One-Day Writing Intensive in Georgian Bay

On June 22, 2019, I joined Honey Novick and Cheryl Antao-Xavier as presenters of a one-day writing intensive at Noël’s Nest Country Bed & Breakfast near Port McNicoll.

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writing group at Noel’s Nest

A small group of dedicated writers joined the intensive and we explored topics to do with writing, manuscript preparation and submission, as well as publishing models. This included meaningful discussions and writing exercises, readings and sharing.

writers writing2I talked about the importance of theme to help determine a story’s beginning and ending. We also discussed the use of theme in memoir to help focus the memoir into a meaningful story with a directed narrative. I discussed the use of the hero’s journey plot approach and its associated archetypes to help determine relevance of events, characters and place: all topics explored in my Alien’s Guidebook series.

As part of the intensive at Noël’s Nest, a magnificent lunch was served along with refreshments. The day was sunny and warm. And perfect in the shade. We ended the intensive with a short nature walk led by naturalist Merridy Cox.

Liana-Lillian writingWhile everyone left at six, I stayed on with a friend. I’d booked the night and looked forward to a restful evening among deer, rustling trees and a chorus of birdsong. The owner had left us some leftovers for supper, and, as we dined on a smorgasbord of gourmet food and wine, I reveled in Nature’s meditative sounds. The night sky opened deep and clear with a million stars.

The next day we enjoyed exploring southern Geogrian Bay, which included the small towns of Port McNicoll, Midland and Penetanguishene. Georgian Bay is part of Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes.

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Pine Island by Tom Thompson

The bay itself is quite large, comprising about four-fifths the size of Lake Ontario. Eastern Georgian Bay, where we were exploring, is part of the southern edge of the Canadian Shield. Granite bedrock exposed by the glaciers at the end of the last ice age about 11,000 years ago, forms a rugged coastline dotted by windswept eastern white pine. The rugged beauty of the area inspired landscapes by artists of the Group of Seven.

The shores and waterways of the Georgian Bay are the traditional domain of the Anishinaabeg First Nations peoples to the north and Huron-Petun (Wyandot) to the south.

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Georgian Bay at Port McNicoll

The bay was a major Algonquian-Iroquoian trade route when Champlain, the first European to explore and map the area in 1615–1616, arrived and called it “La Mer douce” (the calm sea). Originally named Waasaagamaa by the Ojibwe, the bay was renamed Georgian Bay by Lieutenant Bayfield of a Royal Navy expedition after King George IV.

After driving through Port McNicoll, we drifted into Midland, where we enjoyed a delicious crepe at La Baie Creperie. On the recommendation of a local, we then moved on to Penetanguishene to the Dock Lunch for the best ice cream in Southern Georgian Bay.

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La Baie Crêperie in Midland

Upon leaving, I realized that I’d only seen a small portion of the Georgian Bay area and vowed to return soon.

Group writing

Eager writers work on an exercise I’ve given them

Writing intensive June 22, 2019

 

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

 

Demystifying the Synopsis

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Fog in Prospect Point, Nova Scotia (photo by Nina Munteanu)

A synopsis is a larger version of the book jacket blurb you see on the back of most paperbacks in the bookstore. You write a synopsis for the same reason: to sell a story idea to a publisher and ultimately to a reader. It is an in-depth summary of the entire book that weaves in thematic elements with plot to portray a compelling often multi-level story arc. Although a well-written synopsis may be the hardest thing to write—particularly for a novice writer and you haven’t finished your book—it is precisely what an editor or agent usually wants to see first of your work (often alongside sample chapters and a query letter).

 

Why Write a Synopsis

The synopsis is a highly valuable tool to writers for a number of reasons.

  1. A synopsis helps get your manuscript read by an editor. Writing a great synopsis is just as important as writing a compelling first three chapters to hook an editor. Editors most often ask for a combination of these three things in an initial submission: 1) query letter; 2) sample chapters (usually three); and, 3) synopsis. However, publishers’ specifications for synopses vary greatly. For instance, the length of a synopsis may vary from one page to twenty pages and its style will vary accordingly. Whether you submit a synopsis with your novel sample chapters or not, writing one will directly benefit your novel by helping you to sort out what’s important and what drives the theme and characters of your story.
  2. The synopsis can answer questions that may perplex the author, stuck on a scene or plot item. It helps you weave your novel’s elements into a well-integrated story that is compelling at many levels. Let’s face it; if you can’t tell describe what the book is about, what’s important and what drives the story you may have to re-evaluate the story. Certainly don’t expect an editor to know if you don’t. For this reason, it makes sense to write drafts of your synopsis as you go along in the novel; that way it’s useful to both you and to the editor and then it’s more or less written when you need to submit it along with sample chapters…and not quite as daunting a task either.
  3. The synopsis you write for your novel may be used by the publisher’s marketing department to advertize your book and by their cover artists on your cover. Therefore, it’s important to make the tone, flavor and intent of your story clear in your synopsis so that it’s properly represented.

 

What is a Synopsis?

It helps to know what a synopsis is before embarking on one. Unlike an outline, which is basically a plot summary, a synopsis integrates plot with theme and characterization so a publisher can gauge the meaningfulness of the story. A synopsis can contain the following items: 1) theme; 2) setting and period; 3) plot summary; 4) character sketches; 5) dialogue; 6) emotional turning points; and 7) subplots. The synopsis combines these components to reveal the story’s unique nature and what makes it stand out to both publisher and ultimately reader.

 

Writing a Synopsis

Theme is the backbone of the novel, the “so what” part. If you are able to reduce it to one sentence or even word, this will help you to focus the other aspects of the synopsis, and novel, around it. For example, “there’s no place like home,” or “to have a friend, you must be a friend.” You can provide setting and period in one or two short sentences, while describing other key elements to your story. Plot summaries provide the skeleton upon which you flesh out characters and their motivations, they form the “what” of the “so what” part. The actual “so what” parts are the emotional turning points or the focal events of the plot that directly link to important thematic parts of the story. Character sketches get woven in as part of theme and plot. Dialogue or quotes (very short excerpts) can be effective. They break up the page and makes it more interesting, while providing a sample of your work.

If this all still sounds daunting to you, think of writing the synopsis in steps:

Step 1: write the outline, using each chapter to write a one or two sentence summary of important points.

Step 2: create a thematic skeleton, by adding the motivational aspects of the plot with the various characters and what’s at stake for each of them. Think of the overarching thema or story arc and include important sub-plots that tie-in to this.

Step 3:flesh out the storytelling by writing it as a story. Use all your fiction writing skills to create a compelling story summary.

Write your synopsis like a story, complete with hook, building a crisis and then climax and denouement.

 

Some Basic Rules

Despite the varying specific guidelines among publishing houses, they agree on several universal rules that every synopsis should follow. These include:

  • Summarize the complete novel (beginning, middle, and end) regardless of whether you’ve included sample chapters and don’t leave out the ending (as a teaser);
  • Always write the synopsis in the present tense (e.g., the Budong eats Jarek; not the Budong ate Jarek)
  • Write the synopsis from the author’s perspective and use vivid language (e.g., use active power verbs and avoid modifiers)
  • The first time you introduce a character in a synopsis, type the name in CAPITAL letters, but do this only the first time the character is mentioned.
  • Stay consistent with how you describe a character (e.g., not John the first time and Mr. Smith the next)

Remember to check the guidelines of the publishing house to which you are submitting before finalizing your synopsis and the rest of your submission. Every house will be a little different.

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Creek into Lake Ontario, Mississauga (photo by Nina Munteanu)

References

Munteanu, Nina. 2009. The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! Starfire World Syndicate. Louisville, KY. 266pp

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.