Don’t you love, love, LOVE writing synopses?


In my mind, if you do, you must be nuts! (JOKING!)

Honestly, I’ve only met one woman the entire time I’ve been writing who said she really liked writing the little buggers. (And yeah. She might have been . . . )

Maybe short story or non-fic writers have a gas writing them, but as a rule (my rule, anyway) people who write fiction over 50,000 words hate them.

Why? Because as a rule, a novel author can’t tell you her name in less than ten pages. 😉 How could she tell you about her great story in that space?

Maybe, if we stand back and look at the how, it’ll be easy. (Snort, again.)

Here’s some great advice from Writing the Smart Synopsis by Nancy J. Cohen:

Open the action with a hook. You already know this is crucial in your manuscript, but it applies to your synopsis as well.

Use action verbs. Your story should be engaging as you convey it to the reader.

Make sure the story flows in a logical manner from scene to scene.

Include your character’s emotional responses and stay in her head as you would in the story. Use transitions if you switch viewpoints.

Show your character’s internal struggle as well as her external conflict. What’s inhibiting her from making a commitment to the hero? What is causing her to doubt her abilities? What lesson does she need to learn about herself in this story? Motivate your character’s actions so her responses seem logical.

Explain the ending. In a mystery, this means you tell whodunit and why. In a romance, it’ll be your dark moment and the resolution of the romantic conflict. You’ll want to describe how your character has changed or grown from this experience.

Okay, that SOUNDS easy peasy (clears throat, rolls eyes) but it’s more than that.

  • Let your voice shine through. (And when it’s a long-winded voice, that ain’t easy.)
  • Include the tone of the book. (You don’t want it to sound humorous if it’s a dead serious suspense.)
  • Make sense. (That’s the hard part.)

The best advice from Nancy’s blog on writing the smart synopsis? “Let your critique partners read your synopsis.”

Believe me, it’s easier to see problems from the outside looking in than it is to see what you didn’t include, even though you think its there. And to make sense. 🙂

Please pop over to Nancy’s place and read the entire blog. She’s a real help!

Tell Me Why . . .

My science fiction shelf

Terminally Curious here after a long hiatus. 😛 Here’s what I’m wondering–


Three little letters but a great big word–a constant in a writer’s life. Plotting. Scene and sequence. Make up stories.

  • WHY does your character do what s/he does?
  • WHY does this or that happen just when it should/shouldn’t?
  • WHY does this turning point take place as/when it does?
  • WHY are you writing this particular story?

There are lots of rules. Your story can’t sound contrived or make no sense. And there’s no such thing as a coincidence. Everything must connect to everything else, kind of like the way a chain works. Everything interlocking, but changing, building, without giant leaps in logic. (Yep, I’m writing about my writing here.)

But the most import thing, the WHY I’ve heard since the very first conference I attended . . .

  • WHY do you write?

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a ploy to whittle down my competition. I’m convinced that if I write a book that’s good enough, a publisher will make a place for it.

I just think it’s a wise woman who knows what she does and WHY she does it. And a wiser woman who knows when it’s time to stop doing what she doesn’t enjoy or finds something she likes more.

So . . .  WHY do you write?

Here are a few of the answers I’ve heard.

  • For the big bucks. (Not many people can say that, but some can.)
  • To turn the world into the place you want it to be.
  • Because you can’t not write. (I’m not sure what that means. Hope someone can explain it.)

So how about it? Writers . . . ?





Debra Dixon.

Just say  her name and what comes to a romance/women’s fiction writer’s mind? “GMC,” of course! (And we ain’t talkin’ cars here.)




Of all the craft of writing books I’ve had in my clutches over the years, GMC is one of the few I’ve read cover-to-cover. (So shoot me.) And I’ve read it more than once. 🙂

I decided to take yet another look the other day, and guess what. Something new jumped out at me.

GMCPlease note: I added the Susan sticker. The books don’t come from the publisher with your name sparkling on the front.

Before I go on, maybe I should confess something. When I read a book on the craft of writing, I tend scan until I come to what I’m reading to learn. Yes, I’m reading the entire book to learn, but usually there’s something specific I’m trying to glean.

Goal: Read Deb Dixon’s book. Motivation: To learn to use GMC and write a great book. Conflict: I have tunnel-vision.


Just to make sure someone doesn’t mistake my GM&C book for their own.

 So this time, I started reading it just for general knowledge. Not to learn how to fill out the GMC charts. (page 21) Not to figure out how to use GMC to write a synopsis and/or query letter. (page 135-136) Not to learn how to write a tag line.  (page 92)

The most amazing thing happened! The answer to writing the hardest section of the actual book jumped right out at me.

She tells, right there on page 9, what you have to have in a first chapter. Everything! Written down in black and white. All the things Marilyn has reminded me of every time I start a new book. (Okay, she doesn’t actually have to say them each time, I’m not that slow a learner, but I hear the echo of her sweet voice as I work on that hardest of chapters.)

From “Goal, Motivation & Conflict  The Building Blocks of Good Fiction” by Debra Dixon.

The first chapter of a book performs the same function as those first minutes in a movie. The first chapter must establish what’s at stake and make an introduction. You are introducing the reader to their guides for the evening–the hero, villain, and maybe even one or two other characters.

That’s gold! And I missed it all these years. If I were teaching a class on this book, the handouts would read:

First chapters must:

  1. Establish what at stake in the book.
  2. Introduce
  • hero
  • heroine
  • villain

She makes it look so easy, doesn’t she? She also spills more gold on the page when she tells us the reader is supposed to “identify and empathize” with the hero. You’d be amazed at how many newbies miss that! (Yes, I’ve stepped in it a time or two myself.)


Bragging: “My book is autographed by Deb herself!” 🙂

She goes so far as to tell us what the readers want–to experience the struggle for this person’s goal and the conflict that keeps him/her from getting it.

She goes on:

If the hero has a wonderful life and everything he wants, then your book is going to be boring. An editor won’t buy the book. Readers won’t pick it up. And if they do, they won’t finish it. Because you will not have met their expectations of being taken on a journey of uncertainty.

(Emphasis mine.)

Don’t you love that description of writing? “A journey of uncertainty.”

Instead of purple and white, this book’s cover should be gold. And sparkly!

If you don’t own Deb’s book on GMC and you’re an aspiring writer of any kind of fiction, find it and buy it. Now. Don’t wait.

You can order it here for $19.95. (I checked other sites and saw it starting at $88.00.)

Deb’s gold is waiting for you.

If you do own it, get it out and read it again. You’ll be surprised at the new gold you’ll find in there. 😛


Adventures in Writing: the Mom Years, Part 1

428301_10150627759396985_593286984_9447964_571828259_nI was recently asked to offer some tips on balancing writing and motherhood for an workshop a writer friend was teaching. I started writing when Hannah turned 4 and began preschool. My older boys were all in school (ages 7, 11, and 13), and we had just moved to a new city so it seemed like something fun to fill my days–LOL–if I’d only known!

My four are grown now, and I am closing in on my fiftieth published book. We all live in different cities, and I am so proud of the people they have become. And yet, as I pondered my friend’s request, is it too cliche to wonder where the time went?

Here are some of the things that helped me to write books and raise kids:

–Use a timer. It helped to keep me focused on writing to know that I didn’t have to keep checking the time to be sure I wasn’t late to pick kids up, start dinner, or whatever. It also gave me a little incentive to race against the clock and see how many words I could get in.

–Get your priorities straight from the beginning. Write them down. Hang them in a prominent place. Repeat as necessary! Any time you’re asked to do something, be it home room mom or even just to bring cupcakes, weigh that against your priorities. Where does it fit? Can I manage it without taking time away from more important priorities?

–This one is related to the prior but important enough to warrant a separate tip. Make eye contact with your children. Set aside a time–for me, it was when they walked in the door from school–and really do a “relationship check” to see how things are and how they are. Here’s the important part of this: close down your computer when you do this. Make a habit of shutting the lid on your laptop or setting your monitor to sleep mode. You may believe you are 100% focused on your child, but if your computer is open, they don’t get the visual of that. I recommend this for husbands, too. Give them that moment…those five or ten minutes or whatever they need. Then you can go back to work. Multitasking when it comes to relational things is dangerous. Don’t do it.

More next week!

Looking for the Hidden and Finding the Obvious

Recently my husband and I embarked on a research trip that would take us to the locations of at least four different novels that were either under contract or anticipated to be. Our travels took us to among other places, Memphis, New Orleans, Mobile, and to–quite unexpectedly–West Point, Mississippi and Waverly Plantation.

Waverly was not on our list of potential sites to visit, nor was it even on our radar–or rather GPS–as we circled through the South taking notes and photographs. Yet when we stopped at a red light and saw a sign saying Waverly Plantation, 10 miles, there was no question we had to go and see this place for ourselves. In fact, I don’t even recall my husband asking. I think he just smiled and turned right.

Ten miles seemed like much more as the two-lane highway twisted through the Mississippi backwoods. And then there was Waverly Plantation. An octagonal wedding cake of a home with a cupola that looked as if it ought to include a Civil War era gentleman with his spyglass pointed north watching for Yankees, the place was quiet. Serene. Gently shabby. So of course we had to go in.

Our guide tackled the stories of the home with enthusiasm, something that made up for the surprising cost of entry. We later learned that while the plantation is on the list of historic sites, it is privately owned and depends on entry fees for its upkeep. The home is lovely, with that lived-in feeling that gives a visitor the impression they’ve all just left and are expected back at any time. In fact, I’ve read in subsequent research about the property that people have felt the presence of ghosts. Of the feeling of being watched or the sound of a little child calling for her mother. I can say I felt none of these things. Perhaps it was because my writer’s mind was elsewhere.

Likely I missed the ghosts–if they were that at all–because I was looking for the hidden. Looking for the nuances that made a home of the time what it was. Looking for the carved details on the staircase, the unique design of the New Orleans-made beds with posts that telescoped up to hold mosquito netting, for the unique device that the lady of the home used to call her maid to her chamber. Those hidden things make a story, and that was my purpose for walking the halls of Waverly that day.

However, as I was looking for the hidden, I found the obvious. The people of the nineteenth century, though not blessed (or burdened) with electronics and modern devices, still managed to live a good life. A simpler life, yes, but a good life all the same. They cultivated gardens, gathered for meals, and joined in with their neighbors for the celebrations that marked their years. One of the celebrations held at Waverly back in the late 1860s gave rise to a legend that I’ve borrowed from for my next historical novel, FLORA’S WISH. I won’t give away the story, but I will say it involves a candle, a lady’s hoop skirt, and a few dozen former Confederate soldiers who were afraid the Yankees had returned.

Had we not taken that turn down a two-lane Mississippi blacktop, we would never have found the hidden Waverly, a home that obviously had much to offer for a writer. The lesson: when looking for the hidden, be prepared to find the obvious. And always turn if you see an interesting sign.

So You Want to be a Real Writer, II

If you get to know a group of romance writers, you’ll find they’re pretty much like everyone else in the world. Some are fantastic people to know, some are not. Some are self-serving and ego driven from the get-go, and some are just plain nice people who’ll work overtime, helping out a fellow writer.

I’d like to tell you the really successful ones are the fantastic, nice, helpful writers. I wish that were true. I will tell you that the people I talked to for these words of wisdom are successful as well as fantastically nice. They have my sincere gratitude. 

The writers groups I belong to have newbies writers join every so often. (For some reason, only nice newbies hang around. We send the not-so-nice ones down the road.)

I so enjoy watching the way newbies go about learning the craft. (I enjoy learning from them, too.)

Some attack learning like they’re going after a college degree, studying and internalizing how-to-write books. Others write and critique and write again. Still others take a lot of classes and go to every conference they can afford. 

Usually, it’s a mix of all those things.

 So I got to wondering, which is the best way? I might not have the answer, but I know people who do. I decided to ask.

“What kind of advice would your successful author self (today) give your beginner writer self if she were just getting started?”

Here’s how they answered. (In no particular order.)

Marilyn Pappano—

I don’t know that I would do anything really differently. I would read a lot. And I would submit. I don’t think, if I were unpubbed right now, that I would have the nerve to enter contests because there’s no way I could have done that before. I would read all the advice that came directly from the editors of the house I wanted to sell to, like taking up residence on eHarlequin, etc. And I would probably read certain blogs.

I definitely wouldn’t take online classes and probably not in-person ones. The one online class I took was a huge waste of time, and I doubt if I were completely writer-friendless, I wouldn’t have the courage to take an in-person class or go to a conference/workshop.

HOLIDAY PROTECTOR in Christmas Confidential, Harlequin Romantic Suspense, 12/2012

COPPER LAKE CONFIDENTIAL, Harlequin Romantic Suspense, 4/2013

A HERO TO COME HOME TO (Tuesday Night Margarita Club 1)

Forever Romance, 6/2013


 Jackie Kramer—

 As for classes, books, etc., I wouldn’t use as many as I did when I was clueless, but NOBODY knows everything and, since the market is always changing, I’d want to keep current.

Based on knowing what I already know about the publishing biz, I would STILL probably go for publishing with one of the big six…just to be able to claim I had been published with them. I just wouldn’t wait so long to epub the book IF the rejection was a “good” one.

 Warrior’s Heart

Liz Fielding—

Read – a lot. But read like a writer. How did the author handle a situation. Change viewpoint. Describe something that you could see in your mind’s eye. How does she write dialogue? Take a book you loved apart, analyse it. And I have some writer tips on my blog this week –

Wild Justice–Beaumont Brides

Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance

Holly Jacobs—

I don’t think my suggestions for writing, for becoming published would change now.  I know there are a lot more options out there in terms of publishing, but the craft of writing remains the same.  Study your genre.  Read a lot…read widely.  And most importantly, write every day.  That’s always been my go-to suggestion for someone who wants to write.  It sounds trite, as if I’m blowing off their question.  But writing is a craft, and like any craft it needs to be honed and refined.  The only way to do that is to write on a regular basis.  

And the writing…that has to come first.  Publishing comes after.  There are more options, but without the writing, the publishing options don’t matter.

Everything But a Dog (Just in time for Christmas!)

Kathleen Y’Barbo-Turner—

Just got back from a week in Dallas at the ACFW conference. My answer would be to join a writers group. All the other stuff is great—reading books, taking classes, etc—but there’s no substitute for getting out and being among other writers.

Daddy’s Little Matchmakers

Jean Brashear— 

I’d advise taking a two-pronged approach: 1) hone your craft by joining the best writers’ organizations you can find and taking advantage of classes, workshops, etc. and 2) read and listen extensively to authors who are doing both traditional and indie publishing. The publishing business is in tremendous flux these days, and it behooves you to be as informed as possible. There is no one way to do this, no one size fits all.

BUT… never get so busy learning the business that you don’t do the most important thing, which is to WRITE. And write. And write. Learn to revise, learn when to listen to others and when to listen to your heart. You have to believe in yourself more than anyone else in the world does, because at the end of the day, it’s the power of your story that matters much more than any business details. You need both–sad, but true–but without a powerful story that comes straight from your heart, you have nothing. Protect the work and protect your joy in it. 

And never, ever give up.

Best of luck to you!

Texas Star

The Goddess of Fried Okra

So, what would I tell my newbie self?

1- Find a mentor if there’s any way you can. I’ve been extremely blessed to have Marilyn Pappano in my life. I think she’ll get a few extra stars in her crown for all the help and support she’s given me over the years. She’s the greatest!

2- Find a critique group you can trust. I’ve been so lucky with most of my critiquing friends. You quickly learn who you can trust and who you can’t. Cling to the first like a nylon slip on a cold, windy day and kick the rest to the curb.  

3- Remember, what comes around goes around. (Just sayin’.)

4- Never give up; never surrender. Remember, tenacity is the key. If you want it badly enough, work hard and have a willingness to learn, it will come.   

So . . . do YOU have any advice you can share with new writers?

Thank you to all the ladies who answered my question. You guys are the best! (I really mean it.)

Ps: All the pictures here are mine–with the exception of Liz Fielding’s. Liz, I found yours online and thought it was beautiful. Hope it’s okay that I used it.






Paulina Plots

Susan here. I have a gust blogger, Paulina Czarnecki. I asked Paulina if she’d like to share how she plots, and smart girl jumped on the chance! Only later did I learn she’s just 14 years old!!!

See if you aren’t as impressed as I am.

♥ ♥ ♥

From Paulina–

Everyone plots differently. Some writers make very detailed plot outlines. Some don’t plotat all. I am one of the former.

A couple of years ago, when I first started writing seriously, I went online and found Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method. In short, the method instructs you to start with a single sentence and build it out to a paragraph, then to a page, then to a three-page synopsis. This is the method I now use when I plan a plot.

Why is this method useful? First of all, it doesn’t take long. It also pin points major plot holes before you begin writing. Even if you don’t like to plot at all, take your story idea and try to write it into a paragraph: the first sentence should be your introduction, the second, third, and fourth major events—or disasters—in your story, and the last the conclusion, the ending. Can you do it? If not, you don’t have a complete story idea.

For pantsers, writing a paragraph about the general idea of your plot won’t eliminate all of the twists and turns your characters push at you, and it might save you a lot of content editing later. Outlining doesn’t make writing boring. I make very detailed plans before I write and I still find surprises that come at me as I’m writing.

It’s a matter of sooner or later; if you don’t write a short summary before you write your book, you’ll have to do it after.

If a paragraph of plotting is a paragraph too much, try this on for size—you need three things to write a book, right? (I’m mostly talking about action here.) Three basic components: a main character, an evil force or bad guy, and a problem to overcome or a motivation. The MC has to defeat the EVIL FORCE (but can’t) because of the PROBLEM/MOTIVATION.

The main character should have a special, unique voice you use to narrate the story. The evil force should somehow touch the main character personally, to give more reason for the character to fight it. The problem is what stands in the character’s way, and the motivation is why the character wants to fight.

For romance novels it’s a little bit different: The MC has found his/her other half but they can’t be together because of the PROBLEM. The motivation here is love. The problem can be a person or a circumstance that’s keeping them apart.

Even if you’renot a plotter, writing a simple paragraph or writing a single sentence can be a guideline for your entire book. If you have these basic pieces of your story figured out, you can write it without getting off track. It will save you a lot of editing in the long run!

The author of this blog is Paulina Czarnecki. She’s fourteen years old. She has been writing since an elementary school project sparked her interest and telling stories since long before that. She loves spending time with her friends and family and making memories. She also has a blog at

Thanks, Paulina! Keep in touch. I’m expecting big things out of you!