Letter From The Editor - Issue 68 - April 2019

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  Writing Advice by Mette Ivie Harrison
December 2018

A Synopsis or a Summary?

It may seem like it doesn't matter, but there actually is a distinction between a synopsis and a chapter summary. A synopsis is usually intended to be short (a page or less). A chapter summary can be longer (sometimes much longer, 20-40 pages if it is being used as an outline). A synopsis tells overall about what happens in the book, but does not necessarily go through each scene and event. It can skip over subplots and minor characters. A chapter summary goes through every scene in the book. It tells who the narrator is and what happens point by point. A synopsis may be in the viewpoint of the main character. A chapter summary is told in third person.

Some agents or editors may request a synopsis. Others may request a chapter summary. You should have both to hand. A chapter summary is something I often write while in the midst of the book. It is adapted from an outline and changes as I actually sit down to write the book. If I change this chapter, it will affect other chapters, so I do that in outline form to see how it's going before I do it in written form. If you're not working from an outline, it can still be useful for you to write down a chapter summary as you complete each chapter. This is a chance for you to look through previous chapters and see if they are going well, leading from one to the next.

A synopsis isn't something I write until I've finished the whole book. I need to know more than just what happens in each chapter. I need to know why it matters, what the theme of the book is, who my target audience is, and more. A synopsis is something that may be used internally in the publisher to help people in marketing understand what the book is about and how to pitch it to bookstores and other buyers. It's not about details. It's about the overarching plot and character development.

Does that help?

Calendaring Your Novel

I wish I'd learned to use a calendar while writing earlier in my writing career. Instead, it wasn't until book #11 that I started using a calendar from the very first draft. Maybe it isn't as important in fantasy, when days of the week might not be the same or as regularly checked as they are in modern times, but if you're writing a contemporary novel of any kind, you need to make sure that the events of your book can happen on the days you say they do. Choose a month and a year, get a calendar out, and start writing down which day of the month and the week each chapter happens on. Save it, because your editor and copy-editor will want to see it.

Here's what happens when you start using a calendar: you realize that you have eight chapters all on the same day. Or you realize that you missed one Sunday. Or you say "the next day" when it's actually four days later.

Trust me, you will be so glad you started doing this. It's a simple thing to add to your process. If you're like me, you have a document that's open already to collect all incidental information about your draft, from descriptions of characters and places to quotes, etc. I keep my calendar there and refer to it frequently to make sure I've got it right. This also means that if you change the day one chapter happens on, there may be a domino effect that means you have to change all the others. But that's OK, because it's all contained in your calendar.

Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison

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