Friday, March 06, 2009

Synopsis 14

Spats, Traps, and Possum Fur Hats

This is a character based story set in Southland New Zealand. It has five main characters, one of whom is central to the tone, structure and feel of the story. There are four plots that gradually weave together.

Roxy Anderson is fifteen, lives in a remote area. After returning from a trip to the North Island, where she stays at a Navajo community [I'm sure there must be a good reason for using Navajos in New Zealand even though NZ has its own indigenous tribal people, but if you don't describe them as a community of Navajos descended from WWII windtalkers, or a community of Navajos whose descendants fled the reservation to start a new life, people are going to think, Huh?] and undergoes a Kinaalda ceremony (a Navajo coming of age ceremony for girls), she abandons school lessons and starts working with her father, who is a possum hunter. She begins working in the possum shed, [A lot of teenagers hate school, but I know none who wouldn't prefer it to working in a possum shed.] and influenced by the Kinaalda ceremony starts exhibiting signs of uneasiness and confusion in regards to issues impacting her friends and the earth. [In the space it takes to say "in regards to issues impacting her friends and the earth" you could instead give an example or two of these issues.]

Her Grandfather is put into a nursing home when he starts wandering. She seems focused, but is consumed by the need to help him. Trying to avoid this she becomes obsessed with Kinaalda obligations, and shoulders a huge sense of responsibility in regards to helping her friends and the earth. But she has to help her Grandfather. She breaks him out of the nursing home, takes him into the forest and kills him. [Remind me never to seek this kid's help. On anything.] He asked her to do this when she was ten. At the time she couldn’t imagine the possibility and agreed to do it.

In another part of Southland there is a farmer, whose wife is now in a wheel chair with a mysterious illness that no one can diagnose. Jenny Cory travels to Australia to see a specialist. Coming home she meets an older man at the airport, who hypnotizes her and makes her believe he can heal her. [Hello, ma'am. Would you like to see my pocket watch? Look how shiny it is, and how it swings back and forth.] Douglas Hunter is delusional, practices magic arts, and plans to kill Clarke Cory with witchcraft, marry Jenny and get the farm. [Did he make this plan after they met in the airport?] Having control over Jenny Cory, he then hypnotizes Clarke Cory, [Hello, sir. Would you like to see my pocket watch? Look how shiny it is, and how it swings back and forth.] kills the sheep dogs and casts a death spell. But the spell doesn’t take, [Gee, it worked fine on the sheep dogs.] and the hypnosis breaks when Clarke gets hypothermia. Clarke Cory puts the clues together and when Mr Hunter brings Jenny for her regular visits he pretends to be hypnotized so he can scrutinize Douglas Hunter and revenge the death of his dogs. [If you choose the right details, any novel can be made to sound wacko, so don't take it the wrong way when I suggest you leave the Navajos and the evil hypnotist out of the query.]

In the next province we have a preacher whose marriage is deeply unsatisfying, and who is tormented by lust for a new member of the congregation. Alan Pope believes divorce is forbidden by God, and interprets the bible to sanction his taking a second wife. Conceited, he thinks the only thing stopping him from doing this is a lack of money.

Back in Invercargill we have Lester Barth, a physically enfeebled character with gambling debts, who is desperately lonely. He is lured into racketeering by an acquaintance. The acquaintance knows Roxy’s uncle, who is a dope grower. He and Lester deliver an anonymous note threatening to frame Johno Anderson if he doesn’t leave a large amount of cannabis in a certain place, at a certain time. [Is Johno the uncle? Why do they have to frame him if he's a dope grower? Can't they just tell the authorities where his marijuana patch is?]

Having established these stories and characters, a number of events occur that draw the stories together for a climax at Clarke Cory’s farm.

After burying her Grandfather, Roxy breaks into the town library to sleep and plan her next move. [There's no better place to plan your next move than a library.]

Alan Pope storms out on his wife and hitchhikes down to Southland, night falls and he can’t get a ride so goes into a farmstead; it happens to be the Cory farm. The next morning he meets Douglas Hunter, who claims to have so much money he makes seventeen million dollars an hour in interest alone. [Let's see, that works out to about 150 trillion dollars a year in interest, so his actual holdings would be . . . everything.]

Alan Pope returns to the farm on Friday 13th with a meat cleaver, and when Douglas Hunter and Jenny Cory come to the farm he takes the woman hostage and demands five million from Mr Hunter. [Five million? From a guy who makes seventeen million an hour? This preacher's got no imagination.] With Clarke Cory tied up and Jenny in her wheelchair, Douglas Hunter leaves the farm, but has no money [It's always the multi-quadrillionaires who walk around with nothing in their wallets and mooch off thier friends.] so goes to the only person he can think of who will help him, his pot dealer, Roxy’s uncle. [If anyone's got more money than the multi-quadrillionaire, it's the local drug dealer.]

Friday the 13th is also the drop off day for the marijuana. Johno and Roxy’s dad Dylan are prepared and waiting at the house. Thinking they’ll be back from the Cory farm in time to fool the would-be-racketeers, they agree to help Mr Hunter. [I'm lost.]

Night falls and Roxy is busy making arrangements to fly back to the Navajo community, but she can’t book a ticket without a guardian or someone over the age of eighteen present. She races round to Uncle Johno’s to ask for help, but sensing her father is in danger and finding a map on the table that Douglas Hunter drew for the brothers, then races out to the Cory farm. At the Cory farm we have Clarke Cory, Jenny Cory, Alan Pope, Douglas Hunter, Roxy and Dylan and Johno Anderson. [When Roxy walks in everyone yells, "Surprise!"]

The novel closes with an epilogue. Lester Barth goes to pick up the marijuana, but it’s not there. Returning to his house he finds his accomplice asleep on the couch. He takes a seat and watches the midnight news. There’s been a murder at a farm in Southland, another man died at the scene, and various people have been taken to Invercargill Hospital to be treated for shock and detained for questioning. He recognizes one of the people to be Johno Anderson, the dope grower they threatened to frame, and is suddenly inspired to act alone. [Lemme get this straight. All of the stories converge on this one farm, and as soon as everyone gets there the novel ends except that we find out in an epilogue that all hell broke loose? We don't even get to witness Armageddon?]


The query (Face-Lift 610) had too little information. The synopsis has too much. Can you choose two characters who have a connection and focus on them?

Think of the TV show Lost. It begins with all these people crash-landing on an island. We see them interact, we flash back to their earlier lives, we see that some of them had minor connections with others, though they didn't know it. Your book ends when they crash-land. Maybe your epilogue should be your prologue. We see the results, then we see how it came about. That's a tried and true formula, but you'll still have to show us what happens at the house.


Rick Daley said...

"he...demands five million from Mr Hunter. [Five million? From a guy who makes seventeen million an hour? This preacher's got no imagination.]"

Dr. Evil had that same problem in Austin Powers 1 and 2. Worked there, but I don't get the impression this is a low brow comedy.

There is a lot going on here, perhaps too much. I get that the events do coalesce, but don't get the sense of why this is important, and not simply contrived. I think the minutia gets in the way of my understanding. And I speak from experience, my novel has three primary characters and covers a past life and the present. There's a lot to tell, but pay attention to what you tell and how you tell it. Rather than a dry recitation of details, inject the voice of the novel into the synopsis.

Overall, it reminds me of this scene from Wonderboys (taken from the screenplay):

Hannah Green: Grady, you know how in class you're always telling us that writers make choices?

Grady Tripp: Yeah.

Hannah Green: And even though your book is really beautiful, I mean, amazingly beautiful, it's... it's at times... it's... very detailed. You know, with the genealogies of everyone's horses, and the dental records, and so on. And... I could be wrong, but it sort of reads in places like you didn't make any choices.

Anonymous said...

There's many more than five characters in this story. By my count we've got...

1. Roxy Anderson, grandpa-murdering, high school dropout

2. Jenny Cory, mysteriously sick wheelchair-bound cripple

3. Douglas Hunter, sheepdog-slaughtering hypnotist and pseudo-gazillionaire

4. Clarke Cory, vengeance obsessed hypothermic farmer

5. Alan Pope, homicidal wannabee-bigamist preacher with a meat cleaver

6. Lester Barth, lonely crippled gambler

7. Lester Barth's nameless acquaintance, a racketeer

8. Johno Anderson, dope grower and dealer

9. Dylan Anderson, possum hunter

As it is, I can't be sure whether the Five Characters are Roxy, Jenny, Douglas, Clarke and Alan, or some other combination. I mean, Johno and Lester seem just as important as any of the others, and even Dylan shows up in two separate parts of the synopsis.

Anonymous said...

Seventeen million an hour! In INTEREST! Nobody's that stupid. Seventeen thousand an hour, or even a one-off "I just made three thousand dollars while I was standing here talking to you," that I might believe.

I kind of hope the author shows up eventually. We haven't heard anything from him/her.

Dave Fragments said...

I don't mind the number of characters but I think the synopsis needs to focus on the intersection of all the characters.

This story is like Rashomon by Kurosawa in that we see the events from different points of view. Or the "Four Corner" episode of "ER". Or that movie "CRASH" which is an exploration of racial interactions between unrelated characters who meet in the climactic "crash." Or the other movie I saw like that -- "VANTAGE POINT" that repeated the same events with each repeat from a different character's POV and each repeat advancing the plot until a murder and conspiracy and betrayal and all sorts of goodies like that.

So I would suggest that the author begin with the climactic event and focus on the themes, motivations and plot lines that draw each character toward that event. Something (beliefs, prejudices, love lives, fate or destiny) ties these lives together and that is what a character driven story will reveal.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

This feels like: set up, set up, set up- ENDING!

What happens in between? And WHY? Is there some kind of underlying theme or message to it all? When several seemingly unrelated lives/events coalesce I tend to want to know why.

What does it all MEAN?

Also, am I the only one that gets "comedy" from the title?

Anonymous said...

Erm, Chelsea, actually I kind of got "comedy" from the whole thing. A cast of quirky characters is drawn together through a series of unlikely events, and wackiness ensues.

Hey, I love comedies!

Anonymous said...

It seems to me you've got a coming-of-age YA rather awkwardly paired with three wacky crime thrillers. Perhaps your material would be better served in two or three separate novels rather than one big one?

Beth said...

This is hilarious, in a Men in Black sort of way. I can see the author asking him/herself just how much farther he/she can pull that leg ... :-)

I don't know about getting comedy from the title, but certainly from the synopsis. It does need a bit more duct tape holding it together though.


talpianna said...

But what about...Naomi?

Sylvia said...

The language used in this is very dry. I know it's effectively an outline but it would be nice to get an idea of the style of the book from the writing (I think this also shows in the comments about whether it is a comedy or not).

I don't know how one best does a synopsis with multiple characters/plot lines that come together (and believe me, I've tried) but I think we need more information of how it all comes together at the start of the synopsis, so that your descriptions of the other people can focus on moving us towards it.

Elissa M said...

It HAS to be comedy. I mean, Navajos in NZ? Working in a possum shed? A hypnotist who kills sheep dogs and casts death spells? Almost every line of this screams "farce".

But the synopsis is so dry, it reads like we're supposed to take it seriously. Author, we need more of your voice, which I hope is as amusing as the bizarre events in your story.