Posts Tagged With: Laurence MacNaughton

What Is a Synopsis?

This is a popular question, mostly because everyone seems to define a synopsis differently.  Is it one page or fifty?  Does it give away the ending or not?  Here’s what you need to know.

A synopsis is a condensed description of your entire novel told in present tense.  It’s similar to the back cover copy (or jacket copy) of a published novel, and for good reason.  Both of them are used to sell a novel to someone.  The jacket copy sells it to the reader; but long before that happens, the synopsis sells your novel to the editor.  One of the things an editor wants to know is that you’ve written a good story from beginning to end, which is why a synopsis also includes the ending of the story (whereas the jacket copy almost never does).  The trick is to remember that a synopsis is actually a sales tool, rather than a literary work.  Keep that in mind, and it’ll make the process of writing one go a lot easier.


  • Double-spaced 12-point Courier or Times New Roman
  • One-inch margins all around
  • Tell the story in third person, present tense
  • The first time you mention a character, put her name in ALL CAPS
  • Omit any dialogue
  • Keep it short; 1-2 pages if possible
  • At the end, put “THE END” or just ###

Not sure how to go about writing a synopsis?  Fret not.  Tune in next week and I’ll show you how to write a synopsis the quick and easy way.  No kidding! 

And in the meantime, if you have a writing question, just ask.

Categories: how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beat Writer’s Block in 6 Simple Steps

Q:  I’m about five chapters into writing my first novel and I’ve reached a total impasse.  I flat-out don’t know where to go from here.  Everything started out so well, I had lots of story ideas and the pages were coming fast.  But now I’m stuck, and I don’t know what to do.  Should I scrap my novel and start over?  How do I beat writer’s block?

A:  Don’t worry.  Here’s a solution that’s guaranteed to shake loose your creativity.  And you can do it in just six easy steps.  Ready?

First, take a deep breath.  Set aside what you’re working on and think about the basics of your story for a moment.  Go back in your mind to the original inspiration you had for your novel.  Forget about the chapter you just wrote; focus instead on the bigger concepts.  Remember the very first thing that inspired you.

Got it?  Good.  Now, in your notebook, answer these six questions:

1)  WHO is my story really about? 
Sometimes we get ourselves turned around and focus on the wrong person.  Hint: the main character is the person with the most to lose, the person who spends the most time on stage, or the person who gets hurt the worst.

2)  What does that character WANT?  
It needs to be something specific that we can visualize her achieving.  Something we could see in a photo.  Is she trying to fix a problem?  Achieve something that’s never been done before?  Write down exactly what it is.

3)  WHY does the character want it?  
The more primal and universal the reason, the better.  Especially if the character thinks that achieving this goal will make her a better person or mend a broken relationship.

4)  What will the character DO to achieve it?  
What direct action might she take in the future?  Brainstorm at least ten actions.  Later, you can pick out your favorites.

5)  What stands in the WAY of the character achieving that goal?  
How would these obstacles force the character to change plans midstream?  Brainstorm at least ten obstacles: opposing characters, inner conflicts or physical roadblocks in the setting.

6)  How should things get RESOLVED in the end?  
Does the character achieve the goal?  Or fail?  Or realize that she was chasing the wrong goal all along?

Answering these questions will give you a bare-bones plan for writing your novel.  If that doesn’t get you totally unblocked, spend time brainstorming more obstacles for the hero to overcome.  Giving your character a problem to solve will get your story rolling again instantly.

So, in a nutshell, your novel is about a CHARACTER who has a GOAL or PROBLEM for a vital REASON.  He or she DOES SOMETHING about it, but RUNS INTO TROUBLE.  Finally, THINGS GET RESOLVED

That’s it.  Everything else is just fancying up that one basic paragraph.  See, isn’t that simple?  Here’s a quick cheat sheet for you:

My main character is __________.  He/She needs to __________, because __________.  So the character does __________.  But __________ stands in the way.  At the end, __________.

Just fill in the blanks and get back to writing your novel. It’s that simple!

Got a writing question? Just ask!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

5 Fast Ways to Stop Editing Yourself

Write a novel on an AlphaSmart.  Why not?

Q:  When I’m writing a novel, how do I stop myself from going back and fixing things?  As I write, I’m afraid to even look at the screen because I’ll hate what I wrote.  I keep my eyes focused on my desk instead, or on objects that I’ve collected in my writing space that are inspirational to my story.  When I watch what I’m typing, I write much cleaner sentences with less typos, but I feel like I’m never going to finish my novel.  This is hard, because I want to figure out how to become a writer and someday publish a book.  I feel like I’m not getting any closer to finishing my novel!

A:  Okay, it’s time for my #1 free writing tip: Don’t panic.  What you’re experiencing is normal for aspiring writers (and heck, published authors fall prey to it, too).  Your writer brain is trying to create and edit at the same time, and it’s choking you up.  You’re getting distracted by the words you’ve already written, rather than pushing forward toward the end of the scene.  But with some practice, you can break the habit.  Here’s my advice: whenever you find yourself bogged down while you’re writing, take a moment to notice where your eyes are going.  Are they on the sentence you just wrote?  Or are they going back to the beginning of the page?  If you’re getting tripped up by the temptation to go back and revise while you’re writing, here are a few simple tricks to beat that problem.

1)  Change your writing software.
Minimize your screen so that you can only see a few lines of text at a time.  A basic program like Notepad works great for this.  It narrows your focus to just the words in front of you, so you don’t get distracted.

2)  Get a word processor.
Switch to an old-fashioned word processor with a small screen, for the same reason.  You can find old battery-powered word processors all over eBay.  I’ve written on an AlphaSmart for over a decade, and I love it.  I highly recommend the AlphaSmart Neo.

3)  Write your novel longhand.  
The act of putting down one word after another, in ink, forces you to keep moving forward toward the end of a scene.  Plus, you get to shop for cool pens and call it “working.”  My favorite: a Fisher Space Pen.  Write anywhere, anytime, even in zero-gee.  Why not?

4)  Write your book on a typewriter.  

Yes, a typewriter.  True writerly geekiness is as close as your neighborhood thrift shop.  Like writing longhand, a typewriter prevents you from going back and re-working the words you’ve already written.  It’s also faster, albeit noisier, than a pen.  Finding ribbons can be a bit of a hassle, but typing just has that certain je ne sais quoi that makes you feel like a Writer with a capital W.

5)  Make time to write.
Set a kitchen timer for five minutes (or 10, or even 20) and force yourself to keep writing, nonstop, for the entire time.  You’ll break through those nitpicking tendencies, find your groove and start pumping out the manuscript pages.

No matter what you do, the goal is to get something, anything, written.  You can always go back and edit it later.  Keep trying different writing methods until you find what works best for you.  Remember, the only “right” way to do it is the way that gets it written! 

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to Win Writing Contests or Die Trying

As I write this, my unpublished novel Cold Million is a finalist in the Colorado Gold contest, which is held every year by the incomparable Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.  The competition is stiff.  I’m up against some of the finest undiscovered writers in Colorado.  In fact, a couple of the finalists in my category are good friends of mine, not to mention being members of my critique group.  (It would be even more ironic if we’d actually planned it this way.)  The good news is that no matter how this turns out, odds are that someone in our group will bring home the prize.  That’s an incredible feeling.

If you’re thinking about entering a writing contest, remember that you want to get the most out of it.  Ask yourself a few simple questions:

1. When is the writing contest deadline?
Write it down on your calendar. Use it to motivate you to write your story, get feedback and polish it until it shines.  There’s nothing like a deadline to get you writing.

2. Does the writing contest supply a critique?
Feedback is essential to your growth as a writer.  If you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, how can you fix it?  Sadly, most of the time, when an aspiring writer sends out a story, the response is . . . crickets.  Silence.  Perhaps a curt, “Thanks, but not for us.”  That’s just the way the business is.  Wouldn’t it be nice if someone gave you a gentle nudge in the right direction?  Look for a writing contest that will give you some kind of a critique, so you can learn from it and write better next time.

3. Is there a writing conference involved?
When a writing contest ties in with a conference, you get a double dose of writerly goodness.  Not only do you get a chance to have your writing evaluated by professionals, you often get a chance to meet those editors and literary agents in person.  Take a few classes, sit in on a seminar and soak up everything you can about the craft and business of writing.

That’s it.  As long as the contest is reputable (check Preditors & Editors if you aren’t sure), it matches your genre and you can afford the entry fee, then why not?  Follow the writing contest guidelines closely, polish up your best work and just go for it.

Notice that in this whole list, I didn’t mention the prize.  Why?  Because although writing prizes are nice, they’re not the reason to enter a contest.  Your singular goal is to become a better writer.  Making new friends at the conference is always nice, and getting kudos for a job well done can really lift your spirits. But none of it means anything unless you’re growing as a writer.  Every time you have an “Aha!” moment and learn to do something better, you take a step closer to becoming a published author.  So even though only one person can take home the prize, every single person who becomes a better writer comes out a winner.

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The One Thing You Must Do to Get Published

As a writing coach, it’s my job to help people get a little perspective on their story problems.  Recently, a client asked me to help him out with his first novel.  He’d gotten halfway through and stalled out.  I put together a laundry list of ways to fix his various story problems — and then I told him to ignore my advice.  “For a little while, at least,” I said.  “First, finish your novel.  Later, you can go back and fix these things.”

That’s really the best advice I can give to anyone working on a first novel: forge ahead and finish it.  Get all the way to “The End” before you go back and start making changes to the story.  The rough draft of your first novel always seems like an insurmountable challenge.  Why?  Because you’ve never done it before.  But don’t let that stop you.

Once you finally finish your novel — once you reach the very last page — you pass a milestone that most would-be authors never see: you’ve actually written a novel.  How cool is that?

I’ve done some highly unscientific research at the local bookstore and discovered that 100% of all published books are finished.  I’ve never heard an editor say, “Well, this author only wrote the first couple hundred pages — but it was so perfect, we decided to publish half a book!” 

Doesn’t happen.

But you’re beset by fears.  What if the second half of my book is no good?  Then you’ll make it good.  What if I don’t know how to end it?  Then you’ll make it up.  Remember, you’re the creative type.  Improvise!

The first draft of anything is just that: a first draft.  You’ll make it better in the second, and in the third, and so on.  It’s like a sculpture: once you have the basic form worked out, you can keep chipping and polishing until it’s beautiful.

Plus, there’s a hidden bonus.  The more you write, the better you get.  As the pages pile up, you get more skilled at the craft.  The learning curve for your first novel is usually so steep that by the time you get halfway through, you think to yourself, “Wait, now I know how to do this better!  I should go back and fix all of that stuff I wrote earlier!”  It sounds reasonable, but it’s a trap. 

Instead, write yourself a note and keep going.  You’ll need every last bit of creative strength to reach the end of the novel.  Don’t squander your energy on perfecting things that you might delete later.  It won’t be flawless, especially not in the first draft.  So for now, just concentrate on finishing your novel. 

First, get it written — then later you can get it right!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How Do I Finish My Novel?

Q:  Hi, I’m trying to write a novel about two people who meet by accident and then discover that they share an element of their two dark pasts.  I have a few general story ideas, but nothing concrete.  I know where I want to start my novel and where I want it to end, but it’s the middle that’s stumping me.  How do I figure out what to put in the middle of the book?

A:  It sounds to me like these two people want to get together, but story-wise there isn’t enough keeping them apart.  What you need is a little old-fashioned brainstorming.

At times like this, I like to break out a pack of 3×5 cards (actually, I’ll take any excuse to break out the cards, really).  Set a kitchen timer to 10 minutes and just start writing down ideas, one idea per card.  Don’t edit as you go; no matter how insipid or ridiculous anything sounds, write it down.  Force yourself to keep going until the timer goes off, and then keep going until you run out of steam. 

Now, here’s the critical part: stack up your cards and put them away without looking at them.  In fact, don’t even take them out again until the next day.  Then, go through them with an open mind and pick out your favorites.  Even the ideas that didn’t seem so hot when you wrote them might turn out to the the seed of something great.  Go with it!  Use these as the inspiration for another round of brainstorming, if you like.  Then, start writing!

Bonus tip:  You can read an article about brainstorming plot ideas here, written by yours truly:

How to Explode With Plot Ideas:

How about you?  Do you have a writing question?  Send me an email and I just might publish your answer here!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What Is Copyright, Exactly?

What is copyright?

Want to protect your work against copyright infringement without convincing literary agents and publishers that you’re a complete amateur? (Or worse, a paranoid loon?)  Here are a few simple points to remember.

Basically, copyright protects the embodiment of an idea in a tangible form.  That can mean a published book (or movie, or song, etc.), but it can also be something you’ve typed on your computer or even scrawled out in less-than-perfect handwriting.  The important distinction is that it’s tangible; I can print it out or point to it and say, “There it is.”

Copyright doesn’t protect ideas, however.  Let’s take this admittedly historically inaccurate situation between two writers:

CHARLOTTE:  I believe I shall endeavor to write a book about pride — and also about prejudice.

JANE:  Hold fast, you insipid cow!  I have already written such a book.  I shall sue the petticoats off of you! 

Despite Jane’s protestations, Charlotte is actually free to write about pride (and also prejudice) to her heart’s content.  Why?  Because she’s working from an idea, not a tangible piece of writing.

What Charlotte cannot do, however, is copy and paste any actual passages from Jane’s book or unpublished manuscript.  That would be plagiarism, also known as stealing, which would indicate that Charlotte has gone over to the Dark Side and must be dealt a suitably swift and period-specific punishment.

So what does all of this mean to you?  First, remember that the moment you start writing a book, it’s protected under copyright law.  You don’t need to stamp the copyright symbol all over it.  (In fact, I recommend you don’t.  It just looks tacky.)  Second, if you’re really concerned about protecting your work, you can register it with the copyright office.  It’s relatively cheap and easy, and it gives you much more robust legal protection.  Here’s the link:

By the way, the term trademark refers to something else entirely.  A trademark is something that you use to identify a product or service.  It could be a name, a title, a slogan, that sort of thing, e.g. Coca Cola.  And a patent applies to an invention or a method of doing something.  Neither term is related to copyright, so as long as you’re writing a novel and not inventing the next trendy soft drink, you don’t really need to worry about those.

The insidious Charlotte, however, might be in for a world of hurt.

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How To Write a Book from One Image

Got writing questions?  Get answers!

Q:  I have this singular, compelling image that keeps getting stuck in my mind, and it has inspired me to write my novel.  But it’s just one scene, really.  Is there any way I can develop a story from that?  Can you give me any idea how to write a novel from just this one image?  

A:  Writers get inspired by the oddest things, don’t we?  First, write out that idea as completely as you can.  Don’t edit yourself.  Don’t try to plan it out or structure it.  Just write whatever comes to mind.  Not only what you see and hear, but the feelings that surround it.  What is this scene saying to you?  What does it mean?  What about it is something that everyone can relate to?  Keep going until you’ve exhausted the idea, or you run out of steam. 

Got it?  Good.  Now, here comes the fun part of the writing process: creating new ideas.

Grab a stack of index cards.  On each card, write one thing that could lead TO this scene or one thing that could develop FROM it.  How does this scene change someone’s life?  Who else could be affected by it?  What could this scene ultimately lead to?  What would have to happen beforehand in order to make this scene happen?  Don’t stop until you’ve written for at least 10 minutes and jotted down at least 10 cards.

Now, you’re allowed to take a break here and come back refreshed later.  When you do, sort through your cards and pick out your favorite ones.  Lay them out in front of you.  If you look hard enough, they’ll tell you whether your initial scene idea should occur in the beginning, middle or end of your story.

Once you’ve settled on a particular point in time, you can build forward and backward to it, using the creative writing prompts from your cards.  What comes before this point and brings it about?  What happens afterward as a result of it?  Keep writing, and before you know it, your single image will explode into dozens of writing ideas!

Do you have a writing question?  Send me an email!

Categories: how to write a book, writing a book | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Free Writing Websites

Learn how to write a novel the right way.

Wait, don’t tell me, let me guess — you, dear reader, want to learn how to write a novel!  (Well, the fact that you’re on a web site called “You Can Write A Novel” conveniently gives it away.)  I’ve always believed that when you want to learn how to publish a book, you ask the literary agents, publishers and authors who already work in the business. 

So for your benefit, I’ve put together a few helpful writing links.  These top-notch writing websites are all chock full of the wisdom you need to achieve your dream of learning how to write a book.  Check ’em out!

Literary Agent Kristin Nelson’s Blog

Writer’s Digest

Science Fiction Writers of America

Mystery Writers of America

Romance Writers of America

Preditors & Editors

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

P.S.  Got any suggestions for more writing websites?  Send me an email!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Your 3 Writing Personalities: the Surprising Truth

Can the E-Myth show you how to write a novel?

In The E-Myth Revisited, bestselling author Michael Gerber doesn’t breathe one word about how to write a novel.  But the priceless wisdom in these pages might change how you think of yourself and your writing process.

In a nutshell, the E-Myth puts forth the idea that most businesses are not, in fact, started by entrepreneurs, but by skilled workers (Gerber calls them Technicians).  Here’s the quick and dirty version.  Ready?  You have three personalities inside you: the Entrepreneur, the Manager and the Technician.

The Entrepreneur is the visionary, always looking ahead to the future.  This part of you is all about coming up with new concepts and ideas.

The Manager is all about control.  Organizing, putting things into place, keeping things tidy, etc.

The Technician is the one who wants to get things done and just do the work.  Most small businesses are started by natural Technicians who are good at what they do and simply want to do it on their own, without “the boss” breathing down their necks.

The problem is, you need a boss, even an internal one.  All three of these personalities are constantly duking it out inside you, and you have to somehow keep a balance between them if you want to operate at your best.  In other words, if you ignore your inner Entrepreneur, you won’t plan ahead; if you ignore your Manager, you won’t stay on top of things; and if you ignore your Technician, you won’t get any work done.

Pretty neat theory.  But what does this have to do with learning how to write a novel?  Plenty.

As a writer, your inner Entrepreneur is the one who dreams up the concepts that eventually turn into your stories.  Because your ideas are so important, you have to constantly nurture and listen to your Entrepreneur.  If you shut him (or her) down too early in the writing process, you’ll just grab the first story concept that comes to mind instead developing a bunch of good ideas and choosing the best ones. 

Likewise, your inner Manager helps you plan out how to write a novel, ensuring that you have a clear beginning, middle and end. 

And your inner Technician is the one who does the actual day-to-day writing.  Because it’s natural to love writing more than brainstorming or planning, we often just sit down and start pounding the keys without a second thought.

But that’s dangerous.  It’s too easy to jump right into writing the first big idea that comes along, without taking the time to let our inner Entrepreneur brainstorm a bunch of other, possibly better, ideas.  Or without giving our Manager permission to plan things out, so that the story is properly structured.  Instead, we let our Technician rule us, going to work day in and day out, working harder and harder without necessarily getting anywhere.  Just like a lot of business owners.

But there’s a way to beat that trap.  Listen to all three of your writing personalities.  Plan ahead, stay organized and get the work done, all in due time.  Want to learn more?  Check out the E-Myth books in the business section of your local bookstore.  Who knows, you might even be tempted to start your own writing business while you’re at it!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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