Originally posted at http://mymidnightfantasies.blogspot.com/ as part of my blog tour!
As part of my day job, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take the workshop, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People [created by Stephen Covey]. It’s really about how to make the most out of what’s important to you. It’s not about being successful, or rich or famous, although if those things matter to you, I guess it could be. The habits are about how to structure your life and your time so that you use it to the best of your abilities and you get what you want – what you consider important. One of the habits talked about was “Beginning with the End in Mind.” Basically, it’s about knowing what you want to get out of something before you start. Whenever I learn something new in any avenue of my life, I try to sit back and think about how I can apply it to my entire life – work, hobbies, family. In this case, Beginning with the End in Mind, has helped me with structuring and writing my book. Here’s how:
The early stages of developing a story are very exciting! Characters, plots, scenes, dialogue snippets – they’re all swirling and percolating in your mind and your fingers are just ITCHING to start typing. The beginning sometimes seems to just pour out of you – your writing is fast paced, voluminous and you’re happy-happy-happy.
But, do you know where you’re going? If not, you’ll probably be like me and all of a sudden it grinds to a halt and you’re not really sure why. It was going so well! You had a rhythm! There was a flow! And now? NADA.
It could be because you don’t know where you’re going. I don’t necessarily mean you need to have every plot point of your story mapped out in the early stages, but knowing generally what your book is about and how it ends can be a real game-changer for your writing.
So, how do I do that? I try to write the synopsis of my book BEFORE I start the book, or while I’m still working on the first pages – while I’m still in that super-exciting stage. The synopsis is your book jacket or your book’s teaser – it’s what your book is about. It generally doesn’t contain any real spoilers or a step by step plot outline, but it does tell you what to expect.
But, “it’s complicated”, you say, “I’ve a lot going on! This happens and this happens and there’s this woman from the past and we don’t know what her motives are and she’s got connections to the protagonist. It’s all tangled and complex”.
I’m sure it is! That makes for a great book!
But at it’s core, what’s your story about? Who is your story about? What is the essential struggle? Everything else is the ‘dressing’ or the ‘extras.’ If your book is an ice cream sundae, the synopsis is the ice cream. You can add whipped cream, cherries, nuts, sauces and anything else you want to make it as fantastic as possible. But you gotta have the ice cream first! At the risk of mixing my metaphors, I’m going to go so far as to say if your ice cream is NOT readily viewable or noticeable to the reader, they’re going to wonder what all these extra toppings are for.
Also, knowing what your book is about will really help you when you get stuck. I keep my synopsis on a doc that I can see while I write. When I get stuck, I read over it and think, “Is this scene telling that story? Does this moment propel the narrative toward this goal? If not, is that why I’m stuck? Am I telling the same story now that I started out with? What would need to happen next to get me to where I’m going?”
Sometimes, I get really excited about a new set of characters or a scene I want to write and I think, “I’ll just start and the ending will come!” That RARELY works for me. If you can do it, I envy you. I usually end up with some great writing that I’m excited about and then it just peters out and stops at some point and I’m never able to get it going again. Mostly because I don’t know where I’m going with it.
Additionally, if YOU don’t know where you’re story is going, how will the reader? Will they feel the same sense of wandering and disjointedness while reading it that you felt writing it? Probably.
So, while it’s hard and it can be it’s own trial, writing the synopsis of your story before you start can be a great anchor for your work. It lets you know that you know where you’re going. You don’t have to know how to get there, but you do need to have the destination in mind!