I recently got back from an amazing conference where sickness made me a total social recluse, I had to leave early the first day because my son turned thirteen (happy birthday!!), and I had to leave early the second day because I got deathly ill. But amidst all that, I learned something life changing. Now in case you don't know this already, and because I love you guys, I'm going to share it, too. Honestly, I wish I had known this years ago.
Okay. Let's start with the three-word version: READ THIS BOOK.
Now I can't say I've read this book. But I can say that I've ordered it and it's on its way to my house. I went to a class taught by the incredible Elana Johnson (who is as amazing a teacher as she is a person) on how to "Beat out your novel," and it was based on Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT. I'm not kidding when I say it was life-changing.
The slightly-longer-than-three-words-to-better-convince-you version: This a book on screenwriting, but it's really all storytelling. He says that every great story hits fifteen "beats." Different moments that need to happen for the story to have a satisfying, complete feel. Those movies that you want to go back and watch over and over? They hit all fifteen every time. Those ones that were good, but after watching once, you're done? They didn't hit all fifteen.
So, basically, your book can be really good even if you don't hit all of them. But if you want it to be GREAT--- if you want it to be a book people feel like they have to tell other people about--- you have to have all fifteen.
The book tells about what each of the fifteen are (or if you were lucky enough to get into Elana's class, she taught about each of the fifteen). Then you can go to Blake Snyder's site (www.blakesnyder.com), print out his Beat Sheet, and fill it out for your novel, to see if you are missing any of the fifteen. Or, when you're plotting a new book (if you're the plotting type), you can use this to help direct you. And, and, AND! If you write a sentence in each of the fifteen about what how your book hits that beat, you can string them all together and voila! You have your synopsis!
Oh, my gosh, guys. I can't even tell you how PERFECT and exactly RIGHT it felt to hear about this. Like it's what I had been searching for all along, but didn't know it existed. Like everything suddenly makes perfect sense. I cannot wait to "beat out" my book 1 before it goes into final revisions to make sure I didn't miss a beat, and to "beat out" book 2.
I kid you not. Yes, it stunk to have to miss so much of the conference, and I didn't get to see half the people I wanted to, but if I had only gone to this one class, it was entirely worth it.