Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Synopsis 1

Steve would rather be playing Chalk-Walk or Slurp-n-Kick with Andy than doing his homework. Especially [Slurp-n-Kick,] since what he does is never good enough for his teacher or his father. Andy would rather be anywhere than in the same house with his alcoholic father. When Steve suggests a trip to the abandoned Kruger house, both gladly go. [Of course Steve gladly goes; it was his idea.] They find a mysterious checkerboard that promises to take them back in time to meet artist Pieter Bruegel. [Immediately they realize that there are even worse things than living with demanding and alcoholic fathers.] Steve sees this as a chance to prove how ‘mighty’ he is, but Andy is afraid of the Kruger curse since two teenagers disappeared from the Kruger house a year ago.

Steve finally convinces Andy to follow the directions on the checkerboard, and they, along with Steve’s dog Doorstep, are whisked to the year 1560. Bullies confront Steve and Andy, and Doorstep gets lost chasing them away. [I can buy time travel, and I can buy making a time machine in the form of a checkerboard, but making a time machine that transports the user only to 1560 Flanders?]

The first stop is to a peasant family. [For such a short sentence, it's amazing how much I hate it.] Steve and Andy are given groats for dinner [Interestingly, a groat is a coin from this time period. Also some form of oatmeal. Either definition works.] and hay to sleep on. The family tells a bedtime story about the plague. [ . . . and the mama bear said, "Someone's been sleeping in my bed too. Then the baby bear said, "Someone's still sleeping in my bed . . . and she's covered with buboes! Everybody out! Burn the place down!"] Steve begins to feel funny.

Steve and Andy leave the peasant family and are approached by a band of archers. They use their ingenuity to escape, only to see Doorstep trapped in a cage by a group of strange-looking children. They strike a deal in order to rescue Doorstep. They must work for the owner of the Land of Cockagne [Flemish for cocaine.] -a bakery. They also do chores, such as mixing paints and making gesso, for the owner of an art store. [Did the great masters get their oils at art stores?

Van Gogh: I need some paints.

Clerk: What color?

Van Gogh: Let's see, some gold, some yellow, some flavidus, ochre--

Clerk: I told you last time, "sunflower" is the only shade of yellow we carry.

Van Gogh: You're really limiting my range, I gotta tell you.

Clerk: Do you want it or not?

Van Gogh: What? Could you say that again toward my right ear?]

Looking at the moon which is nearly full, Andy is anxious. [For the infamous Werewolf of Flanders will soon be on the prowl.] After seeing a plague pit and hearing more plague talk, Steve is convinced that his fever must be the plague. Both boys are desperate to find Pieter Bruegel and make it home alive.

Steve and Andy realize that the bullies who confronted them earlier are the same teenagers who disappeared a year ago. It becomes a race to find Bruegel. [Why? Bruegel will send the first two who find him back, but strand anyone else?]

They all find Bruegel at the same time. [Now Bruegel must flip a coin. Possibly a groat.] Bruegel can paint only two home at a time. [If he puts three into the painting, they end up in 1836 Carthage.] After much discussion, the teenagers decide to do volunteer work with peasants. [Huh? They search out the guy so he'll send them home, and they finally find him and your readers are on the edges of their seats wondering if they'll get home, and they postpone leaving to do volunteer work?] Bruegel paints Steve and Andy into his masterpiece ‘Children’s Games’ before painting them back home. [Define "painting them back home."] Steve and Andy’s homecoming is bittersweet. Andy’s father is in rehabilitation. [Doorstep is still in 1560.] Although Steve’s father remains overly critical, Steve is now more confident. They learn about art, life, and each other.

[Below I've reproduced a small portion of Bruegel's Children's Games, the portion that shows Andy and Steve. I've also added a key, as you may not all be familiar with the children's games of the sixteenth century.]

1. Children hold down a whiny kid while a bully defecates on him in a game known as Crap on the Crybaby.

2. Plague-ridden Steve prepares to puke out his guts.

3. A woman carries her mummified child through the streets in a game called Guess Who?

4. Children prepare to scalp a terrified boy.

5. Andy is tossed into the plague pit in a game called Toss the New Kid into the Plague Pit.

6. A clown attempts to stop the bleeding after getting hit with a thrown brick.

I found the synopsis kind of boring, partly because that's the nature of the beast, but also because it didn't focus on the boys' problem. I didn't care about the dog, the peasants, the archers, or even the other time-traveling kids. I had no trouble writing them out of the version below (which, because I haven't read the book, includes some information that may be incorrect). If you were asked for a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, you might include all of the subplots, but not in a two-pager.

Steve's father is never satisfied, and Andy's is never sober. So when the two boys find a magical checkerboard with instructions for traveling back in time, they summon the courage to try it out. Anything's got to be better than their home lives, right? Right. And before they know it, they've been whisked to Europe in the year 1560.

Steve knows the plague has been wiping out a lot of people; he's seen the plague pits. And he's afraid he might be next to go, because he's not feeling so hot. Maybe it was a mistake to come here after all. Unfortunately, the boys know from the instructions on the checkerboard that the only one who can send them back home is a Flemish artist named Pieter Bruegel.

As they travel throughout Flanders, Andy and Steve rely on the kindness of strangers and also work odd jobs. Both boys are desperate to find Bruegel and make it home alive, and when they are hired to mix paints and make gesso for the owner of an art store, it's their lucky break. The owner of the store knows where Bruegel lives.

Bruegel has the magical ability to "paint the boys home" by painting their likenesses on a canvas depicting their homes--which they're only to happy to describe to him. But before he sends them on their way, Bruegel also paints Steve and Andy into his masterpiece, Children’s Games. They're the ones on the left, playing with Gameboys while the other kids are playing Roll the Hoop and Torture the Little Kid.

Steve and Andy’s homecoming is bittersweet. Andy’s father is in rehabilitation, a hopeful sign. Steve’s father remains overly critical, but at least Steve has the satisfaction of infecting him with the plague. Although the boys' future remains uncertain, their adventure in the past has taught them much about art, life, and friendship.

That was about 300 words. As your intention is to slip in some knowledge about art, you could expand it with a couple examples of what Bruegel teaches the boys about his work.


Anonymous said...

OK. This works! EE, you're obviously starting on a high. Or you're just high. Whichever, I like what you did here.

So what are you on? And where do you get it?

Precie said...

OMG! That may be the funniest EE post I've ever read. My apologies to the author for my schadenfreude, but OMG! If this is any indication of what EE's Synopses bits are going to be like, I think they'll be an even bigger hit than the NBs.

The labeled artwork, in particular, really just made my morning.

To the author, I agree with EE's tightening of your synopsis...these boys go on a fantastical journey...they're faced with many serious challenges, and they grow as a result. We need to know more about the boys and why we should care about them. Fascinating concept with a lot of potential, I think.

Church Lady said...

Funny thing is, I spent a couple of months writing a synopsis that ended up being about 1,000 words. Then on the "Eve of the Synopsis," I got it down to 399 words and clicked 'save.' Totally lost the longer version. And now the shorter version sucks eggs.

Okay, all whining aside. The painting jokes were very funny. Loved the joke about the boy puking in particular. Actually, all your jokes were funny.

I really like your edits. I'm going to go with your version and expand a bit as you suggested.

Oh, and my deepest apologies that my short clunky sentence offended you. Hopefully you won't be reliving it in nightmares or anything :-)

Thanks so much!!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree, hilarious. And you know, after reading EE's version, I thought the plot sounded interesting. The first version was way too rambling, with no clear idea what Breughel had to do with anything. And I sympathize, author, completely. It is so hard to look at your own story and figure out which details to tell and which to withhold, because YOU know the significance of the dog, or the weird bedtime story, but you can't explain it without adding another paragraph. If I were you, I'd take EE's version and run with it.


Anonymous said...

...to the abandoned Kruger house, both gladly go... and ...but Andy is afraid of the Kruger curse... seem to conflict.

Anonymous said...

Hey Church Lady,

Sounds like an interesting book. Good way to teach some history and about the artist. I hope you can pull it all together. Looks like EE gave you a great push in the right direction.

I thought the post was very funny, too.

And, if you are using MS Word, you can turn on versions. It will save each version (every time you close it) so you can go back and retrieve an earlier one. I just started using it, so am not much help with the details.


Josephine Damian said...

Bruegel painting and key: Too funny!

Church Lady! Precie! So this is where you hang out! Cool. It was nice to see Chumplet had some success after vetting her query here. Church Lady, I know it's tough being in the hot seat, but hopefully EE helped clarify your story's presentation in synopsis form.

It reminds me of the famous Flaubert quote:

"Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity."

Sure as hell applies to me.

For more illustrated quotes about writing and the writing life, please visit http://quoteitwrite.blogspot.com

BuffySquirrel said...

I wonder if "Steve's father is never happy..." wouldn't work better as "Steve's father is never satisfied..."? Unhappiness could spring from many causes, but dissatisfaction implies more of what the author was getting at. Maybe?

Phoenix said...

Yanno, I've had my doubts about EE -- haven't always agreed with him. Yeah, yeah, he's a funny guy when he's snarking someone else's work, but we all know the saying, those who can't ...

Well, I must admit, EE's rewrite is. just. brilliant. (almost.) Sticks to the main story. Keeps the voice -- no, actually improves upon the voice (yes, EE, I said that!). A nice, easy flow with none of the labored synopsis feel.

So, why did I sneak in "almost"? No qualifications if this were a "straight" novel, like most of us are writing (and if you can do for mine what you did for CL's, I'd be thrilled without qualification). But this book's intent is to be instructional, so I think the peasants and some of the details in this particular instance are important to show an agent that those elements are firmly embedded in the storyline. The teenagers, no. The dog, no -- unless he stays behind to sire a new breed that wouldn't exist today if he hadn't gone back in time, yadda, yadda.

Church Lady, I still like your concept here for interweaving general history and art history for kids. When you buid out the synopsis from EE's start, I'd still like to see you slip in everyday period things like groats for dinner (just not in a "they are given groats for dinner" way; more in a "Eww, groats for dinner?" and "Sleeping on hay? Cool!" way) since you're demonstrating not just a fun story, but one that teaches about everyday life in that time, too.

That said, the synopsis I submitted is pure "what was I thinking when I wrote this" crap. So while I think we all know HOW it should be done, actually executing on the concept is what's killer. I have high hopes for your book(s), CL!

Ali said...

I had my doubts about the humor value in reading synopses, but EE came through. Thanks for being first, Churchlady.

I disagree with EE on one point: I did care about the time-traveling teenagers, and would have liked to hear more about them. They've spent a year in 1560 and they bully younger kids and now they're willing to stay in 1560 so the younger kids can go home quicker? I'm intrigued.

~Nancy said...

That keyed painting was priceless - I laughed out loud here at work.


I had a hard time with the original (I'm a huge dog lover, but even I didn't know why the dog was included in the original synopsis), but EE came up with something that sounded like an interesting story.

Good luck with it!


Evil Editor said...

They've spent a year in 1560 and they bully younger kids and now they're willing to stay in 1560 so the younger kids can go home quicker? I'm intrigued.

Unfortuntely, the kids who've spent a year in the past are now in 1561, so you won't meet them. Or rather you'll meet them, but just as they were arriving in 1560, and before anything intriguing has happened to them.

Robin S. said...

hi phoenix - You hit the nail on its head with this: "A nice, easy flow with none of the labored synopsis feel" - I can already see, from EE's redo of CL's synopsis, that the laboring issue is a part of mine as well.

EE, you were so on fire with the humor today.

Church Lady - I think a lot of your synopsis was good. I think it was said earlier- but - I'll say it again, I guess. I'd take what EE did and make it your own, adding and subtracting from it to get it the way you want it.

And sorry to hear about your now-missing longer synopsis!

Bernita said...

Almost there, Church Lady.

Anonymous said...

EE - your synopsis was brilliant. Really made me want to read this ms. Can't wait to submit my own for a re-write.

AmyB said...

That key to "Children's Games" is laugh-out-loud funny. If I ever see that painting again in another context, I'm sure I'll start giggling.

Bernita said...

If you choose to keep selective details such as Phoenix suggests, I would recommend avoiding flat and mechanical description such as "they are approached by a band of archers."
Have them "blunder into a rag-tag band of mercenaries on the dusty roads."

Church Lady said...

Thanks again to EE for this rewrite. It *is* really good-makes me want to read my ms too! (Ha! I can trick agents into thinking I have a good book!)

I appreciate everyone's comments. This is so great--I was on the begging bandwagon for these synopses. And a first-rate editor wrote mine....errr..'edited' mine for me! Can't beat that :-)

Phoenix, the educational details are hopefully woven seamlessy so the child/reader doesn't realize that he's learning. Kinda like sitting on a floor with a toddler and playing with those ABC puzzles--toddler learns the alphabet without realizing it. That's what I'm aiming for. And a few of those details are in my query. Which begs the question--what's the difference between a query and a short synopsis like this? Is the query supposed to hook the agent, while a short synopsis describes your main story arc? Is that basically it?

Bernita--LOL! You'd be a great children's writer! I will take your advice, Thanks!

Thanks again, EE! Can't wait to see the next one.

Robin S. said...

Good question church lady-

"Which begs the question--what's the difference between a query and a short synopsis like this? Is the query supposed to hook the agent, while a short synopsis describes your main story arc? Is that basically it?"

I'd like to know because there are several agency websites now that request electronic submission synopses, 400-500 words. So - my guess would be there's a hook and arc involved in that instance, (sans traditional query) - but, with a query, a synopsis would be story arc only?

question beggar said...

CL says: Which begs the question--what's the difference between a query and a short synopsis like this?

screams and pulls out hair before setting skull alight

That's NOT what "begs the question" means, which is "avoid the question"--the exact opposite of what you're trying to say.

I'm flummoxed at the inability of writers to get this level of standard grammar right.

Anonymous said...

HA! I **KNOW** you anon! You were on Miss Snark, setting yourself alight for the same reason!

I am not kidding--I thought about that post on Miss Snark when I typed those words "Begs the question"


Church Lady

Robin S. said...

So, question beggar, you're 'flummoxed at the inability of writers to get this level of standard grammar right', huh?

Here's what I just found by Googling -- Begging the question is related to the fallacy known as circular argument, circulus in probando, vicious circle or circular reasoning. As a concept in logic the first known definition in the West is by the Greek philosopher Aristotle around 350 B.C., in the Prior Analytics.

Colloquially, the phrase is commonly used to mean "suggests the question" or "raises the question" ---

Colloquial usage works for me.
I think it might be time to, ya know, get a life or somethin like that.

stick and move said...

Robin, I think your post begs the question, "Does question beggar get the colloquial thing?"

blogless_troll said...

I'm flummoxed at the inability of writers to get this level of standard grammar right.

Shouldn't you be flummoxed by the inability of writers? Or is there more than one way to phrase something?

Evil Editor said...

I wonder if "Steve's father is never happy..." wouldn't work better as "Steve's father is never satisfied..."?

Change instituted.

writtenwyrdd said...

An art store? Lost me with that one...

I think the story could work, but the presentation doesn't interest me. What's the excitement? Where's the danger. You are basically telling me these kids are just wandering around safely, like they are playing a Myst game or something. Myst is fun to play, but no fun to read about.

Church Lady said...

Hi Wwrtnwrd--
One boy is afraid of the Kruger curse (yes, it's a werewolf curse) and the moon is nearly full. The other boy thinks he has the plague.

There are bullies, bed-bugs, and bone-pits. And that's just the letter 'B.'

I have to make sure the synopsis conveys this. Thanks!

Scoot said...

'Steve's father remains overly critical but at least Steve has the satisfaction of infecting him with the plague'.

Loooool. Thx Evil Editor for that choke-on-coffee moment and thx Church Lady for yr bravery.

Ello said...

EE, I shouldn't have read the key to your illustration while I'm sick. I had a nasty cold and I'm hawking up nasty green stuff out of my lungs. After I read this I started laughing and wheezing and hawked up a nasty mucous plug onto my screen. I'm just glad it wasn't my keyboard or I'd be really mad at you.