Monday, June 16, 2008
Guess the Plot
The Syntax of Things
1. Zila sees words instead of hearing them, forcing her to understand the world as a pile of objects. Jon, a deaf-mute, is the only one who understands her. Can they find love while solving the murder of Dr. Startop?
2. Adair dumped Neil years ago in Paris. Now Neil has died and Adair flies home to attend his funeral. But when she runs into Alan they decide to skip the service and fly to Paris. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Or just . . . The Syntax of Things?
3. The sequel to The Parameters of Crap and The Language of Stuff follows Rudolph Wilmont, linguist to the stars as he plunges into the Hollywood spotlight. A high-powered publicist calls Rudy in to strengthen Polly Warner's interview skills before her movie's promotional tour. Rudy has his hands full when he realizes his client is a beautiful dyslexic mute.
4. In the pyoneer colony on the world Neptyne, the Puritans have once agayn taken control. They have placed a punityve tax on all vyces, including the syn of mammon, or excessyve acquisityon of thyngs. One young boy fyghts to retain hys rock collection as hys fryghtened mother tryes to toss it away before they are hyt wyth a tax so hygh they could starve if they had to pay it.
5. David is 45 and autistic. One day while his helper Jenny watches him, she realizes he sees objects as words that need to be combined to be understood. Can Jenny help him learn to speak before he kills someone? Also, a blind Chinese girl.
6. When Paulo discovers a parasitic lobster attached to his spine, he visits grammarian Lloyd Pflatzberg, who assists in preparing Paulo for a visit to spine surgeon Ken Thesko, and the language barrier he's sure to encounter.
Adair Sullivan has done the impossible: she has escaped her past. At age 23, she has moved away, found a steady job, and is pursuing the normal, settled-down life she has yearned for since childhood. One afternoon, she comes home to find a letter waiting from Johnson City, her tiny Texas hometown. Neil O'Conor, her once-best friend, once-lover, the very reason she has been trying to escape, has died, and Adair is to come back for the funeral. [That makes it sound like she's been ordered to go back.] [I can't say I knew Neil that well, but based on the rumors, if all his ex-lovers have been ordered back for his funeral, they're going to need to hold it in a football stadium.] In a state of shock, she flies back to her hometown. Struggling with her own emotions as well as the painful circumstances that tore her from her old community, Adair reaches Johnson City, where she has no place to stay but with Neil's family: his parents, his sister Edie, and, two surprising, unwelcome additions: Neil's fiancée and son.
[Fiancée: Hi, I was Neil's fiancée, and this is our son.
Adair: You two are unwelcome here.]
Adair, feeling an abyss between herself and the others, goes to the funeral alone and wonders at the hypocrisy of the very unconventional Neil having a normal Baptist service. [Yes, where does he get off?] She sees an old friend, Alan, there and in homage to Neil they skip the service to revisit a landmark of their combined pasts. [The Motel 6 where they had a night of passion while Neil was visiting his dying Aunt Jo.] Their judgment distorted by grief, they decide to go to Paris, mirroring a trip they all took together years ago. They depart the next morning, after Adair visits Neil's room for the last time, collecting memories and discovering in his desk a sealed letter addressed to her. It is forgotten in her rush to leave before anyone catches her prying. [This makes it sound like she forgot to take it with her.]
When they arrive in Paris, Adair is glad to be back in the element of her youth. But along with the happy memories comes a deluge of painful ones and in a series of flashbacks and dreams she remembers, finally, the events that tore her and Neil apart. She is overcome with a sense of dread that, by leaving Neil as she did in Paris years ago, she left everything that was good in her life. Alan finds her sitting in a gutter alone and takes her back to their hotel room. [Paris is a pretty big place in which to just happen to run into the only person in the city you know. Was Alan searching all the gutters for Adair?] They talk; it is cathartic for both. Adair remembers the letter she took from Neil's room; she holds it reverently, nearly opens it, thinking it could somehow hold the answers she is looking for. But, in a final act of letting go, she throws the letter into the fire, and as she does, [she recalls that he never paid back that fifty thousand dollars he owed her. Uh oh. As the flames leap higher she realizes that now it's gonna be a real long time before] she begins to heal.
In the first sentence Adair has escaped her past. In the last sentence she finally begins to heal. I would think escaping her past implies that she had at least begun to heal.
I'm no expert on the protocol when informing a person of the death of someone whose funeral she might wish to attend, but when the someone is far enough away that she would need to book a flight, sending a letter instead of phoning seems unnecessarily time consuming.
Also, is Adair aware of the existence of the fiancée and son? If so, it shouldn't be so unexpected that they're with Neil's parents. If not, I'm surprised the person who wrote to inform her Neil died didn't inform her he had a kid and was engaged.
If Johnson City is her hometown, how is it Paris returns her to the element of her youth? How old was she in her youth?
Although your title doesn't matter, since they'll change it, it wouldn't hurt to come up with one that has at least an infinitesimal chance of being used. You don't want them rejecting the book without reading the query just because they fear it's as boring as the title.
Posted by Evil Editor at 9:41 AM
Labels: Literary Fiction
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I don't know, I kind of got lost once the plot description began. He did this, she did that he did something else. I couldn't remember who the pronouns referred to, and I couldn't remember which characters were which from one sentence to the next.
I know this is labelled 'synopsis' but it just seems to complex. Maybe if the dead guy and the live guy didn't have four-letter names with L's and N's, as simple as that sounds, I wouldn't have been so confused. Or maybe I'm a moron.
Things apparently happen. But I don't see the real conflict. Or it's too shrouded in mystery. Which, as I understand it, is not the goal of the synopsis.
I find it puzzling that your MC is drawn back home to her ex's funeral, uncovers a letter that (presumably) offers some insight. Did he say that he'd always loved her and made a giant mistake? Did he confess that he'd been cheating on her with the pool boy? Maybe he finally deciphered whatever was whispered at the end of Lost in Translation. Which brings me to this: I think your MC would open that letter as soon as she could. If she was willing to fly home to such a painful situation, I suspect she'd tear open an envelope. But even if she doesn't, by hiding the contents, I think you run the risk of the reader feeling cheated.
Without knowing why they broke up, it's very hard to buy her burning the letter. Seems a bit of arbitrary symbolism ( as well as unnatural rejection) in the literary style of these things, because the letter, depending on its contents, might also help her "heal."
The real problem for me is that I really can't manage to care if she "heals" or not.
I was into it for the first paragraph but then the second paragraph everything seems to jumble together and it starts to become an odd sequence of events rather than a cohesive plot. I think you want to drop the hypocrisy and simplify it down. Here's an example:
Alan and Adair decide to return to Paris, mirroring a trip they all took years ago, in homage to Neil. They depart the next morning, directly after Adair discovers an envelope with her name on it.
You said originally that she left town to escape Neil, now it turns out she doesn't know why she left, which is a bit odd. I think again the paragraph is full of detail and specific scenes rather than telling us the storyline. It's confusing:
In Paris, Adair has fun and then falls apart and then burns the letter. She feels better, the end.
Note to self. Change title The Semantics of Stuff to The Death Zombies of Quantification. Also, the Morphology of Doohickeys shall be The Vigilante Sorcerers of Suffixation.
Sylvia said: "In Paris, Adair has fun and then falls apart and then burns the letter. She feels better, the end."
The very first full-length thing I ever wrote was a play in which this was the exact plot. Actually, it was, "She falls apart, has fun with friends, falls apart again, and then feels better after wandering the streets off stage, the end." I had absolutely no idea how to say anything interesting about the falling apart, and the play ended up as a useless plot with a couple amusing scenes.
Clearly, I needed a brutal eunuch or two.
I'm with Benwah. The conflict needs to be emphasized.
Clearly Adair hasn't escaped her past, or she wouldn't go rushing back to it at the first opportunity. Nor would she be jealous of Neil's girlfriend and child.
Maybe change it to "Adair Sullivan thinks she's done the impossible, and escaped her past." Then it'll be more obvious there's a huge "but she hasn't" coming.
There might be a really good book here, full of vivid life-insights for 23-year olds who think they have really lived. But... it's buried under a blizzard of very ordinary events: She left home, she came back to find her old flame had moved on, she ran off to Paris with his friend, cried on the street [personally, I stopped doing that when I was 12] and burned his last letter to her. Why is any of this important to anyone?
Also, agree with EE about the letter. If it's urgent news, there's a phone message.
Another contradiction: if she's got sufficient cash in hand that she'll drop everything for a last minute airfare to Texas - not to mention Paris - how come she can't spring for a motel room during the funeral, and thus avoid the discomfort of the fiancee?
Either the plot or the synopsis needs a re-think. I hope it's the latter, because the former is going to take a pile of work.
This isn't a synopsis for a novel--it's a Truffaut film waiting to happen.
She's 23 and considers herself old.
She can afford to fly to Paris on a whim. So can her friend.
Either she's wealthy, her friend is wealthy, or they don't give a damn about paying bills. And neither can be well-employed, unless they work for their respective families.
If I found a letter addressed to me in a former flame's drawer, I'd open that sucker so fast the air would get a paper cut.
I'll throw my hat into the ring of comments about Adair's age. 23 is pretty young to declare that she's escpaped from her past. When's the last time she saw Neil? Five years earlier? That's not long at all. This sounds more like a girl pining after a lost love than anything else. Jeb's point is well taken: drama and big life experiences at 23 are interesting to those who are....23.
I'm lost in the incidental detail. There's way too much of it.
The whole business of the letter is unbelievable.
I'm a no for this one.
Don't know if this helps...
Adair Sullivan escaped her past. She moved away, found a steady job, and, at age 23, is pursuing the normal, settled-down life she yearned for since childhood. That is until the day she finds out Neil O'Conor, her once-best friend, once-lover, the very reason she has been trying to escape, has died. Struggling with her emotions as well as the painful circumstances that tore her from her old community, Adair flies back to Johnson City, her tiny Texas hometown for the funeral. The only motel in town is full and she has no place to stay but with Neil's family: his parents, his sister Edie, and, two surprising, unwelcome additions: Neil's fiancée and son.
Adair, feeling an abyss between herself and the others, goes to the funeral alone. In homage to the unconventional Neil, she and an old friend, Alan, skip the religious service. They decide to go to Paris, Texas, mirroring a trip they all took together years ago. Before they depart the next morning, Adair visits Neil's room for the last time, collecting memories and discovering in his desk a sealed letter addressed to her. In her rush to leave before anyone catches her prying, she stuffs the letter deep into her suitcase.
When they arrive in Paris, Adair is glad to be back in the element of her youth. But along with the happy memories comes a deluge of painful ones and in a series of flashbacks and dreams she remembers, finally, the events that tore her and Neil apart. She is overcome with a sense of dread that, by leaving Neil as she did in Paris years ago, she left everything that was good in her life. Alan finds her sitting in a gutter alone and takes her back to their hotel room. They talk; it is cathartic for both. Adair remembers the letter she took from Neil's room; she holds it reverently, nearly opens it, thinking it could somehow hold the answers she is looking for. But, in a final act of letting go, she throws the letter into the fire, and as she does, she begins to heal.
It's Paris, Texas? Do they run into Harry Dean Stanton there?
I don't think she's in the "element" of her youth; she's in a geographic location.
And also, if I wrote someone a letter, and after my death they can't even be bothered to read it, I'd be rather irked. And as a reader I would feel like this is a huge cheat. It may have worked for Tarentino in Pulp Fiction (what's in the suitcase?) but in a book, if you get me to care about something and make me keep reading to find out what's in it, and I never do...yeah, not happy. Sorry.
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