Post #63 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Business – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
December 24, 2010
December 24 might be Christmas Eve to many people, but in my childhood household it was the occasion for a possible gift. I say possible because whoever said “Christmas Eve gift” first got a gift. I don’t remember getting many gifts. Somehow my mother seemed to remember to say it first. Yet, even now, I find that I silently start practicing a couple of days ahead of time. I don’t actually say the words. I suppose this is a mental fugue that won’t stop playing in my head.
So when Pamela Jane Bell emailed us to say that she had the perfect gift to give the readers of Women’s Memoirs, I thought, “Yea. I’ll just imagine that everyone has said ‘Christmas Eve gift’ and I get to deliver.
Pamela’s gift is special. She’s put together five great tips for writing a synopsis of your memoir. As you’ll see, she has just gone through the process and was quite stumped before… Well, I’ll let Pamela tell you her own story.
Happy Christmas Eve,
5 Tips on Writing Your Memoir Synopsis
A Christmas Eve Gift from www.WomensMemoirs.com
I thought I had everything I needed for my memoir package: a beautifully polished manuscript, a well-written query letter, and a strong proposal. But – surprise! – I discovered I needed a five-page synopsis, too. I swear, a root canal or, better yet, writing another memoir would be a lot more relaxing.
I did some on-line research about writing a memoir synopsis and really it’s quite easy. All you have to do is toss it off, hitting the highlights while simultaneously demonstrating the dramatic arc in vividly evoked scenes that convey the universality of the story in the style and tone of the original piece.
It reminds me of my daughter’s driving lesson. She has her permit now and spent two hours on the road recently with Steve, a certified driving instructor. It was the first time she’d done night-driving on major highways. And then it started to rain.
“Turn on your wind-shield wipers!” cried Steve, as they merged on to Route 95, “check your blind spot, flip on your blinker and for heaven’s sake, speed up!”
What’s so hard about that?
Well, for one thing (driving aside; I didn’t get the merging traffic gene) writing a memoir is very different from summing one up. It involves different sides of the brain – special synapses for synopses. I think I may have missed out on that gene, too.
Weeks passed, and I was in despair about ever getting my synopsis written. My office was littered with reams of printed-out instructions for writing a memoir synopsis, testimonies from writers describing how they tore their hair out attempting it, and the grisly remains of my own failed efforts. Then my friend and fellow writer, Debbie, asked me what I wanted for Christmas. For a moment, I was quiet, thinking. What did I really want? And then it came to me.
“I’d like an hour or two of synopsis help,” I said.
Debbie readily agreed and even before we started, I got to work using a synopsis worksheet I purchased on-line for $5.00. A day later, my synopsis was complete!
My friend’s gift was the best Christmas present anyone could have given me. And so we’d like to pass this gift on to you with 5 tips for writing your memoir synopsis.
Tip #1 Take it to the next level
In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Joe Fox, played by Tom Hanks, is heading to a restaurant to meet his email soulmate (Meg Ryan) for the first time. Joe is a nervous wreck. What if his soulmate turns out to be hideously ugly? What if his dream girl isn’t the girl for him at all? Joe’s assistant, Kevin, offers him some relationship advice.
“You’re taking it to the next level…I always take a relationship to the next level and if it works okay I take it to the next level after that.”
Remember, you’re not trying to write a perfect synopsis on the first try. You’re just taking it to the next level. Even if all you do one day is organize your papers, that’s taking it to the next level. You can worry about the level after that tomorrow.
Tip #2 “Chunk it out”
A synopsis isn’t a detailed list of every event in the story – “this happened and then this happened and then this happened.” But in the early stages of composing, writing down a list of events can be helpful. Later this list can be shaped, trimmed, or expanded. But “chunking it out” as a novelist friend of mine says, is a good place to start.
Tip #3 Highlight what you love
Once you have a list or a chapter-by-chapter outline of events, sit down and highlight every paragraph, sentence, or phrase that captures the essence and personality of your story. These highlighted sections are ones to include in your finished synopsis.
Tip #4 Find a friend
Just knowing there is a friend or colleague holding you to a deadline or waiting to give you feedback is an incentive to finish your synopsis. It’s like throwing out a safety rope and feeling a reassuring tension on the other end.
Tip #5 Have a little faith
Don’t worry about whether or not you have the synopsis gene. Have a little faith and accomplish the impossible. The genes will just have to catch up later.
Happy holidays. May you write many memoirs and excellent synopses for each of them!
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