Friday, June 30, 2017

Flash Fiction Contest #32

Next week, the boom of firecrackers will be resounding all over the U.S. (or, if you live in my neighborhood, even longer after that) in celebration of the 4th of July. Write a 100 word flash fiction piece including the word firecracker somewhere in it (does not have to be 4th of July themed). Entries need to be in by noon on 7/2, with the winner announced later that evening. Rules can be found here.

For those celebrating the holiday, stay safe and have fun!!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Writing Legal Scenes: Top 4 Mistakes Writers Make

You've got a character who's a lawyer, law student, or judge. Or you have a character who's thrown into a legal situation: a defendant in a criminal trial, a witness being deposed for a civil case, or even someone serving on a jury. Legal scenarios arise in real life all the time, so it's not surprising that they also proliferate in fiction. Yet many writers get basic elements of the law and legal situations wrong, and this can be distracting for readers (especially readers who are familiar with and/or work in the legal field).

A guide on writing legal scenarios correctly goes way beyond the scope of this post, but I'd like to point out four common mistakes I see in novels, movies, and TV shows. If you can avoid these mistakes, you'll have a head start on writing a realistic legal scene.

NOTE: I'm restricting this post to the American legal system. Other countries have different laws and procedures, so make sure you research those legal systems (along with the American system, where applicable) thoroughly. And always have a lawyer beta read these scenes for you to ensure they are as realistic as possible.

Mistake #1: Courtroom scenes aren't generally like INHERIT THE WIND or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Everyone loves a good trial scene, where the attorney waxes eloquent about civil rights, the human condition, and truth, justice, and the American way. This rarely happens in real life. Sure, a good attorney will advocate strenuously for her client, and lawyers are allowed a lot of leeway during opening and closing arguments to do so. But judges won't allow lawyers to go overboard, and most trials have set amounts of time for each portion (direct/cross examinations, opening/closing arguments, etc.). A lawyer going way over his time while delivering a stirring closing argument will be more likely to be admonished to sit down than applauded for his fervor. And, while it rarely happens, opposing counsel can object during opening and closing arguments, and if the objection is sustained, the judge may instruct the jury to disregard the objectionable portion of the argument.

Mistake #2: The basic terminology is incorrect.

Criminal and civil cases have a lot of similarities, but there are some major differences in terminology. Getting the basic terms wrong is distracting for many readers. For example, the parties in a criminal case are the State (or the U.S., in a federal case) versus one or more defendants. In a civil case, you've got plaintiffs versus defendants, instead. A defendant in a criminal case is found guilty, and a defendant in a civil case is found liable. There are many other differences like these, and it's worth finding a good legal dictionary to make sure you're getting the terminology right.

There are also differences between cases brought in the state court system, as opposed to the federal court system. Make sure you know which court the case you're writing about would have been brought in and research the heck out of the judges, local rules, and other information that can usually be found on the court's website.

Mistake #3: Most law students are not Elle Woods.

Don't get me wrong: I loved LEGALLY BLONDE. It's a fantastically fun movie. But it's also not a documentary. No 1L student (first-year law student) is going to get an opportunity to second-chair a high-profile murder trial, let alone take over questioning key witnesses. Setting aside the fact that first-year law students are still several years away from being licensed to practice law, there are many other reasons why this scenario is unrealistic. First-year law students spend a ton of time reading published cases (many of which are over 100 years old), outlining those cases, and talking about those cases in class. They generally do not have the practical understanding of the law necessary to effectively manage a case, run a trial, etc. When in doubt, consult with a lawyer or law student to find out what tasks would be realistic for a law student to take on.

Mistake #4: It can take years for a case to get to trial, and the vast majority of cases never go to trial.

Whether criminal or civil, most cases (well over 90% in some fields) settle before trial. While trials are dramatic and a great way to build tension, keep that fact in mind and make sure to include a reason your case is going to trial (a stubborn defendant, a plaintiff who refuses to settle, etc.).

Even if a case does make it to trial, most court systems are extremely backlogged, and it may be years before a trial date is set. Criminal cases do tend to move much faster than civil cases, but continuances (where the court decides to delay the trial date) and other delays are very common. When in doubt, contact a law clerk at the courthouse your fictional trial would be set in, and ask for the typical time-to-trial for the type of case you're writing about (many courts keep these statistics, and if not, the clerks will have a general idea). But make sure to account for several months (at the low end) between arrest and trial in your book.

Overall, when in doubt, do your research or contact a practicing lawyer. It never hurts to have a lawyer as a critique partner, either, especially if you've got courtroom scenes or other legal scenarios in your book.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Meet Beth Ellyn Summer in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

At First Blush

It's time to kick off summer with debut author... Beth Ellyn Summer!

1- Did #TeamCoco ever say something funny to you, and would you share it with us please?

Conan was always funny and kind in every interaction I had with him. His mind is constantly going and spinning and thinking.

A few conversations that come to mind: after my first couple of weeks there, it was Valentine's Day and I was wearing a shirt covered in hearts (it was actually purely coincidence). He came up to me at rehearsal and asked if I ever wear the shirt when it's *not* Valentine's Day, and said it must be nice to have clothes in my closet that match every national holiday.

Another time, repairs were being done on some of the east elevator banks. After taping, some interns were hanging in reception and there was this awful burning smell. When Conan and his producers came off the elevator, he asked me what the smell was and I shrugged and said "elevator repairs" and he said "That. OR we're all having the exact same stroke."

One night we took our intern photos and we did it in groups of four, and me and my three girlfriends were checking back our photos and he said "Give this to TMZ. CONAN'S WILD WEEKEND." And he used to tease us a lot about being young and tech obsessed. He'd make a nerdy voice and talk about us always tapping on our newfangled iPhones with all of our apps.

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristics or values? #In5Words

Persistence, routine, cardio, weights, yoga

3- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

So when I was maybe four or five I remember my mom and I going to pick up my brother from school. On the road outside the school I saw something weird in the street. My mom told me it was a newspaper but as we made the turn I could see it was clearly a run-over seagull. I LOST IT. I'd never seen a dead animal before. I love animals. I cried for days. No one could console me. My mom drove me to parking lots to see soaring, swooping, happy seagulls eating from dumpsters. Even my grandpa got on the phone with me to try to get me to understand the bird was fine and in heaven. Then my brother surprised me with a stuffed Scuttle plush (the seagull from the Little Mermaid). That made me so happy (I still have it!).
Not sure if that tells you why I'm a writer (though I do love writing about animals in my current WIP) but it probably tells you how ridiculously overly sensitive I am tongue out emoji and how much I adore animals. 💕 animals mean the world to me, and it's my dream to start a special charity foundation for shelters someday.

4- What ignited your passion for writing?

Reading!! All the Babysitters Club and Sweet Valleys and Nancy Drews. :)

Meet Beth Ellyn Summer in this Debut Author Spotlight

5- Would you share a picture with us of the must-have summer lip products?

The Bare Escentuals Buxom lip glosses are life! Mudslide is my favorite color.

6- What are you reading this summer?

Currently reading an ARC of Romancing the Throne by Nadine Jolie Courtney. It's such a fun beach read! I also plan on reading Emery Lord's, Jenny Han's, and Sarah Dessen's latest books.

7- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

I usually set word count goals (1K a day) when drafting, or if I'm revising, I tell myself that by each week's end, I'll have revised x number of chapters.
For long term, that's usually where I'll pick a month I plan to get a MS to my agent. But I also try not to make myself crazy with setting goals only because it's easy to beat myself up if I miss a self-imposed deadline.

8- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

My parents and brother haha. They've read multiple versions of AT FIRST BLUSH along the road to publication. I think they love seeing all the internship stuff, since they heard so many of the stories when I was interning. They recognized a lot of that stuff.

9- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I want people to feel happy when they read my book. The world sucks sometimes, and I like escapes. I live for funny TV and happy books. I hope that AT FIRST BLUSH inspires people to think outside the box.

One of my favorite scenes (and one I hope resonates with readers) is where Lacey is helping with Tyler's photo shoot. Not just because of the flirtatious aspect (which I do love) but because it's the first time Lacey realizes that this internship isn't everything she dreamed it would be, and she finds herself craving the quiet of the makeup room. I want readers to know that it's ok for a dream to change!! And sometimes going through that realization and being open can lead you to a talent or dream you never knew you had.

I couldn't agree more! Dreams do change over time, and it's really important to realize that, especially when you're young.

10- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Writing! Practice makes, if not perfect, polished work. There are no shortcuts. And reading a ton.
Meet Beth Ellyn Summer in this Debut Author Spotlight

11- Could you please share a pic of Penny Belle with a copy of your book?

Asking me to share a photo of my Penny Belle=
we are now officially best friends wink emjoi

12- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

Lacey always swatches eyeshadows on the back of her hand, especially when nervous or contemplative. So she always has rainbow streaks of color on her hand.

13- #DiversityBingo2017 What's your favorite book that covers a square on the card?

POC on cover: When Dimple Met Rishi. Practicing Jewish MC: Josh from Stephanie Perkins' Isla and the Happily Ever After.

14- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

Pretty much the idea I'll enter a new world. That's all I really need to know before I pick up a new book.

15- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Cynthia!! I love her. She's chaotic and frenetic and dramatic but when she's interning in the most chaotic setting, she finds her zen and chills right out.

16- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I think just seeing the book out in the world and knowing it's resonating with readers tells me I've succeeded.
Having people take the time to review or tweet me telling me they enjoyed it is everything emoji raising both hands in celebration

17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I chose traditional based solely on the fact that I NEED people around me to help me out! I love having a partnership with my agent, and knowing I have the support of such a wonderful house such as Bloomsbury makes it all that much better.

18- Any favorite summertime tip you can share?

Summer is my favorite season so I have lots! But the biggest thing I will say is find the highest SPF you can get your hands on! (I use 70+) reapply often, and wear a big, floppy hat. Protect your skin, people!! Also don't forget to put SPF balm on your lips. And of course enjoy every second outside, because summer goes WAY too fast.

19- What is one question which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

I'd be interested to know what everyone is currently reading this summer Big smile emoji
Meet Beth Ellyn Summer in this Debut Author Spotlight

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?


Beth Ellyn Summer writes contemporary young adult fiction that always includes the following elements: fame, makeup, and television. She graduated from Long Island University with a degree in print and electronic journalism, but the real highlight of her college years was interning for Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon.

Meet Beth Ellyn Summer author of At First Blush in this Debut Author Spotlight
At First Blush

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

July Pass Or Pages Details

We are excited to announce our next round of Pass Or Pages! In July, we will have a round focused on Contemporary Romance. Note that these are novels intended for adults, not YA. There are genre expectations for Romance novels; be sure that yours fits before submitting! We hope to get many types of romance entries, with main characters of different nationalities, sexual orientations, and from any underrepresented groups.

Here are the important dates for this round:
July 5: Agent panel announcement
July 10-12: Entry window (via a form here on Operation Awesome)
July 24-28: Feedback reveals!

For a recap of the rules and links to previous rounds, click here.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Before You Send Your Query Letter

I'm waving at you from beneath the huge pile of virtual papers we refer to as the slush pile. It's massive. It's overwhelming. And yet, I know that it's also a pile of the hopes and dreams of writers like me and you.

When I approach the slush pile, it's with the hope of finding a gem that my company can bring to publication. I strive to give everyone a fair chance. However, time is not only valuable, but it's scarce. I can't devote a half hour to every submission. The pile would grow faster than I could pare it down. Writers only get a couple of minutes to grab my attention. While this can be disconcerting, I believe knowledge is power.

Put yourself the acquisition editor's or literary agent's shoes. What would you want to know about the story? What's most important about your manuscript and you as the author? Get them that important information as quickly as possible.

Here are a few things I want to know right away:

  • Genre
  • Target audience
  • Word count
  • Title

Surprisingly, these items are missing from many submissions I receive. To make matters worse, many writers don't read our submission guidelines to know we don't publish adult fiction, picture books, or non-Canadian writers. These folks are wasting my time and theirs by submitting. The Golden Rule applies. If you were the person feverishly going through hundreds of submissions, what types of submissions would you want to receive?


When Melinda Marshall Friesen isn't writing, she works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing.

Friday, June 23, 2017

It's My Birthday & I'll Slack If I Want To

Today should have been a #OAFlash Fiction Contest post, but...I forgot to prep for it, and I'm going to use my birthday as a slacker excuse.

So instead, I'll just talk to you, how 'bout that? So I had a miserable Monday this week. Usually Mondays are just Mondays to me, and I don't buy into it the hype that they're some kind of cursed day. Except on this particular Monday, I got a parking ticket (at a whopping $40 bucks!), lost the key to the mower, and then flooded the kitchen because I forgot and left the faucet running.

I was...not in a good place. (as in, sobbing while I'm throwing towels down on our new indoor wading pool)

But the week improved and today is Friday, and my birthday, and I'm going to eat at the Italian restaurant next door to my work for lunch. So exited to get some yummy bread!

And then tonight is my birthday dinner at my in-laws. I picked chicken casserole, cheesy scalloped potatoes, salad, & crescent rolls. Then it's ice cream cake for dessert. Can anyone tell I like my food? ;)

Then the glorious weekend begins, and Saturday night, I'm dragging out our fire pit for the first s'mores of the season. (I did say I liked food...?)

Have a great one, everyone!!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why You Should Write a Synopsis Before You Start Writing Your Manuscript

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at, and I'll post one critique per week (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!

For many writers, drafting a synopsis is the most painful part of the novel-writing process. You've finished writing, editing, polishing, incorporating critiques, and your novel shines! But now you have to go back and summarize your entire plot in a 1-2 or 4-5 page document? It's painful, it's difficult, and you'd rather spend the day cleaning your house or going to the dentist. Since this is such a common complaint, I found myself wondering if there was any way to make the synopsis-writing process more enjoyable.

As it turns out, there is: Write the synopsis before you start writing the book.

You might be thinking, "But I don't even know what's going to happen in my book until I start writing!" Or, "My synopsis is going to change significantly once I'm done with the book!" But hear me out. Even if you're not a strict (or even casual) outliner, you have some idea of what's going to happen in your book before you start writing. At the very least, you know something about your main character, what happens to her, what choices she is forced to make, and maybe even what happens at the end. 

So, using just that information, you can start writing a synopsis. You won't know all the plot details, and that's okay! Writing a synopsis is a great way to start brainstorming the types of scenes you want to include, what the main character's arc is going to look like, and how to incorporate a satisfying ending into your narrative. Seeing the most basic beginning-middle-end of your plot on a single page (or two pages) is the best way to see what the plot needs to be complete. Are you missing action? Tension? Resolution? A basic synopsis can tell you all of that.

Of course you'll go back and revise the synopsis as you write the book. And you'll need to revise it extensively when you're done writing the book, to make sure you're accounting for the entire plot. But you'll have the skeleton of the synopsis already written, and revising it tends to be far less painful than starting from scratch.

EXERCISE: Write a Pre-Novel Synopsis

1) Know who your main character is, the basic setting, and at least the most basic answers to the questions of 'what happens?' 'what does my main character want?' and 'who/what is standing in the way of my main character getting what he wants?'

2) Brainstorm a list of at least ten scenes you want to see in your book.

3) Using that list and the answers to the questions in (1), put the scenes in the order that makes the most sense for your narrative (usually chronological, but not always)

4) Add details (no need to include too many at this point) to each of the critical scenes, using a paragraph for each one (at least at this initial stage)

5) Flesh out transitions between scenes - because 'X' happens in paragraph 1, 'Y' must happen in paragraph 2, and that leads to 'Z' happening in paragraph 3.

6) Read over your synopsis and note areas where the main plot and main character arc are missing important elements (change, tension, action, resolution, etc.). Note where those elements need to be added.

7) Use this Pre-Novel Synopsis as your guide for writing your novel!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Meet Tiffany D. Jackson in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6


1- Do you have a pic of Oscar, the Chihuahua, posing with your book?

Meet Tiffany D. Jackson in this Debut Author Spotlight

2- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

I don't take the anniversary of my Grandfather's death as hard as my Grandma's. He lived a full life and I was prepared vs. I felt my Grandma was violently ripped away from me. However, I'll never forget that I missed being there with him when he died. I was still working in television at the time and ignored phone calls from the nursing home, trying to tell me he would be gone soon. I will always remember that I chose to stay on a set while being yelled at by a belligerent producer and my Pop-Pop died alone. (Years later, that show aired and I wasn't even credited for it.). That was the moment I decided to change. 3 months later, I found a new gig, moved into my own apartment, wrote #allegedly, and started traveling more. I no longer put a job above my happiness, dreams, health, or family. I don't kill myself rushing to the office, I leave with a clear conscious. I take ALL my vacation days.

3- Which is your favorite R. L. Stine book?

Goosebumps series but my favorite would have to be from his Fear Street Series, Silent Night.

4- Would you share a picture with us from one of you travels?

This is me leaving the Taj Mahal in India. It’s one of my favorite pictures.
Meet Tiffany D. Jackson in this Debut Author Spotlight

5- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Short term, really want to co-write a book with someone. I love the thought of kicking ideas around with a fellow author. Long term, I’d love to write an adult book, somewhere down the line.

6- How important do you believe it is for a book cover to feel right to the author?

Even though our books are our babies, our books are also products we are pushing and we have to believe in the products. Thus, if authors don’t LOVE their covers, it’s hard to sell something you don’t love.

7- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I hope this book elicits outrage for the treatment of girls in prisons and sparks the need for young advocacy. If I would’ve known then what I know now, I would have been fighting for my fellow peers a long time ago.

8- I read that you love fried chicken. Do you have a favorite recipe or favorite place to grab a bucket?

HAHAHAHA! Yes, it is my favorite food. My favorite place is from a spot called SOCO in Ft. Green Brooklyn. They have a delicious Chicken and red velvet waffle plate.

9- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Actively reading the genre I’m writing in. For me, particularly since I write thrillers, it’s important to study the work of masters.

10- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

You never see Mary without her gray hoodie.

11- #DiversityBingo2017 Which squares does your book cover on the card?

  • POC on the Cover
  • Book by an Author of Color
  • Black MC (Own Voices)

12- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

She’s quiet but her actions are loud. (That’s all I can say with spoilers)

13- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

I’m always a sucker for a good hook and a killer premise. I love books that can engage me from the flap copy or the first five pages.

14- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I don’t look at numbers, the idea of them gives me too much anxiety. I rather focus on writing the best story I can.

15- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I had a gut feeling that this story needed a broad reach that I only traditional publishing could provide.

16- What is one question which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

Did you like the ending? (insert evil smirk)

17- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Definitely follow me on twitter and instagram! @Writeinbk


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Guest Post: Pitching to Agents, by Megan Lee

I recently attended a writers' conference in Seattle that focused entirely on publishing.  Since I was pitching that day, and was scared out of my mind, the class focusing on developing and presenting a good pitch was extremely beneficial and helped me to sort out my thoughts and ideas to develop a great pitch.  Now I am just crossing my fingers that the requests for my MS turn into something more!

Here is what I learned from the May 2017 Seattle Writer’s Conference about pitching to an agent.

The set-up of a perfect pitch: in order
-Introduce Main Character
-Flush out the Main Character (Tell us what they want out of life or what makes them interesting.)
-Inciting incident (What propels your novel into motion- The Hook)
-What is the major plot of the book about (What does the Main Character intend to do about the incident):  Part three should automatically lead to four.  State the incident and what the Main character intends to do about it.
-Complications (What stands in the way of what the MC intends to do.)
-What will the MC do to fix the problem (Do not say whether or not they will succeed.)
-Stakes: If the MC fails.  What will happen to them?

A couple of other great tips for your pitching session:
-Start with your genre, title, word count and any relating novels they may be able to draw from (never use the classics like Harry Potter or Hunger Games: personal pet peeve of almost all authors)
-Never end the pitch with a rhetorical question
-Although agents prefer you to memorize your pitch, if you don’t feel comfortable, do what you are best at.  If you need to read your pitch, then do it.  Represent yourself the best you can.
-If you are looking to write compelling pitches and first pages your BEST resources to find and study are successful debut authors in your genre.  They have learned to develop an amazing roadmap in order to get published so USE THEIR ROADMAP.

Personal things I learned about my pitching session:
-First pitch is the hardest. I was shaking like a leaf.  But once I started, I got comfortable and was able to pitch with a lot more ease the rest of the time.
-The agents are human just like you are, so talk to them like a human, not a robot.  During my first pitch I realized I had brought an apple with me (pregnancy and anxiety do not go well together.)  I sat down and just said “Obviously I am pregnant and nervous because I brought an apple to my pitch session,” she laughed and I immediately felt more at ease.  I realized after that, that she is human, and was able to talk to her with greater comfort and ease.
-Be prepared.  I studied common questions that agents ask in pitch sessions and I had an entire typed out page of well thought out answers that I could refer to.  The agents asked a lot of questions, and I felt well prepared to answer them because I had gone to great lengths to research and develop my thoughts, especially the break-up of my plotline.  When they asked specific questions about my plot, I felt prepared to answer.

I hope this helps future writers to be more prepared for their pitch sessions!  Good luck to all of us in this huge and exciting undertaking.


Megan Lee has a BS in Print Journalism and Law and Constitutional Studies and has published articles in several local and online resources where she has won small competitions.  She spent time editing talks for worldwide audiences and now spends most of her time nurturing two toddlers and dreaming up stories.
To find Megan Lee:
Facebook: Megan Sonderegger Lee
Twitter: @meganleewriter
Up and coming niche blog:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Graphics Giveaway!

I super enjoy designing graphics. Much like decorating a room, I love dabbling with colors and fonts and pictures, and seeing what fits and what doesn't. I'm normally the go-to-girl when it comes to my critique partners, for graphics for teasers,giveaways, and what not.

Not saying I'm super good at it, but I think I'm at least competent, lol! So with that, here's an offer for you all: The first two people to comment on this post will receive one free graphic from me. It can be a teaser from your book, an email or blog header, an invitation, a quote you like, anything, really!

If your email isn't available on your profile or on your own site, then please leave it in your comment, so I can easily contact you. Barring any interruptions, I should be able to have your graphics to you by next Friday, 6/23.

Here's some examples of graphics I've done:

(Psst! This giveaway is still going on...) ;)

(Disclaimer: This picture was provided by Kristin's publisher, I just added the text.)

So there you are, and I look forward to working with the winners! 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

How to Write a Synopsis for a Book with an Unusual Structure

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at, and I'll post one critique per week (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!

My usual one-line tip for writing a synopsis has evolved from this Lewis Carroll quote from ALICE IN WONDERLAND: "Begin at the beginning ... and go on till you come to the end: then stop." This is fine advice for manuscripts that progress chronologically, using a traditional format. But what if you've written a book that jumps back and forth in time, or is unclear about the timeline, or has two or more viewpoint characters on different timelines? What about if your novel uses storytelling tools other than straight prose? How do you account for these unusual novel structures when writing your synopsis?

The point of a synopsis is to tell the reader what happens in your story. That means, even if your manuscript is not structured in a traditional, chronological manner, you still have to account for what happens in the main plot during the beginning, middle, and end of the story. In other words, don't worry about accounting for the book's structure in the synopsis. Just tell the reader what happens, in a chronological or other straightforward manner that will allow the reader to follow the plot. For example, if your book progresses on two timelines that converge at the end, you can synopsize what happens during the first timeline, then do the same for the second timeline, then use the last paragraph to explain what happens when the timelines converge. There's no need to jump back and forth between the timelines in your synopsis, even if that's what happens in the book.

If you're using a structure other than straight prose (letters, diary entries, flashbacks, poems, etc.), there's also no need to account for this in the synopsis. Just tell the reader what happens in your story, whether those narrative events take place in prose, poetry, or a different format.

As always, if you're uncertain what method of synopsizing works best for your book, draft a few different synopses and see what works. Have beta readers weigh in. I find chronological is best for easy comprehension of a plot, even a complicated one, but that might not work best for your book. Don't be afraid to try several kinds of synopses until you hit on the one everyone understands. Always remember: the goal of a synopsis is to clarify your plot. 

NOTE: It's a good idea to let your reader (especially an agent) know that your book has an unusual structure. However, the query is the place to explain that, not the synopsis. For example, if you have multiple timelines, you can drop a sentence in the housekeeping paragraph of the query that says something like, "BOOK alternates between two timelines, one following Claire through 1950s America and the other following Jamie in the Scottish Highlands of the eighteenth century." (My apologies to OUTLANDER).

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Meet Rose Phillips in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Cutting to the Chase

1- I see you have some interviews on your blog ( Do you make those images yourself?

I wanted to have my own twist to interviews and I thought a more interesting visual display might be appealing. I work with the app FotoRus. It’s a little time consuming but fun.

2- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

My teen years were spent in an outport in Newfoundland. An hour to school by bus meant not only a lot of time to kill on the road, but also that most of my friends lived too far away for weekend socializing. So life was fairly insular and books were my escape. One of my favourite authors when I was in my mid-teens was Mary Stewart. I devoured her books and when I read the second in her Merlin series, I was disappointed that it was over. So I wrote her and told her that. Now this was in the day and age of snail mail so fangirling took a lot of effort and time. My mother didn’t think I’d ever hear back from an author in Scotland, but I did. I was thrilled to find out that there would be a third book for the series and over the moon that she took the time to write. At that point in time I was dabbling in writing Harlequin style stories (another addictive discovery in my teens) and I swore that if I ever managed to become a writer, I would be as kind and approachable as Mary Stewart. It meant so much to me, I still have the letter almost forty years later.

3- Do you have a favorite cheese?

Oh, you certainly do your research! The only cheese I’ve ever met that I didn’t like is blue cheese. Other than that, bring it on.

4- If someone knows someone who self-harms, what's the best way to offer help?

Be there for them. Period. In any way they want. Let them know you care, that you are not judging, that you hear them. The urge is to fix but unless you’re a trained psychologist, that’s probably not going to be within your realm of expertise. Nobody harms themselves for a good time. There’s a lot of pain bottled up inside. Give them an alternative outlet by listening. I’ve had so many students tell me their stories for the simple fact that I was willing to hear them. And talking about it, is the first step to learning how to manage it.

5- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

There is no greater fan than my husband. He has been beside me, encouraging me, every step of this writing journey. He read my first version which was written in third person point of view. He patiently re-read it when I rewrote it in first person. He’s a grammar guru and is tremendously helpful when he reads. He thinks it’s amazing that I have stuck with it and never given up. And he loves the little glimpses of things that happened in real life. Only he knows which moments they are. It’s like our own little secret about the novel.

6- Would you share a picture with us of your dogs posing with your book?

Spice is more into reading than Ginger.

7- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

I’ve just finished the first draft of my second YA and I have a third one started in bits and bites. Both are connected to Cutting to the Chase but it’s not a series. All three are stand-alones. I have also drafted an outline for a 4th YA novel that is not connected to these in any way. For long-term goals, I want to get back to writing historicals. I’ve grown as a writer and I want to revisit/revise Raven’s Path, the historical adventure I penned after reading Outlander. Because it’s laden with historical detail, I’m hesitant to mess with it until I can focus on it 100 percent. I’ll wait until my YAs are in good shape before venturing into that manuscript or writing more historically-based novels.

8- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

Ultimately, this is a story about hope. If readers who hurt themselves can feel that it is possible to climb out of a dark hole, then this story has done its job. Readers who have someone in their lives who cuts tell me that they feel they now “get it” in a way they didn’t before. I hope that will also be helpful as they walk alongside those in pain. A particular scene? Well, without giving too much away, I hope the scene where Lizzy hits bottom accomplishes both things I have mentioned.

9- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Practice and feedback. I read craft books but it is the critique and comments I get on my writers forum (frequented by readers and writers alike), from writer friends, and from beta readers that truly moves me forward.

10- Anything special in your garden this year?

Again, I’m in awe of your background research! I’m still a newbie when it comes to gardening. About two years ago, we moved from the city, across the country, to a rural coastal community where the climate is perfect for growing. Last year was my first vegetable garden. In my excitement, I overplanted. I will try to temper my enthusiasm this year. But, really, it’s still all special to me. Currently, a rabbit feels the same way.

11- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

There is nothing as remarkable as the Harry Potter scar but Lizzy is fascinated by Michael’s chipped tooth and draping bangs. She’s often frustrated by her own uncontrollable head of hair. “I should have tied it back. Now it’s going to puff out and I’m going to look like a dirty Q-tip.”

12- #DiversityBingo2017 Which squares does your book cover on the card? (Alternative question: What's your favorite book that covers a square on the card?)

As realistic contemporary fiction, some diversity is embedded in Cutting to the Chase, but it is not an Own Voices novel. I think my all-time favourite Own Voices books is Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini . It is poignant and beautifully written. My most recent YA Own Voices read was This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp. I loved the weaving of the four characters and the way she maintained tension.

13- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

I’m very author loyal. So, if I like an author, I will seek out all of their books even if they switch up genres. Otherwise, anything might prompt me—a good back-cover blurb, a positive review, a personal recommendation or an interesting interview.

14- What ignited your passion for writing?

My answer is more about what re-ignited my passion for writing. Life gets busy and passions are too often abandoned as a result. The realization that I had done just that came when I was a literacy consultant for at-risk adolescents. I would run around the county working with students in grades 7 through 12 and promote the joy of reading. Yet I had lost my own. One day I picked up a book that had been gathering dust on my shelf. I didn’t find the cover appealing but I dug in anyway, determined to actually read a book so I could walk the talk in my job. I got lost in it—the characters, the historical detail and the relentless plot. It changed the trajectory of my life. Inspired again by the written word, not only did I return to reading but I sat down and started writing too. That book was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I joined the forum she frequents and she has continued to inspire and encourage me over the last 9 years. I took a master class with her last year at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Such a treat to meet her in person (for the second time) and to learn from one of the best.

15- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I’m trying not to get caught up in the numbers game as a measure of success. I’ve had lots of emails from adults who have read the book that boost my morale and that’s terrific. But I’d love to know that it made it into the hands of teens and perhaps resonated or made a difference. That’s my ideal of ultimate performance for this novel.

16- Did you do anything to celebrate becoming an Amazon top 5 bestseller?

Oh, a few bottles of bubbly have been popped over the last few months. Of course, I love the stuff, so I’ll use any excuse to have a glass.

17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I had submitted to many agents. Several were sitting on full requests when I went to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference this past October. There I talked to an author who had enjoyed her publishing experience with Evernight Teen Publishing. They accept unagented manuscripts so I thought “Why not?” Two weeks later I had a contract offer. It’s been a terrific experience.

18- What is one question which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

Has an “issues” book ever impacted you or someone you know? If so, what book?

19- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?


How do you fix something you didn't break? Lizzy certainly doesn't have the answer. All she knows is that she needs to survive senior year, then get as far away from her dysfunctional family as possible. In the meantime, when she can't take the pressure, she eases it with the sharp edge of a razor blade. But she's been cutting deeper and her thoughts are growing darker. Until she meets Michael. With him she finds relief. Now, maybe—just maybe—she can make it.

Rose Phillips holds a BA, BEd and an Advanced in Educational Leadership. She is a certified Librarian and a Dramatic Arts Specialist. She has worked with both students and teachers to strengthen literacy skills through reading and drama, both in her job as a literacy consultant and as an instructor for York University. Her first young adult novel, Cutting to the Chase, was released by EvernightTeen Publishing in 2017.

Twitter @rosephillipsya
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Evernight Teen

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Reading Roundup!

Here's what I've read since the last roundup:

I got this book for free from Amazon as part of my Amazon Prime membership. It was okay. I'd recommend it if you need a light, breezy read.
 I am hooked on this series. It has ghosts, and teens that fight them with rapiers and salt bombs, and a grumpy talking skull. What more do you need?
When I read historical romance, I require a unique premise, and this one delivered.

Now I'm caught up on this series, and I am DYING waiting for the next one to come out. Also, I 100% blame Leandra Wallace for getting me hooked on these books, and I love her for it.

I was inspired by this book to finally go through my belongings and stop feeling guilty for discarding things I don't love. Being a tidying consultant is now one of my dream jobs. Full disclosure, my husband did get tired of me telling him to thank his possessions for bringing him joy before throwing them away.
 I loved the first book in this series, and while I enjoyed this one, it didn't quite measure up and that made me a little sad. Would still recommend.

It is uncanny how well Lyndsay Faye copies Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's voice. If you like Sherlock Holmes short stories, you'll enjoy this, and if you don't, you won't. Plain and simple.

I am one of those people who are still mad that The Force Awakens was made instead of Timothy Zahn's original Thrawn trilogy. So yeah, this book did it for me. Thrawn is my favorite Star Wars villain of all time.
My daughter was having a hard time sleeping, so I checked this out from the Cloud Library and read it on my phone while trying to get her to go back to bed. Which made the sexy times a little awkward, TBH. But I love a good enemies-to-lovers, and this certainly delivered.

Our team was offered an ARC of this book as part of the blog tour, and as the only team member with a middle grade aged child, I got it. My son and I enjoyed reading this together, and he says he would recommend it to all of his friends. The vocab is a little advanced, so I read it out loud to him, but I'm hoping by the time the next book comes out he'll be able to read it on his own. For a full review, go here.
I haven't read Mansfield Park, but I'm a sucker for a retelling even if I'm not familiar with the original work. This was a delight, and I'd recommend it to any teen who likes theater or film--whether or not they like Jane Austen, too!

This was a reread for me because I needed a comfort read, and yes that means Agatha Christie, murder and all. This is one of my favorites.

What have you read and enjoyed lately?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Two Easy-to-use Tools the will Dramatically Improve Your Dialogue

Have you considered dialogue tags lately?

I've been editing a piece I wrote almost five years ago. At the time, I'd only been writing for a couple of years, so I had a lot to learn (I still have a lot to learn and I've been at it for seven years). One of my rookie mistakes was too many dialogue tags. As I edit, I'm cutting about 90% of them.

Dialogue adds life and movement to your story, but right smack in the midst of great conversations are these little bits of telling rather than showing--the dialogue tag. The I-said, she-said, he-asked that all of us must inevitably include in our stories.

They may be inevitable, but I argue that they are grossly overused. While we don't want the reader confused, wondering who said what, there are better ways to convey who is speaking.

1.  Stage action--show us what the speaker is doing rather than telling us that she's saying it. This adds context to her speech and interest for the reader.

Clare started the car and rolled down the window. "Don't you dare think you you're going to get away with this."

Willis pulled the butcher knife from the drawer and sliced into the onion. "I don't appreciate your tone."

In both cases above, we know who is speaking because it's the person who is doing the action. 

2. Body language--they say body language conveys more than words, so use it in your writing. Show us the emotion and meaning behind the dialogue. The same piece of dialogue can take on new meaning through the use of body language.

Loretta swallowed hard and scratched her arm. "I'm ready to go."

Loretta hooked her hand on her hip. "I'm ready to go."

Again, we have a clear sense of who said what, but the dialogue is enriched by the emotion and meaning that the body language conveys.

There are places where dialogue tags will be needed. You won't be able to get rid of all of them, but like the dreaded adverb, use them sparingly and only when absolutely necessary.


Melinda Marshall Friesen writes sci-fi and urban fantasy for teens and adults from her home in the great white north.