Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Sin and Sepsis of SYNOPSES

{All right, that title^ is cleverish by half, and lame to boot. But I had to take my angst out somewhere.}
Agents and editors may ask for a synopsis. Synopses are most writers’ least favorite things. Rejections hurt less, some will tell you. Synopses feel like whacking a seven-layer cake into a pancake. It’s all still there, but the air is out.
Now that’s done, let’s sympathize with a writer who has just reduced her fifty-thousand-word lusciously layered lyrical story to five hundred words, while retaining some of the voice, all of the major plot points, all the major characters, and giving away the surprise end.
It was painful.
The best part about this beast is that even if editors or agents don’t ask for it, it will help a writer notice major plot holes or weakness in the full manuscript. Summarizing delineates the arteries of a story.
But otherwise, they are evil.
There are a lot of superb sites that give helpful advice about tackling the synopsis. Here are a few I found helpful:
Here’s a bit I found helpful that I didn’t see anywhere else. I found that I write an effective synopsis if I had not re-read or looked at the story for a few weeks.
Yup, this helps me extract the essence and not be tempted to include many of my favorite parts. I can see the arc more clearly. It feels less like homework, and has a clarifying effect.
 It works for me, anyhow.
Now back to work, revising the synopsis. Not funny, Yea. But a necessity.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

PURIM, the Festival of Lots

As written in the Book of Esther, it means a "lot.” Purim is the plural form of the word `Pur', and thus means "lots.” The festival is called Purim because of the lots cast by Haman. The word Pur is also related to the Hebrew word `porer,' which means to dismantle, break, destroy, or break into crumbs.


Purim is around the corner. It has few reverberations outside of Synagogues and Hebrew schools in the United States. But when I was growing up in Israel, it was THE HOLIDAY for us kids. Think of it as Halloween for dress-up and merry making, and then take out the ghoulish creepers. Unless you consider the historic back story, which is re-told and re-read in synagogues at that time, and includes the first of many hateful men who set out to kill all the Jews.


When the miserable haters bent on destroying us are part of a people’s reality from time immemorial to today, we don’t need skeletons and zombies to make merry. Besides, this is a story of triumph over adversity. I still remember the end of the story, with its joyous exclamations about Haman being hung from a tall tree along with all his children. I remember NOT being too happy about that, but I got over it with some delicious Hamantaschen (literally, cookies shaped like Haman’s ears) and the promise of competing in Best Costume with a prize to boot.

I did win first prize once, in fifth grade. For the life of me I can’t understand why. I can only assume my “Mad Man in Pajamas” was so pathetic it was a pity-prize.


While we ate our rectangular filled cookies, the grown-ups were commanded to get so drunk they could not tell the difference between the evil Haman and the pious Mordechai. That’s the same as between the bad and the good, and the injunction to drink was a commandment, not a suggestion, folks.


Add to it that this holiday is named for “lots,” and extend that to the lottery, gambling, and other vices-- and you get one happy party. That it sometimes fell on or near my birthday didn’t hurt.


What can I say? I miss it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016





We know the saying— perception is reality. I never bought this completely. Some reality just is. But one’s outlook {not the so-named by Microsoft ;=) } does make a load of difference.


When I write from different points of view, I realize that my inner dialogue is transformed as well. The characters’ outlook shapes how and even what they see, and this in turn changes what I see. I hope that together we take the reader to a different vantage point.

©Shelagh Duffett


But the life-lesson, for me, is that a good deal of experience is internal and within the realm of choice.


I am reminded of an old family friend who passed this wisdom to her daughter with an evocative image. “Girl,” she said, “being born is like having been given an invitation to a party. Not every part of it is joyous, and it can get too loud. But while we’re here, let’s dance.”

©Shelagh Duffett

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Gore and the Glory


It’s all glorious!


A short time ago DS went, on a lark, to audition for a role in a movie. He is not an actor and this was just going to be an experience, a la “why not? I won’t get it.”


He was notified that he got the job. We called him, in jest (and some amazement) the movie star.

But stardom didn’t last. After a few emails and even a rehearsal, as well as more fun details about his part, an email notified him of a change in the project’s direction and that his part has been cut.


Easy come, easy go? Well, it’s never easy.


I was reminded of my first traditional book contract. It came out of the blue from a small but traditional publisher. The advance was paid, the illustrator hired and everything was moving full steam ahead. The contract, in retrospect, was very generous on all counts. The experience of working with the editor and watching my story be illustrated was joyous.


And then it wasn’t. The small publisher closed its doors.


I think about a former neighbor, a talented writer who got her first contract to publish a thriller with one of the publishing giants, and a six-figure advance. For a year everything was on track, and then… By now you can guess. The project was canceled. Gone. Bye-bye.


Oh, it was great while it lasted. If only…

Back in Paris, where he’s in graduate school, DS was feeling bummed out. Then he did a few things right. He called his sister at Juilliard in New York, and they skyped for two hours. She told him about her many setbacks, (competitions that fizzled and auditions that didn’t work the way she hoped) and together they helped each other. I am so happy for my kids that they have the relationship they do.

The second thing he did right is write up a schedule for the next few weeks, one that is both productive for what he has to do and includes some things he wants to do, so he has what to look forward to. All in all, a positive response that makes me feel optimistic for him.


As one who has had quite a few “almosts” in publishing in addition to projects that made it to publication, I know well that nothing is until it is.

 It’s how you respond that matters. Abandon ship? Get back on the horse? These literary clich├ęs have actual and practical meaning. Navigating is not simple, because real life, if it’s worth living, does not come with MapQuest directions.

DS started out just looking for the experience. He got that. Nothing can take that away. It’s all glorious, in the end.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My Turn…

Yup, I get one!

I get to be silly.
I was (almost) born on February the 29, which would have made me one quarter of the age I am now
You think?
Hint: thinking is free