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Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Posts Tagged ‘writetip’

15 Steps to Writing the Smart Synopsis

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 28, 2017

Do you dread writing a synopsis? If so, get used to it, because this tool is essential to your career as a writer. Not only is a synopsis necessary for a book proposal, but the sales force at your publishing house may use it to design your cover or to plan marketing materials for your book.

Smart Synopsis

A synopsis is a complete narrative of your story told in present tense. A synopsis should include essential plot points plus your character’s emotional reactions. It can act as a writing guideline while not being so rigid that your story can’t change. When you finish the actual writing portion, you can return to the original synopsis and revise it to suit the finished storyline. So how should you proceed?

1. Consider adding a tag line (i.e. one liner story blurb) on your first page before the story begins.

2. Open with a hook.

3. Use action verbs. Your story should be engaging as you convey it to the reader.

4. Make sure the story flows in a logical manner from scene to scene. In a mystery, present the crime, the suspects, and their secrets. Then show how the sleuth uncovers their hidden agendas and unravels the clues.

5. Avoid backstory. Stick to present tense and keep moving the story forward. Enter background events in small doses via dialogue or interspersed with action, and only if it applies to the current situation. Less is better. And don’t reveal too much up front. It’s best to keep the reader guessing.

6. Leave out minor characters, physical descriptions unless applicable to the storyline, and subplots unless critical to the resolution of the main plot.

7. Avoid snippets of conversation, point-to-point description of your character’s every move, jumping from one place to another without any explanation, gratuitous sex, or threats on a character’s life unless they evolve from the story.

8. Include your character’s emotional reactions.

9. Stay in the protagonist’s viewpoint as you would in the story. Use transitions if you switch viewpoints. Be careful of too much head hopping in a synopsis.

10. Show your character’s internal struggle as well as her external conflict. What’s inhibiting her from making a commitment to the hero? What is causing her to doubt her abilities?

11. Include the emotional turning points. For any genre, tell us what’s at stake for the heroes. What will happen if they fail?

12. In a romance, make sure you cover the goals and motivation of your hero/heroine, how they first meet, their romantic conflict, what leads up to the first kiss, complications that keep them apart, what they admire in each other, the black moment, and the resolution. What makes these two people right for each other that no one else can provide?

13. If it’s the first book in a series, you might begin with a short profile of your main character(s). For a mystery, offer a few paragraphs about the sleuth. For a romance, write a paragraph each about your hero and heroine. What do they hope to accomplish? What is keeping them from reaching this goal? Why is it important to them?

14. Explain the ending. In a mystery, this means you tell whodunit and why. In a romance, it’ll be the resolution of the romantic conflict.

15. What lesson will your protagonist learn in this story? How will she grow and change?

MYSTERY EXAMPLE FROM FACIALS CAN BE FATAL (Bad Hair Day #13)

Salon owner Marla Vail’s new day spa hits a snag when a client dies during a facial.

Screams emanating from next door draw salon owner Marla Vail’s attention. She rushes into the adjacent day spa to see a crowd gathered in front of a treatment room. It appears Rosana Hernandez, an aesthetician, was doing a facial on her first morning client. She’d put on the woman’s chemical mask and left the room for ten minutes. Upon her return, Valerie Weston was dead.

Since the receptionist had enough presence of mind to call 911, Marla enters the treatment room to see if CPR will help. It’s too late. The woman has no pulse, and her skin is clammy. The greenish cream mask clings to her face.

The police arrive, along with Marla’s husband, Detective Dalton Vail. He takes charge of the scene and questions Rosana. The tearful beautician claims Val had been a long-time customer, and the only known problem she had was a latex allergy. Rosana was careful not to use latex gloves in her presence.

Marla, owner of the spa plus the salon, is upset about the negative publicity this incident will generate. She has applied to become an educator for Luxor Products, whom she’d worked for once at a beauty trade show. But there’s another person being considered for the job. A smear on Marla’s reputation would be detrimental. But she’s also concerned about Rosana and proving the aesthetician wasn’t at fault.

Marla has an additional problem during this December season, which should be full of happy holiday plans. One of her clients is suing her. The woman claims Marla left on her hair dye too long, and it burned her scalp. Marla contacts her insurance agent.

Doubts roil in her stomach, and they increase when lab tests confirm liquid latex had been added to Val’s face mask cream. Val died from anaphylactic shock. Rosana denies her involvement, and Marla believes her. So who else had access to the room, and why would someone target Val?

ROMANCE EXAMPLE FROM WARRIOR LORD (Drift Lords #3)

A fantasy wedding in Las Vegas turns into a nightmare when contest winner Erika Sherwood realizes she’s married an alien.

Erika has had one drink too many at the blackjack table in Las Vegas when a bearded man wearing a cape and sword drops into the seat next to her. While his strange garb doesn’t arouse her curiosity, his comment on her wristwatch does. A gift from her parents when she turned sixteen, the watch runs with no visible mechanism and no battery, and it has a peculiar symbol engraved on its face. Her nape prickles at the man’s interest but an announcement over the loudspeaker distracts her.

The casino is holding a contest for engaged couples to win fifty thousand dollars. The lucky winners will have a televised wedding and receive a new car, a stay in the honeymoon suite, and the cash.

Erika mutters how she could sure use those funds, and the mysterious stranger overhears. He leans toward her and makes a scandalous suggestion. Why not pretend they’re engaged and enter the contest? He needs a room in the Viking-themed resort, but the hotel is full.

Giddy from the free drinks offered by the staff, Erika accepts his proposition. She doesn’t think they’ll win, but hey, the competition will be fun and all contestants get bonus credits on their club cards.

When they actually win the contest, she goes through the rushed wedding ceremony in a mental fog. Magnor kisses her and something sparks between them. However, she balks when he suggests they stay together in the honeymoon suite. She already has a room at the resort. However, his rationale is valid. If the resort people discover their deception, she and Magnor might lose their prizes.

Soon she’s alone in a room with the tall stranger. She’s drawn to his brooding good looks and muscled form but is puzzled when he becomes taciturn at her attempts to draw him out.

Someone knocks on the door. It’s the official from the televised marriage. He wants Erika’s address so he can mail out the official marriage certificate. With a jolt of clarity, Erika realizes the ceremony was valid.

Quelling her panic, she considers that having an unexpected husband might suit her needs.

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I hope these examples make you curious to read on. How long should your synopsis be? Mine average around fifteen pages. Sometimes a publisher will ask for a one or two page synopsis which means you’ll have to encapsulate your story into a shorter form. Stay tuned for my next post on The One Page Synopsis.

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Posted in Business of Writing, Excerpt, Fiction Writing, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Journaling for Research

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 20, 2014

Your experiences and travels provide fodder for future works and should be recorded. When I wrote travel journals years ago, little did I realize that I’d be mining those notes decades later for my Drift Lords series. I’d been to Hong Kong in 1978. Yet today, many of the sights, sounds, and sensory impressions remain the same. Thus I sought my notes for Warrior Rogue, where a scene takes place in that great city. Ditto for the other locations around the globe for my paranormal series—Los Angeles, Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and Arizona. You never know when a bit of research will come in handy.

I’ve been journaling my travels ever since I can remember. And I never related this talent to my father’s writing ability until I edited his 1929 true life travel adventure titled Thumbs Up. Who knew this is where my drive to write everything down came from? Thanks, Dad. And from my mother came the attention to detail. She described every scene in a way that made me more observant.

And now, for my latest Bad Hair Day mystery, I’ve turned again to my notes. Years ago, I accepted an invitation to go backstage at a fashion show to observe the goings-on. In particular, I took note of the hairdressers and their role in prepping the models. I used all this info in a chapter I just completed for my current WIP.

How did I find this material? I write my observations, travel journals and on-location research notes in various small notebooks. I use colored tabs to divide the sections. Then I sticker them with a number and detail the contents on a separate list. Conference notes, on-scene research and experiences that may someday be relevant to my work go into these journals. So this time, I looked on my list and saw Fashion Show under number two. I pulled out this notebook and there they were: copious notes that would prove highly useful for my scene in progress.

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Here’s an excerpt:

Marla had brought four stylists plus herself for eight models. She’d let her staff do the actual work while she supervised. She had supplied each of them with Luxor products specifically for this event. The fashion designer had sent pictures of each woman ahead of time so her staff could consult on the look. Yolanda wanted a sleek, elegant appearance to go with her gowns.

In another corner, the makeup artist was laying out her cosmetics. Each model would head over there for a touch-up once her hair was done.

Marla glanced at the racks of gauzy, glittering dresses, wishing she had time to examine each gown and drool over the creations. Sparkling burgundy, bright yellow, sexy black, tropical turquoise, sublime coral, chocolate and lime stood out in satins, silks and chiffons along with sequins, seed pearls and intricate beading. A separate rack held a dazzling array of wedding gowns. Who else but a wealthy socialite could afford these outfits? Each one cost thousands of dollars. With a sigh, Marla realized this was the closest she’d ever get to high society.

Yolanda bustled about, greeting each person and keeping her tote box at hand. What was in there? Needle and thread for last minute repairs? Jewels to go with her gowns?

“Thirty minutes per person, ladies,” Yolanda shouted. “That’s the goal.”

Marla winced. That wouldn’t give them much iron time. “The guests have to eat dinner yet. It’s still relatively early.”

“Our show starts before the entrée course to get people in the mood for dancing. We have to get the models through makeup and into their gowns by eight-thirty at the latest.”

“How many changes does each girl have to make?”

Yolanda pursed her lips. “The show is divided into four segments, although the bridal procession at the end requires only four models. So some girls will have three changes and some will have four. You’ll have mere seconds between scenes to fix any stray hairs, so make sure your stylists do their jobs right the first time.”

The lesson here is for you to pay attention to your surroundings and experiences. Take notes on ANYTHING that might become useful to your writing. Chronicle your trips and record the sensory impressions along with unusual observations, sights and experiences. Take notes during conference workshops. Then organize the material so you can find it later. Consider it a legacy to pass down to your kids. They might throw out your journals, or they might treasure them like I do my parents’ writings. Never miss an opportunity to record a slice of life.

Do you take random notes when you go places, even if you can foresee no immediate use for them?

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Don’t forget to visit me over at The Kill Zone, where I blog on alternate Wednesdays. This week my topic is Attending a Writers Conference, very appropriate since I’ll be at the Novelists, Inc. event in St. Pete Beach.

Posted in Book Excerpt, Excerpt, Fiction Writing, Research, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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