Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Did You Say–Gasp!–Outline?

Good freezing morning to you today! Not only is it one of the coldest mornings of the year so far (outdoor thermometer says it’s zero right about now), but my thermostat continues to prove that it needs to be replaced: for the third time in four nights, it failed to tell the boiler that heat was needed, and it’s really freaking cold right now! Good news? It must have worked at least partway through the night, because it was ‘only’ in the mid fifties in the house when I got up. Still, that’s too freakin’ cold. The thermostat is one of those old, mechanical types with a coil and a mercury switch. I see a digital upgrade in my short-term future.

Around this time each year, Agent Carrie schedules calls with all of her clients to plot and plan for the upcoming year. It’s a chance to set goals, discuss how things are working, and map out where we want to go and how we’re going to get there. My call was yesterday afternoon. Through the magic of cell phone technology, I left my family in a supermarket and sat in the car while we talked. Best thing of all? When our conference was done, I stepped out of the car and saw my wife pushing a laden cart across the parking lot to me–we were done! Timing is everything!

Carrie and I last spoke in mid-September, when we discussed the editorial feedback and “near miss” of the novel I’d last completed. At that time, I mentioned my new project, something I’d started working on over the summer while on submission. Her reaction was…cautious. She expressed concern that it didn’t sound like what I typically write. Admittedly, my poor description of it probably made it sound a bit like an action flick, which is definitely not my style, but I also don’t talk about my writing as well as I write about it! I did understand where she was coming from, however, and when I went back to the WiP while avoiding the RiP, I made some changes based on what Carrie had put in my mind. I then abandoned the WiP during NaNo month in favor of the RiP, which I finally sent back to Carrie in early December.

In the last two weeks, I made substantial progress on the WiP. On Saturday morning, prior to a pre-Christmas cleaning binge, I added nearly 2000 words on to the end, and found myself happy with the progress. I have a little over 200 pages, almost 65,000 words down, and the full sense of what happens. Which brings me to yesterday’s conversation with Carrie. On Saturday afternoon, after the pre-Christmas cleaning binge, I decided I wanted to send Carrie a synopsis of the WiP in advance of our conference. This way, she’d really understand the WiP in the likely event I garbled my way through the conversation. So I started the synopsis.

If you’re an author, you’ve probably dealt with the synopsis. This is something many agents and editors ask for, where you condense your 100,000 word opus into three to five pages–or, worse yet, one page. It typically includes mentions of all the MAJOR CHARACTERS, all the major plot events, and the ending. It’s something that causes as much angst for writers as a pitch letter, maybe more: if you’re not an author, it’s hard to write these things, trust me. At any rate, I got to a point on Saturday evening where I liked my synopsis, then touched it up again on Sunday morning and sent it out. I’ll admit, I broke some rules: my synopsis is not a one page quickie, it’s three pages. And I didn’t mention all the characters, and I didn’t put them in ALL CAPS. I’m daring. A maverick. A rule breaker. But it worked. When I talked to Carrie later, she seemed really excited about the project, and didn’t express the same sort of reservations she had raised when we first talked about the project. Score for me!

It also helped me, however. If you’ve been reading this space at all, you know I’m a dedicated Wingman, a Discovery Writer, a man who hates the concept of outlining. Yet, the synopsis is, in fact, something of an outline. It lays out the major events of the plot, and in summarizing the plot, it’s possible to see where some of the holes might be. Since I haven’t read over this manuscript from start to finish (and trust me, this one is a hot mess in many ways) yet, I was running largely off of memory, and what I thought should happen. There are a couple of spots where the synopsis comes across as a mumble, the literary equivalent of “la la la’ing” your way through the line of a song when you’re not quite sure how it goes.

10 Beatles Classics You Kind Of Know The Words To by jeremeey

This synopsis, or “after the fact outline,” has helped me see where I need to beef things up, expand on things, fill in the details. I’m not ready to call myself an outliner, not by a longshot, but I certainly can see where outlining in the middle of things can help bring it all home.

That’s it for me for this week. I hope you all have yourselves a beautiful holiday. See you next time!

8 Responses

  1. Funny video. Man, is that old or what?

    Woke up to single digits this morning. I'd stay inside except I have to go grocery shopping (gotta get milk!). Brrrrrr. By the way, I don't allow Hubby to go with me. He puts all these extra things in the cart when I'm not looking!

    I would LOVE to finish my WIP this week. Only 2 more chapters (9 pages) to revise!!! But with the list of stuff I have to do first… I'm afraid I won't be able to get to it. Aargh!

  2. I'm desperately hoping to learn to plot. I figure it'll save me so much time with my revisions. The book Take Off Your Pants is really helping me – it almost makes sense to my brain 🙂
    Good luck with it – and with that thermostat!

  3. I'm real glad to be in the tropics when I hear about weather like this. Congrats on all the progressed you have made with writing Jeff. A happy agent equals a happy writer. Merry Christmas.

  4. I was so happy when I came upon the one page synopsis system. It makes it so much easier. And it's awesome for outlining too. Merry Christmas!

  5. Sorry about the thermostat and the bold, but yay for progress on the WIP, especially the synopsis! Both synopses and blurbs are super helpful when starting a project. The blurb reinforces the main conflict points and character goals, which helps you keep focused when writing. Almost all writers who get a Big 5 deal, get it for that book and future books — which means deadlines — and realize that a synopsis/outline is imperative. Wishing you new thermostat and a warm Christmas!

  6. Half your luck to be freezing. I'm sweating through an Australian summer–humidity and violent storms, but, ah, that's what I signed up for.
    Enjoyed reading about your writing. I loathe writing synopses, and I actually think we should all write one before we start our novel. Mine would have a lot of changes, but I can see it would help with plotting and structure. (In my dreams, maybe..)

    Have a great Christmas and all the best for 2017!

  7. -Stacy: Had to set the Wayback Machine to 1989 to get that clip! Some interesting faces in the SNL cast and crew there. Nine pages–so close! I'd say I'm sure you can squeeze it in amongst all the things to do, but revising is not easily done (at least for me) in short little bursts.
    -Jemi: I'm not sure I'll ever know how, either!
    -Sheena-kay: One of my goals is to make my agent rich–I figure we'll both come out ahead that way. Merry Christmas!
    -Donna: there's a system for that?
    -Lexa: I have not been able to do either (synopsis or blurb) before really starting because I generally don't start with any real clear picture of what I'm doing. Once I get to a point where I can "see" where things are going, I can do it, but don't usually like to, unless I'm stuck.
    -Denise: As I said above, my preference is to generally just dive in when I have enough of an idea to start somewhere. At some point on some project, I might change my process, but that day has not yet arrived. Stay cool, and thanks for reading and commenting!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for Updates

For announcements, alerts and special offers, subscribe to our emails.  Please note, you will have to confirm your subscription through an email to the address you provide.

Follow Jeff O'Handley

Jeff O'Handley ©2023 - All Rights Reserved.