Why one-sentence summaries are the best.
As I mentioned a while ago, I have become, over the last several months, a fan of one-sentence summaries. Basically, you are to summerize what you have written in one sentence.
First, some guidelines.
- It can only be about 20 words long.
- It cannot contain any character names.
- It has to give a true overview of a story (or paper. I have been using this with research papers as well.) So in other words, you can’t say you’re paper is on abortion’s medical complications when it’s really more a persuasive piece explaining why abortion’s dangers have never really been researched.
- If you have more than one character, write an overall summary for the novel, and then another summary for each character.
I have done this, and it was actually a lot of work. So why would you want to all that hard work? I shall tell you.
1) It gives you direction in editing. If you have that summary in the back of your mind, you’ll be able realize what can be deleted and what you can keep. If you are only kinda sure, you still might need something kept.
2) It tell you when to stop. Oftentimes, newer writers go on longer than they need to, and the end stuff is all boring drivel.
For example: In Shad, my one-sentence summary is along the lines of, “A talented pilot tries to escape his life of condemnation after rescuing a doctor.” So based on this, he needs to leave his current life and settle down somewhere else for the story to be complete. However, and I can’t include this all in my sentence, in order do that he needs to race a big race and win it.
What if I just made my sentence along the lines of, “A talented pilot decides to compete in the most prestigious race in hopes of escaping his criminal background.” Based on this, when he crosses the finish line on the race, he should have just one more chapter to tie everything up. Instead, I have closer to four. Why? Various reasons along the lines of him telling me so, but more than that, the story isn’t done, because the story is truly about what I said earlier–him finding a new life away from criminals.
3) It tells you what to include in your introduction. This is more for formal writing and short stories. Both of these need the plot, or direction of the story told quickly. If you know what your story really is about through the one-sentence summary, then you’ll know what to say in your first page or so, in order to tell your reader what direction the story will take.
Example (again. I know. You can skip over it if you’re bored. :)): I’m writing story about mermaids, which I’m hoping to post shortly. (maybe by Thanksgiving.) Unfortunately, I didn’t write a one-sentence summery about this story but the plot focuses around the disappearances of Adamah’s, false alarms, who’s doing it, why, and the results of knowing that answer. But in order to make it so you can understand this background, I couldn’t have it start where I needed to. This informal, vital information, came much too late for the reader to understand it. Thus, I needed to make a new introduction, and it worked quite fine.
4) It makes sure that everything stops together. This goes back to number 2, butt the idea is that if you have summary, then you don’t leak the substory over onto the ending of the real story. Trust me–this is really important.
5) It helps other people edit your story. I work in the writing center at my school, so when students need help with editing their papers. they come to me. Oftentimes, I ask them what the paper is about. If they give me an answer along the lines of, “Well, it’s kinda a reaction paper about the education of athletic trainers and, yeah, that’s it.” it’s a lot harder for me to edit it than when you say, “It is a reaction paper of the educational requirements for an athletic trainer.” Make sense?
So that’s about all there is. I really do encourage you to consider trying to do one sentence summaries for your writing assignments. They have proved to be very helpful.
do it your own way
So, I have recently been attempting to try something called the snowflake method of writing. (Forgive me absence of a link. I have very poor internet at the moment so finding it is difficult. If you are very curious, look at previous Friday posts.) Basically, you write small summaries of your story, and summaries of characters, and you continue to expand them until you have a good enough synopsis of everything that you can just write.
So, I tired it. I got as far as step three, where I write a synopsis of a character, and got stuck. First, I’ve never actually seen a synopsis of a character and second, although I have upward of ten characters, the story I think is mostly only told from Daria’s POV. Third, some of characters were stubborn and didn’t tell me what I wanted to know when I wanted to know.
So i resorted back to my old fall back. I went back to paper.
I don’t know what it is about paper or why I can operate better with paper, but ever since I started writing, I have almost always done my brainstorming on paper. Just scrap paper with my microbiology notes works well enough. And I fill these pages with tiny, tiny little letters and sentences and thoughts.
And it worked. Mostly.
I figured out some of the characters’ names. I figured out what kind of scenes I need. I figured out a lot of plot holes. I figured out almost everything that i couldn’t figure out on paper. The only thing, that I know of, that I haven’t figured out yet is what happens to one of the character’s sisters.
So the only other question I have is if I want to change the POV. Orginally I was going to write this much like I wrote Shad, with only there being the main character, Daria’s, POV. But now that I’m looking at it and I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I want to put in more POVs. Particularly, if I can do it, the captain’s, because that would add a lot of tension if the reader knows why Daria suddenly got a promotion, but Daria doesn’t know why. (If you have any thoughts about putting the antagonist’s POV in a story, I’d really like to hear them.)
My only problem is it might make things weird, but I think it might be worth it to have it weird.
Anyway, lesson learned: If you know that something works, sometimes that is your best bet when you’re stuck in a story. Sometimes something new works, but sometimes the way you’ve always done it works too, and we have just stopped it for whatever reason.
I’m going to start working on the outline, and maybe I’ll be writing it by next week. (This is a real time post, if you care, so next week is really next week.) No such luck with Shad though. These synopses seem harder than I thought and I’m lacking the motivation to write it.
Snowflake, Step One
A long time ago, and I can’t remember if I posted this link or not, I found a website that gives an outline for how to outline a novel. It’s called the snowflake method. And although it’s written by an author that I disliked the one book of his I read, I found the method to be a good idea. I also am having a hard time planning my next book, so this made sense to use.
But this is not a Thursday and I am not posting this as a link. I’m actually going to show what I did. And yes, you are welcomed to comment.
Step 1) Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel. Something like this: “A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.” (This is the summary for my first novel, Transgression.) The sentence will serve you forever as a ten-second selling tool. This is the big picture, the analog of that big starting triangle in the snowflake picture.
When you later write your book proposal, this sentence should appear very early in the proposal. It’s the hook that will sell your book to your editor, to your committee, to the sales force, to bookstore owners, and ultimately to readers. So make the best one you can!
Some hints on what makes a good sentence:
- Shorter is better. Try for fewer than 15 words.
- No character names, please! Better to say “a handicapped trapeze artist” than “Jane Doe”.
- Tie together the big picture and the personal picture. Which character has the most to lose in this story? Now tell me what he or she wants to win.
- Read the one-line blurbs on the New York Times Bestseller list to learn how to do this. Writing a one-sentence description is an art form.
That is from the link I gave above.
Since I’m basically writing two stories and combining them as one, and since the second one can’t stand without the first one, but the first can without the second, I’m just going to focus on writing one part and then writing the second one later. Then I’ll merge them together. I think it will work, I think it’ll be awesome, and if not, well, I have a two-part series. :D
So, I stated with the little bit I know. After staring at it for little bit, I realized I didn’t like it. For one, I used the world everything.
A young pirate questions everything she knows when she meets a man desperate to save his sister. (WC 32.)
But I kept it because I needed to cut out a lot of words.
So, I got myself down to about 15 to 20 words, and other things started popping out as wrong. At one point in time I had:
After befriending a desperate man, a young pirate begins to question everything, including her abrupt promotion.
I didn’t think that sounded right. It balanced everything, but it didn’t show right. So I took his tip four and did just a search for “New York times bestsellers list“. (Earlier I included one-line blurbs and I could find nothing.) I found exactly what I wanted, one New York Times Bestsellers list, complete with blurbs.
After reading those, I realized that “After befriending a desperate man” had to be moved. The main character always went at the beginning of the sentence, unless setting a time period. So I moved that back to like it was at the end.
I also realized that “including her abrupt promotion,” although good at eluding to the plot, had to be deleted as well.
I then came up with this:
An young pirate begins to question everything about her life after befriending a desperate brother.
But I didn’t like the word young. It just sounded too light, too weak, and just… boring. Young pirate could mean she’s ten and she isn’t. (She’s nineteen.) So, I began playing around with the thesaurus and I found ingenuous.
When looking at the synaymyms, I found exactly the words I wanted to describe her.
naive, innocent, simple, childlike, trusting, unwary; unsuspicious, unworldly, wide-eyed, inexperienced, green, open, sincere, honest, frank, candid, forthright artless, guileless, genuine, upfront.
All of the bold words are words that I think will describe her. So although I think the words seems very unwieldily, I think it works. (I’ve also never heard of it before today.)
So I ended with:
An ingenuous pirate begins to question everything about her life after befriending a desperate brother.
I think this gives the right amount of balance between her questioning her life, and the suspicion there, and the friendship with the brother, and the desperation of the other guy. Maybe, later, if I figure things out, I’ll change it yet even more. So hopefully that’s the summery of my next book.
One note: IngenUous means innocent or unsuspecting. IngenIous means clever, original or inventive.
Question of the Week: April 4th
So, no one answered the question of the week last week, which is sad, I’ll admit, but there’s nothing I can do about that.
Last week’s question:
How do you go about editing a very bad scene?
I suppose I’ll just toss my two cents in. Basically, what I do is I edit it like any other scene, one paragraph at a time on the computer, then print it out and edit it on paper. Sometimes, oftentimes actually, I’ll have to rewrite whole parts of the scene.
I think however that some of the best advice I’ve read is that when all is said and done, sometimes what we think was bad, really isn’t that bad, and what we think is perfect, really isn’t that perfect. When we go back and read everything again, it all is just writing.
Today’s question of the week then is:
How Do You Plot a Story?
Now, I know that originally I said I started the Question of the week to get answers to things that I don’t know but since everyone is different, and different things work for different writers, this seemed appropriate enough. After all, all stories come from somewhere.
Answers due by Saturday night. Thank you all. Also, feel free to submit your own questions as well.
I’ve never really cared about how long I wrote my stories, although I always had ever intention of writing novels. I like the idea of complex plots and I wanted to write them.
My first novel turned out to be a little too complicated at about 300 pages. My second one came out to be a much better length, closer to 160 pages. (about 90,000 words). Then, I got stuck and I can’t think up any more novel plots, probably due to college’s heavy load.
Instead, I began writing shorter stories. My first story (Giant’s Wife) came out to be about 40 pages. A bit too long for much of anything. The second one was When Darkness Swallows, at about 25 pages, as have my next two. (Both Time of Dragon Slayers and Miles’ Love.) Which is about 10,000 to 15,000 words, short enough for a short story by some people’s standards.
But I’m not writing short stories. Not really.
See, I”m so used to being able to have a couple scenes to clean up everything. It’s the idea that I need to resolve all of my story lines and questions. When I wrote my novels, I gave myself two or three sections to finish everything up.
I can’t do that in short stories.
Short stories really need to have, at most, one scene to tie everything together. And not a long scene at that. We can’t have much with short stories to resolve, because short stories are meant to have only one plot line anyway.
That is the problem I’m having with my short stories. In When Darkness Swallows, I have the climax when he rescues Emin and then force the reader to read three more sections about what happens to the reader. In Miles’ Love, I was going to do the exact same thing, until I realized that this shouldn’t be the situation, so I changed it up.
How did I realize this? I looked at my other story that came out really well, Time of the Dragon Slayers. In that, I have the climax, even more of a climax, and then resolve everything in two pages. Tada! All solved. (Well, not everything. There are so many spin-off stories I can do that I probably won’t do, but it solved the main plot.)
So here is basically what I think a short story should be outlined (roughy)
A) A couple scenes that involve building the scenario, learning the characters, ect.
B) The climax, in one or two scenes.
C) ONE resolution scene.
Now, for a novel, there is a totally different formula that I will not go into today. Maybe someday, but not today. And hopefully with this realization, I can make my stories better too.
Just a reminder too. Question of the Week answer is due by Saturday night.
how to be a writer in five [marginally] easy steps
When I first started this blog, I said that the name came from something a writer friend of mine said when I was having a down time. He said that anyone can be a writer so long as one writes. It is being an author, that is, a published writer, now that is difficult.
As such, being a writer isn’t that difficult and here is pretty much how to go about it.
1.) Write. And I don’t mean that if you’re a fiction writer, write blog posts (like I’m doing now instead of actually writing.) If you want to be a fiction writer, write fiction.
2.) Realize you can undo. The scariest thing in the world is to sit down and stare at the blank page and not know where to begin. So what? Just start writing anyway. If you get to the end of your story, and you realize that it really shouldn’t have started there, then you can go back and fix it. But start writing anyway.
3.) Have a clue about where you’re going. I don’t mean have an outline about each and every scene. I merely mean that know that my story starts out with Natlie meeting Justin and ends with Natlie leaving the Dragon’s Nest. If you have clue about where you’re going, it not only saves you time writing, it encourages you to keep going for that next scene.
4.) Edit. Nothing is completed without being edited multiple times. And although it seems like a large waste initially, my stories dramatically improved when I began to print it out on paper and edit it like that. Also, it’s a bit more convenient.
5.) Keep writing. IF I were to decide that school and work and everything was too much right now and I’m done writing, then I would no longer be a writer. I would have been a writer when I was younger. But i am not a writer anymore. In order to continue being a writer, one must continue writing.
So, that’s all there is. In reality, being a writer isn’t that difficult. Now, being a good writer is a completely other story. But just like any art, writing requires practice. So keep at it and someday, you will be a good writer too.
what is this about?
I was going to write today about why I write science fiction but I’ll have to save that for Sunday because I need to vent a little bit.
Last semester at college I took my first, formal English class, just you’re basic English 111. One of the things that the teacher taught was that all papers, no matter what, need to have a thesis statement, that is, a reason why this is being written. Even in our narrative papers about our life we needed to have a thesis statment.
NOw, for developmental psych, we need to write a paper about our lives. I’m finding this very difficult because it is so broad and I tend to write long. What do I include? how much? How can I still make it intertwining?
I asked the teacher today if he could give us a thesis statement about what he would be looking for. Something like, In my life “I have experienced many happiness and sadness and these things made me a better person in the long run.” would have made me perfectly happy. By asking him for a thesis statement, I am merely asking for an explanation about why he wants us to write this.
But all he can say is talk about what made you what you are.
I can’t include everything with that! I’ve moved seven times already!
The other bad part is that I don’t like this teacher. The best way to describe him is crude. I’m not going to spill the multitude of emotions that came when my parents almost got a divorce to him. Nor am I going to talk about the pretty much poor relationship I have with my dad. Or the struggle I’m having with my brother. I don’t trust him and I sure don’t want to tell him all of that.
I think I now understand why thesis statements are really important. Besides letting the reader know what directly my writing will take, the wrier knows what direction to take. Maybe it’s almost like a prompt in the sense that start writing here about this and just keep going until you’re done with the story or whatever else you’re writing.
An outline would also be helpful with this, although I’m going to write my next story without an outline again. I think I work better on short stories like that.
Anyone else have experiences with thesis statements?
where do plots come from?
I only remember snapshots of those months. That is normal. Most of the time while writing a story, time just passes me by until there’s a click of realization. The clicks I remember clearly, because it’s like I realize two pieces of a puzzle that don’t appear remotely similar can be linked with just one little piece. Those are the moments that make writing exciting. However, the everyday moments of putting words on paper–words that are sometimes cut out completely later on–isn’t usually remembered.–(From Flashes of Imagination)
I commonly see this question answered by authors on their websites. In many ways, it is a very good question. Where do the plots come from?
In some ways, they seem to pop out of thin air. I tell my mom it’s like a bouncy ball is in my head and it is always bouncing around. Sometimes it’s like this ball hits the right spot and–boom!–I have a plot. Or at least, the beginning of a plot.
Because unlike what I would like to happen, a plot isn’t something that just appears out of thin air. It takes time to develop.
Let’s take Shad for example, which I know that no one has read but I know how it developed more. When I first thought about the plot, I had a piece of wood with a string on it that I was playing around with. I twisted the string around the nails and made a ship. Then, I started thinking about this person, who worked on a place like in Titan AE, so it’s like a recycling plant, who wants to be a mail runner and how he becomes it. Since that didn’t really interest me, the concept did more, I wrote it in my notebook and stowed it away.
Fast forward quite some time and I’m sweeping the dining room floor. I start having a conversation between the characters in my head. Out of that conversation comes the concept of Shad thinking himself as the best pilot and also the concept of sweeper ships.
Fast forward again a few more months and I decide it’s time to pull out my notebook and start writing down details of the story. I write down how they get food, how they get supplies. What they wear. How they act. Everything. I create for myself a society. I also get excited and write a few scenes.
However, I didn’t actually write anything for Shad until a year later, Maybe that is why it came out so well. During this time I was editing another story (Hope) which I wanted to finish before I started a new one. Two weeks before I started at a tech school, I told my mom that I really want to write this and I think I should, because otherwise it might just disappear. She said why not? I ended up writing Shad within three months, from August to Thanksgiving.
Now, between that time obviously I had to figure out things like who Shad’s parents were and where he came from and things like that. I don’t remember how I figured out the ending. I don’t remember how I realized the captain’s background (a rather nice little piece.) I don’t even remember why I decided that Shad needed a pet, except that I wanted a way to show that he wasn’t just some random tough guy.
Ironically, I usually can’t tell you want my plot is until I finish a story. For Shad, I thought it was his race. When I finished though I realized what it really was: Shad finding his place in the civilized galaxy.
The bottom line is that plots take time to develop. Plots usually have more than one issue involved in them. It’s almost like an onion, with the many layers that all comes down to it. But where do they come from? Thin air I think. Random ideas and thoughts connected in such a way that most people can’t even see them. They just pop in and then I knew how to exactly write something interesting.
So, does anyone else know?
to outline or not to outline
For all my longer works, for example novels, I write chapter outlines so I can have the pleasure of departing from them later on. –Garth Nix
I’ve always outlined. But Dragon Slayers has been different and rather interesting. Explain why.
I’ve almost always have an outline. It’s usually just a list of events, such as:
Shad drops Dr. Przemyal off with the ship. The doctor promises him a ship. The people gather for the news report of Dr. Przeymyar’s rescue. They hear him lie and Shad storms out. Shad steals the ship with the help of the guy who he talked to earlier. The captain finds out about the ship
Now each point is usually a whole chapter by itself, but sometimes not. I do this to keep focus so I don’t add unnecessary scenes. Later on, when I tried doing a serious multi-character work, I had the outlines so I could go from one person to another to another and still keep each of their stories moving.
However, in Dragon Slayers I didn’t outline. I’m not quite sure why. I guess I figured that it’s only going to be short (is about 30 pages right now), so I can keep track of everything in my head. I also never got around to writing it down, because I figured that what have to do to get from point A to point D would be difficult to figure out.
So I didn’t outline and strangely, it worked out rather well. Actually, a surprising thing happened. I thought I had the ending figured out. Then, I started thinking about it because I was ready to write it and I forgot what my ending was exactly. (I knew the major points but the little details, I wasn’t sure.) So when I got around to writing it, I changed something that I never expected to change and I actually think it makes it so much better.
So now I don’t know what to do. On one hand, outline worked fine with Shad and Hope and all my other stories. It let me see what actually had to be done and by when. However, I’m wondering if outline hinders me slightly too. Before, whenever I couldn’t decide what to write next, I always went back to the outline and wrote from that. When I didn’t do that with Dragon Slayers, it came out with a larger surprise, I think.
I’ve said before that one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned was to let the characters talk and act as they please. I think that, although outlines might not be bad, I need to learn the listen to the flow of the story too. I should ask myself, NOw that I know this character, does this action make sense? Does this scene make sense? And I shouldn’t worry about whether or not it flows with the story because maybe, just maybe, the story is different than I think.
It will certainly be an interesting experiment.