Friday, February 7, 2014

Synopsis Critique Seminar #1

After watching writer's struggle with synopsis writing, I decided to start Synopsis Critique Seminars where I post my critiques of the first half of writer's synopsis. Today I have my very first critique of Ashley's YA urban fantasy synopsis. A huge thank you to Ashley for being brave enough to share her synopsis critique with the world. I hope everyone finds these helpful for their own synopsis writing. If you are interested in getting a free critique on my blog please see this post.

As a preface, I will say tend to write lots of comments, ask questions, and try to include examples to explain what I'm talking about and help spur the writer. Since writing is so subjective it is important to note that this is one person's opinion/critique and the writer shouldn't feel obligated to use all or even any of the advice if they feel it doesn't resonate with them and their story.

Without further ado, here is my critique of Ashley's synopsis. My comments are in blue.

Right off the bat, she uses present tense, which is a good way to actively engage the reader in the story. Regardless of what tense your story is in, it's best to use present tense in a synopsis to highlight the action/excitement in the story and draw the reader into the plot.

Adam Shelley usually the first time a new character is introduced in a synopsis you put their name in all CAPS EX: ADAM SHELLEY is sick enough to spit tacks. While the first sentence made me sit up straight and take notice, I found it a little confusing. I can’t tell if he’s actually sick or just sick of something. Based on the next sentence it sounds like sick of being nagged, so maybe consider combining the thoughts in the first and second sentences to get the extra detail to really grab attention without confusing the reader. His Nana keeps riding his ass about the hordes of angry demons chasing him. Which is crap, because demons aren’t real. These last two sentences really help paint a better picture of Adam’s situation and have good voice. Also since this is YA I’d recommend adding Adam's age in the first paragraph.

Too bad his alchemist mom never told him about the devil’s deal she made and broke for a Philosopher’s Stone. While this first sentence has some voice I’d consider rewording it a bit to focus the situation from Adam’s perspective since he is the focus. Something like But Adam's mother made a deal with the devil to... (although I'd avoid the cliche I just put in there) After this part I was a little confused, did she break the deal to obtain a philosopher’s stone? And if so maybe a little bit more detail as to what she traded and how this is really going to affect Adam.  Otherwise, Adam might’ve thought twice before chucking his magical ‘mojo’ bag into the river. This last sentence confused me a bit. Adam doesn’t know there are demons but he does know about magic? And I’m not sure what getting rid of magic has to do with the deal his mother made, so if you can connect the two events I think that will help clear up the confusion. Although I’m not sure this sentence is necessary for advancing the plot and you may be able to cut it.

When the demons come to collect, they strew Adam’s guts over the southern oaks like tinsel. What are the demons coming to collect from Adam? And did they really scatter his guts or is that a figure of speech? Sometimes with fantasy and scifi it’s hard to tell literal from metaphorical so try to be as specific as possible. His house is destroyed. His mom is vaporized. The demons probably probably or do? If he isn’t sure maybe say something more like and all clues point to the demons running off with the stone. have the Philosopher’s Stone. And Adam... This reads like the demons have Adam but based on the next paragraph I think you mean that Adam died. If he dies and comes back to life I’d say that because it’s really interesting. Especially since his mom never told him he was immortal!  

By this point I’d also like to have a good idea what Adam’s conflict in the story is. I know he’s just discovered this whole demonic world and that his mother has lied to him, but what is Adam’s overall goal/conflict in the story? Why is Adam’s story so important and what is he trying to do?

Adam isn’t dead. His mom used the Elixir of Life to make him Immortal.

Now he’s caught in the crossfire between the demons and the Immortal Council, rulers of the Spirit World, who fear the Philosopher’s Stone could alter the balance between Heaven and Earth. Here’s the conflict I was looking for. Everything up until now seems like story setup. It’s important to know, however I think you are taking a tad too long to get to this point. So if you can set the story up in one paragraph with 3 or maybe 4 snappy sentences then get to this conflict you will have more time to explain the conflict and how Adam is going to try to resolve it. The Council grants Adam one-thousand days to retrieve the Stone or suffer eternal confinement in Hell. YIKES! This sets up his mission really well, and gives the stakes of the situation if he fails. Nice job!

With his days numbered, Adam and his brother, Nathan, NATHAN embark on the quest a quest to do what? Maybe just say set out to find the stone. That way there is no confusion on what they are doing. alongside their friend, Lilith, and her dad. This is a place where a little more transition would be helpful. So they start their quest, where do they begin? How’s it going? Then we can get to this Halloween party and see why Adam might need some normalcy and doesn’t really get it. But when Adam goes to a Halloween party desperate for some normalcy, a psychotic chemistry teacher finds him in the woods, completely wasted. Why is it important that the chem teacher finds him wasted? The hideously scarred man, Dr. Allan, proves Adam’s blood has the power to turn base metals to gold. Is Dr. Allan the chem teacher? If so introduce him in the previous sentence when he first appears. Also I’m not sure how we got from being found in the woods to his blood. Help connect the pieces for the reader. Just like a Philosopher’s Stone. <- This is really cool!

Adam believes this crackpot chemistry teacher is his key to finding the Stone, so he enlists Nathan and Lilith to investigate him during a basketball game. This is a good next step, a little more detail might help, flush the story out a little more, what makes him think this? What they learn changes everything.<- I’d delete this sentence. It doesn’t tell the reader anything and is taking up space. It’s much better to say what they learn and therefore this shows what is about to change. Dr. Allan is Adam and Nathan’s estranged father. This is a great point for a big reveal. Nice job not holding anything back.

Adam isn’t sure who to trust isn’t sure who or isn’t sure if he can trust his estranged dad? and with no clue where the demons are hiding grows increasingly more moody. I’m not sure you need to tell us Adam is moody, I think saying that he doesn’t know who to trust and doesn’t know where to look for the demons shows that he is frustrated. I think that’s enough. After Lilith’s dad is poisoned at basketball practice, a demon reveals Dr. Allan sold them out. Here’s another place where you jumped a little bit too far ahead in the story. What’s the important piece here that propels the story. That Dr. Allan sold them out. So in order to connect that, can you show that Adam trusted Dr. Allan and then show the betrayal which I’m guessing is poisoning Lilith’s dad. They’ve who is they? The demons? taken Adam’s girlfriend hostage and demand he turn himself over. Uh oh things are looking pretty grim for Adam. I’m assuming they did this to flush out Adam for their own purposes? If you can give a little insight here into the antagonists motivations that might help show how bad things really are for Adam. Adam doesn’t understand why. He was supposed to be after them, not the other way around. I’d cut these last two sentences. I don’t think they add to the overall progression of the story.

From here, Ashley continues on to explain how the book ends as any synopsis should. But for the sake of not spoiling the end of the story, she's requested that I not post the final paragraphs.

A few things that I noticed with this synopsis:
  • Ashley did a good job of setting up her story and showing Adam in his world. It could however, be tightened a little to give her more space to talk about the conflict and story. 
  • She did a great job of sharing important details in the story and didn't hold back. Overall, she's got the all important plot points in her story identified, which is the hardest part when writing a synopsis. Now if she flushes them out a bit more the reader will really have a good understanding of the full picture and Adam's conflict.
  • She had good voice. Synopsis often read really bland and sometimes seem like the writer is saying "and then this happens and then that happens." This synopsis didn't do that which is great.
  • Ashley does a good job of explaining Adam's conflict and giving the stakes. What he has to do, the time frame he has and what happens if he fails his mission. All important points to include in a synopsis.

Thanks again to Ashley for sharing her synopsis and critique. Feel free to post additional feedback you might have for her, but remember to keep it respectful. This is a learning experience for all.

I hope everyone found this helpful and I hope to have another critique soon.

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