Synopsis Writing – a slow, painful wearing away of the soul…

The other day I received an email from a literary agent requesting a one-page synopsis for my book. Suddenly my heart thumped visibly through my chest and beads of sweat adorned my forehead. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but if I were a cartoon it would totally happen!

 

A synopsis is basically a summary of a book, beginning to end, going over all the major plot points. Sounds easy? NO!! Because even after you widdle down three hundred pages of story, it has to fit on three pages double spaced.

It took me two weeks to write my three-page synopsis for Evergreen. All the while I felt like I wanted to crawl into a dark corner, eating my hair, screaming, “It’s not worth it!” Although, after all the frustration I managed to pull it off. Yay for me.

But now I have to cut it down even further! Why not just ask me to summarise my whole life story into one paragraph?!

As you can see by my blog, waffling comes easy to me. Dewaffling – not so much. Alas, it must be done. To quote Logan Huntzberger, “One, two, cha cha cha.”

Yet I’m still here, procrastinating with this blog when I should be working on that darn synopsis. I try to tell myself that once it’s done, it’s done… But then I remember I’ve almost finished Evergreen’s sequel, which means doing it all over again. (Insert bloodcurdling scream).

…..Who else is in the mood for Gilmore Girls all of a sudden?

What Inspires…

Everyone has their own source of inspiration. Something or somewhere that speaks to them, fills them with an almost satisfying euphoria. It brings about the birth of an idea, the hope for what could be or a good jolt to the mind like a swift kick in the pants.

 

For some, it’s rarely utilised and ideas are washed away. Forgotten.

With others, like in my case, you go back to the source over and over, hungry for more. It is a place that holds gravity, is always faithful and always constant. It is your tailor-made form of awakening, specific to your tastes and what your mind responds to.

What inspires me has been the same since I was a teenager. Rainy days have never failed to be my muse. The darker the sky, the better. I love having the window wide open so I can smell the rain and earth colliding. This, mixed with the sound of rainfall and a pen in hand has gifted me with some of my best work.

Trees are the next thing. Don’t even get me started…

When the sun is out and the clouds are chased away, it is music that fuels my writing. I’ve always been a little dramatic with my thoughts. Even as a kid I would picture scenes to accompany songs. I guess I never grew out of it.

It’s not necessarily the lyrics that inspire me (this happens rarely), it’s the music itself. The words could have absolutely nothing to do with my storyline, but the feel of the song can evoke the best scene in the book.

That being said, my novels come to me in an unusual way. At least I think so. Yes, the music slips a scene in my pocket, but I never know how it fits into the big picture. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s like picking up a puzzle piece and setting it aside for later. My scenes appear to me instantaneously, like visions of the future. I have no idea how it will come about or what events will lead me there, but somehow it all works out. They all join up without my trying, as if my subconscious knew the entire story all along, only allowing me to see it bit by bit.

In order to keep the pen moving and the brain ticking, I’m always in search of new music to suit the mood of my books. In doing that I have come across a lot of bands and artists I now love. The Shazam iphone app has become my best friend.

I listen to music while I write and in between. It’s my fountain for ideas, an ever running tap of creativity.

All the Possibilities…

I’ve always had this strange love-thing for blank notebooks. Every time I touched one it gave me such a thrill. I remember buying them all the time just because they were new, crisp and white. Unblemished. I loved flicking through the pages, seeing the blur of pure sheets, the smell of the paper as it fanned my face. I kept neat stacks of them in my drawer, just waiting to be used.

It was always my intention to fill them with beautiful words. I relished the thought of what would one day inhabit those blank pages. To me, the pages represented promise of the great things I would write. But I rarely used them, preferring to hold onto the dream, that sense of knowing one day I’ll fill them. So I left them blank and just admired the smooth, untouched paper.

I have finally broken

free of that. I enjoy the best of both worlds now. For those minutes before I begin to write in them I let myself revel in its brand new state.

And then I dive in, savouring each second that I tear through it with ink.

I don’t like to write my stories at the computer so I scrawl it all into a notebook first. There’s something about sitting in front of the screen, keys under fingertips, that I find intimidating. Like I have to write nonstop. The computer is on! Write Mel! WRITE!! Crazy, I know. But that’s just how I roll.

Now I get to see the aftermath of an exquisitely destroyed notebook. I have many that are brimming with scribbles and sections crossed out. Underlines and asterisks. Neat writing and messy writing. 2am writing. I’m-so-tired-this-isn’t-making-any-sense writing. It’s all there in my little collection.

After all my years of hanging onto those blank notebooks, I find that it’s the used and abused ones I love infinitely more. I want to keep them and cherish them forever. I want to hold onto that page where Xavier Dean first appears in the story. I want to remember that night my heart turned to mush during that one, sweet scene. I want to run my finger over the impression my pen made when I wrote that final sentence.

One thing’s for sure – I’ll never leave another notebook blank. It’s abandon that allows you to accomplish your dreams.

Yours Truly…

Well here goes. My first ever blog.

While I sit here at the cusp of a new year, actually feeling nervous to do this, I find myself racking my brains to think of what to write. I figure the best place to start is with me – the very core, the alpha and omega of this blog. (Unless you know me personally, you won’t picture the tone I just used. Pity…)I live in a quiet street (if you don’t count the howling dog next door and the guy that should never pick up a guitar again) with my husband, my two year old daughter and a Pajero with no air conditioning. Yes, that was worth mentioning in this 40 degree heat! When I’m not running after a rambunctious toddler that seems to run on Energiser, I attempt to keep the house in order, following the trail of destruction she leaves in her wake. But this isn’t everything and all I have.

I, Melissa Armstrong consider myself lucky, nay blessed, to be one of those who live in two different worlds. (There’s that tone again.)

The first, being the aforementioned, is called reality. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Full of its mundane routines and responsibilities. I trudge daily through the repetitive motions of a stay-at-home mum.

But the second is a place I travel to every day, without fail. It is a world I have visited since I was a little girl and have never grown tired of it. While there, I have been on adventures, laughed and danced. I’ve seen tragedies and fallen in love over and over again. I’ve met creatures, terrifying and hideous. Beings, beautiful and enchanting. I’ve seen it all…

And this world exists in my imagination.

The first time I realised my love of writing happened when I was eight years old. My music teacher, also took us for Maths and English that year – the result of being in a split class of grade threes and fours. It was in the library that the magic first came to me. Mr Morris had asked us all to write a story for that lesson and away went my pencil.

What happened after that has always stayed with me and ultimately set me on a path, a goal I am still on at age 26. That day a dream was planted in me.

I lined up at Mr Morris’ desk just like half the class, waiting for their stories to be marked. When my turn came and Mr Morris read through my story, he was delighted. He looked up at me with a smile and said “This is great.” He then asked if he could read it out to the class and of course I was chuffed.

When all the students had handed in their stories and sat back in their seats, my teacher told them I had written a great story he wanted to share. He began to read aloud with a smile on his face. The kids around me laughed when it was funny, and I listened intently to my words with the voice of someone else. I noticed the joy it brought to others and I loved that it was because of me.

When Mr Morris was finished he said “Wasn’t that wonderful?” to all the kids. He praised me in front of the whole class so genuinely that I was beaming. I have never forgotten that feeling and when I share my words with others now, I experience that day again through their encouragement.

But that wasn’t the only time Mr Morris read my work out loud. He continued this on two more occasions that I remember. Needless to say, that dream of mine began to grow and spread through me relentlessly.

When I was 11 I wrote my first novel. A grand total of ten pages about what most girls that age love – horses. It was about two girls who, while playing in the bush, come across a wild horse that is only ever tame around them. Lame and silly, I know! It makes me laugh now and I still have that story somewhere. But even as bad as the story is, I hold onto it because that was when I realised I wanted to become a published author. I had become determined to get that ‘novel’ published, even writing it out neatly to send it off. Thank goodness I didn’t! How embarrassing… But from then on I dreamed of one day publishing a book.

Through high school I began to write better, with more interesting plot-lines and often delved into poetry and children’s stories. I began writing a fantasy at the age of 14 but only made it about fifteen pages in. At 16 I began another, completely believing that this was the one I would finish and have published. But I only made it through three chapters and writing this spanned over three years. (I still have that story and might just get back to it one day…maybe…)

After this I would often be hit with a sudden need to write and I would type a few paragraphs of a story I knew nothing about. I didn’t understand what was happening in the scene, what had happened or where it was going, but I wrote what I saw in my mind. Sadly, I have lost them all.

When I was about 21 I scribbled down a new scene that came to me, into a notebook. Once again I had no plan for the story line. Heck, I didn’t really know what they were talking about. But I was sure I would use it some day. That was the last thing I wrote for about three years.

Around April 2009 I took that last scene from my notebook and began to put it into a novel. I worked on this for about five months, reaching 140 pages, 47 000 words. The furthest I had ever been and I was thrilled.

But then something happened. A new idea came to me like a slap in the face. (The best kind!) I envisioned a scene that I became obsessed with. In that scene I watched in my memory, over and over, I saw everything. The theme, the feel and mood, and basically the entire premise of the story. It sounds strange but when you have two characters dancing, it’s amazing how you can interpret those moves into a story. I could see their feelings and emotions behind it. I saw the way their story would end and I was hooked.

I couldn’t stop thinking about these characters and feeling what they felt. I was addicted and every day more scenes came to me. I didn’t know how they would fit together but I knew they belonged. Like picking up a puzzle piece and setting it aside for later. While these images came pouring out so fast, I scratched away in a notebook so I wouldn’t forget them.

I had promised myself I wouldn’t work on this idea until I had completed my 140 page working progress. But this new story possessed my thoughts so much I stopped writing the other all together. I wasn’t coming up with any more ideas for it! My mind was on overdrive for this other book.

In the end I had been chewing over this new novel in my mind for six months. I knew the story back to front, beginning to end. All tucked away and itching to come out onto paper. I gave in.

December 2009 I put pen to paper and didn’t stop. I wrote from morning to night while my parents looked after my daughter. When she went to bed I would be up until 3am. My pens ran out of ink a lot and words came to mind faster than I could write them. I woke up through the night with ideas I had to write down so I wouldn’t forget them in the morning. I ate, slept and breathed this story. Come to think of it, there were even times I forgot to eat!

Six months, 260 pages, 100 000 words later I completed my first ever novel – Evergreen.

Filled with such a high over fulfilling this part of my dream, I began the sequel right away. Here I am, exactly a year later, in the process of editing the sequel. I still can’t believe I have written two books in a year! And after all that, my fingers are twitching with anticipation to begin Book 3.

It’s 1am now and looking over all I’ve written, it’s almost a novel in itself. I’m not usually so long winded…I don’t think… But I am always up this late. I’m practically nocturnal. Not to worry though, I have no fangs. (You may laugh but according to Principal Figgins, they exist… And if you don’t get that, I shake my head at you.)

So in conclusion, I’m a woman who often stares into space, imagining hunky guys with abs and biceps while listening to music…and then sometimes I think of my characters and stories too. (Cue boisterous laughter).

Happy New Year!