Coming Attractions

How to Write a Novel in 500 Words

As part of submitting to agents and publishers, an author often has to write a brief synopsis of their novel. It's no big deal: Just boil your 80,000 word work of art into a 500 word ...

Okay, it is a big deal.

The actual length of a synopsis depends on who's asking, which is why I usually do three: a long one that's basically an outline, a medium length one of 2-3 pages, and a short one of 500-1,000 words. None are easy, if you're a long form writer.

These days, most agents and publishers ask for a page or less. You leave out subplots and a lot of the drama--it's can be a little dry, unlike most of your writing output, with just the facts and a brief look at your characters.

My finished rough draft was 4,085 words, in 12 pages.

The second draft is 2,985 words.

So. I have a bit of work to do.

After that I have to write a blurb, something you'd find on the back cover of a book, and it has to be good, interesting, and descriptive, and even shorter. Add to that a cover letter for your submission, which will be sent along with the first, oh, three pages of the manuscript, or five pages, or five chapters, or twenty pages, or whatever they ask for, and there's your submission package. Much of that you have to do even as a self-published author, for promotion purposes.

Writers stress hard over submission packages. But with the odds against them, and most never making enough sales to do it full time, you can hardly blame them.

Off to edit, then. Or submit, or research agents, or ... now that I think on it, it's February. Maybe I'll just have some fun and start on another story. I'll worry about outlining the new one when the days are longer.

This is why writers get a reputation for drinking.

(Let's see who reads to the end of this: After a rough couple of hours, I got it down to 839 words! Still over two pages, but what the heck. I know what you're thinking: "Now, Mark, wasn't that easy?"

No. No, it was not.)



book cover humor

This Snow Blows

 Hunter's Law of Diminishing Returns states that the more I prepare for something, the less likely it is to happen. This is why I always try to be prepared for winter. It's also why I put out dire warnings whenever severe weather is predicted: If I warn of ten inches of snow, wildfires, or tornadoes, it's less likely a fire tornado will cause severe blowing and drifting.

That doesn't always work.

Three years ago I bought a small electric snowblower. There were three reasons for this: first, shoveling out my driveway is a game for the young, of which I no longer am. Second, my old frostbite injuries have really started acting up in recent years. Even with gloves on, my hands become stiff, painful, and useless, kind of like Congress. Third, and in correlation with the previously described law, owning a snowblower made it less likely to be needed.

Also, a month ago I bought a new pair of boots. My old rubber boots started to leak, and also weren't insulated--and my toes have frostbite damage, too. So, between the snowblower and the boots, I figured we were safe from a bad snowstorm--at least, for awhile.

Which brings me to Hunter's Diminishing Return Correlation: The more confident I am that nothing's going to happen because I prepared for it, the more likely it is to happen, anyway.

Here's a spoiler line from my new novel in progress: "Nice boots". It loses something out of context.


This week we got nine or ten inches of snow, the exact amount being hard to tell because of the gusty winds, which also reminds me of Congress. Now, the most snow we've had in the two years before that was only a few inches at a time. While the snowblower worked in that, I found it wasn't all that much easier than just using a snow shovel. Just the same, when I got home from work at 6 a.m. and realized my car couldn't get more than a foot into the driveway, I figured it was time to break it out.

(I live on a state highway, and work less than a mile away--so in my experience the real driving adventure is parking after the plows have been through.)

Well. This blows.

Hunter's Law of Power Tools #7 is that the more I need a tool, the less likely it is to start. This is why I got an electric snowblower instead of a gas powered one: Fewer parts to break. That worked out for me this time, because it turns out snow in the 1-2 foot range is right in my little device's wheelhouse: It ran like a champ, and got my driveway clear enough to park almost before my hands went numb.

No one was more surprised than I was.

I didn't  bother trying to get it TOO clean--more snow was predicted later in the week.

Being able to park made the people who wanted to get by on the state highway happy. Hey, I left my car's four way flashers on, and it only took an hour--they couldn't just detour?

By then I was unable to move my fingers, so I called it a day and tackled opening the front door with my teeth, which are now also frostbit. I planned to shovel the sidewalk the next day, but my neighbor, whose dog is either a best friend of our dog or a mortal enemy (I don't speak dog), pulled out his big honkin' gas powered snowblower and cleared both mine and his. I'm extremely grateful for that, because my extension cord is only so long.

What's going to happen next? I'm betting flood. Just in case, I'm stocking up on buckets.

(Note: Flooding wasn't next--it was freezing fog.)

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