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Posts Tagged ‘plotting

Last week I was celebrating the completion of my first ever synopsis, which was true but perhaps a bit premature. Unlike my fanfiction chapters, which go out into the world unedited and unrevised, this little piece needed a lot of very tiny modifications. Somehow, I managed to write a single page, using the standard formatting guidelines, and have it come out as over 700 words, when normally it’s 450-500 words. So even though an agent might be happy it was a single page, they might still be annoyed at the length. So for the last week I’ve been revising the damn thing, removing unnecessary verbiage, condensing, trimming the  passive constructions, all that good stuff. At the moment it’s at 550 words, and I think it’s probably about as short as I can make it without sacrificing content.


I wrote the synopsis based on a model from another blog post. The inciting incident is not the starting point of that model but it’s in some ways the most important, as it shows the MC (introduced in step 2) reacting to a change in his situation (described in step 1).

Plot point one is the next stage after the inciting incident, but it’s not always easy to call it a separate stage. In the Star Wars model, plot point one is the destruction of the farm while Luke isn’t there, freeing him up to follow Ben. The carnage that began the movie has reached as far as it can, with no further clues to lead it onward, The inciting incident thus directly feeds into the first plot point, like a minor surge that propels a bit of flotsam out of range of the tidal wave coming in right behind.

It doesn’t have to be like that. While the inciting incident of Ghostkiller is the hero’s awareness of his own failure, the first plot point has almost nothing to do with that sense of guilt. Trying to follow the Star Wars model was actually quite unhelpful in the writing of this synopsis.This could perhaps be a bad thing. I don’t know how connected the two are supposed to be, I simply know that in my story they are not very.

Ghostkiller, like all of my stories, is character-driven, rather than plot-driven, so the connection between the two is mediated through the character rather than the plot. The opening sequence shows John at work, mainly because the actual business of Ghostkilling needs to be demonstrated, since no one would have the necessary referents. (Star Wars is basically a standard epic adventure, set in space, but it’s the knights and the swords and the quest that are the story, not the lasers and hyper-drive.) John’s feeling of guilt is a direct result of the side-effects of his work on him as a person, as is the first plot point. It’s not nearly as neat and tidy as a plot-driven synopsis would be. (I think. I’ve never written one.)

The problem comes from a multitude of characters, each with their own plot, each responding to the actions of the others, in their own particular ways. I could describe the same story in many different ways, depending on which character viewpoint I took. (Try watching a movie called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the story of Hamlet told from the perspectives of some minor characters.) My stories usually start with one person, so I know who the primary player is at all times, but that’s just me.

It would have helped me a great deal to have known this before I spent a lot of time trying to warp a character-driven story to fit  a plot-driven model, but I don’t know of any character-driven models out there. Which is why I’m writing one, I guess. What’s the character equivalent of a plot point?


I just wrote my very first synopsis. It’s my fourth novel, but I was never able to write a synopsis before this, so…yay, me!

Of course, this comes after a year of contemplating the damn story, writing and rewriting the damn query summary, or query hook, or mini-synopsis, or whatever the hell it’s called. Really, there should be a more unified vocabulary for this sort of thing. Or maybe there is and I’ve just outed myself as never having attended a writing symposium of any kind.

Anyway, after a good chunk of forever spent thinking and rewriting, I finally just sort of dashed off a query thing pretty quickly, which surprised me a bit. I found an agency that looked interesting, but their submissions page mentioned a synopsis, in addition to the query, and I’d never written one of those. But hey, I just wrote the query hook/pitch/middle/whatever, how hard could this be? Well, as it turned out, quite a bit harder.

First I wrote a pretty detailed precis of the story, 3000 words worth. Which could be what I needed. Or not. Some friends of mine on Facebook recommended a one-page approach, and that was a good deal trickier, even though I was pointed to a very nice little blog post on the subject. But even with a model to follow it still took me two days to get something I don’t hate.

The trickiest part, since it colors everything that follows, is the section called the inciting incident, which is the part of the story that sets the guy off from whatever life he’s got into the adventure to come. What is it, and what action does it incite? I confused myself by thinking that my hero had to be pursuing some epic goal, which he wasn’t. I thought maybe he had to want something grand and glorious, which he didn’t. The most epic adventures are those where the hero is just doing some little thing that he knows ought to be done, and then the consequences pile up.

So in my latest story, the hero isn’t trying to solve a murder, or save the world, even though he ends up doing both. When the police come and bring him to the murder scene, and start asking him questions, he is ashamed. He knows nothing about the man’s life. He feels guilty, and he wants to correct that. What took me days to figure out was that the initial motivation didn’t need to be epic, it just needed to be great enough to make him move. When good characters move, epic events follow.

Of course, something has to be epic, and somebody has to do those epic things, but I don’t think it has to be only or always the MC. (There’s probably no more epic moment in Star Wars than Ben stepping back and letting Vader strike.) I sometimes feel like my stories don’t have a plot so much as 2 or 3 co-plots, with some number of different characters each pursuing their own goals and their individual stories intersecting. My last three stories have been like that, so maybe it’s not an accident after all.

Pretty hard to synopsize, though.

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