Welcome back to Storybuilder Inc., a series based on my outlining workshop. This is the method I use, and though there are many other ways to write, I hope writers who like a step-by-step approach will find this useful for developing their own strategies. We will cover everything from the initial premise to the final, polished draft.
If you just started following this week, you can find all posts together by clicking here.
Last week I talked about the 9-part outline. It’s a big jump to move from the 3-part to the 9-part outline, but hopefully step 4 gave you some material to latch onto. If not, don’t worry about getting behind—do this at your own pace.
This week, we move onto step 6: the short proposal.
Ready for an agent…before the manuscript is even started
If you have been writing for a while, then no doubt you are familiar with preparing a submission for an agent or editor. Two key ingredients in that package are the query letter and the synopsis. While agent submission guidelines vary, many ask for a paragraph that summarizes your story (often following an introductory paragraph in the query letter) and a longer synopsis that gives away the end.
Guess what? You have the paragraph. If you’ve been carefully following along, then your work from step 3 contains all the material you need. If not, then this is a good opportunity to go back and see if you can put some more spin on it (of course, this also means going through steps 4 and 5 to carry forward the changes, but trust me, that’s where the fun begins).
Now for the synopsis.
Ready, set, wait
After last week’s work with the 9-part outline, I bet you have lots of information filled in. Your story frame must be bristling with all kinds of possibilities. That’s good. It might feel like you’re ready to go. But wait…how do you know it’s all going to work?
That’s a great question to ask, and one of the reasons agents or editors love to look at a synopsis after the query has caught their attention. A manuscript that begins strong but loses steam might have some potential after a bit of tweaking if there’s a strong story behind it, so if you’ve written your synopsis well (present 3rd person omniscient, just like the back of a movie case), you might receive more than a form rejection letter.
When do you sit down and write that synopsis? Right now, with the short proposal.
In particular, now is when you start to write that synopsis (agents and editors should be the furthest thing from your mind at this point). This short proposal will not only be your raw material for putting together a killer synopsis later, it will be your guide for those times during the writing process where things look grim. Think of it as a reminder that somehow it’s going to work out.
Piecing it together
Just as you use your 3-part outline as the basis for the synoptic paragraph in your query letter, you use your 9-part outline to build your short proposal.
Try to tell your story. Use full sentences. Go slow and think. As you move forward through your 9-part outline, see if other ideas come to you. As they do (and they will), add them to the outline and see how it comes out on the page. Don’t worry about length—think instead about development. You’re not trying to tell your whole story, you just want to make sure it holds together.
Done? Good. Now read it to a friend. Before you do, make sure you tell your friend to be blunt, because, “That sounds awesome! I can’t wait to hear you write it!” is not what you want to hear. What you want to get is, “Hmm…I don’t think it makes sense for Rena to just give up her old life when the king invites her into his court to be his seamstress. Wouldn’t she resist?”
Oops. But all oopses are fine, as long as they’re before publication.
Noting inconsistencies will give you yet another means of digging deeper. So you wrote that Rena just gives up her life as a seamstress and forgets about her people? Yup, not like the Rena I’ve come to know. From her profile, she’s feisty and full of spirit (by the way, she’s been trained in the far south, a secret art called Tuga). She’d put up a fight all right. So how about this: she gets stuffed in a bag and comes into Mad King Freddie’s court kicking and screaming. Now that’s what I call an entrance!
Later on we’ll be talking about beta readers, but this friend who will listen to your short proposal serves the same role. And if you can satisfy your friend’s challenges, then you should be ready to move onto the wild, wonderful forest of prose that awaits.
Frames within frames
You might be familiar with the snowflake method of drafting. (If not, it’s another great reference for building up your writing kit. Read it here) The basic idea is to continuously divide your draft into three until eventually you have little gaps to put the story in. However, being an organic writer, I don’t go that far. I like surprises—the outline just gives me a route to follow that I know will take me to the secret fountain of life deep inside the forest.
However, once you have your proposal and your 9-part outline is well-populated, there is another step. I call it the frame-by-frame, and that will be the topic next week, with some examples from the three sample premises we have been developing.
I hope you’re continuing to enjoy this series, and if you’re joining this week, pick your own pace. These posts will be collected and used as a free online resource on my blog once the series is over.
Graeme Brown is an epic fantasy author. Come and visit Graeme’s tour for The Pact, hosted by CM Book Tours, Sept 2-15 (click banner below for list of stops).
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