Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Synopsis 5

Four women, strangers to one another, all living in different cities, each suffering her own version of hell, are brought together by extraordinary circumstances. [Their husbands' high school reunion. Now they can all experience the same version of hell.] They are forced to acknowledge unforeseen bonds drawing them together. What connects them is a mystery they must solve before it draws them to their doom. [That was all pretty vague.]

After a date with one of Philadelphia’s elite goes terribly wrong, Basia, a director at a prestigious law firm, finds herself engulfed in a personal and professional firestorm. Her emotional and psychological wounds are laid open to public scrutiny. [It's surprising how often it's a mistake to date the elite.]

A college graduate on her way to med school, Marissa finds herself pregnant and abandoned by her [elite] Rhodes Scholar boyfriend and living back at home with her bitter mother. Her entire life’s plan in shambles, she struggles to cobble together a new plan for herself and her future child.

Thirty-something Caitlin, a self-professed slut and misanthrope, sinks deeper and deeper into unsatisfying hedonism. How long until the one man who tries to save her gives up? How far could rock bottom be?

And then there’s Tara, a retired military nurse devoted to family and Catholicism. A tragic car accident, killing her daughter’s family, leaves Tara as the end of her family line. Railing against God, she turns away from everything she once believed and valued.

When these four women find themselves aligned [Basia found herself engulfed, Marissa found herself pregnant, they all find themselves aligned . . . time to find yourself another phrase.] at the center of a freak lightning storm on a beach in Cape May, NJ, their lives converge. Bizarre coincidences that cannot be dismissed are eventually deciphered with the help of a diary written by Tara’s daughter as a teenager.

Without their knowledge or intent, these women have been gathered to form an unlikely coven. Their ages, their locations, the dates of their personal crises within the “Wheel of the Year,” all these details and more point to underlying Wicca forces that must be recognized and appeased. One undeniable fact becomes clear: blood is required. With the Where and When all too clear, these reluctant witches race to figure out the Who, How and, most of all, the Why. [You forgot the What, the Huh? and the WTF.] [Whatever you do, get rid of that last sentence. It has too many "W"s.

Despite their doubts and fears, a sacrifice is performed. In the end, whether they forestalled the end of the world or simply committed a cold-blooded murder, the remaining three women will never know for sure. [Killing someone isn't something you should enter into when you have doubts. Is anyone among them confident that they must kill?]

Here's what I think the plot portion of your query letter sounds like:

Four strangers, each suffering her own version of hell. A freak lightning storm on a beach in Cape May, New Jersey. Drawn together by extraordinary circumstances, Basia, Marissa, Caitlin and Tara are forced to acknowledge unseen bonds connecting them. Unwittingly they have assembled to form an improbable coven.

Their ages, their homes, the dates of their personal crises within the “Wheel of the Year"; all these details--and more--point to underlying Wicca forces that must be appeased. A blood sacrifice is performed. Have they gone too far? Was it cold-blooded murder? Or have they forestalled the end of the world? The remaining three women may never know the answer.

The synopsis doesn't add much to that; it adds brief descriptions of the characters, mainly how they arrived at their personal hells. No doubt you've devoted a chapter or more to each woman's background, but your story begins when their lives converge. I'm less interested in each woman's past than in what's going on. And what leads them to kill one of their own. I would develop the brief synopsis with details of the bizarre coincidences, how their ages and locations and crises figure in, what's in the diary, why they think the end of the world is near, what has drawn them together. In short, What's going on?

Presumably this is the book whose opening appears
here. Somehow it never occurred to me that that was a book about witches and sacrifice.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, the witch thing kinda came out of left field here. I thought the book was an angsty Oprah-pick in the making, and then shazam! It's suddenly about witches.

You want to mention the witchcraft aspect earlier, but it sounds like this could be a really cool book. The fact that one woman is going to die is pretty rivetting.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness Tara's Mom brought her dead daugher's diary with her when she went to New Jersey. It sounds like if that she hadn't, they never would have figured out what was going on, which is too deus ex machina for me.

I agree about bringing in the witch world earlier. If you start out by concentrating on four women's life conflicts, the audience you will attract may not be the audience that will want to read the second half of the novel.

writtenwyrdd said...

"underlying Wicca forces" It's wiccan, Author. Adjective form is WICCAN.

I'm a pagan. I'm a legal minister sort of pagan, meaning I actually studied my wiccan religion a really long time. And with your statment "underlying Wicca forces that must be recognized and appeased. One undeniable fact becomes clear: blood is required" you have outed yourself as 1) unknowledgeable about Wicca (might as well call any pagan a satanist) as well as say any wiccan ritual requires blood; and 2) you give the impression of a big ol' bias about the religion.

Have you studied it AT ALL?

This is a total no go from the religious standpoint, although the concept of four women converging and circumstances revealing a means to work together for their common good sounds like a great basis for a story.

And please don't try and defend what you wrote, just fix it. All the religious references are dead wrong.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

In general, I like the way this synopsis is structured.

In detail, it needs, well, more detail.

I actually liked reading the character profiles, and I think when you re-work it, you could leave the overall structure intact:

* Hook paragraph
* 4 character profile paragraphs
* 1 paragraph bringing the women together and introducing the Wiccan crisis
* 1 paragraph expounding on the events and introducing the need for a blood sacrifice
* Final paragraph that has them making the sacrifice (it's a synopsis -- spill the beans on who it is and whether she is a willing sacrifice), and end on a more concrete note. Or is this a "lady or the tiger" ending. *squirm* It would have to be pretty sensational for the reader to not feel cheated at the end, if so.

Suggestion for Hook that brings in the supernatural element right up front:

When extraordinary circumstances bring four women in crisis together, a mysterious force bonds them into an improbable coven. [Insert brief description of the the mystery] that they must solve -- before it draws them to their doom.

We need more concrete details about Basia's personal and professional firestorm. Is she accused of consorting with the plaintiff's prime witness? Of betraying a client's trust? Be specific.

Marissa, Caitlin, and Tara's profiles have the level of specificity needed, I think. Then rework those last three paragraphs, and you'll have yourself a nice synopsis. IMO.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the witch thing kinda came out of left field here.

Actually, it's not unreasonable. It was three years before I discovered my ex-wife was a witch.

pacatrue said...

The way the synopsis is written now, the witch part is the main plot and everything should be built around it. Everything else is background for the witch and murder part. If being a witch and doing something is NOT the central plot, and the plot is instead, say, something about the transformation of Basia's character, then the synopsis needs to be rewritten with that as the focus, in which the other witches (wish for switches) are just part of what changes Basia.

Finally, and this is just a question, there's no leaving things uncertain and teasing in a synopsis, correct? A query is a tool to interest someone enough to read a partial and can thus be incomplete, but a synopsis is supposed to convince the agent/editor that the author has created a great story from start to finish. Therefore, this should include what draws the coven together, what their task is, what the obstacles are, who they kill, how they make the decision, and the aftermath. Am I right about the purpose of a synopsis?

Robin S. said...

Hi author,

To be honest, I have no idea what does and does not constitute a good Wicca/n, unless you count me having a sister-in-law who lives in Glastonbury and who knows some witches/wicca/wiccans/women as a credibility factor. Since I don't count that, I'll just say that the plot sounds like it could be good.

I was actually pretty interested in the four women's backgrounds, although I do agree with EE, that "It's surprising how often it's a mistake to date the elite". (This gave me a good chuckle, probably because it can be so true.That and the way he said it.)

Anyway...it's disturbing that one of them has to die, especially as the surviving three don't seem to be able to confirm it was, somehow, necessary. I'm not saying beig disturbed is a bad thing. I'd just definitely wanna know why they thought the end of the world was near - or if, in fact - they'd simply gone histrionic in a very large way, as they are all facing major life crises, and blaming someone or something else just felt really good. (Just kidding here.)

So, as with so many things,or everything really, it's all in the telling.

Good for you for having the nerve to submit a synopsis. They're really hard, huh?

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Oh Anonymous 8:18pm! That was so unexpectedly funny that it jolted a laugh out of me! Thanks for that! Long day and I needed it.

I have to agree that the fact that they are witches seems central to the story and should come earlier. Wrytten's chastisement aside, I thought the witchcraft aspect was the most interesting part of the synopsis. And it made everything leading to it all of a sudden more interesting cause it was connected to witchcraft. So in a backwards way, the story was quite interesting. So rework and it will be stronger!

Evil Editor said...

Keep in mind that the author was limited to 400 words. Keeping the character descriptions severely limits any additions.

pacatrue said...

Not to put words in written's mouth, but I think the problem she is talking about is introduced when you bring in the term Wicca. There's likely no insurmountable problem with talking about witches with a blood sacrifice. There's a long cultural tradition of these sorts of stories. But when Wicca is used, you've introduced a real religion and real people, and now there will be some expectations of realism and a fair portrayal.

Honestly, you can probably get away with a lot just because most people are ignorant about Wicca, including myself, but the author has to decide if they want to go down that path just because they can.

Anonymous said...

I think you will alienate a lot of people if you refer to this blood-sacrificing coven as Wiccans. It implies prejudice and ignorance as it is written now.

I'm not a Wicca but I've studied religion and all that witches eating babies stuff was invented during the witch hunt. I'm not saying the characters can't be homicidal witches, I am saying you shouldn't drag Wicca into it. Apples and oranges really.

I also think you should introduce the coven stuff earlier. I got to that part and was like, "Wtf? Where did THAT come from?" Not in the good way either. It seemed more like you were writing a synopsis for one novel and then switched to a completely different story for the last few paragraphs.

I also agree with pacatrue. Part of the purpose of a synopsis (as I understand it) is to convince agents/editors that you can craft a compelling plot and conclude it satisfactorily. You cannot leave your ending ambiguous like that. You need to tell them who dies and why, whether she was willing or not, etc.

Although the character backgrounds are well written it might be more useful to get an idea of the dynamic of the women once they are actually IN the coven since, presumably, most of the novel they will be in those roles.

You're a good writer you just need to make this less of a character sketch and more of a plot outline. (and take out the Wicca ref, please!)

Good luck!


writtenwyrdd said...

The paranormal aspect is really powerful. I'm just saying that to label these women as wiccans is entirely incorrect if they are practicing blood rituals.

Now, if the author adjusts his/her language to make us understand that these gals only think they are enacting some valuable wiccan ritual, or he/she just calls them witches (which is still really an insult to those in the know, but certainly common practice in Hollywood at least) the synopsis would work IMO.

Anonymous said...

I know much less about Wicca than writtenwyrd, but even I know that human sacrifice isn't a part of it. The introduction of that plot element threw me out of the story completely.

Like EE and others, I also have a hard time with a murder/sacrifice about which the perpetrators are uncertain. Author, I think this decision process needs to be explained in the synopsis.

Anonymous said...

Author here—

Thanks very much for all the feedback.

The synopsis unfortunately reflects the difficulty I’m having with structuring the story. My instinct was to structure it chronologically in accord with its cyclical theme, but I’ve gone back and forth about that a few times. Yes, it’s only after the women realize they’re in a paranormal cycle that the plot really coheres and gains momentum.

As it stands now, even I can see that the synopsis sounds like “DaVinci Code”-ish bastardizations of “Waiting to Exhale” and “Practical Magic” welded together…and that’s looking at it kindly.

--I’ll remove the Wicca reference. In the manuscript, these women don’t blindly accept the word of a teenager’s diary or make cursory assumptions about supernatural coincidences. They research multiple explanations for what’s happening to them; they learn/know what they’re dealing with ISN’T true Wicca (which, for one thing, is an entirely VOLUNTARY religion…and, as writtenwyrdd pointed out, DOESN’T involve blood sacrifice). In fact, it’s not even witchcraft, although that umbrella might be more appropriate for the synopsis. The group finds out that the sinister phenomenon enveloping them is much older and more mysterious, although it’s based on some of the same naturalism and symbology. I apologize for using such cavalier shorthand in the synopsis (I never gave a name to the actual supernatural forces they’re dealing with), and I want to assure you that the synopsis doesn’t reflect how the manuscript discusses the Wicca religion.

--EE’s link was the original opening, but it has changed multiple times. In fact, the current opening focuses on one of the women reading a revealing excerpt of the teenage diary (which Mom already had in storage in her NJ home…I know, I know, it’s not just deus ex machina but also cliché).

--EE, thanks for condensing the plot points. That’s a great base for me to build on. And now I need to go back and tweak the structure of the manuscript again.

Thanks again for all the responses.

Bernita said...

Yes, the catering to conventional ignorance about a specific religion, even one with as many diverse paths and traditions as Wicca, really gets a thumbs down from me.
And the "saving the world" bit also appears like aliens.

Anonymous said...

How about starting when the women get to Cape May, then flash back in chronological order in between advancing the Cape May part?

Anonymous said...

I also have a hard time with a murder/sacrifice about which the perpetrators are uncertain.

But if they are absolutely certain (like Abraham) then murder/sacrifice is okay? Either way, we are talking about a novel, right? Fiction? Sometimes characters do messy things!

I liked the premise (sort of) of your story, and I was surprised when (in the comments)the Wiccan spoke up (May the forest be with you!)and I immediately thought "pagan" would be much more ambiguous. So I googled pagan just to be sure. But then I thought that by using "pagan" was toooo general so then I checked out vodou, see below


So if you changed the locale to a Caribbean isle, switch the witches out for Yoruba practitioners and add some humor to all the dire consequence these women are facing, (end-of-the-world shtick, Tara shows up as a zombie, etc)I think it could be a really great novel.

If you stick with the witches, I hope you include a "Good" one?!

Anonymous said...

A lot of good comments already. Just my extra 2 cents:

'A tragic car accident, killing her daughter’s family, leaves Tara as the end of her family line.'

Killed the family, but not the daughter, yet I think the daughter died, too.

'How far could rock bottom be?'

How far down or how far away perhaps.

And 3 of the 4 are in their hell because of a man. Being the independent cuss that I am, I don't like to read about women who allow a man to cause them so much damage. Especially when it seems they are strong characters otherwise. Not sure if this was your intent or just how it reads in the synopsis.


Anonymous said...

Sarah, I only see two who are in trouble because of a man. Caitlin's troubles are self-created. At least that's how I read it.

Stacia said...

Ditto what Written said about Wiccans. There were lots of ancient pagan religions which practiced blood scarifice, but Wicca isn't even an ancient religion; it was invented in the 50s.

I'm a pagan, not a Wiccan, and it gets very tiring hearing "Wiccan" used as a blanket term for all pagans, when in fact it should be the other way around.

That said, now you've explained it, I think it sounds cool; but remove all references to Wicca, please.

writtenwyrdd said...

Pagan really would be the best choice, seeing as the terms like "ancient pagan rites" don't ring any PC alarms, generally speaking. And just like December, I generally refer to myself as pagan. I think it's more truthful.