Today, I’ll critique a few more of your synopses that some of you posted a few days ago.
Lois contributed this example:
The year is 1946. Laurie Jefferson, five months married and four months pregnant, huddles beside her mother’s grave, trying not to cry as she stares at the white band of skin across her empty left ring finger. She tries very hard not to be angry with her young veteran husband, Al. It is really her mother-in-law who is responsible, who demanded collateral for the $100 loan Al needed to buy a used car. The only thing of value they had was Laurie’s diamond ring handed down through generations of women in her mother’s family—the ring Laurie gladly offered to wear as a wedding ring to save the expense of another ring. Laurie can’t understand why Al didn’t fight harder to prevent his mother from taking the cherished heirloom?
Al’s 13-year-old cousin, Phoebe, dances around the graves waving her hands, taunts Laurie, claiming the diamond ring she’s wearing—Laurie’s ring—is a gift from Al’s mother for eighth grade graduation. Laurie can’t keep the acidic bubble of betrayal from bursting. Running from the cemetery, instead of going to the Jefferson home where she and Al have lived, she heads for the cabin on the lake that Dr. Jefferson has promised to remodel for their use when the weather is warm enough.
Randy sez: This sounds like a strong story. However, the synopsis feels like it’s too detailed. If you continue at this rate, you’ll have fifty pages.
Lois posted this comment more recently:
Five women, with individual and separate backstories, will for a period of time own the same heirloom diamond ring. The ring is the common thread, but the women have their own crises.
Although the chapters mesh and will converge in a climactic ending, I’m having difficulty pulling the chronology into the synopsis because of the separation of characters.
Any recommendations or experiences with this sort of thing?
Randy sez: This could be difficult to pull off, even for an experienced novelist. The problem with having five protagonists (and that’s what it seems you want to do) is that the reader doesn’t know who to root for. So she’ll pick one person and root for them, but . . . then you’re going to pull the rug out and make another character the protagonist for awhile. That can be dangerous.
Note that a multiple POV story is fine, but there needs to be ONE protagonist. THE GODFATHER has about 50 POV characters (or so it seems, sometimes) but the protagonist is Don Corleone, even when the action is far away from him.
Chawna posted these first few paragraphs of her synopsis of a young-adult novel:
47 days and 16 hours–how much trouble could one subhuman Dohgah get into in such a short period?
But Cora Remain knows that as a Dohgah bound by endless rules, she could cross the law all too easily. One mistake and her substantial inheritance would transfer to Johari, her superior-designed Kilim sister.
But vigilance isn’t enough. Johari provokes Cora into assaulting a Kilim, the worst crime a Dohgah could commit, and then offers to testify on her behalf…if Cora will sign her inheritance over to her.
At the risk of a trial, the loss of her inheritance, and possible banishment, Cora rejects Johari’s proposal and seeks aide from her tutor, Trex Troble. He recommends a third course of action and the most dangerous of all: disguise herself as a Kilim and enter a competition for a leading politician’s aide. Such action would break every possible Dohgah law, and if she’s unmasked, banishment or worse is guaranteed. But if she wins the position, she could gain political immunity long enough to find asylum on a different planet.
Randy sez: The story idea sounds very workable. The first couple of paragraphs sound more like teaser back-cover copy than like a synopsis. I think the real story starts in paragraph 3. I would recommend that you start the synopsis with a paragraph about Cora getting snookered into assaulting the Kilim, and THEN explain why that’s a problem. Paragraph 4 is a bit too wordy, in my view. Here’s the way I’d write it:
Cora Remain is a Dohgah, genetically inferior to her half-sister Johari, a Kilim. When Johari provokes her into assaulting another Kilim, Cora faces [insert what punishment she faces here]. However, Johari offers to testify on Cora’s behalf–in exchange for signing over her substantial inheritance.
Cora’s tutor Trex suggests that she try a dangerous ruse–to disguise herself as a Kilim and compete for a position as a leading politician’s aide. That could buy her political immunity long enough to seek asylum on another planet. But if she’s caught, she faces [insert horrible punishment here].
The first paragraph summarizes what are probably 2 or 3 scenes. The second one summarizes probably 1 or 2, depending on how you break it out.
Miscelle posted this beginning for her synopsis:
Not yet seventeen, Abby Johnson’s world is shattered only eight months after coming to her husband’s Wyoming homestead as a new bride in 1870. A senseless accident takes the life of her unborn baby. Abby and her husband, Sam, grow closer as they share their grief, but her young faith in God is tested when seeds of guilt and fear try to take root in her heart—What could she have done differently? Would she ever have any other children?
With only three families in the small valley, Abby must deal with her two neighbors. Katy Matthews remembers what it was like to be new to the valley and teaches Abby how to prepare for the winter, lending a hand whenever she can. The only other woman nearby is Molly, Abby’s sister-in-law. As much as Katy helps, Molly hurts, with her nagging, complaints, and jealousy.
Hard work and spiritual closeness bind Abby, Sam and Josh, a twelve-year-old orphan, into a family. A special bond forms between Abby and Josh when he tells her about his family dying in a cabin fire. She draws on her memories of how her mother comforted a childhood friend years before and helps Josh in his grief.
Randy sez: This sounds like a strong story, but the synopsis feels rushed. These three paragraphs might well be half the book. (I’m just guessing here, because it’s hard to tell.) I think there should be a bit more detail. The trick here is to let your synopsis help the editor guess how many scenes are being summarized in each paragraph.
Just as an example, let’s look at the first sentence of paragraph 3. “Hard work and spiritual closeness bind Abby, Sam and Josh, a twelve-year-old orphan, into a family.”
That’s fine, but . . . what kind of hard work? How many scenes of hard work are we going to see? What sort of spiritual closeness? How do they combine to bring the three closer together? Show us more details here, Mischelle, and I think you’ll be fine.
Heather posted this example:
When Candice takes her husband Ian to the airport for his month-long charity building project overseas, she is facing a possible cancer diagnosis and is swamped at work. When he offers to skip the trip and stay home with her, she refuses to admit that she wants and needs this, and instead convinces him to go.
As she leaves the airport, Candice receives a phone call from her restaurant designer boss informing her that they have a new client. When she arrives at work, she is stunned to see Kegan, her first love, sitting in her boss’s office. They shake hands, and the touch of the man who broke her heart sends shock waves through her.
Working with him every day, Candice is careful to keep Kegan and her memories of their time together at bay, to keep their relationship purely professional. That is, until her doctor calls while she is at Kegan’s restaurant, overwhelming Candice with relief and emotion. Kegan is quick to comfort her, and she gives in to his insistence that they need to celebrate; their amusement park visit is the most fun she’s had in a long time.
Randy sez: Excellent! This has good pacing, and I can easily imagine what scenes are going to go into it. There is one glitch here: when Candice’s doctor calls, what news is he giving her? What sort of emotions is she experiencing? If relief, why does Kegan need to comfort her? Other than that, this is doing what a synopsis needs to do–telling the story in a way that lets the editor get a sense of the story flow.
Pam Halter says
Thanks for letting us post some of our synopses, Randy. It helps to not only get feedback on our own work, but to also see what others have written.
Lois Hudson says
And thanks, Randy, for your generosity in sharing your time and expertise with us. I agree with Pam that it helps so much to see others’ works, how they approach it, and your critiques for improving. The synopsis is a whole other species, and you are helping us to tame it.
Thanks, Randy! I really appreciate your comments, and you’re right on about the “what’s the doctor saying” – not sure why I decided to get cutesy right there. 🙂
I appreciated this exercise, even though I didn’t submit anything. It’s great to see a varied sampling of styles and genres. I learned from all the comments made.
I also appreciate all your positive, encouraging words to those who posted. Thanks for doing this.
Daan Van der Merwe says
I agree with every word Lois has written. Thank you very much.
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