You Can Create A Painless Synopsis

Painless SynopsisReposted from June 28, 2014:

Many writers appear to experience great emotional pain and deep, conflicted feelings when told they have to write a synopsis. It is the chore that every writer dreads, and few feel that they are truly good at completing, but it doesn’t have to be that way!

Here’s my rule of thumb for writing a (relatively) painless synopsis:

  1. Summarize each chapter in 1-3 sentences. Wherever possible, use only one sentence.
  2. Take your elevator pitch (if you have one for this story already; if not, write one), and keeping that elevator pitch handy,
  3. pare those sentences down to an accurate 1-2 page description of your story that gets rid of:
    1. all mention of secondary characters.
    2. all mention of lesser story arcs and plot points
    3. all unnecessary nouns, verbiage, adverbs, adjectives, and other descriptive phrases (with a few exceptions)

You should have left:

  1. Major character(s)
  2. went here
  3. did this
  4. experienced conflict
  5. while feeling this
  6. and found resolution
  7. with this end result
  8. written as interestingly as possible to hook your potential audience.

Not every chapter will be mentioned in the end result, but if you’ve done a good job, your synopsis will accurately reflect your book’s contents (including the ending) while not telling all.

Here’s part of my synopsis for A Shadow On The Land as an example:

Bjorn Horsa is Eiathan’s Heir, the promised king who must put his own life on the line to save the kingdom of Astarkand from the implacable, ageless foe the Kandians call Woden. King Olaf of Astarkand should abdicate in Bjorn’s favor, but Bjorn didn’t arrive in time to rescue Olaf’s half-brother from beheading by Woden’s priest. Olaf hates Bjorn for coming too late and wants revenge. He secretly builds a fleet to ravage the rich southern lands Bjorn left to reach Astarkand.

Bjorn navigates royal politics and intrigue, and waits on God’s timing.

Challenged to a duel by Weinolf, the king’s spoiled heir, Bjorn wins the fight but loses any hope of the king’s favor. Instead, the king grants ne’er-do-well Kresic a farm in exchange for a map he steals from Bjorn.

When Olaf’s navy mutinies and sails too early, the king unfairly sentences Bjorn to death. Bjorn and his men dig out from their cellar-prison and flee north. Nicar, Bjorn’s second cousin falls behind, taking refuge on Kresic’s abandoned farm.

The king discovers Bjorn’s escape. Weinolf’s life is put in danger when the tunnel collapses…

Do you see the level of detail here?

It’s also important to note that the fewer names you have to include in a synopsis, the better. Any time a new name is introduced, it’s important to explain who the new character is, and why they’re vital to the story line. If you can get away with describing a secondary character by their role in the story, i.e., the guard or the priest, then it’s better not to name them.

URGENT: Our Friends Who Want to Scam Us

Joe Scammer

Update: This is the kind of Valentine I think we’d all rather avoid…

Reposted from June 9, 2014:

I’ve hesitated to write about this issue because I haven’t wanted to tread on any toes. I’ve decided that it needs to be discussed though, although I’m going to be very careful what I say to avoid offending anyone specifically.

People who are duped by scams end up utterly embarrassed. That is a fact of life. Often, by the time the scam has run its course and they’re left financially ruined and at odds with family and friends who tried to stop them from investing themselves emotionally and financially in the scammer’s view of paradise, their life is in shambles. This is reality.

We all hate that reality! We all think we’re wise to that! We all think, surely OUR loved ones, OUR friends are wiser than to give in to that! Surely WE know better, too. But everyone is capable of getting duped at one time or another.

We give out our trust in some degree to strangers daily, even if we aren’t always aware that we’re doing it.

So, occasionally we need to discuss these realities, and discuss the evolution of certain scams, and put our loved ones and our friends wise to new developments.

‘Nigerian scammers’ don’t just live in Nigeria. That’s where this scam got started, but they can live in other countries too. They can even live or visit in the U. S. and Canada. Hey, there are unscrupulous and greedy people the world over! Why? Did you think they weren’t?

Nigerian scammers can have any color of skin, speak any language, and have any accent or even no accent at all. They can! And they don’t just pick up their victims online, although that’s where the Nigerian scam got started.

Jill ScammerYou might even have a scammer walk into your place of business one day and seem like a perfectly normal person. They strike up a conversation with you, and you get to know them, and you get to thinking of them as a friend. But then they go overseas or out of state, and stuff begins to happen, and their needs become more and more desperate as their requests for financial assistance multiply.

Or you could meet them at a party or at another event, or a mutual friend (entirely unaware of their unscrupulous intent) might introduce you. Your mutual friend might also be one of their intended victims, unknown to either one of you.

They might even come to visit you (to prove they’re really who they say they are), and return home again, and keep building this relationship that involves occasional requests from them for money from you.

They’ll offer you love or business success, or wealth and riches, even a share in their great-aunt’s inheritance; whatever it is that they have deduced makes you need to stay in relationship with them; and because they’re your friend, you want to believe them and give them whatever they need! You really do!

They might even say they’re willing to marry you, although most of them still balk at actually taking the plunge and achieving this level of commitment.

The reality is that you can be scammed by a friend far easier than by a total stranger. Scammers know this. They WANT to be your best buddy, better than your family members who love you, better than your best friend you’ve had ever since childhood, better than God and Jesus!

If you’re busy telling off your friends and loved ones while defending a relationship with someone whose identity and veracity they’re questioning, maybe it’s time for you to STOP! LOOK BOTH WAYS! and THINK HARD about what you’re doing and where this relationship is really taking you! You need to question your emotional involvement and take a step back from the relationship while you ask yourself some hard questions and come up with answers that aren’t emotion-based.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself if you’re getting feedback or vibes that a person you like might be trying to scam you (preferably before you give them any money or a piece of your heart):

  • Does my family (and my friend/s) love me enough to tell me hard truths I don’t want to hear? [your answer here]
  • Should I really be shutting them out of my life just because they disagree with my decisions regarding this relationship? [your answer here]
  • Is there someone in my life of a long-standing relationship that I trust, that I can discuss this relatively newer/more recent relationship with, and rely on their advice? [your answer here]
  • Is there a person in authority (maybe a police detective), that I can run the facts of this relationship by, and ask if it sounds suspicious to them? [call your local police department, and ask]
  • Why is this person asking me for money?
  • Do I have independent* knowledge of what services are available in the country they say they are in?
  • Can I obtain independent* knowledge of the services available in said country?
  • Do I have or can I obtain independent* contacts in that country who I can ask for verification of local conditions, and who might be willing to assess this person’s need and help them as needed?
  • Is there no one else this person might appeal to for help who lives closer and would be better placed to help them?
  • Have they mentioned anyone else that they are also appealing to for help?
    How much money am I willing to lose forever if it turns out that this ‘friend’ I’m trying to help out is a scammer?

*An independent contact is someone you have found on your own without any help whatsoever from the friend in question.

Good independent contacts in many countries might be a local Catholic priest (found by networking via a local Catholic parish in your hometown), or a local missionary from one of any number of mission agencies (Google ‘mission agencies working in [fill in the city and country name]). If you have a company you do have a good working relationship with in that country, you might also contact them, and ask one of your business colleagues in that business for their advice.

A good independent contact can give you advice on whether or not a certain address is in a safe part of town for them to visit, and may be able to tell you if they’re aware of scammers working out of their city or country, and whether or not you’re being taken for a ride.

Here are some boundaries you and I should agree on for ourselves before embarking on any friendship:

1. Let’s agree NOT to send or give money to anyone overseas or anywhere else in our home country or a neighboring country without first:

  • putting in due diligence and having independent verification of a need,
  • setting a specified budget for handling the need,
  • creating a time-table for resolving the need, and
  • including an escape clause that recognizes that our own needs and our family’s needs take priority in our budget.

Even Congress and the President of the United States would benefit from abiding by this boundary!

2. Let’s agree NOT to be so desperate for love or financial gain or anything else, that we’ll offer money or a share in the sale of our house, or access to our bank accounts, or anything else financially stupid in exchange for it!

I think if we can agree to these two boundaries, and stay wise in our friendships and be careful whom we trust, that we will all be much less likely to be scammed.

One last word: If you are aware that a loved one or a friend is being scammed, and you can’t get through to them, and you’re worried about their emotional or mental state, please contact your local police department and tell them of your concerns. Ask them to investigate.

Writing Contests: How Do You Decipher Judges’ Feedback?

Writing Contests Deciphering Judges Notes low-resReposted from May 25, 2014:

The subject of writing contests came up in a writers’ group that I belong to.

One of the writers in the group was bemused because she was given feedback by the judges that doesn’t square with the feedback she’s gotten everywhere else, even from professional editors.

How can this happen?

The explanation is simple: unless you have judges that are experienced with your genre, they will give you feedback according to what they know is expected in their writing genres and from their target audience as opposed to what is expected and accepted in your genre and from your target audience.

It is also possible to receive a range of feedback from judges (on the same writing), from “I hated it. Your book belongs on the compost heap (not that you’re likely to have a judge be this rude or unreasonable),” to “I loved it! You need to publish this tomorrow!” Some of the criteria involved in judging submissions of writing can be very subjective.

An author’s voice can be instinctively loved or hated even when their writing is technically perfect.

Maybe the judge is a stickler for grammatically correct dialogue or hates contractions, or thinks that every sentence should end with a period, exclamation point, or a period. None of those em dashes or ellipses, please!

Or–here’s a common biggie: they seriously dislike first person point of view, and can’t get into your story because you used it.

Maybe they hate head-hopping, or they only want to read deep POV, but your style is more literary.

Whatever their reason for not liking your writing, if your passion for writing clearly comes through your story, and your characters and their dialog are authentic, if your setting is true to your story, then it’s probable that even though a judge didn’t like your writing, your story still has worth.

Why I don’t submit to writing contests is also simple: I have deep reservations about paying for this kind of feedback. I’ve done it only once, and then I decided never again, because I didn’t like that resulting feeling of extreme perplexity. I’d rather pay a professional editor 4 times as much or more, not that I have that kind of money right now, or swap edits with other published authors than pay to enter a writing contest.

But that’s just who I am.

What about you? Do you enter writing contests? Why or why not?

How do you decipher judges’ feedback, and decide whether or not the judge gave you excellent advice that you need to take to heart and make changes based upon?

Introverts And The Art of Friendship

Be A Friend copyReposted from September 16, 2013:

A little background: The post was inspired by one of Matt Walsh’s blog posts: I’m An Introvert and I Don’t Need To Come Out of My Shell.

Matt raised a lot of good points. The readers who commented on his blog raised even more. I started to respond, but the response grew to where I realized I should really post it on my blog instead of his! So…this:

How does an introvert make friends?

How does anyone, for that matter, make friends?

Do introverts do it differently from extroverts?

Do introverts really need friends?

Few of us are 100% introverted or 100% extroverted. We consist, in varying proportions, of a mix of traits that are considered to be one or the other.

I consider myself an introvert, but some days I really need to see people. Not large, noisy groups of people, but a few very good, one-on-one interactions.

I can be (some days) that stranger who says hi and attempts small chitchat with other people. I’m not looking to irritate you–I’m looking for a way to connect. I see so few people now because of my physical limitations due to chemical sensitivities. I can’t go where there are crowds or do hardly anything that involves a crowd, and rarely am I sufficiently well enough to even risk attending church.

I’m perfectly happy to listen if you want to take the conversation down a deep philosophical road and discuss the nature of …ants or trees, or snow! I might even have something worthwhile to say.

I’m not usually lonely, but–there are those days when I just need a little face-time, and if I can’t see those people I consider my friends, I’m perfectly happy to try to make a new one.

Some days, I’ve been exposed to chemicals in my environment that rob me of significant higher brain function, and all I can come up with are the dumbest things to say–and I know they’re dumb, but I need to connect, so I say them anyway in the hope that the other person on the receiving end will be understanding of the good intent behind them, and will find a way to conduct a conversation with me anyway. Some days are horribly humiliating that way!

But I’ve met and known plenty of people who make small talk, too, who couldn’t be bothered to listen to anything the other person (including me) had to say. They make it clear that what I say say totally bores them, and they can’t wait to interrupt me or be distracted by anything or anyone else.

This is not a personality trait associated with either introversion or extroversion: this is bad manners and rudeness. And that is a person who has never had their nearest and dearest sit them down and pointedly explain (in love, of course) that a conversation requires give and take; that to properly hold a conversation, it is not only necessary to talk, it is also necessary to give the other person time to talk as well, and to really listen to what they are and are not saying. It’s a shame really, and not a reflection on who I am as a person–or who you are–when we run into them, and they treat us with disrespect. It’s a reflection on them and their lousy upbringing.

I have had nationals from other countries complain to me at length that this is a common American failing: that we are so convinced that we’re the only ones with anything worthwhile to say that we can’t be bothered to hear what anyone else might have to tell us, even if it means the difference between life and death. They chalk it up to arrogance, or being in too much of a hurry, or not having a good upbringing. Sometimes they’re right on all counts!

There is an art to getting to know strangers: it usually (but not always) begins with inconsequential chitchat, with looking for safe common ground on subjects where they’re unlikely to have feelings invested before moving on to more iffy subjects. Talking about the weather might lead to talking about that person’s garden or lawn, or upcoming game of golf or some other sport they participate in. I could care less about sports, but I do care about the people who enjoy them, so I’ll listen to sports-talk and (try to) ask intelligent questions. Sports-talk, if you both have children playing the sport, might lead to a discussion of family, and to discovering other areas of commonality–maybe even a discussion of spiritual matters as church attendance (or lack thereof) is brought up.

It might even lead to a philosophical discussion on ants or cracks in the sidewalk, or any other number of matters that might be of mutual interest to a pair of introverts.

If a conversation goes well, you’ve made an acquaintance that you might encounter again with mutually agreeable results. If multiple conversations down the road, you find yourself seeking out this person on a regular basis and vice versa, then you’ve made a friend.

If you’re talking to someone from Africa or the Middle East, you can skip the talk about the weather and sports, and go straight to asking about family. It is even considered bad manners not to ask about family first.

If you’re talking to someone from America, discussing movies or books is an alternative to sports, depending on who you’re talking to.

If you’re Greek, and you meet another Greek (I’m not, but I have observed this), it is expected that you will spend at least fifteen minutes trying to establish which city or province the other person’s family came from, and if you have relatives in common, who you know in common here, etc. I’ve known people who can keep this kind of fact-sharing going for hours. This also holds true for other countries in Europe, and can even be applied to Mennonites (a lot of them in my family).

But most people can’t and don’t go from zero knowledge of the other person to a friendship that allows discussion of deep matters, and the kind of non-judgmental listening that allows a person to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of rejection. Most people try to test out the waters first with small talk.

Did you know that you can make a friend, though, without ever being able to speak their language? I did this repeatedly when I was a child, when I lived among people who spoke languages that were all different from mine. It’s amazing how far you can go with a friendly gesture and a smile. Before very long, at least one party to the transaction is learning the other party’s language–if they’re motivated enough, and I was–

But we grow up and become self-conscious and afraid to connect, and we tend to lose that willingness to reach out and be vulnerable…

What about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you make friends?

Just Call Him Yee Haw! He’ll Understand

Yee Haw copyReposted from September 9, 2013:

I got into a theological discussion (two years ago now) with a friend. (and some of you are saying, “Uh oh!)

It was a friendly discussion! Really!

She wanted to know why some people write God’s name as G_d.

I don’t know for sure. I have some ideas on it though…

My first thought on this was that someone somewhere went to Bible College or seminary, and discovered that those who copied the Old Testament scrolls had such a respect for God that they took the vowels out of His name along with the accent marks so that no one could pronounce His name, thereby helping those who read the scrolls to avoid “taking God’s name in vain.”

Since not taking God’s name in vain was one of the Ten Commandments, this was very important to the Israelites, especially when the people involved in this activity were Scribes or Pharisees.

Jesus had a LOT to say about the Scribes and the Pharisees in the Gospels when He had to deal with them in person. Mostly all of it was very negative! He came up with the most colorful descriptions of their dysfunctional efforts at making everyone BUT themselves righteous, too: having logs in their eyes (vs. everyone else’s “splinters”); and camels trying to fit through needles! At every turn He rebuked them for the unreasonable burdens they placed on other people while trying to hide their own hypocrisy.

Helping other people to avoid sinning in so many cases requires us to sin ourselves via legalism. We can hedge our conduct around with so many rules and regulations that we find ourselves barred from doing what is right and just by what others have said we MUST or MUST NOT do.

Jesus cited many examples of exactly this kind of activity in the Gospels, although He never specifically discussed the effort to obscure God’s name.

Obscuring the name of God may have kept people from taking it in vain in that form–it certainly didn’t take them long to come up with other names to call Him instead, and also to abuse those instead–but I have to wonder: did this also discourage people from calling on God when they needed Him?

Did hiding the pronunciation of God’s name contribute to setting God’s people at such a remove from Him that He seemed unnecessary or irrelevant in their daily lives, a great impersonal being who was too important to be approached by anyone who truly needed Him? Was this one of the things that men did, desiring to be holy, yet by their actions, discouraging others who reacted by embracing all-out-rebellion because they felt rejected and ignored by God?

Is this veil that prevents us from truly knowing something we might otherwise have known about God greater than the actual, physical veil hanging floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall in the temple; the veil that no one but the High Priest could pass to make atonement for sins? The veil that tore in two when Christ died on the Cross for our sins so that it would no longer separate us from God?

When I think about that, and how some Christians, not content with being unable to pronounce the Hebrew name for God, are trying to render the English name for God unpronounceable too, I’m grateful that God doesn’t expect us to follow their example!

But I do have to wonder–if they got their way, if they would be happier to hear the rest of us mispronouncing God’s name instead?

And as for YWHW or YHWH–however you’re spelling it or misspelling it– Some people say that name, Yahweh or Jehovah; but it doesn’t matter, really. What matters is in your heart, and having a right relationship with Jesus, because that’s what HE came to do: save us and to tear the veil separating us from God so that we could have a personal relationship with Him!

And yes, if you want to call him Yee Haw, I don’t think He’ll mind, as long as your heart is right.

Some of His children probably will mind–but hey, siblings are going to always find things to pick on each other about. Don’t let them get to you!

God’s the best thing that ever happened to the human race, and if anyone or anything is worth a YEE HAW, then God definitely is! And I’m pretty sure He’ll understand if you want to tell Him so.