Writing the One Page Synopsis

Your publisher requests a one-page synopsis, or you’re required to submit a short synopsis to enter a contest. How do you condense an entire story into a single page?

One Page Synopsis

First give the book title, author name, and series number a few lines down from the top and centered. Then offer a tag line that sums up the plot. Here’s an example from SHEAR MURDER:

A wedding turns deadly when hairstylist Marla Shore discovers a dead body under the cake table.

The Setup
This initial paragraph presents the setup for the story.

Hairstylist Marla Shore is playing bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the bride’s sister stabbed to death under the cake table. Torrie had plenty of people who might have wanted her dead, including her own sister who threatened her just before the ceremony.

The Personal Motive
Why does your sleuth get involved?

At Jill’s request, Marla agrees to help solve the case. With her own wedding four weeks away, her salon expanding into day spa services, and her relatives bickering over nuptial details, she has enough to do. But when Jill is arrested for Torrie’s murder, Marla has no choice except to unmask the killer.

The Suspects
Give a brief profile of the suspects along with possible motives.

Jill and Torrie owned a piece of commercial property together. Their cousin Kevin, a Realtor, has been trying to find them a new tenant. Meanwhile, Jill’s uncle Eddy, a shady attorney, has been urging them to sell. Now Torrie’s husband, Scott, will inherit his wife’s share. Scott has another motive besides greed. Torrie had announced her plan to leave him for another man, Griff Beasley. Griff was Torrie’s colleague at the magazine where she worked as well as the photographer at Jill’s wedding. Griff implicates Hally, another coworker. Hally and Torrie were competing for a promotion. Then [Suspect X] turns up dead.

The Big Reveal
The final paragraph is where the clues lead to the killer, and the protagonist has an insight about what she’s learned. This last is important for emotional resonance so readers will be eager for the sequel to see what happens next to your heroine.

It appears Suspect Y did [Evil Deed]. Snooping into his background, Torrie learned that Suspect Alpha helped him [Do Something Bad]. Suspect Alpha murdered Torrie because she found out about [His Illegal Business], and then Suspect X because she’d discovered [fill in blank]. Marla reveals the killer and is free to enjoy her own wedding ceremony.

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Adding Descriptive Details to a Scene

How do you avoid turning descriptive details in your novel into an info dump? When writing fiction, you have to be careful how you weave in this information. Add too much prose, and your reader will skip over those passages. You can insert material more enticingly by using dialogue, brief introspections, and short paragraphs.

Descriptive Details

My readers like to learn new “factoids” as they call them, and they’ve come to expect these tidbits in my books. It’s thanks to my editor and critique partners that these don’t become lengthy dissertations on my research findings. It’s tempting to share what you’ve learned, but you need to limit your enthusiasm and save this fascinating material for future blog posts.

Nonetheless, a critique partner recently asked me for more details regarding my story’s historical background. The setting involves a battle reenactment at a living history village. I’d skimmed over the details, but my writer friend wanted more. She even suggested I make the guide’s lectures more touristy.

Okay, I could do this. Here’s an example from a scene that takes place during the skirmish. Be kind in your appraisal. It’s a first draft excerpt.

Original Passage:

A man’s voice on a loudspeaker rang out, welcoming the guests. She recognized the marshal’s gritty tone.

“This battle is representative of the one that occurred on July 3, 1836. Out of one hundred and ten soldiers, only two survived. They made it to Fort King to explain what happened and so a contingent could return to bury the dead.” He continued to narrate as the action unfolded.

A line of blue-coated soldiers moved out at a slow pace, muskets at the ready. They followed a dirt trail among the pines and scrub brush. A small group wheeled a cannon, the only artillery in sight. The officers rode on horseback behind the troop’s drummer. The men looked weary, as though they’d been on the road for days.

Suddenly, shots rang out. The solders scrambled for defensive positions as the officers rode up and down the line, shouting orders.

Rewrite:

A man’s voice on a loudspeaker rang out, welcoming the guests. She recognized the marshal’s gritty tone.

“Today we are commemorating a massacre that occurred on July 3, 1836. One hundred and ten U.S. Army troops were on a mission to deliver a cannon to Fort King in Ocala. Along the way, they were attacked by one hundred and eighty Seminole warriors. Only two soldiers survived. Hungry and wounded, the men made it to the fort and explained what happened so a contingent could return to bury the dead.”

The blue-coated soldiers moved forward in a column. They followed a narrow dirt trail among the pines and scrub brush but still in view from the bleachers. A small group wheeled the cannon, the only artillery in sight. Three officers rode on horseback behind the troop’s drummer. The soldiers looked weary, as though they’d been on the road for days.

“The troops weren’t ready for action,” the marshal continued. “Their muskets were not loaded, and their ammunition was stuffed under their jackets. They’d grown tired and didn’t notice the tribesmen following them.”

Suddenly, shots rang out.

“The captain is hit!” the marshal exclaimed as the other officers shouted orders. The soldiers scrambled for defensive positions. Then the lieutenant toppled from his horse.

“Another officer down! The Seminole chief is a wily fellow. He knows which men are commanding the force, and he’s taking out the leaders one-by-one. Oh, no! There goes the sergeant. Now the rest of the troops will be mowed down like blades of grass.”

Which version is more vivid in your mind? What else should I add?

Another suggestion was that Marla’s husband Dalton should share some of his knowledge during the battle sequence since he’s a history buff. In the original draft, he said nothing.

New Passage:

Dalton nudged Marla. “The army soldiers had muskets that were smooth-bore and more suitable for short-range firing. The Native Americans used Deringer percussion rifles given to them in the Treaty of Paynes Landing of 1832. These had greater accuracy from a distance but took longer to load.”

“Why was that?” Marla asked. Clearly, he’d researched the topic.

“Both were muzzle-loaders, at least until 1850 or so. This means a powder charge and ball had to be inserted into the end of the barrel and pushed down to the firing mechanism. It was easier to do this for a smooth-bore musket with a larger barrel. Pushing the same ball down a tighter-fitting rifle took longer. However, the spiral grooves, termed rifling, inside this barrel meant greater accuracy. For tribesmen shooting at a distance on horseback, it gave them the advantage.”

What do you think? Too much detail or are these revisions just right? You be my critic.

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Setting Goals for 2022

Happy New Year! At this fresh beginning, we set our goals for the coming months. As writers, we can divide these into Creative and Business Goals. The former may involve writing the next book or trying a short story, while the latter can include marketing efforts or reissuing titles in different formats.

Setting Goals 2022

First, let’s look back to see what I’ve accomplished in 2021. It was a productive year, coming after the pandemic started and we had a major move that sapped my creative energy through the latter half of 2020.

Last Year 2021
Wrote and Published Styled for Murder, #17 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries
Published Box Sets 1-4 in my mystery series
Offered a Sales Promotion for Permed to Death
Added my mystery titles to Google Play

This Year 2022
Write and Publish book #18 in my series, tentatively titled Star Tangled Murder
Publish Box Set 5 – Scheduled for Feb. 15 launch date
Revise standalone mystery Murder at Your Service
Do more audiobooks
Consider publishing romance backlist as paperback editions

Some of these choices are economical. I’d love to offer my early romances in print editions, but would enough readers buy them to offset the cost of formatting and cover design? Or should I attempt to do those myself using online tools? These are business choices I’ll have to make later.

Ditto for the audiobooks. These are very costly to produce, and I’ve only done 4 out of 17 titles. I don’t care to do royalty share, so this leaves the burden of cost up front to me. If I was sure I’d make back my investment, it would be a no-brainer, but that’s not happening. Another possibility is selling the rights to the remaining titles, if that’s even possible.

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Here’s a question for you, dear readers: Aside from the next Bad Hair Day mystery, which of the above options appeals to you? Or would you like to see me do something else?

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BB January 2022

A Eureka Moment

Every author likely goes through a phase when we are waiting for inspiration to strike. Or perhaps we have a plotting problem and need to find a solution. If you’ve been thinking about this issue for some time, the response will pop into your head at unexpected moments. It’s like a lightbulb turns on in your brain with just the answer you need.

A Eureka Moment

It’s ironic that I was slated to speak to the Citrus Crime Writers chapter of Sisters in Crime on “Creating Settings that Sizzle.” I was struggling to figure out the setting for my next Bad Hair Day mystery.

It had been several weeks since I’d started preliminary research for this book on topics that interested me. But I still lacked the single cohesive factor I needed. In my blog post on the Five Stages of Writing, I mention Discovery as number one. This is wherein you discover the story before you begin writing. I knew the inciting incident had to take place at a fairground or a park. I had several disparate elements that I couldn’t tie together. What was I missing? The setting within a setting, which I’ve discussed in a previous post. I needed a group of people who knew each other, but I couldn’t repeat what I’ve done before. This will be my 18th book in the series, and it becomes a challenge to keep things fresh.

I sat on my couch, intending to ruminate about the plot, when EUREKA! The answer popped into my brain! It was PERFECT for what I needed!

It’s amazing how the subconscious works. This is why you need to give yourself time during this discovery phase and not rush things. Gather the story elements, let them stew in your mind, and out will come the answer you need.

I’d visited this place and wrote a blog on it. I had an album with over sixty photos. And there was even a haunted house with ghost tours on the premises! Moreover, this setting within a setting was located at a fairground and would have a built-in group of suspects.

I’d have to adjust things a bit to fit my scenario, but this idea hit the nail on the head. I even remembered an episode of The Brokenwood Mysteries that took place in a similar setting. I’ll watch it to see how they set things up. Fortunately, I have the DVD in my collection.

You never know when a research trip will pay off. As a writer, you should take notes and photos wherever you go. At some point in the future, you might need those notes to set a scene or an entire story in that place. Every site you visit becomes a potential goldmine.

Now I’m excited to bring the pieces together. I’ll have some weaving to do but I have my basis to get started. At this point, I can determine the suspects. Then it’s a matter of figuring out their secrets and interconnecting them. All of this takes place as part of the Discovery phase before writing the story. More research may be required but at least now I have a direction to follow. I’m excited to see where the trail will lead.

My fellow writers, have you ever experienced this Eureka moment? It’s a glorious feeling, isn’t it?

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Writing the Cozy Mystery – Whydunit

When writing a cozy mystery, you need to identify the victim and then figure out who has something to gain from this person’s death. It can be friends, relatives, or colleagues. Give each person a secret that may or may not provide a motive for murder.

Writing the Cozy Mystery - Whydunit

Next figure out how these people relate to each other. Imagine a spider web. Put the murder victim in the center circle. The spokes coming from the center are the suspects. These spokes have branches that are their motives. Then connect these people to each other like a web. If you want to see this web of deceit illustrated, pick up a copy of my book, Writing the Cozy Mystery.

Here are examples from Trimmed to Death to show you how it’s done. Hairstylist Marla Vail enters a bake-off contest at a local farm during a fall festival. She finds a dead body face-down in the u-pick strawberry field. Spoiler Alert!

Tally Riggs, Marla’s best friend, met Becky Forest at a local historical museum. Becky told Tally about the bake-off, who invited Marla to participate with her. Here is Becky in her office.

Becky Forest in Trimmed to Death

Becky, a scientist, is a cookbook author and curator of the museum. She studies plant remains of ancient peoples, including early Florida food practices. Every time Becky has a new cookbook out, she’s a guest on Chef Raquel Hayes’ TV show.

Raquel Hayes in Trimmed to Death

Raquel, a judge at the bake-off contest and a TV chef, did something in the past that could cause a scandal. Francine Dodger recognizes her on TV and threatens to spill her secret.

Francine, a contestant at the bake-off, is a food magazine editor. While researching an article on the farm, she uncovers something that could ruin the owners’ reputation.

Zach Kinsdale, eldest brother of four siblings who run the family farm, hasn’t told his two brothers and sister Janet about this looming disaster.

Janet is married to Tony, who runs an import-export business. He sells his imported olive oils to Zach for the farm’s marketplace. But Janet suspects something is unethical about her husband’s business. She organized the bake-off since her husband’s company is a festival sponsor.

Tony Winters in Trimmed to Death

Tony, Janet’s husband, is worried about an exposé that Francine has mentioned. He’s also concerned about Tristan Marsh, pastry chef at The Royal Palate and a judge at the show. Tristan has been making inquiries that concern him. Then there’s Alyce Greene, a blogger who supports the farm-to-table movement. She has been troublesome as well.

Alyce is a contestant at the bake-off. She’s married to Jon, a food truck operator. Jon got a loan to start his business from Alyce’s brother, Steve Madison. Steve, an investment advisor, manages Tony’s accounts.

And so on. You see how these people are interrelated. It helps when the puzzle pieces fit together as a whole, but this process may take a while. In the meantime, allow your subconscious to stew on your characters until story magic happens. The connections will pop into your brain. It’s a joyful moment when this occurs.

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If you missed my previous post on this topic, go here: Writing the Cozy Mystery – Whodunit

NOTE: This post topic originally appeared in Feb. 2017.

Next comes Writing the Cozy Mystery – Howdunit.

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Daily Writing Goals

Questions often asked of writers include: What is your writing process? Do you set yourself daily writing goals? Do you plot the book in advance?

For me, I’m a plotter, not a pantser. I write a synopsis ahead of time. The storyline may change as I write the book, but it acts as a roadmap along the way. Once I get started writing and get past the first few pages or beginning chapters, I’ll set a deadline for completion. Then I put myself on a writing schedule of five pages a day. I don’t stop to polish my work or perfect my sentences. It’s important for me to get the story down on paper and then I can go back and revise.

If you want to finish a manuscript, it helps to set daily goals. When you sell to a traditional publisher, you’ll have definitive deadlines for the next book. Small press publishers may require a submission date as well if they offer multibook deals.

I’d started out working for Dorchester and did two books a year for them, meaning I had to complete a book within six months. Strict self-discipline is the only way to get this done. When I wrote for Kensington, they only wanted one book a year. That was easier because it gave me time to plan an extended launch campaign.

Now that I’m indie publishing my work, I set my own deadlines. My writing happens early in the morning before normal office hours. Then I have the rest of the day free for excursions or to work on marketing or other book projects.

When I’m in the revision stage, I also set goals. For a 300-page manuscript, this would be 10 pages a day to get done in a month. And that’s only for the first round of line editing.

Besides the creative goals, I also set business goals. This year, I am bundling my mysteries into box sets. Last year, the goal was to complete reissuing my backlist titles. Next, I’d like to do more audiobooks and perhaps revise some old manuscripts sitting in my drawers. This is in addition to writing book #18 in my series.

Keep in mind that my method might not work for you. Whichever way you can finish a book, go for it. But if you’re floundering and can’t seem to get past the first few chapters, set yourself some achievable goals.

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The Spark of Inspiration

Some writers say they write when the muse strikes them. They might go days without filling a manuscript page and work feverishly when the mood hits. I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration this way. As a professional writer, you have a job, and you must show up for work each day.

The Spark of Inspiration

However, I do believe there’s a certain spark about a story that serves as a creative faucet. It’s what caught your passion in the first place. Or maybe you’re struggling to find this elusive element. That’s where I am with my next Bad Hair Day mystery. Never mind the dozen other distractions demanding attention, such as reissuing my remaining backlist titles. So what’s wrong?

I know what the next Marla Vail story will be about in terms of the murder mystery. But I like to learn something new with each book. That’s what makes the story fun and special for me. In EASTER HAIR HUNT, it was learning about beekeeping, stamp collecting, honey production and Fabergé eggs. In TRIMMED TO DEATH, I researched Florida olive groves and olive oil scams. The range of topics I’ve covered in each of my books varies greatly, but each subject was something that interested me. I haven’t found this spark yet for book #17 in the series.

As an author, you don’t want to repeat yourself. I’ve done the historical angle, especially in FACIALS CAN BE FATAL when I used excerpts from my father’s 1935 travel journal. I should avoid mixing history and mystery for this next one. Science? Maybe, but this might not be a good idea when we’re all so paranoid about viruses. Food? Always an interest of mine, but I’ve already done olives, coffee, honey, and vanilla.

I’ve scanned through the news, hoping some esoteric topic will catch my fancy. Maybe I’m too distracted to really think hard on it. Likely it’ll be 2021 before I can sit down to write this book, because I have too much else to get done before then. However, I could work on the plot once I get involved in the research. Would you call this waiting for the muse? Or is it merely waiting until my mind is clear to focus on this story?

I know the moment will come when the notion hits me. Or I’ll get interested in diverse topics that I will have to fit into the mystery plot. This is similar to putting a puzzle together. I’d write the ideas onto mental index cards and then shuffle them around to see how they can be combined. This is a bit harder than an overall concept but it can be done. Either way, I’ll be excited when inspiration hits. How about you? Do you need that special spark to start your story?

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Writer’s Block

Is there such a thing as Writer’s Block? Or is it merely an excuse for poor planning? Because if you’ve properly laid the groundwork for your novel, you should know exactly where the story is headed. Some writers are pantsers and not plotters, and their novel writing experience is a meandering road that will eventually lead to the end. Whichever way you tell a story, the middle might become a muddle where the road ahead is obscured. But this doesn’t have to happen if you retrace your steps and build on whatever is already present.

Writer's Block

In terms of writing the story, I don’t believe Writer’s Block exists. Even when faced with the complexity of writing a novel, we can break it down into baby steps. One hour of writing, one page, one chapter. We keep going until we are done. However, in terms of lost confidence or too many outside distractions, it can definitely be real.

Loss of confidence comes from a variety of sources, such as a bad review, a publisher who rejects your next option book or dumps you altogether, a line that is cancelled along with all its authors. You might feel lost, doubting your talent and questioning which way to go. But if you’re a career writer, you’ll either ignore that nasty review and celebrate the good ones instead, or you’ll pick yourself up and find a new publisher or will decide to try the indie route.

Outside distractions can be another major cause of Writer’s Block. Disastrous world events can become huge roadblocks. Our writing becomes insignificant in the face of these catastrophes. Storytelling seems meaningless, and yet we have to remember that books offer comfort to our readers. It’s our calling to provide escapism and entertainment during troubled times.

Personal events are much more difficult to ignore. Some writers find sitting at the computer to be comforting during personal crises. Others find it impossible to write. That’s okay. We need to allow time to process what has occurred, and hopefully, someday the muse will return.

Speaking of minds, in my fiction writing classes, I advise writers to examine their character’s life space to get to know them. This is what’s in the person’s head at any given moment in time. For example, three items are occupying my mind right now that are blocking my creativity.

Because of Covid 19, I hesitate to start a new project when each day brings the possibility of getting struck down by the virus. I have to avoid the news and shut out the dire prophesies in order to get anything done.

Another big energy drain is our desire to move to be near our kids. We’ve been packing, getting rid of stuff, looking at houses on Zillow every day. After living here for forty years, this isn’t easy for us.

The business of writing is also taking up a large portion of my brain. I am still working on reissuing the remainder of my backlist titles. After these are done, I’d like to bundle them into box sets and run price promotions. These require a learning curve as well as more time and effort to put them into action. In fact, I could focus totally on marketing and never write another book. And what about those standalones buried in my desk drawers? Are they worth publishing?

Physical problems can be inhibiting. People with pain may be unable to focus. Surgeries require time to heal. Along with health concerns come aging issues. How much longer will we be able to keep writing? Is it worth the effort to start a new series? How many more books will we be able to finish in our remaining years, and is that how we want to spend them?

Yet being a writer is who we are. We write stories because it fills our time, satisfies an inner need, expresses our creativity and gives our days purpose. We hang out with other writers and contribute to the writing community.

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We’ve all been distracted by these problems and somehow we’ve found our way back, often to even greater success.  I suspect the secret is what I’ve told aspiring authors. Focus on the writing first thing each day. Shove aside anything else on your mind and spend an hour on your writing project. Then let the world flood your mind.

What advice do you offer writers struggling with these issues?

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