In your rough draft, it helps to write something like, “the trouble begins when…” and then go on to describe the trouble. Let me show you what I mean using yesterday’s inciting incident paragraph:
(the trouble begins) When the boy’s baseball smashes a hole in his car’s windshield, Stu knows it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. What he doesn’t expect is the hellcat who answers the door next door; with her wide eyes and fiery spirit, she’s everything in a woman he tries to avoid: a distraction.
Not too scary, really.
Each paragraph following this one is another complication/twist/turn/conflict or problem.
Let me repeat. You’re not going to write every single thing that occurs in your plot.
I often wonder if that’s what makes some writers feel overwhelmed. "What’s important? What’s extraneous? How can I tell? Oh my God! I’m hyperventilat—" Thud.
You want to focus on that skeleton, remember? Lean muscle, no fat. If you get lost, go back to your beginning paragraphs and look at your protagonist’s objectives, reasons and obstacles.
The last thing Clarice needs in her new life is a hunky guy with a crappy attitude. Especially one who seems to have a thing against her Austin. But she does owe him a substantial amount of auto body work and on her single-mom salary, she may as well owe him the moon. So she offers him the only thing she has. Herself. If he promises to leave her and her son alone after one night of anything-goes sex.
(Oh my gosh. Can it get any worse for Clarice? Sounds to me like she’s going to repeat the same pattern of her old life. But, it’s a heck of a complication, in my humble opinion. Did you see that coming? I didn’t, and I’m sitting here writing the synopsis.)
Now if here’s where—if I wasn’t an experienced synopsis writer/reader— I would go into a huge thing about what happens next by describing everything blow by blow: Stu decides he’d be an idiot to say ‘no’ but then gets an attack of conscience or bad housekeeping. After dinner from the local deli (because he hasn’t done any shopping) on paper plates (because he hasn’t done the dishes in days) he decides to come up with a different arrangement. Especially when he realizes he has no clean sheets. He asks Clarice can be his cleaning woman/cook/valet for the space of a month; paying the salary of a person who did all those things would certainly cover the cost of the auto body work to remove the dent Austin made in the hood with his ball.
But—yay!—I know enough to go back to Stu’s objectives, reasons and obstacles: To do his research to save the family foundation, but he keeps getting distracted by the noisy kid next door and now, the kid’s sexy mom. So, what fat can we trim from our fake synopsis paragraph?
Remember to Breathe
Wait—before we move forward. Are you breathing? Hyperventilating? Do you need to get a cup of tea or a cookie or something? Take a walk? Clear your head? Are you suffering any bouts of psychosis?
Take a deep breath. Think about what we’ve discussed. Here. Look at a picture:
Notice where we are: the first complication. Why is this a complication? Because both of these people are endangering their goals by becoming more involved with each other. The key phrase here is: …endangering their goals. Because I write romance, my characters’ goals are in direct opposition to their attraction to one another. I get to play the push/pull game. If you write a different genre, you’ll have different rules to follow and games to play with your plot, but each paragraph of your synopsis will describe the complication your character(s) encounter which will endanger the achievement of their goals.
Holy crap. I think I’m going to hyperventilate.
No, wait. Instead, I’m going to brainstorm a list of “trouble transitions” for my complication paragraphs:
1) things get worse when…
2) the conflict escalates…
3) all seems lost…
4) everything goes wrong when…
5) even the best laid plans go bad because…
6) things go from bad to worse when...
7) but then...
8) everything crumbles when...
9) things appear hopeless when...
I could go on, but I won’t because I think you get the idea. Every complication in your plot is a paragraph. So, let’s go back to that paragraph and cut the fat off to find the muscle and flesh out that skeleton.
Stu is tempted but
From here, I’ll move to the middle point of my story skeleton and the next paragraph as I describe how Clarice once again distracts him from his objectives. And, once again, because I write romance, I’ll need to describe how being around Stu all the time is almost like being a wife again. And—why that’s a complication for her.
Speaking of complications, tomorrow’s post will finish up our discussion and I’ll complicate everything by critiquing a synopsis. Don’t panic.It’s bound to be an extremely long post, however; I might break it into several parts just to make it easier to upload. I hope to have it posted earlier in the day than this post but…well, life with a three-year-old can be…complicated.
I hope to see you tomorrow; if you have any comments/questions/criticisms, please feel free to post ‘em.