Tuesday, March 8, 2011

you write the title of the book. At least that’s how I start a new manuscript. But the real preparation takes place in two stages, research and prep time. Once I am through those two stages, generally lasting a week or two each, then I begin my daily word count goal.

So what is prep time?

Just as you prepare or prep products for a meal, it means taking time to prep ideas, plot twists, character arc, and other elements. I use this time, along with research time, to nail the setting and time period and discover the backstory of my characters. During this process I inevitably write my proposal chapters and synopsis.

Many seat-of-the-pants writers pride themselves on winging their way through the entire manuscript. Before contracting the first cozy that led to publication, in which I had to submit a synopsis as part of a proposal, I used to be one of them. You see, the real value of prep time, of knowing your characters and their story arc before you begin writing IS the synopsis. The Dreaded Synopsis, some might call it.

The synopsis cured me of seat-of-the-pants writing, not because it was easy to write, but because it showed me the value of mapping out the general direction of the story. This eliminated my deleting-rewriting-deleting-rewriting clumsiness that never got me much further than the second or third chapter, when what I really needed was to finish the manuscript. As most of you know, it is essential to write an entire manuscript if you want to get published, and knowing where your story is headed, via Synopsis, is a critical piece of that puzzle. (We'll review writing the Synopsis at a later date.)

Research is self-explanatory. I use this time to settle on a time-period that is interesting and unique, gather my resources to support details, and read/highlight those elements for quick reference when I’m writing and need to double-check facts. Sometimes the setting becomes a catalyst for the characters’ epiphany, as in Promise of Tomorrow. In this book the Johnstown flood created a crucial moment for the hero, a time when he came face to face with his weakness. If you can manage to use the setting as a means to bring resolution to your story, I highly recommend doing so.

Beginning a story can produce some difficult obstacles, but one benefit of prep and research time is that the hurdles are already jumped when it comes time to do the actual writing. This always equates to an easier flow of words on a daily basis and helps me meet daily word count goals. Very important when you're on a deadline or have multiple books going at once.

What methods do you use when beginning a manuscript? Do you struggle, or do you have a tried-and-true method every time (in which case you *must* clue us in!).


  1. Very helpful, Sandra. I've usually had a story idea and character profiles before beginning. So far I haven't been able to manage a good synopsis either before or after the story was completed. Before would probably be easier, however, what if you sent out a synopsis and three chapters and then the story evolved into something different?

  2. It's really not something to fret about. Most publishers will not contract on a proposal--they'll want the whole manuscript before making a decision. Which means you'll have time between writing the proposal (with synopsis) and submitting it and getting the request for a full. That means a window of time in which you can tweak away at the synopsis based on the new twists or turns your characters have taken.

    If you're new twists and turns are a result of feedback from others, then I can about guarantee that they will make the story stronger.


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