Monday, July 20, 2009

Synopsis 18

Trial By Fire, Volume One of the Everstar Saga


Alexander, who goes by Alex to most people, [That's not important enough for the synopsis. Just call him one or the other.] is a teenage halfling gifted with the ability to manipulate fire, living in the city of Mora at the story's outset. [Those last four words are wasted.] In this context, "halfling" means someone who has parents of two different races. [That sentence isn't needed; the next sentence makes it clear what the word means.] In Alex's case, his father is human while his mother is of the Kenlor, magical woodland tribespeople considered savages by the humans (a la the European viewpoint of the Native Americans). [Also the European viewpoint of current Americans.] Alex's status as a halfling incites persecution from his fellow townspeople, who see him as a disgrace to the town and a possible threat, as halflings are stereotyped as having uncontrollable powers as a result of their parentage. However, Alex is indifferent to their animosity and is even proud of his heritage(s). This pride causes tension with his cousin, Karen, who is also a halfling but hides it to avoid persecution. [This is all set-up. Focus on what happens.] Eventually, their bickering lands them in a situation where they and their family are pursued by a corrupt officer of the Royal Guard who hopes to destroy them. Their flight from the law leads them to seek shelter on a mysterious island with a peacekeeping fraternity called the Knights Telessar. [A peacekeeping organization should be headquartered somewhere violence is likely to break out, not on Fantasy Island.] While staying with them at their training Academy, Alex learns more about his heritage(s) as his parents, in concert with the Knights, prepare him to assume his rightful place not only as a part of Kenlor society, but as a king. [His father is human and his mother is described as "of the Kenlor, magical woodland tribespeople considered savages by the humans." No mention of either parent being royalty, so why is Alex's rightful place king? If humans think Kenlor are savages, why would humans or Kenlor want Alex as their king?] However, he is not without opposition. In his journey toward power and self-realization, Alex must confront not only prejudice and persecution, but betrayal, romantic tension and rivalry, friends ranging from outright crazy to downright buffoonish, the machinations of a corrupt politician, kidnapping, and torture. [You finally get to the stuff we want details about, and you just list it.] Through it all, he learns to think strategically, relate to others, and to use power not out of anger or revenge, but out of a responsibility to protect and defend those placed under his protection.


Notes

Drop the last two sentences, which are just lists, divide the rest into three paragraphs, and you'll have a synopsis just brief enough to go in your one-page query letter (though one with too much set-up and not enough plot).

However, what you were trying for is the kind of synopsis that might be requested along with your manuscript. It should be longer than this (how much longer depends on what the recipient wants), paragraphed, and more detailed, especially in plot. It should tell us the main character's story.

"Kenlor" sounds like a coating for frying pans.

18 comments:

_*Rachel*_ said...

to summarize: Alex is half human, half Kenlor barbarian, leaving him with the power to manipulate fire—and no friends. His pride in his heritage stands in direct contrast with his cousing, another halfling, who pretends to be a normal human. Halfling versus halfling means literal fireworks, and they have to flee for their lives from an angry crowd with pitchforks and torches. They find shelter with the mysterious Knights Telessar, who train
Alex to take what they believe is his rightful place: king.

I suppose he shows up in the middle of town one day, jumps up on a soapbox, and proclaims himself king. And gets chased out of town again. Yes? No? Tell me what happens.

Matthew said...

This synopsis doesn't tell me any more than the first 150 words in the openings section. What happens?

I believe there are already books, movies and cancelled tv shows called Trial by Fire.

BuffySquirrel said...

So halfling is basically a term for half-caste, but dressed up pretty so we don't notice it's racist? And there I thought it was a copyright-free synonym for Hobbit :).

Why is an officer of the Royal Guard so concerned with inter-family bickering?

This needs something to make it stand out from all the other ordinary-person-becomes-king stories, which are legion.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the synopsis is giving you all this trouble because you've got structure problems, possibly the dreaded plot creep, which is caused by subplots growing so big they hijack the story. Diagnosis of plot creep is easy:

Question 1
Yes or No: Is your protagonist's biggest problem at the opening of Chapter 1 the same biggest problem resolved at the end of the book?

Question 2
Yes or No: Is the biggest problem resolved at the end of the book the Protagonist's biggest problem throughout the middle of the book?

If the answer is yes to both, you don't have plot creep. If the answer is no to both, you definitely do. If the answers are mixed, your structure could probably benefit from some adjustments.

Steve said...

I don't know enough about the story to comment, but the protagonist is giving me cause for concern. Half-breed with mystical powers? A lost heir to the throne? ... I went to one of those online Mary Sue tests, and - even assuming the author's intentions to be entirely pure and wholesome - I still racked up a respectable score for young Alex, based solely on the two paragraphs of information that I have about him.

That ten-foot pole I didn't touch "Volume Zero" with? I fear it will remain unsullied ...

Anonymous said...

I would use "half-breed" rather than halfling. One, you don't want to confuse an editor/agent with a hobbit and two, well that is pretty standard.

You need to sum up some information - Due to Alex's racial background and the stereotypical belief that half-breeds have uncontrollable powers, he is persecuted by the town. He is indifferent and even proud of his heritage while his cousin Karen, who is also a half-breed but hides it to avoid persecution.

I think you may want to describe what kind of conflict between the two would cause so much aminosity - Bickering seems pretty silly. clearly a corrupt officer of the Royal Guard is smart enough to trump up a better excuse to persecute them than "bickering."

who hopes to destroy them. (What does this mean? kill, imprison, take away their birthdays, run them out of town? Burn their houses to the ground?)

So - tighten up the first paragraph to three sentences, then tell us the story.

I did the same thing, so I feel your pain.

I am still not going to read your book, because Imbri still annoys the heck out of me.

(Okay now I am going to comment on names in Book 0 - the names were rather odd but in Book 1 they are familiar. I find this odd)

vkw

Eric P. said...

I'm still having problems with your names:

- "Knights Telessar" sounds like you started to say "Knights Templar" but halfway through you realized that had already been taken so you finished with "Elessar" from Tolkien.

- "Halfling" is (as noted) Tolkien and/or D&D, except it means a pure-blood hobbit.

- In a far-away magical world where there are knights, foreign cultures, woodland tribes, and strange magical non-human beings, there lived two people named Alexander and Karen.... really? Well, at least they're not a'Lxxn'dr and Ka'ren, but I think you could do better.

- Ask your doctor if Kenlor is right for you.

Anonymous said...

I thought Kenlor was too much like Kenmore, of dishwasher fame. And yeah, the knights should either just be called Knights Templar, if that's what they basically are, or else something more different so we don't get confused.

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm going to be blunt here. What I see here is this: backstory, backstory, backstory, fight with cousin exposes them and they flee, glossed over mention of the knights and how they get hooked up with them, abrupt mention that Alex is really the One True King, and final statement about Alex the One True King's life lessons without a mention of any events at all, and NO mention of what the ending comprises.

Have you ever written an outline? What might help you is to write an outline based on chapters. Then you reduce it to the main plot events.

But the thing that this synopsis needs is for you to explain how the kid's suddenly destined to be king. Even in "the sword in the stone," when some apparently random kid appears from nowhere to become the king-foretold by yanking a sword from a rock, there is carefully laid destiny in the earlier parts of the book. It isn't random or your readers will hate you.

Dave F. said...

Here we go with names again.
a) I don't find "halfling" meaning half-breed to be too much of a copy of Tolkien or too elvish. Although it isn't original. JK Rowling invented MudBlood for a half-breed and if the average Brit housewife can invent a pejorative like that, we can too. Be original,
b) Tesselar sounds like Tesla (of electricity fame) to me. Anything that approaches the Knights Templar name better be a Grail Quest. What else are an ancient order of knights searching for.

Before I write a story, I work out the name and number of the principle characters. My technique is like this:

General Wapaheo Moonwalker (A mongrel. Only 1/8 American Indian, the rest is Brit, Irish and Germanic gypsy, maybe...)

Professor Raul Getherde (his father is Norwegian, his mother Spanish)
Student Intern: Kyler Ganesvoort (his family came to New Amsterdam long ago, old money rich boy)

Captain Remy Rooijakkers (Swedish Euro-trash)

First Mate Victor Parmentier (French Euro-trash, not to be confused with Victor Mature)

M. Unkovitch (a scientist)
J. Davies (a scientist)
Sailors:
Brogan Waggoner (Porter's Scottish Brother)
Cleatus Thoephilus (His family traces itself back to Ghana)
James Gardener (no one special)
Vartan Garganian (an orphan from Estonia, adopted by Jim and Sally Everyman)

Gunny Sergeant Rigoberto Llamazales (his father was a wetback and he was born in the USA in San Antonio)


They might be dropped from the story or their details may never come out in the story but their details are reasonably fixed in fixed in my mind. I can go back to it in each review or revision and make sure that I'm presenting them as I invented them.

BTW - I use a list like this as a memory tool. I find once I've written something out, I remember it longer.

BTW - If you look up those names and surnames, they are all authentic from the various countries.

Brett said...

Okay, I need to clarify some things. About Eric P.'s comments concerning the Knights: He's precisely correct. I was using Telessar as an easy-to-remember working name while I thought of something else. And I have. The Knights Telessar are now the Knights Luxtar, which is an abbreviation for:

The Knights of the Order of St. Lucien and the Trinity of Swords.

Luxtar comes from "Lucien's Star," which is a three-pointed star symbol which stands for the three sacred swords given to Lucien the Great (Who, but the way is the renamed Aerthir Everstar).

Better?

Also, its hard not to include backstory when it's so crucial to what's going on. How would you suggest that I tell you what's going on without defining anything for you? It can't be that simple, but you may know otherwise.

Also, about the names. The names are different because the people are different. Some of them, like Karen for example, are temporary. However, others I chose based on how well their sound fit the character attached to them. Exactly what do you mean by "too diverse" and why does it matter? It's not like one character is named Anne and her sister is named Gopsnik'laa. Please Explain.

It's not really plot creep. I think, rather, that the "central problem" evolves over the course of the story. If the problem forever remained escaping the royal guard, the story would be quite dull in my opinion. The reason this is not plot creep is that the problems that come up along the way are all resolved, with one exception. Again, it's difficult to cram essential details into a word count-restricted paragraph.

On a side note, I'm getting kinda annoyed at the perfectionist with the pole. XD

And thanks for bludgeoning me with the fact that I can't write a synopsis. >_>

Brett said...

Also, my name-techique is to name characters on the spot as I think of them, depending on their personality. Btw, I changed Karen to Kiana. I think it fits her better.

Evil Editor said...

How would you suggest that I tell you what's going on without defining anything for you? It can't be that simple, but you may know otherwise.


Alex is in training with the Knights of Luxtar to take his rightful place as a Kenlor king. There's your backstory.

Now choose from your list the most important items: Kidnapping, romantic tension, and betrayal, perhaps, and elaborate so that we get an idea of what happens in the story.

Jeb said...

"living in the city of Mora at the story's outset."

And here I thought Mora was at the west end of Manhattan.

Such poor phrasing in the opening sentences is a yellow flag for any agent or editor, if not an immediate show-stopper. You want them to want to read past line 2, don't you?

Totally do not confuse halfbreeds with halflings. Tolkein readers make up a vast sub-class among fantasy readers, and if you tread on the sacred image of Frodo, you will lose their goodwill on the instant.

Everything else I would pick on has been covered.

Ruth said...

If you can write a book, you can write a synopsis. They both just take time, patience and practice. And beta readers like EE and his minions :)

"I think, rather, that the "central problem" evolves over the course of the story. If the problem forever remained escaping the royal guard, the story would be quite dull in my opinion."

I don't think the central problem SHOULD BE escaping the royal guard. That's the immediate problem at the beginning, but the big problem over the book is probably something like Alex coming to terms with his heritage (although it sounds like he's already fine with it) or gaining his rightful throne, or something like that. Escaping from the royal guard sounds more like a scene in Alex's quest/adventure, rather than an adventure in itself.

I agree with Anon 9:49 and suggest you take some time to think of the central conflict in your story. You should have one central conflict that is (usually) resolved at the end of the book. One way of doing this which I found very hard - but very useful - for my own WIP is to sum up the story in one sentence of 15 words. Doing that really focuses you on what's important. It is hard to do, though!

And I think Kiana's a much better name, by the way. :)

150 said...

Chin up, it's not as hard as you think. Try starting with the sentence:

When (protagonist), a (couple-word description), is (acted upon by outside forces)*, he (reacts in a way that sets the story rolling).

Then tell us what happens. Trust us, it's not as if we've never seen half-breeds or pyrokinetic teenagers or magical woodland tribespeople considered savages by the humans; we'll figure out what's going on based on the action. Explaining the backstory is way, way overrated.

*could also be replaced with "tries to (do something he won't be able to succeed at until the end of the book)"

Brett said...

Hmmmm....back to the lab again. I'll take another shot at it.

Anonymous said...

In "On Writing", Stephen King describes a magical moment when an editor showed him what can happen when extraneous words are deleted. Try to work this magic on your writing. You'll be astounded.

Then, as EE said, you need to put in what actually happens (for a synopsis, obviously you can be coyer in a query).

Alex is a teenager who lives in the city of Mora and is gifted with the ability to manipulate fire. He's a halfling - his father is human and his mother is one of the Kenlor, a magical woodland tribe. The townspeople, who consider the Kenlor savages, persecute Alex [and his mother/parents?], seeing him [the family?] as a disgrace to the town and Alex's powers a possible threat. Proud of his heritage, Alex ignores his persecutors and mocks his halfling cousin Karen for hiding her own status.

Alex and Karen are bickering about [...] when [...] happens, outing Karen to a corrupt officer of the Royal Guard who hopes to destroy the halflings [for a big reward?]. The family flees Mora and seeks shelter with a peacekeeping fraternity, the Knights Telessar, who live on a mysterious island.

The Knights and Alex's parents now reveal more depths to Alex's heritage: [because of...], he is the rightful king of the Kenlor. At the Telessar Training Academy, Alex learns [what] and [what] as he prepares for his coronation and new duties.

However, corrupt Kenlor politician [name] has [specify her reasons] for not wanting Alex crowned, and kidnaps [who], betrays [who] [and how] and tortures [who] in an effort to [make what happen instead].

With the help of his crazy and buffoonish new friends [names] [who he met how], Alex [does what].

Finally mastering his power and accepting his responsibility, Alex [defeats the politician and the racist humans how] and [gets crowned/gets married/returns home to Mora/your happy ending].