Writing a synopsis for a novel is difficult work—no doubt about it. Writers, especially new ones, are prone to make synopsis mistakes. But don’t worry! We at Writer’s Relief have got your back. We read many, many synopses from the writers who submit their novels to our Review Board. And we’re happy to share a list of the most common synopsis problems we regularly see popping up in novel submissions.
lesbianpokemontrainer asked you:
Hi, I love the advice you give and was hoping you could perhaps help me with my main writing issue. When I’m crafting a story, more often than not I will get through the entire thing, type it up, and then realize it’s extremely short. (I prefer to keep my stories fast-paced and so that’s probably why). Is that an issue I should worry about? The publisher I was looking at has a minimum word count. Should I layer my story with some minor filler or bulk up description to make it book sized? Thanks!
I definitely had this same problem because fast pacing is my drug, so I feel you there.
My advice for short stories will differ from full novel-length stories, so let’s begin with short stories since those are simpler (also keep in mind that short stories are not my forte, so I have little authority when it comes to short story advice).
For short stories that end up too short, think about these things:
- What’s the overall plot arch? How many steps did your main character(s) take to get to the end?
- Did your character achieve the goal too easily? Did they fail too easily?
- Were decisions made too quickly? Were things settled too easily? Was there enough room for any tension or real conflict?
In a traditional plot arch, conflict is what drives the story. If your conflict is resolved too soon, consider making the plot more challenging for your character(s), throw in an extra speed bump or pothole in their journey.
My professor told us that short stories don’t have time for fluff that’s unrelated to the overarching plot of the story, which essentially means subplots. As soon as you add subplots, you’re dealing with something bigger than a simple short story.
That’s really all I can say about short stories (and keep in mind that short stories aren’t my thing as you consider my advice). So let’s move onto my territory.
For full novel-length stories that end up too short, think about these things:
- Do you have a novel or a novella? Novellas have an entirely separate market (and often smaller publishing presses) and an entirely different set of standards. I’ve also noticed that, nowadays, novellas seem to be growing in popularity with self-pubbed authors. Here’s Wiki’s page on novellas. This is where a literary agent and massive amounts of market research could help you find the proper niche for your story.
- Do you have any or enough subplots? One of the mistakes I made when trying fast pace for the first time was that I eliminated subplot development, thinking that only the central plot was all that mattered. Subplots thread layers throughout your story, so that when the main plot stalls, there’s still something always happening and things always changing.
- Are your secondary main characters developing as well? Or are they remaining stagnant? A good quote I’ve seen says something like treat your secondary characters as if they’re the main characters. Subplots are good for this because they’re a sign that your other characters have lives outside the story you’re telling, that they’re actively changing.
- Do you have enough unpacking of your string of events? Aftermath scenes are generally frowned upon, but scenes that unpack details are critical for development of the story, and even characters. Scenes that unpack will continue to move the story forward, whereas aftermath scenes bring the story to a grinding halt.
- How strong is your character voice? Another mistake I made when transitioning from my old model of storytelling to my present day model is that I stripped the narrative to the bone, thinking that anytime my character had any form of inner voice was bad. I thought it slowed down the story, so I shaved it all. Your character’s (or characters’) voice should be present in appropriate doses and consistency. A character that doesn’t think about things is essentially a robot.
- Make sure you read when a plot isn’t strong enough to make a full story. There you’ll find extra tips on how to bulk up your scanty piece of prose.
- Your first draft is not your final draft. Unless I outline every detail of every scene, I’ll finish a manuscript and have to go through on my revision to add bulk in. Without a solid outline (which often evolves as I write), I still write only the bones, and part of my revision process is adding the flesh.
- Ask your beta readers/critique partners if they thought anything was missing or lacking. If a reader tells me, “I wish I’d seen more of this character,” I might consider adding little bits or pieces, or even entire scenes, that give the character in question more screen time. It depends on how that particular character affects the plot, and if developing that character will add more to the story (instead of read like unnecessary fluff).
Add onto your story only if your story absolutely requires it, and the same goes for the opposite end of the spectrum: only subtract from your story if your story absolutely requires it. Victoria once critiqued a manuscript that was written as a full-length novel, but the writer found she could make a deal with a smaller press if she reduced the manuscript to a novella. She did. Her story suffered for it.
Hope that helps! Good luck!
A Writer’s Rule Book
From Hunter’s Writing
This is fun, but please take it with a grain of salt.
Worry about your plot, characters, setting, consistency, and diction, not:
- the title
- the total wordcount (unless you’re doing NaNo)
- what to name new items and concepts
- what the movie will be like
- the cover design (you will probably not choose this unless you self-publish)
- people trying to steal your work
- what’s happening on Tumblr when you’re supposed to be writing
We realize this is an opinion post. However, this sort of thing is exactly what we’re talking about when we recommend that writing help blogs refrain from stating their opinions as facts. Statements without qualification can do more harm than good.
Like the title of the book, the cover is a reflection of the book’s interior, and attracting potential readers is the name of the game. There are certainly people who will tell you not to worry about the cover, and for many authors the cover is out of their control, but I believe it at least bears thinking about, if only to familiarize yourself with some of the absolutely genius cover designers out there.I feel like there are a lot of writers whose work I still haven’t read, but I know the book cover. Sometimes that book cover is the only thing you know of an author. If that’s the only thing somebody knows of my work, if the title is the only writing someone’s read of mine, I want to do everything I can to reflect the actual book and try to make people interested in it. In 2012 I feel like most literature is geared toward this very, very narrow audience. I’m not disinterested in that audience, but I also think that there are all these other people out there that are smart and interesting—people I grew with, people from different arcs—who deserve serious literature as well. So that idea of trying to invite people into your book is reflected in the design. I’ve had some bad experiences where people try to slap a cover on the book that doesn’t reflect what the book is, but they think it’s going to sell more copies this way. These were pivotal moments when I realized my idea of a book, which is almost religious. That’s how important it can be to people. There are a couple of books that I could say have almost like saved my life. The marketing people don’t look at books the same way. They could be marketing gym shoes.
To be clear, it is okay for you to worry about any of the things on this list that you want to worry about.
Thank you for letting me pick on you, Shannah! Again, fellow writers, try to take advice that comes with a why. Otherwise, the advice can be unclear or easily mistaken for rules of some kind.
I assure you, there are no hard and fast rules. Just write.
Doing the Thing
- A beautiful place to write that saves as you go, allows you to organize different snippets all in one place, remembers old versions of the things you write, gives you spaces to store all that extra information in your head, tracks your word count and lets you make word count goals, and more, a.k.a. the best thing ever
The Practice of Writing
- Research is mostly thinking outside the box
- This lady went from writing 8k words/day to 10k and her tips are actually useful go figure
- A list like this one except all about revision
- Writing a query letter is less intimidating than it seems, I promise
- Ways to sell your inexperienced self
- Book rec!
- All directed at “you,” but with some interesting scenarios
- Several sets of meme prompts put together for something on livejournal
The Professional Side of Things
Publishers You Likely Didn’t Know Of
- It’s specific, but it’s easy (no talking to strangers involved!)
- They will absolutely get back to you in a timely fashion (and they’re super, super nice)
Blogging (because you should seriously consider starting one for your writing)
- fuckyeahcharacterdevelopment aka favourite of favourites
- referenceforwriters has a reference for everything
- other-wordly is full of gorgeous, inspiring words
- yeahwriters is fun, writing prompts, and advice aplenty
- dictionaryofobscuresorrows is pretty words and prettier definitions
- writersfriend has resources galore
- writingbox is mm-mm good
Admin Note: This post is a rebloggable copy of our page on character morality. The page is being phased out, so from now on all updates will be made on this post and not on the page.
Is your character moral? This is a very complicated question. First of all, what is “moral”?
Moral (n): focused on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom.
Okay, so moral characters are concerned with right-mindedness; they care about doing the right thing. Right? Notice that, by the definition, morality supersedes legality and customs, which are constraints imposed on people by society. These constraints may be immoral like the military draft which forces people into a situation where they may have to kill another person (killing is pretty much immoral, folks) or the common custom of the “little white lie”. And because these constraints may be immoral, a moral character may, on occasion (or all the time), ignore them.
What are the principles of moral behavior? How can you tell, basically, if a character is moral?
“If you ask anyone, ‘What is morality based on?’ these are the two factors that always come out: One is Reciprocity, and associated with it is a sense of justice and a sense of fairness, and the other one is Empathy and compassion. Human morality is more than this, but if you would remove these two pillars, there would be not much remaining, I think, and so they are absolutely essential.” - Frans de Waal
What do Reciprocity and Empathy mean?
Reciprocity (n): responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind action
Empathy (n): the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
If your character is moral, he or she will almost certainly have a sense of fairness and compassion. Both of these are considered part of the Seven High Virtues, with Empathy commonly referred to as “Love” or “Charity”, and Reciprocity most often called “Justice”. Very moral characters will, most likely, have either Love, Charity, or Justice as their peak virtue.
Moral characters are often good listeners. They care for other people, and they want to do right by them. They are willing to take action to create positive outcomes for others. They have little to no concern for themselves.
Don’t get us wrong, morality is a sliding scale. Many heroic characters are basically moral, though they may sometimes kill, lie, steal, or cheat depending on what life-threatening or otherwise difficult situation has arisen. But if you’re looking for straight-up a moral character, the most common indicator will always be cooperation.
Does your character play well with others?
Morality arises from the need for cooperation, and the understanding of cooperation as essential to human interaction. There is no need to be moral if you are, for example, the last human on Earth. Who is there to be moral with or to? Therefore, moral characters desire to interact with others in a positive way. Immoral characters don’t care about offending or harming others, so they are cool with interacting in a negative way.
Moral heroic characters are often great leaders because they are good at cooperating. Immoral heroic characters are often loners because they are awful at cooperating.
Alright, so if your character moral, they will (most likely):
It is worth noting that morality is different for different people in different places at different times in history. Generally, there are universal ideas of morality instilled within us from infancy (these are cooperation, justice, compassion, a sense of “rightness” and “wrongness”, etc). Deciding what you, as a writer, think of as “moral” is fundamental in determining the morality of the character in question. We can’t tell you what moral is for you in your story or for yourself, but once you decide that, you will be able to define your character’s morality.
If you are very interested in determining the morality of your character, you can take this quiz for yourself and/or for your character to help you decide. Be warned that some of the questions may not be truly applicable to your characters (for instance, whether or not stem cell research is wrong may not be an issue in your world because there is no stem cell research), but do your best to answer for your character in those situations.
For more on morality, check out our Videos about Morality post!
Writing can be great fun – and so it should be – but sometimes you will, alas, need just a little bit of discipline…
1. Go do your reading. The amount of people who don’t actually read the content they’re writing about pre-essay writing is ridiculous. If you’re struggling to sit down and do the essay, you’ve probably not down enough actual learning. Especially if you’re in high school, the main reason why you’ve been set an essay is to show that you’ve learnt the content. Reading just the bare minimum to write an essay A. equals awful essays & B, means you’ll probably fail whatever exam you’re working on. So, like I said, go read your course content.
2. Right, go REVISIT your course content. This should not be your first step, like I said in the previous point, if you are reading and learning with only the essay subject in mind, you will not learn very much or write a very good essay. So, revisit the course content, have a blank piece of paper with you (or an open Microsoft word document /etc.) and write down notes or headers that you think could be relevant. They can be in any order and in as much detail as you like, you might want to draft out entire paragraphs here or just buzz words. Just try to make sure that you get down a lot, more than you need, jot down ideas that you ‘know’ you won’t use, jot down ideas you already know you will use, jot it all down.
3. Find a new source of information. This can be a website, a book, a documentary, anything. Find a new source and commit to adding at least one more thing to your list. Sometimes you’ll find a lot more, sometimes you’ll just be adding to a previous point. Take the time to look outside your school textbook/powerpoint/etc. It will make your essay a lot better, and should be done before you’ve started writing.
4. Get writing. From here on out I’m offering my own view of essay writing, what I really mean by this is that EVERYONE should do the first three steps no matter what you’re writing. It is universally applied, and will work for everyone, if it doesn’t work for you, you’re not doing it right. Anyway, onto step four: you should have a page of notes and headers at this point; from here you get a new piece of paper and write your official essay plan. The first ‘bullet’ should read ‘Intro’ the last ‘Conclusion’. Look at your notes and think about which ones you can use to build an argument, use what you think your conclusion will be to guide you. Write notes in the conclusion section to help you choose where you’re going. If you’re one of those people who say “drafts don’t work for me” you’re also one of those people who do not write good essays, really. Good marks thus far, in your life, have been down to you including good content, the higher up you go in education, the more it will become obvious that you have not planned the narrative of your essay. Learn now.
5. Edit what you’ve got. Now you should have a set of bullet points, depending on how you took notes earlier, these will either be single words or short paragraphs. Look at your bullet points, which ones will you find easy to talk about, and which ones will you have not much to say about. Smaller points that are dead ends should either be deleted or consumed into bigger paragraphs. Random one off paragraphs are not useful, and you’re always guiding yourself towards the bigger picture. And essay isn’t a list of things you know, it’s a compilation of discoveries that lead you to a concrete opinion.
6. Use this new direction to write more. Flesh out all your bullet points, write as much as a paragraph as you need. Have your text books open in front of you, write in note form or in full sentences. Get down content.
7. More evaluation of content, possible editing. Now you can re-evaluate what you’ve got, you might need to do some wider reading, you might need to go back to your list of ideas. You might need to change what you think your conclusion is. Ignore the intro for now, it’s not important.
8. Write your essay. Properly, either start a new piece of paper/document and work with your crazy bullet list as a guide, or write the essay inside your bullet points and delete what becomes unneeded as you go. Whatever works. You should be adding more and more notes to your ‘conclusion’ bullet point while you write the rest of the essay. This will allow you to, when you finally get to the conclusion, have a pretty good idea where your essay has been pointing. Your conclusion should 90% agree with what your essay says 10% be profound and ‘meta’. What I mean by that is, a sentence like ‘but we’ll never really know..’. This is A. shows a good narrative, and therefore suggests you have mastered the content of the essay and it’s allowed you to go beyond just spewing out facts. & B. you realise that this is just an essay, probably not even sourced, and that there’s a lot more to the argument.
9. Write the intro. Some people get really annoyed that I write the intro last, but the best way to write a good intro, is to pretty much just paraphrase the whole essay. Some people like to do the introduction first as it gives them some more direction, I don’t. What I do tend to do however, is explain the question. Many questions can be answered many ways, in my introductions I recognise this and then explain how I plan to answer the question and maybe why. Depends on the word count.
10. Proof reading. Proof read the work yourself, this should contain some major editing, if it doesn’t – you’re doing it wrong. Then let someone else do it. Then leave it for a while. Then proof read it again. And you’re done!
One of the most frequent questions I get as a writer is “where do you get your ideas from?” I’m always a bit baffled at first because sometimes I’m not really sure. It’s a difficult question to answer and I don’t think you can be a writer unless you have the ability to see and interpret the world around you in order to come up with your OWN ideas. There’s just something about it that’s hard to explain to other people.
Writers (or anyone creative) tend to notice things that other people don’t. It’s not that we’re better or smarter than other people, but we’re most likely much more introverted than the rest of the world. When you’re introverted, you spend a lot of time observing the world around you instead of directly participating in everything going on. You find solace in listening, watching, or hearing other people and their conversations. Ideas come from everywhere and we are more likely to notice them and turn them into something amazing.
However, if you are a writer and you’re finding it difficult to come up with fresh ideas, there are ways for you to improve this. I suggest you try a few of these things—
• Sit in a crowded area for a while. If you’re stuck, try sitting in a mall or a coffee shop or even a train station. You’ll see things that might make good story ideas. People watching is one of the best ways to come up with ideas and it’ll make your writing more realistic.
• Keep a notebook next to your bed. I always do this just in case I have a dream that makes me think in some way. You shouldn’t wait until morning because you’ll most likely forget all the details. If you wake up in the middle of the night from a dream or nightmare, write down every little detail you can remember. It will help you come up with your own ideas (technically dreams are YOUR ideas to begin with).
• Watch how people interact with each other. This is sort of the same as people watching, but you’ll learn a lot about dialogue and character relationships. It might give you some structure for your own characters and help you shape them for your novel. You might notice things you’ve never thought of before.
• Think about what you like in your favorite books. Why do you like your favorite books? What about them caught your attention? Were there certain scenes that really stayed with you? There’s something about those books that struck you in some way or else they wouldn’t be your favorites. Think of the dynamics between certain characters or details about the plot you loved. Use these ideas and make them your own. BUT DON’T PLAGIARIZE.
• Find a writing partner to discuss ideas with. Sometimes talking to other people really helps you out. They’ll be able to tell you what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes I just shoot out ideas to my friends or family and they tell me if they like them of not. They might not be the most reliable source, but you should be able to get some feedback.
• Have a brainstorming session. Just taking a few moments to dig into your brain might make all the difference. The ideas might already be there, you just have to take some time to get them down on paper and organize them. The potential to write a great story is lingering around somewhere.
Whenever you receive harsh criticism, it can be hard to get yourself motivated again. The thing is—your writing is always going to be judged, either by people who want to help you or people who want to take you down a notch. I’ve talked before about distinguishing between the two, but the truth is ANY sort of criticism is hard to deal with. You have to start looking at it in a different way and you need to use it to make yourself better. Most of the time, that’s easier said than done.
There will always be someone who just doesn’t like what you write. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t change their mind and you shouldn’t try to. You don’t like everything, do you? You have opinions on different books or movies or art and so does everyone else. Just because someone doesn’t like something you’ve done doesn’t mean no one else will. Not everyone is going to connect with your writing the way you hoped they would. Some people will flat out hate it. Pick yourself back up again and move on. After a while, it will stop bothering you so much.
If you’re in the editing process and someone is helping you out, they might give you loads of corrections along with opinions about what you need to change. Your first reaction will probably be—“I don’t need to change this. They just don’t understand.” Obviously when you’ve written something and it means a lot to you, you can become very protective when someone wants to change it. The truth is if one person is confused right off the bat about something, everyone else will probably be confused too. This person helping you out isn’t trying to hurt you. If they are taking the time to help you fix your work, it’s because they believe you can be better, maybe even great. They already think your work has potential.
If you want to get better, you have to learn how to utilize what people are telling you. Don’t shut everyone out because you’re afraid you’re not good enough. AND if someone is constantly making you feel bad about yourself without offering anything constructive, tell them to SHUT UP.