Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Boiling the Story Down for a Synopsis #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


            I’ve been trying to condense my college memoir story into two double-spaced pages for a synopsis. Not an easy thing to do, as many of you realize. How could you condense all the tension, the action, the angst, the characters of a 200 page story into two pages? Many writers have longer works of fiction or memoir. The key is you don’t include everything.  
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Writer’sDigest defines synopsis like this:
“A synopsis conveys the narrative arc, an explanation of the problem or plot, the characters, and how the book or novel ends. It summarizes what happens and who changes from beginning to end of the story.”

I’d like to add that a synopsis should still read like a story and showcase your voice. But how does a writer do this in a short document? The information I’m sharing here is a combination of what I’ve learned in books and online about synopses.  

Just like in your full-length book, the reader of a synopsis needs to know where we are in space and time and who the main players are in the story. Please notice the words “main players.” You can’t possibly include every character in a synopsis. My suggestion is to include the protagonist, any antagonist, and any character who guides or changes the protagonist in his story journey. Think about the characters who take up the most space in your story, the pivotal characters who help to change your protagonist the most.

If we use Harry Potter as an example, for a synopsis, you would include Harry Potter, Voldemort, Dumbledore, Ron, his first real friend, and Hermione. Many other characters have helped or hurt Potter through his journey to adulthood, but I feel these are the main players. And where are we in the Potter books? Mainly in the wizarding world at Hogwarts, a school for wizardry. As for time, it deals with each school year.

 In a synopsis, we also need to include why the story begins where it begins. If we turn again to Harry Potter, the real story begins when Harry reaches the age to begin wizarding school, his 11th birthday.

 An important point to include in the synopsis is the protagonist’s internal struggle. What is the internal angst the protagonist is dealing with throughout the story? We need to include emotion and feeling in our synopses. I think the internal angst Harry deals with at the beginning of this series is finding people to love him, to help guide him to find his place in this new wizarding world.

Don’t forget to give the whole ending of the story in your synopsis, whether it is fiction or memoir. Write the entire synopsis in present tense and third person regardless of how you wrote the story, according to Jennie Nash of Author Accelerator.   

            In the synopsis I’m writing for my college memoir, I include myself, my special needs daughter and her situation as the impetus for my beginning college at this time, my father and his powerful words that lock me in feelings of inferiority and my other children and husband in general. By way of emotion I talk about Victoria’s struggles to be a role model for her children and her failures at college, her journey through community college and its awards making the Ivy League on scholarship a possibility. By way of an ending, I include that in Victoria’s ten-year academic journey, she learns that determination and hard work help her overcome her father’s powerful words and graduate cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2009.

*Please feel free to offer any insight or ask any questions regarding the details of my synopsis for my college memoir. It would be truly appreciated.* 

Has anyone prepared a synopsis for their story? I’m interested in how you set it up and what you included from your story. Please share any tips you may have in the comments section of Adventures in Writing. Thanks so much!

And thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Insecure Writers Want to Know: The Benefits of Being a Writer Who Reads vs. a Writer Who Doesn’t


            I tried to simplify this month’s question a little in my blog post title. IWSG’s question is: It's been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don't enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?  
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Let’s look at a phrase in the first part of the question, “all your ideas are new and original.” Think about this. Haven’t we all read—I know, but “read” is not a dirty word for writers—that there are no original plots or ideas for stories? I have. It’s the way we interpret what happens to our characters and what the character’s flaws and strengths are that make our stories unique. In other words, the basic framework may be the same, but the details are different.

As a writer, I do not see any benefit of NOT reading other stories, essays, or blog posts. For myself, I’m not reading to take any other writer’s idea, passages, or plots. I’m reading to learn through other people’s, or character’s, experiences in life. And yes, I read for enjoyment. I love stories, be they fiction or non-fiction.

Think about it. The stimulus for story is all around us. It comes through our day to day lives, our interactions, our adventures, and yes, in our readings. Many times I’ve read that writers ask “what if” when they read or hear a news story or a friend’s anecdote or experience. In fact, many of my YA adventure stories begin with my family’s adventures camping at national parks.

            Another reason to read fiction or memoir stories is to find comp titles when putting together a proposal for the publisher. As writers, we need to know what’s out there and where our works in progress fit into the literary landscape. I’ve been looking for recent memoir titles to read dealing with education or personal experience in college. I’m currently reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. I may need to broaden my searches. I should consider inspirational works; the power of choices, of believing in yourself, of finding or beginning a dream and seeing it through with perseverance.

*Please offer any recent memoir titles you’ve read that deal with life experiences; trying to better yourself or learning to believe in oneself, so I can add them to my reading list and see if they could be used as comp titles for my college memoir. I truly appreciate all your comments. They help me to move forward with my work.*

I’ll be interested to see how you’ve tackled this month’s question. It’s great having a topic to share our thoughts on each month.  

Thanks so much for visiting! Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Universal Themes in Memoir or Fiction #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


            Universal themes in story can start out as statements. Love conquers all. Order leads to harmony. Heroes are always right. Loyalty to family is absolute. Universal themes are understood in any culture. They are assumed to be straightforward. Correct. Concrete. But in the writer’s hands, themes become human. They become specific. In other words, writers deepen these general themes and give them power by creating compelling stories.  
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            By building stories around themes, writers personify them. Think of any romance where “love conquers all,” Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, many wonderful present day romance stories, and the ever-present Chicken Soup for the Soul books. What they all contain is the human side of the theme. The writer shows through actions and characters how this theme holds up in the real life of a story.

            But showing the theme to be true or false is only the surface of the story. The difficult job for the writer in creating a memorable story is to add tension. Tension drives the story. Conflict, both internal and external, shows the deeper meaning of theme. Conflict should be specific to one character or a small group of characters in the form of a belief. If we think about the theme of family loyalty, we can see how easily it can become misguided; abused spouses staying with their abuser for family reasons; children believing it is their fault they are being abused. Of course the theme of loyalty can be political or faith-based too.  

            The struggles you show in the story branch off your main theme. They show the inner conflict and why the character behaves as he or she does. Story events show the literal obstacles the character faces in life that are hampered by that internal, often misguided belief of the theme.   

            If I use my college memoir as an example with a main theme of believing in oneself, through backstory, the reader learns that Victoria had struggled through elementary school and finally makes the honor roll [good grades] by eighth grade. But when she comes to her father, a man who has always shown her love, to have him sign off on her choice of college prep courses for high school, he wouldn’t do it. Instead, he told her college wouldn’t work for her. She wasn’t smart enough.

It comes to the power of words from someone you trust and love. Because her father didn’t believe she could survive college, Victoria becomes locked in a vicious cycle of not believing in herself, in what she could accomplish. What Victoria comes to realize in this memoir story is that the power to believe in oneself comes from within. This power to believe in oneself, to obtain it and keep it, is a constant struggle for many people of all cultures.

            Well, what do you think? Please feel free to offer any insight or ask any questions regarding the universal theme of believing in oneself for my college memoir. It would be truly appreciated. 

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Insecure Writers Want to Know: If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?


If I could chose any place to sit and write my next story or the revision of my memoir, it would need to be somewhere my family can’t find me. I also need to be in a place where I can’t look out the window. Therefore, I usually hide out among the stacks in the local library. If I sat by the windows looking out on the lake, I’d be thinking about walking around that lake and not focused on my writing. If I ever went to some beautiful vacation spot by the beach or in the mountains to write, I would get nowhere. I’d be too excited to investigate my surroundings.  
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I’ve told you before about my desire to be outdoors, traipsing about my surroundings thinking. I love winter, spring, summer AND fall, no matter what the weather. I can splash through the puddles with the best of them! So I can’t have the beauty of nature calling to me when I’m trying to write. Social media can be distracting, but my favorite distraction is freeing my eyes and mind from the computer screen. And I do it best by going outside.

Presently, I’ve been spending much time outside with my family. I’ve come to the end of a draft of my memoir about attending college as a mother of five. It’s not the first draft; it’s much stronger than that one. But it surely will not be the last draft. I’ve written 170 pages and have roughly 55,000 words. Is it too short? Should I add in other threads?

I’m never one to pad my prose. The idea with longer manuscripts, whether they are fiction or nonfiction, is to add another thread to investigate or perhaps other scenes that address and show character relationships or add to the plotline. My college memoir’s focus is on education, college, and family. The points I hope it makes are:

Never give up on a dream. It’s never too late to start.
Fear and doubt are a part of life.
Perseverance matters in life. Effort counts toward success.
If you don’t try, you’ll be left with regret. 

The point of the book is to find the permission within yourself to try and achieve goals that may at first appear frightening or unattainable.

But how does someone find permission within herself to attempt a dream she was told not to try? In my case, it was through the love of a mother and child. A love that wasn’t afraid of struggle, but rather allowed for opportunity.

*Please offer any comments on the length of my college memoir or its focus or points. Your comments truly help me to move forward in revision.*

So, where do you like to hide--I mean write--if you could go anywhere?

Thanks so much for visiting! Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Characters Look for Acceptance #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


            Just as real people want to be accepted by others, either into various communities or accepted by one special person, so too do our characters wish to be accepted in one way or another. Most people want that sense of belonging. Depending on our genre, as writers, we either make that sense of belonging happen for our characters or show why it does not. Of course, it can never be easy for our protagonists, whichever outcome we choose. The protagonist needs to struggle to make it happen or be forced to accept that it was never meant to be. And the reader wants to see that struggle. 
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So how do we show our protagonists longing for acceptance and receiving it or not? It’s all in the specific details we provide through story or memoir, both internally and externally.

Let’s briefly look at two classic characters who long to be included.

Harry Potter wants to belong to a family, to be loved, to have friends. Through the story, the reader [or viewer] comes to realize why he doesn’t have these connections and through thoughts and actions [events] how he comes to gain them.

Luke Skywalker longs to join his friends, to move on with his own life, to be accepted into the rebellion as a person who matters. And as the story unfolds, the viewer comes to understand why and how he obtains what he wants.

            In memoir, remember, you are looking for real life details to tell the story. In my memoir about attending college as a mother of five, Victoria looks for acceptance in the academic conversation at Penn. She yearns for a sense of belonging, not the feeling of being an outsider with nothing intelligent to say. She is a non-traditional, older student attending a school of highly intelligent students. She gets in, but constantly feels the need to prove herself in class. To show this struggle unfolding for the reader, I include thoughts and actions, events that demonstrate how Victoria fails, and how she feels about it, and eventually how she succeeds at her task.

More importantly, Victoria wishes to be accepted by the writers’ community at Kelly Writers House on campus. She wants her writing topics to be important, to make a statement about her experiences. Yet obstacles, both internal and external, hold her back. She has children; she doesn’t have the time the younger students have. For the story to move forward, she needs to take action. Victoria attends lectures and seminars at the House. She submits poetry in a university-wide contest and receives honorable mention for it. But she feels ignored during the celebration. A setback. She submits again to a larger writing community, the West Chester Poetry Contest, and wins second place with a haiku. This community welcomes her into its fold, if only for a short while. 

In memoir the story is told through the lens of the narrator. The reader can only be in the head of Victoria. It is she who interprets the reasons for what other characters do in the memoir. Writers cannot get into the head of other characters in memoir because it is truth—not fiction.  

            Of course, writers can’t dramatize every scene of struggle in a story. However, writers should choose larger scenes that show the most challenge to our protagonist and summarize the lesser scenes or actions. Writers need to remember to show the outcome—good or bad—to any action or scene. These outcomes do not need to be lengthy, but rather precise. I am still learning which scenes to dramatize or summarize and which scenes appear to repeat the same feelings or outcomes and are not necessary in my manuscript.

As writers we need to show progression in our characters. If the story is all struggle with no change in the protagonist, no change in the character’s mindset, readers could feel cheated. I still think that readers are looking to see how our characters handle challenge to perhaps learn how they might handle a particular situation. Readers want to learn something new even while being entertained by your story. At least this is why I read.  

Please feel free to offer any insight or ask any questions regarding Victoria’s struggles in finding acceptance at the University of Pennsylvania. It would be truly appreciated. 

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Please note that I will not post in August of 2019. I have many writing projects I desperately need to address. Thanks for always reading my Adventures in Writing blog posts and sharing your insight. It means the world to me. Enjoy your summer!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Insecure Writers Want to Know: What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?


            Memoir aside, the biggest traits I offer my characters are a love of nature and adventure. Now these traits can be good or bad for characters depending upon the plot. Loving nature can lead a character astray; get him lost, both physically and mentally. And seeking adventure can always lead into danger, especially with young protagonists.  
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            Stories are nothing without tension, remember. If we think externally, a love of nature can be defined as anything or any place outside of the protagonist or character. Adventure can be had on any quest or journey to either discover the self or the character’s surroundings. To discover the good or bad of society or the world. And these two traits can come into conflict in any genre.

            While I set many of my stories in national parks where a love of physical nature and adventure can combine, the setting for story can be anywhere. If you strip Star Wars: A New Hope down to its bones, the story could be considered a young man’s discovery of his abilities on a quest for adventure outside of his known space or world. In the beginning of this epic, Luke is a farmer on a desolate planet living with his aunt and uncle. He dreams of adventure in faraway places of the universe. His friends have left to find their place in the world. Luke wants to do this. It’s not until other characters enter his life that he is afforded the opportunity to try. Luke’s love of adventure sends him all over the universe. But inside, Luke is still trying to understand his own sense of worth, discover his own abilities.

            The best stories have internal and external struggles—even in memoir. Giving characters traits that the writer may possess is a beginning. From there, the traits of characters, both good and bad, need to be finely tuned to the story you are telling.  

What personal traits do you give your characters? Are they used for good or bad? Thanks so much for visiting! Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  


Please note that I will not post in August of 2019. I have many writing projects I desperately need to address. Thanks for always reading my Adventures in Writing blog posts and sharing your insight. It means the world to me. Enjoy your summer!


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Endowing Your Characters with Traits to Solve Story Tension #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

            The characters you create need to be given certain knowledge or abilities in order to solve the story tension. Whether characters need to conquer self-fears, solve mysteries, get out of danger, or survive day-to-day traumas, writers need to choose specific qualities that would help their characters accomplish this. 
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Knowledge is a big trait in many stories. In one of my short stories, my teen protagonist needs to help her younger brother who’s having an asthma attack in a cave. But as writers, we also need to explain how the protagonist obtains any knowledge. In my character’s case, she learned how to control her brother’s asthma from watching her mother do it. In another story, my young teen needed to understand how to back away from a wild animal on a mountain. Again, the knowledge was explained through story. The teen listened to park ranger talks.

Character abilities are another trait. Think of the superheroes’ abilities to fly, create fire, or shoot webs. Each of these traits helps the hero accomplish something important in the story, whether they are protecting the world, snagging the criminal, or saving their own skin. Everything that happens in a story needs to be there for a specific reason. It needs to move the story forward. Whether we endow our characters with the knowledge of the life cycle of bats in a cave or the ability to become invisible, the traits must be given to help the character solve the story tension. And they need to be specific.

Character traits must also solve the tension in memoir. In memoir, many times the protagonist is finding a way to cope in a particular situation. In my memoir about attending college as a mother of five, Victoria is finding ways to accomplish the foreign language requirement at the Ivy League level. In the pages just submitted to my editor, I’m up to 140 pages now; Victoria takes a twenty-page French placement exam. Believe it or not, she places into French 120 [French II].

In three semesters of French at Penn, two three-hour classes per week, Victoria deals with discussing racism and genocide, social and psychological issues and politics in class, writing weekly essays in French, creating blog posts and oral and video presentations, writing research papers, attempting listening and speaking tests in French. She is grossly out of her comfort zone and desperately searches for ways to cope in French class because she needs at least a B average to keep her scholarship.

To accomplish this she studies French vocabulary constantly, obtains a tutor through the university, seeks the prof before class to be able to explain in English her difficulties with learning the language, [you were not permitted to use English in the classroom]. And when all else failed, Victoria asks the younger students in class what the professor is talking about—when the prof is not looking of course. Tears of frustration are shed. Then Victoria learns about being able to take the language requirement as pass/fail, but she still needs to turn in and pass all the work required. Many times, her husband finds her asleep at her computer five minutes before the midnight deadline to post the work.

So what are Victoria’s traits at this time in the memoir? Perseverance. And when the last professor tells Victoria she does not pass the language requirement because she is not fluent in French, Victoria finds the courage to stand up for herself and speak with the Dean of Romance Languages. In doing so, she passes the language requirement at Penn.   

Our characters are unique. They require specific traits in order to solve the story tension. And as writers, we need to remember to explain how the character came to acquire that knowledge or ability, no matter what genre we are writing in.

So what character traits or abilities do you give your protagonists to be able to solve the tension in the story you are telling?

Please feel free to offer any insight regarding Victoria’s struggles learning French at the Ivy League level. It would be truly appreciated.  

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here