Synopsis Writing Made Simple

Synopsis. It might as well be a four-letter word in the writing community. Everyone hates to write them.

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Unfortunately, they are part of the process as many agents and editors require them. To make matters worse, the lengths vary based on where you’re sending them. The post from PubCrawl was the post I used over and over again to help me write my synopsis. It’s available here.

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If the Star Wars example post above doesn’t help you, consider doing what I now do when I need to write a synopsis. For starters, I write my synopsis so that I can have all possible page lengths, which makes it less heart ache for me in the end.

Here’s what I do. It’s not rocket science and many of you might roll your eyes at the simplicity of my method. It works for me. Maybe it will work for you. What’s great is you can do this before you write (if you are a plotter) or you can do it after you finish your novel.

Using either my outline or my completed manuscript, I tackle the main character’s storyline chapter by chapter. I don’t focus on page length in the beginning. I simply focus on the main plot, only introducing the major characters. The rule of thumb I follow for this aspect of synopsis writing is to ask myself if I need to mention their name. What will I gain by adding them to the synopsis? Are they mentioned more than one time? If not, their specific name isn’t needed, but stating Lacy’s best friend does XYZ should work.

Once I’ve gone through every chapter (this requires me scrolling through the completed chapter and summarizing what takes place in the main plot in as few sentences as possible), my synopsis is pretty long. The same is true if I’m trying to write my synopsis before I write the novel. I pull the main plot from my outline and do my best to summarize what I plan to happen. Naturally, this will need adjusted after the novel is completed because things usually always change.

After the long draft is finished, I then go back and make sure I’ve included the main elements to the story an agent and editor will want (including the ending). From there, I clean up the grammar, wording, et cetera, and then start cutting it down until I get the desired page lengths (usually five, three, and one).

This is just my process, but I wanted to share because I like writing a synopsis. Doing it this way makes it easy for me. Good luck in your synopsis writing!

Writing and Rewriting

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It never fails, I just can’t write in the fall. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s because I’m going back to work (being a teacher pays the bills) and the idea of balancing writing and starting a new school year terrifies me. Maybe it’s because by summer’s end, I’m tired of writing. I don’t know. But come the end of December, beginning of January, I always hit the ground running–err, typing–and start working on something new. This is just how I roll and I really don’t know why.

2015 was a terrible, horrible, no good year for me filled with the sadness of separating from my agent, losing my mother-in-law unexpectedly to cancer, surgeries and hospital stays, car accidents on the interstate, and depression. But I’m determined to make 2016 better. The first way I’ve decided to do this is by WRITING.

When my Winter Break started, I decided to pull out feedback I’d received from editors who had read my YA LGBT Thriller (bisexual MC) and based on that information, I sat down and reworked the novel. It a matter of days, I’d rewritten major plot points that shaped the novel I loved so much (and had gotten my agent with) into something more…something better.

This was only the beginning. I became hooked on the idea of making what I’ve already written that much better.

I have two more novels that I love dearly, they are my babies, after all. One has never seem agents besides the one I had at the time, but the voice was too similar to my first novel and there were some characterization issues I needed to address. I’d shelved it because at the time I didn’t know how to fix it. Two days after Christmas, it hit me what I needed to do. I started outlining because I’m a plotter and for two weeks straight, I wrote every chance I got. The story quickly evolved into something so much better than what I started out with. When I finished, I couldn’t believe it. Sure, I’d salvaged some of the scenes I wrote orignially (even if they needed to be heavily edited for voice and tense purposes), but I managed to write 70K in two weeks.

THE END

Now, I needed a new title. I needed a new pitch. I needed a new query. I’m still working on the latter right now while I let the writing simmer before sending it to my CPs and beta readers. It wasn’t the same novel anymore (same is true for the LGBT Thriller I heavily revised) and I, for one, was glad. I felt accomplished, I’d done something, breathed life into something I thought could never be salvaged and resurrected it from the shelf of doom.

I can’t help but wonder, now. Am I a writer who has to write and then go back and rewrite it again? I hope not, but I’m the kind of writer who doesn’t want to give up on my older novels. If it means they need rewritten to become better and more marketable, I’m game. As a teacher, I know I have to evolve my teaching style to match the type of learners I have in my classroom. As a writer, I’m willing to do the same. But rewrite or not, I’m just happy to be writing again. I can’t wait to start my next novel, whether it’s a rewrite or something new, it doesn’t matter. As long as I’m writing.

Writing Diverse YA

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I know this post is titled ‘Writing Diverse YA,’ but it could easily be applied to NA and adult writing as well. Please keep in mind as you read that I’m no expert. I’m simply sharing what I do when I develop my diverse characters.

Diversity is in our DNA. Take a minute and allow that thought to sink in. Go ahead, it’s okay.

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Diversity is all around us. I see it in my classroom every day. Heck, I saw it in my own classes growing up, and I lived in a place so small we didn’t have a stop light. Cow pastures surrounded my high school. But we were diverse, representing the LGBTQIA community, POC, mental and physical disabilities, etc. One would think the same level of diversity would be present in the books we read. Except it’s not. Thankfully the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign hopes to change this and bring real world diversity to the bookshelf.

It’s always been important for me to make diversity an integral part of my writing. It’s my dream that everyone who reads my writing will be able to connect with it somehow. I try to cover more than one aspect of diversity. In the novel that landed me my fantabulous agent, I have characters that are LGBTQIA, POC, and wheelchair bound. Physical and mental illnesses are also addressed in that novel. The same is true in the novel I wrote this summer and the one I’m drafting now. I’m blessed to have had the experiences I’ve had because they’ve opened my eyes to see the world. And spoiler alert: It’s diverse!

Do Your Research

While I do pull from my own experiences when I write, one of the most important parts for me when I decide how diverse my characters will be, takes place before I start drafting. Nothing irritates me as a reader more than having my connection to a character stripped from me because the author didn’t take the time to get their facts straight. This drives me nuts when I watch movies and TV shows dealing with the military or education. Sometimes, the information is so wrong, I can’t buy into the reality the writer is trying to convey. Please don’t be that writer.

The Details Matter

Pay attention to the details. It makes your characters more rounded and will make the diversity you are writing about more believable. Since I write YA, school in some shape or form is always present in my novels. As an educator, I pay attention to the schedule of my characters as a way to increase their believability. I research the school district of the real area my novel is located in and use their course offerings when drafting my character’s schedules. In fact, I know the school schedule of each of my characters even though it may never be mentioned in the novel. But why do that? I do it because I don’t want a student in Atlanta (the location of the precious I’m currently writing) to read and be pulled out of the novel because they know that’s not a class someone could take as a junior. For adults reading YA, a detail like that may not matter. But to a teen, it can make a difference. Over the years, I’ve asked my students (I’ve taught middle and high school) and they’ve told me when authors don’t take the time to research details like that, it bothers them.

Location, Location, Location

Some authors consider their setting to be a character. The setting’s diversity is just as important as whether or not the character is a POC, LGBTQIA, or physically or mentally disabled. For me, every detail is important in building a world in which my characters live. My novels take place in fictitious towns or neighborhoods to allow me some creative freedoms. I put as much energy into the picture I paint of this setting as I do my characters. Once I’ve settled on an area to use as my setting, I look up the demographics for that area. I might use the real name of the bus pass found in the real setting or have a major landmark, highway, etc mentioned. Pay attention to your settings seasons and weather. Putting your MC in a tank top and having them walk around outside wouldn’t exactly make sense if the real area usually has 6″ of snow on the ground during that time of year.

What Not To Do

When writing diverse characters, try to avoid turning them into caricatures. All too often, diverse characters are stereotyped when they are represented. Also, their diversity is seen as a hurdle and a major focus (usually in a negative light) instead of simply another aspect of who the character is. Don’t have a token gay character or POC friend who serves no purpose other than to make you feel like you’re writing something diverse. Your readers will see right through it.

So you’ve decided to write a character that is a POC. Fantastic. How do you portray that to the reader? When I write POC characters, I show them to the reader the same way I would show a white character. I don’t come out and say ‘a white guy with blond hair’ so why would I do that to represent a POC character? I also wouldn’t compare a white character’s skin tone to the color of milk, so why would I do that (use a food reference) if I were writing about a POC?

When writing diversity a writer should try to be real, accurate, all the while being creative. If you don’t know how to portray something, find someone to ask. Use the internet to your advantage. Show the reader you can write. If you know your characters well enough, their diversity will come through the pages and speak to the reader. Now, go write your heart out!

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I’ve been asked to do this before and because of one thing or another, I never did. But when YA and NA author, Jamie Rae asked, I decided it was time to do it. So, thank you Jamie!

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Be sure to follow Jamie on Twitter | Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Tumblr | Goodreads

 

What are you working on?

I just finished writing a YA Mystery that fans of the shows Veronica Mars or CSI: Crime Scene Investigation should enjoy. I’m in the process of a monstrous book hangover where I don’t want to let my characters go, so I’m plotting a book two for this series. The characters keep talking, so I must listen. I’m also plotting a YA psychological thriller.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I can’t help but write strong female characters that don’t want to be a damsel in distress. My characters know exactly who they are even though they are teenagers. For one reason or another, their pasts have helped them define themselves in such a way, they know what they want. They all have a hint of darkness to them, but in the end and after they’ve been put through the ringer, it helps them survive. I’m not afraid to hurt or kill my characters either.

Why do I write what I write?

I love reading YA and when I can’t find the book I want to read on the bookshelves, the next best thing I can do is write it. I want to create situations for teens that require them to rise above, deliver the message that failure is not an option, and to always be their own hero. I also aim to feed the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement because all of my novels have a diverse cast.

How does my individual writing process work?

I have blogged about my emotional status as I write a novel here.  I’m a plotter all the way. I’m guessing that’s because so far every novel I’ve ever dreamed up has been a series. I try to place breadcrumbs in each book and to do that, I have to know what’s going to happen. If I write something three books later, I want the reader to remember something from book one and have their ah ha! moment. I use outlines and what I’ve called a background bible. Everything I could ever want to know about my characters goes into this document. Demographics, favorite colors, school schedules, back story, what the house looks like, what their bedroom looks like, etc. I also write my synopsis and pitch before I write (this is something new I tried with my last novel and it worked well for me) and follow a detailed outline. I will add to my outline as I’m writing if new details pop up, but I generally follow it.

I have to have caffeine, music, and a candle burning if I want to get a large word count in. I also purchased a pair of Beats to help me focus. With them on, productivity doubled and I finished my latest novel faster than I thought I would.

Now it’s your turn!

I am going to step outside the box and not have specific people lined up to do this already, but make it an open invitation. If you haven’t answered these questions on your blog yet, please do and send me the link so I can read it. If you don’t want to blog about it,feel free to share your writing process in the comments.

Novel Playlist: THE SATURN KILLER

Music is my muse. For THE SATURN KILLER, I found some artists on Spotify that Pandora failed to introduce me to. Below are the songs that helped me set the various teen party scenes and find Emily’s voice while she worked to uncover the serial killer torturing her OBX (Outer Banks) town of Saturn Pointe, North Carolina.

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Taking You There, Broods
Devils Touch, TIAAN
Red Cup, Katy Tiz
Brother, Matt Corby
La Di Da, Lera Lynn
Alone Together, Fall Out Boy
Wake Me Up (Ruben K Remix), Avicii
I Hate You, Shawnee
Crave You (Adventure Club Dubstep Remix), Flight Facilities
Song for Zulu, Phosphorescent
Chandelier, Sia
Ain’t It Fun, Paramore
Hurt, Nine Inch Nails
Burn, Ellie Goulding
I’m Coming Home (Arion Dubstep Remix), Skylar Grey
Fader, The Temper Trap
People Help The People, Birdy
Black Beauty, Lana Del Rey
Wake Up, Arcade Fire
Stay With Me, Sam Smith
Letters From The Sky, Civil Twilight
Goodnight and Go, Imogen Heap
Miles Away-feat. Kellin Quinn, Memphis May Fire

Now hear them on repeat, which is what I did while writing.

THIS NOVEL IS DONE

After I sent DLS to agents for consideration, I focused my attention on a New Shiny MS. I had an idea about a serial killer and it wouldn’t leave me alone. Right around the time I started my first page, I received my first offer of representation. Needless to say, that stopped me from starting the new novel.

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Once I signed with my agent, I needed to stay busy. ICYMI, you can read about my experience here. Hello New Shiny!  I’m a plotter. I pulled out the pitch, synopsis, and outline and started plugging away. Yes, I wrote both the synopsis and the pitch before I wrote the novel. Try it, if you haven’t. I wrote this novel faster than I wrote DLS. In 43 days, I keyed 80K. I know there are writers out there that write 3X as fast. I’m not one of them. I edit while I write, even when I tell myself not to. My first draft is very close to my final draft. For me, this is a huge feat.

THE END

I spent a lot of time with my characters before I started drafting. They started talking to me while my CPs had DLS. As with all my novels, diversity is present in a variety of aspects. Even though I knew my character’s back story as I started writing, I learned some interesting things about them as the pages unfolded. All I can say is my poor MC.

Now, it sits with my CPs to make sure I didn’t pull a  Jack Torrance.

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How fast do you write?

The Writer’s Roller Coaster

Do you love to ride roller coasters?

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If you answered, no and are a writer, I challenge you to reconsider.

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No, it’s not. Just stick with and I’ll explain. Promise.

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As a writer, whenever we draft, revise, and edit our work, we  battle the writer roller coaster. Not once. Not twice. Nope. I wish. I’d be totally fine with that and wouldn’t complain. Hell, if I looped my writer roller coaster ten times, I’d shut up and call it a day. For many writers, we’re stuck on the ride that’s determined to take us straight to hell and back again at eleventy billion miles (or kilometers) an hour and the only way off is to finish the project.

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It’s okay, cry it out. It’ll get better. Just make sure you don’t jump off the roller coaster before it comes to a stop. Don’t torch your manuscript because the ride will come to a stop and you can safely exit.

Allow me to elaborate and show you what my writer roller coaster looks like.

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First, I get an idea.

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I have to tell the plot bunnies to shut up because they love to attack while I’m drafting something else. I don’t work on my idea right away because it needs time to develop into something more than just a pitch.

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When they attack again with a more detailed plot, I start drafting.

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Everything is great. I love ALL THE WORDS.

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Until I don’t.

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And the only thing I can think of doing is destroying my computer.

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But just before I do that, a character or a scene reminds me they love me.

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And, I’m back to owning all the words.

tumblr_inline_n43e08vTcS1r1k3kq Everything is beautiful. I love my characters. And then…

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They suck. I come to conclude my writing is terrible. The book is awful. There’s no way anyone would want to read it.

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There’s only one thing I can do.

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Because the words are so terrible, I don’t want evidence left behind.

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But, like the evil villain that can’t be killed, I am reminded that I love my New Shiny, and don’t light it on fire quite yet.

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  So it’s back to work. Drafting, editing, revising ALL THE WORDS.

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And then I write something that makes me want to crawl into a hole. Or board a space ship.

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And at this point, I’m an emotional wreck.

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So I have a talk with myself. I say, “Self…”

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I can do this. I can write all the words and make people laugh, cry, or smile. And whenever the part of me who wants burn my New Shiny emerges, I threaten it.

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Oh yeah, it gets ragey in my head. But it’s all good because I push through.

tumblr_inline_n2bf0oLy6P1sw2o2jUntil the roller coaster comes to a complete stop and I get the hell off. I’m a bit dizzy and shellshocked for a minute, but I’m off. And I feel amazing. 
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And I ride that wave of accomplishment for as long as I can.
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 UNTIL…

tumblr_inline_ml1nt4bZN41qz4rgp So have a hug and know you are not alone.

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He Said, She Said: Dialogue Tags & Saidisms

So you had an idea and now want to write a book?

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CONGRATS!

When you write, nailing down your character’s dialogue is a major accomplishment. If you are writing a young adult novel, you want what the characters say to sound like that of a young adult and not like the forty-something you might be. Don’t mind me, I’ll be celebrating the anniversary of my twenty-fifth birthday FOREVER. If you want a novel that people are going to enjoy, you have to make sure the dialogue works. Not only does it have to be in the character’s voice, it has to be written properly.

The first thing you have to remember is that the dialogue is your character.

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 When a tag is added, that’s the writer.

Rule of thumb: Don’t let the tags distract the reader.

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When in doubt, stick with the simple: SAID and ASKED.

“You look hot,” he said.

“Why wouldn’t I?” she asked.

There are a handful of ways to write your dialogue. The trick is to make it come across on the page so the tag is invisible. If you have too many tags associated with action or adverbs, you pull the reader out of the story and the dialogue loses it’s purpose. Make sure as the writer, you aren’t explaining too much within your tag. If you have to explain too much, consider the dialogue. Is it appropriate? Is it really doing the job and capturing your character’s voice?

What’s the real purpose of a dialogue tag?

  • Identifies which character is speaking
  • Keeps the reader actively involved in the scene
  • Breaks up the conversation

As I write my dialogue, I remind myself not to interfere with my characters by adding too much to my tags.

Dialogue with Action

Don’t spend all your time writing action with your tags. The best thing you can do is a writer is to keep your words active and show the action. Sometimes, action associated with the tags is necessary and the easiest thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it should be on every page or every tag.

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“You look hot,” he said, taking her hand.

OR REVERSED

Taking her hand, he said, “You look hot.”

There’s nothing wrong with the examples above. Unless you do it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. If it’s a situation where we know which characters are speaking, don’t over use the tags. Especially when you have action associated. For instance, if it’s clear which character is speaking, remove the tag and go with the action. Or rewrite the sentence so that there’s an action beat to let us know which character is talking. Action beats are great ways to show us how the characters are handling the conversation while breaking it up, because people don’t usually talk in long drawn out monologue’s.

He took her hand. “You look hot.”

In the example above, the writer could show the action better instead of being so telly, but I’ll save that for a different blog post.

Dialogue with Adverbs

Be very careful when using adverbs with your dialogue. They have their place in writing, but use them sparingly. When you attach adverbs to your dialogue, you are telling and missing the opportunity to show. This can lead to angry agents and editors, not to mention readers.

“Who are you talking to?” she asked angrily.
“It’s Jake, from State Farm,” he said defiantly.

As a reader, I’m much more inclined to care about the characters involved in the scene if you show me what the anger and the defiance looks like. It’s easier to just tell the reader the emotion, but as a writer, is that the best you can do? Probably not. Showing the emotion will help the reader connect and–crap, that’s a different post. Back to dialogue.

Formatting the Dialogue

There are rules to writing dialogue.

Proper punctuation

 Make sure you have the comma and the period in the appropriate location.

Don’t write: “You have a beautiful smile.” He said.
Write: “You have a beautiful smile,” he said.

Dialogue interrupted by speaker’s action

When you write your dialogue and your characters own actions interrupt them from speaking, use the em dash. It shows the characters are doing something and then continuing their dialogue. You don’t need the comma in the first part of the dialogue since you aren’t adding a tag. Don’t add spaces between the quotation marks and the dashes or between the dashes and the action/thought.

“If he’s guilty”—I pushed my finger into his chest—“you can bet I’m going to make sure he’s convicted.” 

Interrupted dialogue by another speaker

When another character interrupts the first, you show this in your dialogue using the em dash. There is no need to say it He cut her off or She interrupted him. The dialogue shows it for you.

“I loved you—”
“You think you did.”

Dialogue that trails off

If your character loses their train of thought or doesn’t know what to say, use the ellipsis. Make sure you don’t abuse these.

“I wanted cheesecake, but . . .” This diet is for the birds. 

Names in your dialogue

Make sure you use a comma before and/or after the name if your speaker is addressing someone directly in dialogue. This includes pet names, non-proper names. 

“Are you okay, Emily?”

“Come here, honey.”

“Logan, she did that for you.”

Don’t be redundant.

“RUN!” she exclaimed.

You have an exclamation here. This tells us the character is shouting the word run. But as the author, you added a tag. It’s almost a case of showing and then telling because you show us with the dialogue and then you turn around and tell us with the tag. Don’t do it. Trust your reader. If you want to use the dialogue tag rewrite the sentence.

“He mean to tell me he—”
“Yep,” she interrupted.

The interruption is obvious from the use of the em dash. You risk pulling the reader out of the story. They might think there is a glitch in the matrix because you told them the same information twice.

Saidisms

These are words designated to replace the word said with the purpose of providing additional information not given to you in the dialogue. They become an eyesore and distract the reader when used frequently. Trust that, for an editor, using said or asked over and over never gets boring. Murmured and whispered are tags that are accepted because of the argument that you can whisper and murmur words. However, you don’t need to tell the reader the character whispers every time. You can show it other ways. Keep in mind, the tag is supposed to tell you who is speaking.

An editor once told me: You can’t snarl or smile words, you say them.

So as a writer, why would you say:
“I love you, ” he smiled.
“No you don’t,” he snarled.

Exceptions

In writing, there will always be exceptions. Some genres are more accepting of a variety of tags beyond said and asked and want their writers to use them. Romance is an example. If you are a romance writer–and I don’t mean young adult fantasy writer that has romance intertwined–then being restrictive with your tags isn’t necessary. From what I’ve seen published and read on various editor blogs, varying your tags in romance is encouraged. Even outside the romance genre, varying your tags from time to time is acceptable. When in doubt, talk it over with your CPs. Check out twitter and writing forums. Editors have blogs and tumblrs, just waiting to be read.

DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS Novel Playlist

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Sometimes when I write, it has to be totally silent. However, 99% of the time, music is required. Next to water, music is my muse. For DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, I discovered right away, my protagonists voice came out the easiest whenever I listened to classic rock. I was A-OKAY with that. There are so many amazing bands to choose from, while paying homage to the amazing music of the past.

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Music has it’s own role in this novel and some amazing songs are referenced. Even though I wrote this novel quickly, I found myself like this:

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Below is what contributed to my madness as I wrote.

 

Pretty Hurts, Beyonce

Fortunate Son, Creedence Clearwater Revival

Gold On The Ceiling, The Black Keys

Dream On, Aerosmith

Bleeding Out, Imagine Dragons

You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Rolling Stones

Unconditionally, Katy Perry

The Needle and the Damage Done, Neil Young

 Secrets, One Republic 

Highway To Hell, AC/DC

I Will Possess Your Heart, Death Cab for Cutie

Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin

Nothing Else Matters, Metallica

Seven Wonders, Fleetwood Mac

Creep, Radiohead

Fat Bottomed Girls, Queen

Don’t Stop Believin’, Journey

  Counting Stars, One Republic

Every Breath You Take, The Police

Stan, Eminem

Hey Hey What Can I Do, Led Zeppelin

 Now, listen to them below!

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Organizing Your Manuscript in Word

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I’m a Word girl. I can’t deal with Scrivener. I have the program and for whatever reason, my brain looks at it, and threatens to explode.

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Since my goal is to write novels and not have my brain explode, I willing return to Microsoft Word. I’ve picked up a few tips and trips to help me maintain organization as I slice open a vein and pour out my soul.

I’ve been a Microsoft user since the days of Clippy.

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Until Microsoft decided enough was enough.

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Anyway, Microsoft has come up with some pretty cool things to allow you to navigate your manuscript. I’m only going to talk about one of them: HEADERS. Before, I had to CTRL+F to find anything within my manuscript. When you’re pushing 90K, searching for that spot you were editing in Chapter Eight can take you eleventy seven minutes to find. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do with my time. Like actually write more novels.

Starting with a blank word document, find the view tab. Select “NAVIGATION PANE” to pull up the side bar.

navigation pane

Type the Chapter One to start your manuscript as you normally type. The default setting for word is to fall under the normal paragraph style.

normal

Highlight the text you want to make into your heading, Chapter One in this example. Click the Heading 1 style. The text changes and moves the new heading to be left justified. The heading now appears in the side navigation bar.

heading1

Return the font to your originally preferred font, color, etc.

headings

Repeat for each chapter. You can do this as you write or if you have an idea of how many chapters you are going to have, you can set up your manuscript before you write.

chapter 2

A completed, organized manuscript looks like this.

completed manuscript

I hope this helps those of you that use Microsoft Word, but have a hard time remaining organized. Since I figured out how to do this, I’ve had no problems keeping my manuscript organized.

 

 

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