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 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

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