• Convey what kind of feedback you’re seeking. Do you just want mechanical errors pointed out? Phrasing suggestions? Or simply overall thoughts on the flow of the story? Readers will have an easier time helping you if they know what they’re supposed to be looking for.
A final point to consider – if, like myself, you are an editor as well as a writer, don’t be tempted to feel like that excuses you from the need to seek out feedback and a solid proofread on your own work. Your writing may be syntactically cleaner than par, but editing is often more about defeating expectation bias – catching what we’re too close to the work to see – than it is merely polishing the language. (>^-‘)>
A little while back, I had the distinct pleasure of serving as editor for Kirk Watson’s fantasy adventure, The Woodlander. Watson himself pitched the novel as “The Most Dangerous Game” meets Fantastic Mr. Fox, and after jumping at that hook, I found it to be a pretty apt encapsulation!
An animal tale for an older audience (teens and up), the story focuses on a downtrodden squirrel named John Grey – a reporter whose cynical disposition and snarky quips are reminiscent of a hardboiled detective of ’30s pulp, and an immediately likeable protagonist for it. Six months after a terrible tragedy divested John of his will to write, a strange encounter outside a tavern prompts the squirrel to pull himself together for one more assignment, but when his investigation takes him to the less savory parts of town, he quickly finds himself a part of the story he meant to report.
Well-written with plenty of action, humor, and heart, this is a book I would gladly recommend even if I had nothing to do with it. (>^-‘)>
The Woodlander is the first volume of The GreyTales series, and is currently available for 99¢ on Kindle – a tough deal to beat for a full-length novel of this caliber, so take advantage of it while you can!
Money is the universal shortcut. You can get just about anything with it. Sometimes for a lot less than you’d think.
In my line of editing work, I come across a lot of want-ads for ghostwriting. Now, I can look the other way when it comes to surrogate writing in certain scenarios – you’re a not-so-eloquent public figure who needs the notes and rough drafts for your topical book or memoir worked into something fluid? Sure, O.K. But I’m talking about ghostwriting for fiction. Things like: “I need a sci-fi novel written. Preferably something to do with space exploration. Need it to be around 70,000-80,000 words. Must sign NDA and forgo copyright. I’m willing to pay up to $500.” (No joke!) It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there would be a few people out there with that kind of audacity, but I see a dozen of these a day. And what’s even crazier – these listings get a ton of responses!
It’s a little hard to believe. I can’t see the appeal to either side of this arrangement. Does anyone really love the writing process itself so much that they’d be willing to undertake the grueling process of producing a novel for pennies an hour, only to forsake any rights and claims to their own creation upon completion? Is anyone so desperately enamored with the idea of being known as a writer that they would be satisfied with the hollow “achievement” of putting their name on someone else’s work? Apparently the answer is a disturbingly frequent yes on both accounts – it’s a big industry. It baffles me. It really does.
If I’m being entirely honest, I suppose I would consider ghostwriting a novel for someone if I were offered an absurd amount of money to do so (financial freedom to pursue other projects is nothing to take lightly), but these jobs are being offered at too comical a salary to be considered “just work”. I could never quite comprehend the sentiment behind the other side of the table, though. If you want to be a writer then, you know – write! At the very least seek a co-author if you need help with a specific book. I simply can’t see fiction-ghostwriting as something that has any reason to be a thing – particularly not as big of a thing as it is.
But I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on the matter. Have you ever had experience with ghostwriting (from either side)? Would you ever consider it? Am I taking crazy pills?
While putting the finishing touches on The Amber Ring these last couple weeks, I figured I’d also better throw together a full synopsis for it.
Synopses are kind of a drag.
Not because they’re hard to write – I’ve had more than my fair share of practice summarizing. It’s because they’re not always easy to keep exciting. Maintaining something of the flavor and tone of your work while drying it up to its basic elements can be a frustrating task. I’m certain there are numerous others who can give better advice on the subject than I can, but since I’m here, and so, ostensibly, are you, I’ll go over some of the things I like to keep in mind.
There’s no real easy, short-cut way to approach the whole process, but here are a few points to ponder:
A synopsis is typically a two-to-eight page summary of the entire work – the big twists, the ending, everything (important).
The editor or agent you’re submitting to might have a specific requirement as to what constitutes a page, but if not, double-spaced 12-point Courier New with one inch margins is a good place to start.
The first paragraph is often best utilized in setting up the chief protagonist – who she is, and how she got to where she is when the story begins. If you already have a pitch line, it might fit nicely in here. The remaining paragraphs will then recount the events that constitute the story in the order in which they are presented.
At least to start with, only include details essential to understanding the main plot; subplots can be added in order of precedence if there is room left in your alloted space and it would make the summary stronger on the whole.
The manuscript to synopsis event space ratio can be wildly inconsistent. Some scenes may take half a sentence, some half a page, depending on how much plot-essential material they contain. Some scenes can be omitted altogether.
Use strong, descriptive, succinct language (because it’s that easy, right? (>^-‘)> ). Word economy is paramount.
It’s O.K. to be a little conversational; it can help to engage the reader.
If you need some ideas on summarizing, look up recaps for TV episodes, or pull up your favorite films on Wikipedia and read the plot sections. These usually constitute what amounts to synopsis copy.
If you’re really stuck on a blank page, you can try zero-drafting (or better yet, dictating if you have speech-to-text software) your initial go by describing the story, stream-of-conscious, from start to finish as you would a good book or movie to a friend. You can always edit the result up or down as needed, or scrap it and try again.
Cheat. If page format isn’t directly specified, and you’re aiming for a certain length, tweak the margins and line spacing (but preferably not the font) to your advantage.
It doesn’t hurt to conclude the synopsis with a poetic statement that encapsulates some important thematic element from the story’s ending.
Have someone who has not read your work take a look at the finished synopsis, and ask them if the story when presented thus is easily followable, makes sense, and is free from superfluous material.
Ultimately, a synopsis just serves as a quick overview of a story’s plot to ensure that it’s coherent, original, and interesting. It doesn’t have to be as brilliantly executed as the manuscript, but anything you can do within its limits to show off the promise of your work will surely be a point in your favor.
Last week, I talked about getting criticism for one’s writing. Today, I thought I’d do a companion piece discussing the other side of the coin.
So, let’s take a look at some of the things to consider when reviewing someone else’s stuff (some of these points will naturally be reciprocal to last week’s!).
Try not to volunteer to critique a piece if you can’t reasonably expect to have the time or motivation to get back to the writer about it. Silence can be even more disheartening than a bad review.
Find out what type of feedback the writer is looking for. It’s not too productive to pick apart the story when all that’s sought is some copyediting, and dealing only with semantic issues when what’s needed is advice on the plot can be equally unhelpful. If you’re going for the whole package, sometimes it’s beneficial to do a couple go-throughs – first for the feel of the narrative flow, and second with an editor’s eye.
Ask the writer what’s caught the attention of other readers, and lend your thoughts on those subjects. Multiple viewpoints are great for helping the writer gauge what to focus on.
Look for and comment on both what’s working and what isn’t. It’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll be handed a piece that’s either completely without issue or entirely without merit. Focusing solely on the positive won’t help the writer improve it, and concentrating only on the negative can be discouraging – either way giving a false impression of the piece’s current state.
Be specific whenever you can. Explaining why you do or do not like something is more useful than a mere thumbs-up or -down. At the same time, if something stands out one way or the other, but you aren’t quite sure why, saying that much is still better than nothing at all.
Learn the writer’s tolerance level for directness. Some you can be blunt with, where some require a little more creative tact. Negative comments can be phrased positively – rather than “this is bad”, say “this could be improved with blah“.
“Scrap it” is a last resort. Today’s world is cut-happy and proud of it – sometimes it’s the right answer, but a little too often it’s just the easy, lazy way out. I’m not talking about a sentence here or a paragraph there, but entire passages, characters, and plot elements. Every sequence has some kind of purpose behind its presence in a piece, and rarely will its essence be fundamentally unsalvageable. If a scene isn’t working, think about how to address why that is before giving up on it altogether. Can something be added to liven it up or condensed to improve the pace? Can it be placed somewhere more appropriate or combined with a similar sequence? Can its basics be reworked into other parts of the story? Just don’t be too quick to advocate throwing away what could be made a functional, augmentative aspect of the narrative. I realize it goes against the current popular mindset, but tell me you’ve never watched the deleted scenes on a DVD and wished they would have kept one or two of them in the film. (>^-‘)>
That said, do look for ways to improve narrative economy. Getting the same ideas across in a cleaner, more concise manner is almost always a good thing.
Don’t be offended if not all of your suggestions are taken. Remember that it’s the writer’s story, and he or she must ultimately decide what aligns with the creative vision.
Lastly, you don’t have to be a writer or a grammarian yourself to provide good feedback. A reader’s perspective on how the piece works as a whole is perhaps the most important thing of all!