Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Feedback? For A Synopsis? Are You Crazy, Jake?


Synopsis Series: Part 11


Finding Weaknesses In Your Synopsis

Just like any first draft, your synopsis is not going to come out perfect. Unlike a novel, its not going to take re-writes and multiple drafts (hopefully!), however it will need some tweaking, particularly the first time you attempt a synopsis like this.

The first thing to do is to read through and look for weaknesses. Ask yourself the following questions:

- What haven’t I researched? What have I assumed?
These will be either factual or societal, and you might not realize they are a problem, because you might be clinging to ‘common knowledge’ or stereotypes that are just plain incorrect.

- Where have I not filled in the details I should?
Despite my best efforts, when I finish a synopsis I usually go back and find places I have written stuff like: “He solves the problem.” Without outlining how he solves the problem. Sometimes without even outlining what the problem is.

- What scenes are unnecessary or no longer fit?
Sometimes, by the end of the book, stuff has become redundant, or we realise we need to let go of a scene that serves no real purpose. Do that now.

- What scenes have we left out?
Sometimes as you read through at this stage, you will realize there is information readers need, or character growth that needs to happen, which is not in the synopsis. You may need to add a new scene in.


Strengthening Your Synopsis

However more important than finding weaknesses is strengthening what is already there. To take your novel from ‘good’ to ‘great’, you need to go through, plot point by plot point, and make every element stronger and more emotional. Raise all the stakes and find ways to make them more personal and heart-wrenching.

Your plot may already be good, but you can probably find a bunch of ways to make it even better. EG: maybe your plot is about the pilot of a plane who was crashes in the wilderness and has to make her way back to civilization. Its a story of woman against nature.

But what if the plain was carrying medical supplies to a remote outpost where half a dozen children are dying of bronchitis? What if the medicine survived the crash and she has to take this bulky kit with her, as she tries to survive the hostile wilderness? The stakes go from her life, to the lives of half a dozen children.

What if one of the children is her daughter? What if she promised to be home for her birthday, which is only two days away? What if she is curled up in a dug out, with wolves circling in the darkness, losing her toes and fingers to frostbite on her daughter’s birthday, imagining her dying daughter getting word that the plane went down, that her mother is not coming?

See how the stakes can always get higher? More heart-breaking? More emotionally intense?

Everywhere you have narrative traction, stakes, motivation, goals, barriers, etc, find ways to make them more. Make them bigger. But don’t make them random. They all have to fit together cohesively into the plot and be personal to the characters and make sense.


Getting Feedback On Your Synopsis

Really Jake? Feedback on a synopsis? Yes. I want you to get feedback on your synopsis. However this is the time you really need and experienced hand to give you feedback. Someone who knows about the publishing industry, someone who knows a lot about narrative structure and style. (If you ever get really stuck for synopsis feedback, email me and we can negotiate an editing fee.)

You want your beta readers looking for weaknesses. You want them looking for problems. And you want them looking for anywhere they don’t understand what is happening, or WHY it is happening. Because all of that SHOULD be in your synopsis. Unfortunately, it won’t be. Even with detailed synopsises, there is still often a lot of stuff we leave in our heads and assume is implied by the synopsis.

But guess what? If you do that in the synopsis, you’ll do it when you write the novel too. So suck it up, clarify all the things your beta reader I unclear on, and give it to them again to ask if you have fixed all their concerns.

If you have any minorities or even just people from a gender or culture you are not a part of, you should also give it to several of people who are in that group, for a sensitivity read. I like to think I am pretty aware of social issues and sexist tropes, but even I get caught out. Sometimes its really dumb stuff, where I should have seen it and known better. (EG: in a recent novel, all my healers were women.)

Don’t be defensive if you get caught out or called on this stuff. Just say: “Shit, how did I miss that?” and FIX IT.


Finally, It Is Ready

Its done. I bet you were starting to think I was never going to say that. However I promise you writing a novel with this technique will be the quickest first draft you have ever written. And it will probably be the best book you have ever written too!


And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at www.traditionalevolution.com. It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.


1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire
7. The Skeleton Of A Novel
8. The Meat & Flesh of Your Novel
9. The Fur and Feathers of your Novel
10. Planning Scenes That Make Writing A Breeze
11. Feedback? For A Synopsis? Are You Crazy, Jake?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Planning Scenes That Make Writing A Breeze


Synopsis Series: Part 10


The Bricks That Build A Novel


Scenes are the bricks that build a novel. I’ve talked about what scenes need to really be spectacular in my last post. However you should fill out each section in the detailed synopsis as it is listed, so when you are planning, you will be writing the details of the scene, based on your simple synopsis, before you get into the emotional beats and narrative traction anyway.

What separates these scene summaries in your detailed synopsis from the ones you wrote in your simply synopsis though, is details. You want to add in a lot of details. Depending on what sort of person you are, each scene summary could be a half a page long. Longer, even. Your synopsis could end up like an abridged novel.

Mine are not that long. My average scene summary is between 100-300 words. I often include snippets of dialog, particularly pivotal dialog or dialog that summarizes the tone of the scene, or the emotions of the characters in the scene. I also often write ‘note:’ and jot down anything I don’t want to forget, such as things in future or past scenes that relate to the one I am working on. EG: ‘Note: remember Anna still has an injured shoulder.’


It’s All In The Details

The goal of planning scenes, is to remove all decision making from the writing process. If you want to write very quickly, this should be your focus at this stage.

That means  ABSOLUTELY NO “I WILL LEAVE THIS FOR LATER” PARTS. As much as possible of the physical and mechanical events of every scene needs to be worked out in detail. Its not enough to write ‘she breaks in and steals the papers’. It should read something like: ‘Maria breaks in by climbing through the window with the broken lock in Peter’s office. The papers are in the top cupboard, over the sink, and coated in a layer of dust. A preliminary glance reveals that Annalise signed all the documentation for the construction, so she was lying when she said didn’t know about the project, or someone forged her signature.’

Writing is only slow when you have to stop and think about what is happening. When you take decisions out of the process, you allow yourself to focus entirely on writing great prose, and strengthening all the elements we talked about in the previous blog post: narrative traction, purpose emotional beats and so on.


Character Emotional Growth

If you are a bit emotionally stunted when it comes to writing like me (and even if you aren’t), you also need to track how the characters feel during the events of the scene. This is to make sure their mood is consistent and doesn’t see-saw all over the place in illogical ways.

Clear character emotions make the scene feel more grounded and tangible to a reader. However if the character’s emotions are flopping all over the place, or don’t make sense to the reader, the scene can feel confusing, and confusion breaks immersion.


What Readers Need To Know

As well as the literal events and character feelings, you also need to note what things readers need to know in each scene. That is to say, what questions they should be asking, what information they need about characters or setting, and what hints for future scenes they need in order to feel the pull of narrative traction. EG: ‘Lydia needs to mention that no one has come back alive once they enter gate 31.’ Or ‘Gordon needs to see the train departing and hear the train whistle, so the reader knows this story has steam power.’

Too often when giving feedback to writers, I know they have good things in their plot, but they neglect to tell readers about them. Its sort of like being a millionaire, but never taking your turn shouting lunch when you are out with your friends. Its a negative experience for them, and you, because they think you’re a cheapskate asshole. Likewise, if readers don’t have the fun of anticipating what is going to happen, they won’t enjoy the story. Which is, if you forgot, what narrative traction is. The sense that something better will happen if they keep reading.


What Readers Don’t Need To Know

Telling readers too much is also a cardinal writing sin. Most of the time, the right time to tell readers something about your world or characters is a few pages after they want to know. Use that information as a way to keep drawing them through the story, but don’t leave it so long they get frustrated and put the book down because they are confused. The exception to this is any central mysteries that aren’t explained until the end of the novel. EG: You don’t tell the reader who the killer is on page two of a thriller novel. That is revealed in the climax.

However it is important you have the things YOU need to know in your synopsis, even if they don’t actually appear in the scene itself.

When writers first start out, the first chapter of their books is often twenty pages of world building, establishing waffle. This is always the writer doing all the world building and planning for the novel that they SHOULD have done in a synopsis—instead, they think its a first chapter.

Anything you need to know, that readers don’t, feel free to put in your scene notes. Stuff like: ‘The captain of the Hemmes is the same captain that ferried Nathan from Augusta to Mal Cove.’ Nathan may never see the Hemmes or the captain again, and smart readers might pick up it is the same character, but if Nathan isn’t in the scene, there is no way for me to explicitly state it, as the characters on the Hemmes weren’t present when Nathan went to Mal Cove. Its still useful for me to remember though.

So that’s it. You have all the parts you need to start writing your synopsis. Next week, we are going to talk about what to do when you have finished your synopsis and, pro tip, its not starting to write your first draft.


And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at www.traditionalevolution.com. It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.



1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire
7. The Skeleton Of A Novel
8. The Meat & Flesh of Your Novel
9. The Fur and Feathers of your Novel
10. Planning Scenes That Make Writing A Breeze

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Fur and Feathers of your Novel


Synopsis Series: Part 9
“Jake, Tell Me About All Those Weird Unnecessary Looking Bits.”


The weird extra bit are what keeps your novel balanced and compelling. They may seem unnecessary now, maybe even overwhelming. However they will pay off when it comes to editing and selling your novel.

If you try it once, I promise you won’t go back, even if you end up tweaking my methods a little to design a system that suits the way your mind works, and plays to your own distinct weaknesses. The important thing is, that you do focus on your weaknesses and not your strengths. That is where a well-planned synopsis will make the most difference.


What Are Beats and Why Do I Need Them?

I’ve said it before, but the stronger your readers feel when reading your books, the more likely they are to recommend those books to other people. Word of mouth is still the most powerful selling tool in existence. If you really want to be a best seller, people need to be talking to each other about your books.

So if you are writing a horror novel, you want it to be the scariest horror novel that reader has picked up all year. Your sad scenes should make readers teary, your tense scenes should have them squeezing the cushions with white knuckles.

When you are planning your synopsis, ‘beats’ refers to the emotional beat of the scene. What is the reader supposed to be feeling? Tracking this is important for two reasons. Firstly, before and after you write the scene, you can consider what the reader should be feeling. You can ask yourself how you can intensify that feeling. How you can make it so intense its almost unbearable.

Secondly, it lets you balance for emotional fatigue. If you hit the same beat in every scene, that emotion will lose its impact. You have to balance highs and lows. Different genres have different emotional ‘shapes’ and you should familiarize yourself with what is effective. Then you will know where and when you need to hit emotional beats to make the novel as satisfying as possible.


What Is Narrative Traction?

The shortest, simplest explanation of narrative traction is that it ‘promises the reader something interesting will happen if they keep reading’. If you write: ‘no one who goes through door 31 has ever come back’ the readers want to know what is behind door 31. It also tells the reader what is coming: a character will go through door 31. If you say something like that, and the the reader is never shown through door 31, you will disappoint and anger them. It is misleading.

I have done a whole series on how to create narrative traction and you can find the links here:
1. What Is Narrative Traction
2. Types Of Narrative Traction
3. Infomational Narrative Traction
4. Event Based Narrative Traction
5. How To Create Narrative Traction
6. Troubleshooting, Plotting & Identifying

When writing your narrative traction into your synopsis, you should ask two questions:
1. What is the reader itching to find out?
2. What is the reader eagerly anticipating?

Some of these things will stay consistent much of the way through the book. The first kiss is something romance readers will be anticipating from page one, but may not get until the end. The trick is to make readers want that first kiss more and more desperately as the novel progresses. Likewise, maybe the main character doesn’t go through door 31 until near the end of the novel—maybe it is a part of the climax. However to build the traction for that moment, you have to keep making the door more and more interesting.

However you should have multiple narrative traction threads, and they should always overlap. If you resolve one (going through door 31), you should have two or three more already in place and drawing the reader forward. You can’t have any places were narrative traction is dropped completely.

The stronger you can make your narrative traction, the harder it will be for readers to put it down. At the very least, you need to know what it is. However as much as possible, spell out how you are going to build narrative traction in your synopsis. So when you get to the first draft, you always know what your traction is, and you can ask yourself: “How do I make this more compelling? How can I make readers desperate to know/see this?”


Why Track Purpose?

Every scene needs a purpose. Actually, I believe every GOOD scene needs at least two, preferably three or more. Occasionally in beta reading or feedback someone might say: ‘What was the point of this scene?’ If someone is asking, you’re probably in trouble, but at the very least, you should be able to answer instantly—there should be a solid reason why every scene is critical to the plot.

However scenes that are only serving one purpose can be boring. You can make a scene a lot more interesting by having it serve many purposes, packing it full of conflict, information and character development.

Here are some of the purposes a scene might have:

- Introduces new information about the setting or characters
- Raises the stakes
- Shows characterization or character development
- Moves the plot forward
- Builds suspense
- Introduces a character
- Climax
- Resolution
- Inciting Incident
- Establishes setting, mood, atmosphere or themes

When you get to your first draft, make sure the purposes of the scene are clear to you and the reader. People should never be asking what the purpose of a scene was, they should always feel like every scene they read is vital.


Why Track Characters?

Tracking characters usually comes down to balancing. Some authors suggest that after you finish your first draft, you highlight every single line of dialog in the novel in different colors—one color for every character. This shows you who is dominating the script. (It also shows you if male characters are doing 90% of the talking.)

I finding tracking how often characters appear before I start writing can help me balance how much screen time each of them has. It allows me to either put some characters in more often, or take out the ones who are dominating more than they should. Which is MUCH easier to do at the synopsis stage.

It also helps in those times a character is supposed to be in a scene and I forget about them completely.


Measure Twice, Cut Once

Completing all these parts of a synopsis before you begin writing takes a lot of time. Instead of taking a few days, a synopsis could take weeks. Even months. However it will save you so much time in the long run.

If done correctly, it will leave you with a fantastic, complicated, heart-wrenching book, instead of a mediocre one. It will save you years of editing and rejections when people ‘liked it, but didn’t love it’, or ‘can’t quite put their finger on what isn’t working.’

A novel doesn’t have to be ‘well written’ to be a best seller. But it does need narrative traction. And it does need to invoke strong emotions in the readers. That is why books you might despair at, books like Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray, sell millions of copies, but better written, more intelligent books languish in the mid-list. You can do both, but you have to plan for it.

So take the time, try planning it all in advance, and see what sort of book you end up with.


And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at www.traditionalevolution.com. It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.



1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire
7. The Skeleton Of A Novel
8. The Meat & Flesh of Your Novel
9. The Fur and Feathers of your Novel

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Meat and Flesh of Your Novel

Synopsis Series: Part 8


The Layout Of The Detailed Novel Synopsis:

Okay, we have looked at the character sheet for the Jake Corvus Method and we have a simple synopsis, which has the basic details of the plot, and the right number of scenes, for you to build on.

This week, we are going to look at the way I lay out a detailed synopsis. Over the next two weeks, I am going to talk about how to correctly fill out the detailed synopsis. It may look a bit daunting, but I promise with the work you have already done on the character sheets and the simple synopsis, it won’t be as difficult as it looks!

The following template is the template to use for every SCENE. Every scene will need its own copy of this template. So you may use between 20-100 of these in a full synopsis.


TEMPLATE:

Chapter: (You may have several scenes in one chapter, or you may have scenes that bridge chapters. That’s fine. This is to help you organize things, its not set in stone.)
Day: (If I don’t track the day at this stage, I completely lose track of the time line.)
Scene: (There will be a whole blog post dedicated to what you should and shouldn’t include in your scene description. In general though, it should be as long and detailed as you can make it. I will even include sections of dialog and description when I am planning this stage. If you go up to 500+ words, don’t stress, its less writing for you at the first draft stage.)
Narrative Traction:
What is promised or anticipated?
What questions do readers want answered?
(If you haven’t read my narrative traction series, this part is going to be difficult or impossible. However this is all getting its own blog post too, and I will include the links to the narrative traction series then.)
Purpose: (Every scene has to have at least two purposes for me to keep it in the book. Those purposes might be: furthering the plot, raising the stakes, providing information to the reader, character development, or world building. Most scenes that only do one of these things will be boring scenes, so its a good idea to try and work in AT LEAST two to every scene. When you do this in the planning/synopsis phase, stuff doesn’t get forgotten in the heat of the moment writing phase.)
Characters: (A list of what characters are in each scene. This is 1) so no one is forgotten or ignored in a scene and 2) so when you finish your detailed synopsis, you can go through and check the ‘visual weight’ of each character.)
Beats: (This is where you list the emotional beats of the scene. The emotional beats of the scene are what you want the READER to feel, not the characters. I typically just write ‘romance’, ‘horror/fear’, ‘action/excitement’, ‘drama/angst’. However you may wish to be more explicit. EG: “I want readers to be afraid Bill won’t survive.” Or “I want readers hearts to ache with longing when Christine leaves.” Strong writing makes readers feel strong emotions, so don’t dismiss this section. You can’t make readers feel strong emotions if you don’t even know what you want them to feel.)


Organizing Your Synopsis:

I prefer to do my synopses in scrivener. This allows me to have multiple files that I can access and have open at one time. If you were trying to get the same effect in word, you would need not just multiple files, but multiple folders.

In scrivener, I like to have my overview, my simple synopsis and my detailed synopsis as separate files in one sub folder. I like to have my character profiles in another sub folder and my wold building file in a third sub folder, with any art or maps I have gathered from the setting. All of these sub folders usually end up in the ‘research’ folder scrivener self generates.

When I am writing, I then work with a vertical split screen, so I can have my detailed synopsis to the right of the scene I am working on. When I am writing a novel, each scene is its own file, so they can be easily moved around. I then compile them all in a single word document for editing.

If you are just working in word, you’ll need to flip back and forth between your synopsis and the scene you are writing. Which could be a major pain in the ass. Alternatively, you could print out your synopsis and character sheets and keep them in a binder, but that doesn’t allow for editing on the fly. If you use any sort of text to speech program for writing, it should be quite easy to have the synopsis open while you work.

The point is, you need a system where you can regularly access your detailed synopsis and character profiles while you write, so when you are setting up your folders, do so with that in mind.


Do You Really Need All That?

Yep. My synopsis system allows you to track not only the EVENTS in your story, but the reader’s emotional arc and why they are turning the page. This guarantees you have a page-turning book, one your target audience can’t put down. You might be thinking this is more important in genres like romance, which people tend to associate with ‘emotion’. However romance often has a slow emotional build with a few peaks along the way. The genres that are really high emotion are action, thriller and horror, which require a reader to be very on and emotionally engaged, on the edge of their seat for the entire novel.

Think of emotion levels as excitement levels, or (non sexual) arousal. If your pulse isn’t racing during an action or horror, its not a very good action or horror. And that emotional intensity often has to be sustained AND build for the entirety of the book.

Comparatively, the books you may think of as emotional—the ‘women’s fiction’ books—may have a much lower emotional arc for the reader. Readers might be biting their lip, but they’re not biting their nails, you get me? (That said, there is a lot of high intensity romance novels too, but the sweet/low intensity ones sell just as well.)

Male readers like to think they are more interested in the plot and events than the characters—this is almost universally untrue. Men need to relate to the main character, moreso than women in many cases. The proof is in the pudding. Books targeted at men only sell if they have male protagonists. Never ignore your tension, emotional arcs and narrative traction, just because you are writing for men. Explosions alone won’t keep them reading.


Next week, we look at characters, narrative traction, beats and purpose in the detailed synopsis. The week after, we will be taking a close look at scenes—what to include and what not to include.

And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at www.traditionalevolution.com. It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.


1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire
7. The Skeleton Of A Novel
8. The Meat & Flesh of Your Novel

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Skeleton Of A Novel

https://shaunkeenan.com/

After a huge delay, mostly caused by the premature birth of my son, we are back to the synopsis series!


The Simple Synopsis

The simple synopsis is a bullet point list of scenes, largely used for brainstorming and putting things in order before you start your detailed synopsis. If you have written a synopsis before, it probably looked very similar to this.


Re-Read Your Material!

Before you brainstorm, you have to re-read all your material. Your overview, your character profiles and your world building. All of it. And if you brainstorm over several days, you have to re-read it all before every brainstorming session. Why? Because that’s why you wrote the profiles and world-building, to lay the foundation for your plot to be built on. If you don’t use it now, you’ve wasted the last few weeks of work.

Many of your plot elements will already be in place in your character profiles. And your world building will create limits, boundaries and rules for those scenes to play out under. Character profiles and world-building are the parents of your plot.


Brainstorming

Next, we brainstorm. The most important think about brainstorming is, that we write down anything that comes to mind, even if it doesn’t ‘fit’ or we think it feels stupid. Just write it down. Keep writing until you think you have way more scenes than you need. You may have to repeat this step a few times, over a few different days, to keep growing this list of scenes to a reasonable level. Don’t worry about them being in order, just get down as many ideas as you can.


Number Of Scenes

Next, we need to go back to our overview and look at our chapter and word count goal. Lets assume we want 30 chapters, and we want to put in at least three scene points per chapter. That equals 90 scenes. Do you have ninety scenes on your list? More? Less? Keep in mind, you have been writing down a lot of things that might not fit in your plot. You may want to go back to the brainstorming stage and give yourself more to work with. Its a good idea to have a quarter or a third more scene ideas than you think you will need.


Putting It In Order

Your scene list is a jumble of bones in a pile. Now you need to lay it out to form an actual skeleton, starting with the head. Your most critical scene of all.

I usually open a new file in scrivener, and start clipping and pasting things over in the order they need to happen, starting at the beginning, and working my way to the end. I do the major, fixed plot points first. And then I add in the smaller, more flexible elements around them.

Whatever didn’t fit, I keep in another folder to go back to if I get stuck later, but mostly these elements are abandoned. That’s okay. Not every idea is a good one, and not every good idea belongs in THIS book.


Ground-Hog Day Cometh

Now you have the rough structure of a plot. You have about 90 scenes for 30 chapters, in roughly the right order, separated into their chapters in ways that will let you end some, if not all, chapters on intense cliffhangers.

Guess what you get to do now? That’s right. You re-read your overview and think about your target audience, you re-read all your character profiles and look for elements and critical scenes that have been left out (like testing your heroes strength), you re-read your world building to look for conflicts or things that need to be added.

You add notes to yourself for later, you expand on things, you jot down where readers need certain information and how to put it into those scenes organically. You keep building and adding until you don’t just have a spine, but you have a full skeleton.


Simple Synopsis Checklist

So now you have a simple synopsis, I want you to read through again and check you have the following:

1. The right number of scenes for your desired word count.
2. Your hero’s strength is tested.
3. Your hero’s weakness is tested and they fail.
4. Your hero’s weakness is tested and they overcome (probably your climax).
5. Your villain’s strength is tested and they excel.
6. Your villain’s weakness is tested and they fail both times.
7. Any major secondary characters have their strength and weakness moments.
8. Your hero’s primary goal is clearly outlined at the beginning. Plus the costs of failure and the barriers.
9. Your villain is clearly introduced early on.
10. You have scenes that highlight your main character’s, villain and any major secondary character’s, growth arcs.
11. Your villains goals are outlined early (even if they are false or fake) and the costs to the hero if they succeed.
12. The stakes continue to rise, the odds get worse and everything gets more urgent as the plot progresses.
13. You have threaded in any elements that relate to twists and ‘ah-ha!’ moments. EG: your red herrings are in place, your clues are in place, any guns used in act three are clearly visible in act one, etc.
14. The overall structure is solid. Exciting opening, middle where the tensions and stakes escalate, building to a tense and fulfilling climax and ending.

If you have all of these elements ready and in order, you are in the perfect position to begin your REAL synopsis next week!


And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at www.traditionalevolution.com. It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.



ALL CURRENT POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Building An Empire



Synopsis Series: Part 6

Sorry about the missed posts! I was in hospital having a baby.


The Worst World Building Comes From Laziness

The worst books, the ones I put down right away, are the ones that basically have a historical earth setting, but the author has made no efforts to research and just calls it fantasy, so they don’t have to be historically accurate.

Admittedly, there are some readers that just don’t care about that sort of thing. However the truth is, there are too few people like that to make a book a best seller. Lazy world building will forever keep you in the realms of the mid-list author, and that is the very best you can aim for.

You might think this only affects speculative and historical fiction, but it is just as important in contemporary fiction. The under developed world building there tends to show itself in characters who are all from the same upbringing and location as the author. Not just main characters, but everyone. Its often a book full of white, middle class, lapsed Christians, as if no other people exist in the world. Maybe a few caricatures of billionaires thrown in too, but those billionaires don’t act or think like billionaires, they just act and think like the author with more money.

I honestly can’t be bothered reading books by lazy authors. If you didn’t care enough to do any research or put effort in to developing a rich, full world, why would I want to read it? I’m certainly not going to care about your book more than you do.

That said, world building doesn’t have to be a huge, month long nightmare. I know some writers who can get a bit bogged down in world building. They spend months, even years, focusing on world building and never write the book. Realistically, world building should probably take about a week. I highly suggest supplementing your world building with historical documentaries throughout the year. There are many fantastic British series on how things are made traditionally in tutor times, or Victorian times, everything from thatch roofs to food to pigstys. They’re very enjoyable too, so watch them instead of re-watching ‘the office’ and your evenings being comatose on the couch will be put to good use.


Magic

Your magic system needs rules. For all the pros, there has to be cons. Too many authors use magic to solve problems they are too lazy to find solutions for. However a good magic system creates problems and obstacles, not solutions. It should be a source of conflict. Either because of the toll it takes on the user, the social and political implications, or the imbalance of power created when the main character has much less than the villain they are facing.

If you only use magic to make things easier, either for you as a writer, or your characters within the plot, you are doing it wrong. It is also important that once you establish rules and boundaries, you work within them. Magic is not something you can make up on the fly, not if you want to do it well. However when it is done well, it can be one of the most appealing and interesting parts of your novel.


Faith, Religions and Power

Historically, power has always oscillated between the government or monarchy and the church—whatever church it may be. Even today, churches influences politics a lot more than politics influence churches.

This is for two reasons. Firstly, historically speaking, church and religion have always been the cornerstone in community. Most religions call for people to come together and worship regularly, but these sessions of worship also become community networking. And, often, a way of enforcing community standards and guidelines. You have to meet certain moral criteria to be accepted at the church and thus within the community.

The second reason, is that almost all religions promote the idea that life is short, but the soul is infinite. So what happens in life is less important than what happens to the soul after death. Since government and monarchy are often concerned with the here and now, many people can be convinced they are less important than the church, which decides and informs over the eons.

When considering the power structure of any society, religion should be taken into account. Both because of its ability to influence government and policy, and because of the networks it fosters within a community. In any fantasy or historical seeing, the church would almost definitely be the heart of community and socialization. With the rise of the Internet, improved transport and globalization, this has shifted somewhat. However even today, the only thing that influences governments more than religion is money. (And if you believe greed is the work of the devil, then money also falls under religious influence.)

Even if you ‘re not religious, its hard to ignore religion in world building, since I can guarantee every person on earth feels some concern about what happens after death. And this is the fundamental question that religion exists to answer. Thus, even if you are an atheist, it is the one thing all people have in common.


Politics, Social Classes and Commerce

Is your society controlled by government, military, monarchy or the church? Is it democratic? Is it patriarchal or matriarchal? What is the currency of power? Money? Faith? Bloodlines? Military force? What is the power structure of the different classes? How are the poor kept poor? Is it limited education? War? Resource shortages? Faith based manipulations?

Who controls the flow of money and commerce? Who controls resources? Is there room for lateral movement in classes? Is there room for forward movement? Can the lower class ever rise above their station? What keeps them from moving up? Money? Education? Blood? Titles?

Every society has a system of checks in place to control the flow of resources to certain groups, creating at least two classes (rich and poor). Since early times, it has often been as easy as racism. EG: These people are inferior to us, so it is okay for us to make them slaves.

These days, these systems still tend to focus on hate and shame. They usually target weaker, vulnerable groups, such as the sick, the less educated and people of colour. Take any of the following arguments, which I have heard on the news, spoken by politicians or experts:
‘Fat people shouldn’t receive welfare until they lose weight.’
‘People should be forced to take an IQ test before they have children.’
‘Refugees shouldn’t receive welfare, since they came illegally.’

Personal political opinions aside, if you want to make a setting realistic—be it past, present or future, you need to know which groups are being denied access to resources, by who and how.


Food and Waste

Food and waste are huge issues for cities, and place a lot of limits on societies. Just look at ye old London and the early days of New York. Usually government is in charge of sanitation, and if government is slack or non existent, so is sanitation. On average, everyone poops once a day, so multiply the poops by the number of people in the city. Ten thousand people, ten thousand poops on the street in day one. By the end of the week, the same city has 70, 000 poops on the street. Ten thousand people will produce 3, 650, 000 poops in a year. That is not including any livestock such as horses, pigs, chickens, sheep or cattle. Nor does it include cats and dogs. That doesn’t include food waste, or urine either.

And if you have shit, urine and food scraps from people and animals built up in drifts along the street, you also have disease. Its hard to keep hands and food uncontaminated. That poop becomes vomit and diarrhea. People can’t work. The city is full of flies, mice and rats, because rats and mice can eat maggots. Do you see where I am going with this?

Poop aside, you need enough food to feed people in your society. And if you were born in the city, you might think you stick a seed in soil, give it some light and water and a plant grows that people eat. You would be wrong. Plants need food too. Dead things and poop, mostly. But also other nutrients and some plants require soil to be alkaline or well drained or very wet and so on. Growing meat also requires food for the meat, along with water, space and breeding management.

Food and waste a complicated systems and without them, human society—from a family of three, to a huge mega city—can’t run. Too often I just see writers ‘assume it away’, without realizing these issues are constant and major, now, in the past and likely in the future.

In fact, food and sanitation, or lack thereof, have often been used to control populations… or start revolutions. A hungry man doesn’t care who is in charge, only where his next meal is coming from. A woman watching her child starve will do anything. Even march on the capital and eat the president.


Ecosystems

Eco systems need to be balanced. If you have a lot of large predators, there needs to be a lot MORE things for those large predators to eat. A male African lion eats about 7kgs of meat a day and weighs about 190kgs. Scale that up to a three tonne dragon and you’re looking at over 100kgs of meat per day. Keep in mind, three tonnes equal to about three very large horses. If you want bigger dragons, dragons that are closer to thirty tonnes, they’re going to eat a tonne of food a day. However a large predator that has to eat every day or it will starve is going to struggle. So a thirty pound dragon might be looking for three tonne food every three days.

And whatever this prey is, there needs to be enough of them to support a breeding population of dragons, which means the prey needs enough food and space to grow and breed. And if you are talking about three tonne herbivores, suddenly that space and food is immense. Keep in mind most large herbivores bred once every year, or even once every two years, and the population to sustain your dragons just keeps growing and growing.

If you are doing a historical, fantasy or sci fi setting, do a rundown of the local ecosystem, the animals and plants, what preys on what and how they interact with your human population. A city of 10, 000 people can’t all be hunter gatherers. People can’t walk far enough and an environment can’t be dense enough in animals and plants for that to be possible. At a certain size, agriculture becomes a must for most of the population.

When your eco system is balanced and feels realistic, your book is more enjoyable for readers, so its worth taking the time to do your homework and math.


Birth, Death and Marriage


Birth, Death and Marriage are said to be the three more important moments of your life. Regardless of if that is true, all cultures have their own unique attitudes, rituals and beliefs regarding these three events. If you plan on just falling back on the ‘default’, then you are showing your own ignorance. Even today, even in a single suburb, the rituals and beliefs around these three occasions will vary greatly. Across history and location, the variations are startling, exciting and fascinating.

When developing a culture in fantasy or sci fi, give thought to how they treat these three events. Even if you are writing a contemporary novel, get out of your comfort zone. Learn about the people around you and how they celebrate, or mourn. The foods, the smells, the songs.

Assuming you are the default is deeply arrogant and narcissistic. If you are going to write about birth, death and marriage as it is in your family and culture, then at least do it the respect of honest and authentic details.

I, for example, will never forget my grandmother’s funeral where a great uncle suggest a cousin and I should go on a date, despite knowing we were cousins. There’s a raw, authentic and very unflattering detail.

Soon, I will get to learn some authentic details about what its like being a trans man giving birth in a major Australian hospital. And if I ever write that scene, I will be dispensing of the assumptions and ‘default’ birth cliches.


Variety In Culture


It annoys the crap out of me in sci fi were the main characters meet an alien race, which has a uniform culture across the entire planet. I can’t think of anything less realistic. Even within restricted, very close knit communities, there are small small differences. A traditional dish that has existed for thousands of years will be made differently by every family—a special family recipe.

Its also rare to find a community that is completely isolated. People have always traveled. No culture sat quietly, farming their land and living their lives. People moved, people explored the world. Travel took a lot longer and was much more dangerous, but it didn’t stop them. You would be surprised if you looked back through history and realized just how early different cultures were in contact.

So it doesn’t matter if you are working with accurate history, or present day, or creating your own culture, remember that isolated cultures are rare, almost non existent. And that truly isolated cultures are often extremely susceptible to disease from outsiders. Your main character who comes from some isolated village that hasn’t made contact with strangers for thousands of years would, realistically, die of the flu come winter.

Static culture is boring and unrealistic. Learn to interweave a realistic and vibrant setting, one influenced by a range of different cultures and people.


Researching Reality


Immersion is the best form of research. Even something as simple as standing on a stool or chair to see how taller people see the world can give you insight into a character. We can’t all afford to travel around the world, living in the cultures we want to write about. But we can go to museum exhibitions, art exhibitions, local import stores, culture clubs and so on. We can also watch documentaries and read books, either histories, or autobiographies, by the sort of people we want to write about.

Its important to look for authentic experiences. If you want to write about Africa, don’t read books by people who went on holiday there, or who are from another culture and lived there. Read books by people who were born and raised in Africa. Read about the cultures and places you want to learn about, as told by the actual people who live there.

And if you do get the chance to immerse yourself fully in a new culture or place, don’t just rely on your own experiences. Talk to people, learn about other people’s experiences. You’re not trying to learn about yourself and your own feelings and reactions, so don’t focus on them.

Of course, if you are writing about a cultural background, or minority, other than your own, its a good idea to get sensitivity readers (readers from that culture or minority who read your book looking for inaccuracies or unintentionally offensive material). Just like editors, sensitivity readers should be paid for their time. So factor that into your budget when costing/planning a novel.


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ALL CURRENT POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire