls the reader on. I still have difficulty describing the plot succinctly, but there is a story with characters who are different from one another, and dialogue that flows and sounds real. I now have to write a synopsis in order to be able to get someone other than friends, family and fellow writers to read it. There is a synopsis based on the previous draft but at the moment I plan to start afresh and then compare with what went before to see how my approach and what each version says might differ. Tomorrow I will start the process of summarising 84000-words on one side of A4.

 

Priorities for the next fortnight: write synopsis of novel and submit; work on short stories.

Ongoing projects successfully met: I have blogged only a week and a day after my last post; I have crocheted 3 Easter eggs, although my other half says they look nothing like real ones. I can only say I followed the pattern.

Ongoing projects partially addressed: short stories have been considered and the odd word written; I have started to read my old boating diary project.

Fails (as before): blog reading is too low; Italian practise is non-existent; the piano is dustier.

 

Written by Sarah Ann

March 16, 2017 at 11:06 pm

What have I been doing? – I don’t know.

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I don’t know where the last few months have gone. I do know that I’m not good without a routine – I flit about and find things to do, but don’t necessarily do what I need to or should. With the clearance of my aunt’s home taking up more time than I could have imagined, I haven’t been blogging, I haven’t been writing, and I haven’t read much either.

In early December, I sent the first draft of an agent’s letter and synopsis of my WIP to the published mother of a friend. Useful advice was returned promptly – ‘… the letter is too long and contains irrelevant information; the synopsis didn’t grab me.’ Over Christmas and in early January I was busy with other things: hubby and I did some building work; I was physically tired; and my writing neurons were taking a break whether I liked it or not.

As January progressed and hubby went back to college, leaving me to my own devices, I caught up with emails, did lots of tidying, polished floors, practised some piano, and steered clear of the laptop keyboard and blogosphere. I didn’t try to write because I felt I wouldn’t produce anything useful. If I looked at my synopsis, I felt I would get bogged down in it, so I ignored it and tried to think about my WIP instead. When online, I didn’t seem to have time or inclination to read what anyone else was doing or writing.

In the last couple of weeks I have made two separate attempts at writing a synopsis, and I think that, with the second of these, I’ve cracked it. I’ve sent it to two of my most useful (in terms of constructive comments) beta-readers to ask them if they think it sums up my book. I have missed my deadline of the end of January to send my WIP to agents, but I don’t think I’ll be too far into February before it is in the post. And with that done, yesterday, I took the first steps towards catching up on some of the blogs I’ve missed over the last months. I don’t think I’m ready to return to the flash fiction circuit (I look at the prompts and my mind remains blank) but hopefully reading others’ stories will pull me back in again. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy exploring everyone else’s imaginations.

Written by Sarah Ann

January 30, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Progress on synopsis

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I have been left to my own devices for two whole days, read through my manuscript and the fourth draft of Pippa is complete. My initial thoughts on starting to re-read were, ‘Why did I think I could write?’ followed by, ‘This is going to take forever,” as I re-ordered four chapters. However, it is done and today was the day to write the synopsis.

When asked, ‘What’s it about?’ I have been able to sum up my story in a couple of lines – it’s about a woman dying of ovarian cancer; her plans, her fears and resolve; the reactions of her friends and family; and how they live the last year of her life together. On reading about how to write a synopsis, many sources suggest summarising each chapter and cutting and cutting until the story can be summarised on one side of A4. I tried that approach but, with 19 chapters alternated with at least one email from my main character, that’s 38-bits of action to record without introducing who everyone is, where they live and so on. After an hour and a half my head was hurting.

Thankfully I had made two previous attempts at writing a synopsis. In August I covered one side of A4 and had only reached the end of chapter two. In October, I scribbled a couple of summary paragraphs. These each contained a sentence or two of insight that I have been able to copy into my final version. Three and a half hours after starting I had one and a half sides of A4.

As a synopsis is supposed to mirror the language and style of the book, I have clumped chapters roughly into seasons and alternated the events described in each of these chunks with the period Pippa covers in her emails. The first draft of the synopsis is complete. Now I leave it to rest for a while. At the moment it is very much ‘tell’ and I don’t feel it ‘shows’ my story in its best light. I’ll work on that later because now it’s time to move on to the covering letter…

Written by Sarah Ann

December 12, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Normal service will resume …

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I had intended to write that, after weeks of feeling as if my head’s not been on my shoulders, life and writing are returning to normal. My muse has peeked out from the recesses of my mind, and descriptive imagery has flitted across my consciousness instead of just lists of things to do. I had planned to pick up the flash fiction baton once again, but I’m not sure I can yet do two things once.

Clearing my late aunt’s house, organising the funeral, liaising with bank, estate agent and family, has taken more of a toll than I had imagined. When I went on holiday in the summer, I itched to be writing, fought not to check flash fiction challenges and read blogs. Over the last couple of months, there has been no time, and I have lost my drive and inclination. The quick-firing neurons that dash off flash fiction stories have turned tail and disappeared. Over the last few weeks I have looked at the prompts, and even scribbled down a few lines, but nothing has fallen into place. If I came up with a story, it wasn’t finished before the challenge deadline.

While my writing has faltered, I have been reading. Following various sources of advice, I have looked for books similar to mine, found agents’ websites, and read books of the authors they represent. Reading for work rather than pleasure has been a release, enabling me to see the author behind the words; where they use a particular word or technique frequently. I gave up on one book when the writer used, ‘It was as if X had read his mind,’ to circumvent character dialogue twice in the first 20 pages. I noticed the plodding, over-bearing language of one historical novel, the continual repetition of another, as if the reader had the memory-span of a goldfish. I cringed at character dialogue designed to let the reader know a character was away at school that was written in such a way it informed the mother who had sent him there. And I got caught up and rushed through a contemporary crime novel, only to groan five minutes after I’d finished. I may be wrong, but are people really imprisoned on confession-only evidence these days? Would only one policeman know that the forensic evidence pointed to self-inflicted stab wounds while everyone else thought otherwise? I just need to adopt the same critical eyes and editorial mindset when I read back over my own WIPs.

I had so many plans at the end of the summer  but all deadlines have been passed. On the positive side, my recent reading has shown me how to end Pippa’s story. Beta-readers were concerned the book ended with a funeral. I have added an extra page or two so the reader can enjoy a happy ending, knowing life goes on. Over the next month, I plan to draft a ‘letter to agents’ and seek comment and advice on that from a friend’s mother, a published writer of many tomes. I will read and edit Pippa and polish it ready to send out come January.

A Year in 200 Words has suffered with me writing 200-words/ day for only two weeks out of the last two months. Still, I have 271 200-word entries and enough emotion and character development to work with in the future. And I have three weeks of December left to write about my character’s impending wedding.

My plan to publish my short stories has gone by-the-by. I might return to it, but for now I do not have the time or energy to commit to self-publishing and marketing. Maybe once the agent-ready draft of Pippa has been sent and is being read and rejected, I might revisit my short stories.

And I hope, slowly, to return to the blogosphere. I have an email account for my writing, separate from the one that copes with day-to-day correspondence. It has been neglected. My blog reading and commenting has been non-existent. Do I yet have the headspace to be able to focus on getting my work published traditionally, AND take up once more the pleasure and challenge of flash fiction? Watch this space.

Written by Sarah Ann

December 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm

WIP Update – Late August

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I haven’t written much about works in progress recently because there hasn’t been much to report. I have continued plodding away without any breakthroughs or revelations. It doesn’t help trying to do too many things at once.

 

(1) Having had 6 people read the third draft of my book Pippa (working title), I am about to complete the fourth (or it might be the fifth) edit, taking their comments into account. At some point I have to stop polishing and get a professional to read it. Being as I am a great one for procrastination (write lists of what I need to do and then do every job under the sun to avoid looking at the list) I asked for some help and emailed a friend. She works as an editor in Maths education publishing so I asked if she knows any fiction agents/ editors I might approach. (It’s not what you know…). In the process of writing this email I admitted that I had so far avoided attempting to write a synopsis. I’ve thought about it a lot but not managed to put finger to keyboard. It’s true what they say: telling someone you’re going to do something forces you to do it. I ended up with half a side of typed A4 before my brain started to hurt.

I haven’t yet done my reading on ‘how to write a synopsis’. There is a school of thought (learned during my PTLLS course last year) that says try something first to see what you know about a process before learning how to do it properly. You might surprise yourself by how much you already know. Regardless of the merits or not of the first draft of my synopsis itself, it did highlight that I seem to have mislaid a character right at the end that I hadn’t noticed and neither have any of my beta readers. It might not be important, but it is something to think about as I do my next edit and is something I can ask of the readers.

I have downloaded some notes on ‘how to write a novel synopsis’ and need to do the reading. Two weeks later, my friend hasn’t replied to the email.

 

(2) A Year in 200 Words (working title) was going quite well when I returned from holiday. I had lots of time to scribble in long hand (to type up later). However, picking up flash fiction challenges has given me less time to type, and filling my day with painting has given me less head space to write, so the entries have become quite boring. However, the process of living with characters every day has resulted in me knowing them quite well and I have ideas of how to develop their story and relationships. The 200-word daily entries will form a basic skeleton on which to build next year.

 

I have been reading all about mainstream and self-publishing, with a view to publishing (3) my old boating diaries and (4) an anthology of my short stories. I’ve collated together stories that have been shortlisted in competitions and started to give them a final edit prior to publication. I’ve even gone as far as contacting a couple of illustrators I know regarding book covers. My habit of procrastination had to give way at sometime.

 

And then there’s my next book …. an idea that popped into my head based on some experiences hubby reported recently. So the brain is willing, if only the flesh was more resistant to sleep.

 

 

 

Written by Sarah Ann

September 3, 2013 at 9:04 pm

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