Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Synopsis 47

The Mysterious Death of Mr. Phelps: Synopsis

Fifteen-year old Lucy Brown had a happy life until age eleven when her dad walked out on her, her mother, and her two-year old twin siblings. Now, four years later, Lucy is stretched thin covering for her mom’s flaky absences, fighting off panic attacks, and desperately trying to get the grades for a college scholarship when her quiet street is rocked by a murder. Puzzling out the mystery is Lucy’s only escape from her demanding life. Lucy is also searching for her dad, but when he finally reappears, he’s a disappointment. When the police rule the death accidental, Lucy isn’t convinced. A history lecture in school makes Lucy realize not only who the killer is, [John Wilkes Booth.] but that another neighbor is about to be murdered, as well. [I would have found history more interesting if my teachers had spent less time on the Crimean War and more time predicting my neighborhood murders.] Lucy must warn her, but unless she keeps her wits about her, they may both end up dead...and her own father framed for their murders. [This paragraph is a synopsis of the synopsis. You don't need it.]

Some teenagers obsess about music and boys, but all Lucy Brown cares about is getting good enough grades for a college scholarship to rescue her from her current life. Ever since her dad abandoned the family, Lucy has taken on the burden of caring for her six-year old twin brother and sister while her mom, married straight out of high school, works two menial jobs to keep the family afloat. [If she's working two jobs and occasionally sleeping, when does she have time for "flaky" absences?]

Pretty much the only remnants left of her [Lucy's] happy childhood are her best friend, Nancy Martin, who still recalls Lucy’s fun-loving dad with fondness and Lucy’s home address on a safe, suburban street where nothing bad ever happens...until the night two gun shots ring out.

Lucy’s wheelchair-bound neighbor, Mr. Phelps, has been shot dead with a single bullet, and although Lucy is swamped by her life, she can’t help but try to puzzle out the mystery. Besides, she has an advantage over the police because she knows there were two gun shots. She told the police, but they didn’t believe her.

Unfortunately, Lucy’s crazy life doesn’t stop just because she’s solving a murder. Her guidance counselor told her that full scholarships don’t always include books or room and board, but she can’t find a job because she’s always watching the twins. Instead, she’s been skimming from her mom’s grocery money for a secret college fund. She promises herself the transgression is only temporary. She’s searching for her father online and believes his return will fix everything that’s wrong. She wants her siblings to have the same happy childhood she had; she wants her mom to only work one job; she wants to send the twins to an afterschool program so she can hang out with her friends again; and she wants her dad to be more than a fading memory.

When her father finally does appear, Lucy realizes her well-meaning dad is not as reliable as she had hoped. In fact, at fifteen she is a world [worlds] more responsible than he. As her plans for a better life fall apart, she finds another clue, a bullet hole in Mr. Phelps’ siding that seems to [have] come from Mr. Wilson’s garage next door. Lucy’s sleuthing results in Mr. Wilson’s arrest, so she is frightened when he is charged only with accidental death and released. As he explains to Lucy and her father, the gun discharged during a cleaning. [Killing someone through recklessness (negligent homicide/involuntary manslaughter) isn't taken a lightly as this suggests. Involuntary manslaughter at both the federal and state level is treated as a felony and usually carries a jail or prison sentence of at least 12 months, plus fines and probation.-- can be mitigating circumstances. If a drunk jumps in front of your car and gets killed, you might get no jail time. However, cleaning a gun while it's loaded and pointed at someone else is, I suspect, reckless enough to warrant way more than a slap on the wrist.] When Lucy mentions she heard two shots, Mr. Wilson, new father and all-around friendly neighbor, suddenly seems menacing to Lucy. But why?

She figures out why the next day, when her history teacher gives a lecture on eminent domain and land developers. The Owlins Corporation has been trying to buy homes on Lucy’s block for a development. Mr. Phelps wouldn’t sell and now he’s dead. [It's much cheaper and easier to buy land for your development than to buy all the houses on an entire block. People aren't going to sell unless you overpay wildly for houses you're just going to tear down to build new ones. (It's unlikely zoning laws would allow a quiet residential street to be gutted for a hotel or office complex.)] In the middle of the lecture, Lucy realizes who the killer is going to murder next. [The neighbor on the other side of Wilson's house. His gun needs another cleaning.] Since she’s been taking care of herself since she was eleven, asking for help never even crosses her mind. She plunges into the task of saving her neighbor, leaving nothing more than a cryptic message for best friend Nancy. [Sorry Nancy, can't study w U 2nite, busy preventing redrum.]

Sneaking out of school, Lucy arrives home but in a harrowing sequence of events, walks in on an intruder who is trying to steal a gun from her family’s gun safe. Lucy uses the techniques of her twin siblings, who are masters of hide and seek, to conceal herself from the intruder while she calls 911. [When you're so good at hide and seek that other people study your techniques, you deserve your own reality show.] The intruder flees as the police arrive. Even though Lucy never saw his face, she fingers Mr. Wilson and also reveals him as the developer trying to buy homes on her street. Owlins is an anagram for Wilson. When Mr. Phelps wouldn’t sell, Mr. Wilson killed him for his land and tried to make it look like an accident. [When you kill a person, you don't automatically get his land. That rule was responsible for the biggest decline in the murder rate in US history.] Ikf he hadn’t missed with the first shot, Mr. Wilson would have never been caught. But he had to fire twice, and Lucy heard both shots. The next neighbor to die would be Ms. Peabody, who had recently changed her mind about selling. Mr. Wilson broke into Lucy’s house to steal the Brown’s gun so that he could frame Lucy’s dad for the second murder. [Wouldn't it be easier to buy a gun at Walmart than to steal one that's locked in a safe?]

The local paper writes up a story about Lucy’s sleuthing. But Lucy’s moment of fame is shattered when Mrs. Wilson says her infant son will grow up fatherless because of Lucy. [On the other hand, if Wilson had to murder a dozen people for their land, there would have been a lot of kids without parents or grandparents.] Lucy’s own father has decided to stay in town. Lucy confesses to her mom about the money she’s been stealing. [Buying Kroger Cola instead of Coke and pocketing the difference isn't stealing; it's smart shopping.] With several homes for sale on her street, [And the owners of those that aren't for sale all marked for death,] Lucy and Nancy convince the Nancy’s parents to consider moving out of their high crime area and into suburbia. [Move out of your high-crime area and into our neighborhood where there's been a murder, a house break-in, theft...and that's just this week.]

The Mysterious Death of Mr. Phelps is a 66,000 word novel aimed at 13-16 year olds. The story is self-contained but there is series potential with best friend Nancy Martin solving another crime after she and her family move onto Lucy’s street.


This answers many of the questions the query raised, but raises plenty of its own. 

A key element of eminent domain is that the landowner is justly compensated by the government. And since your land doesn't go to the guy who shot you when you're killed, I'm not sure why a lecture on eminent domain would convince Lucy that Wilson was the killer. It's the location of the bullet hole, on Wilson's side of Phelps's house, that points to Wilson as the killer, and the fact that it's pretty much impossible to accidentally discharge a gun twice while cleaning it that convinces her he's a liar. I'd get rid of eminent domain. 

And what about the bullet that actually killed Phelps? Did that go through a window or the siding, or was Phelps outdoors? Either way, they ought to be able to determine what direction that bullet came from, whether they believe there was a second shot or not.

This could stand to be a lot shorter. For that matter, you should be able to find an agent who doesn't want a synopsis.


Anonymous said...

Some of the sentences are more twisty than they need to be with possible punctuation issues, though I'm not good enough to give advice there. Keep in mind that this will be looked at as a sample of your ability to write.

The big reveal of everything near end has me wondering if the reader spends most of the book watching Lucy's antics without ever really knowing what she (thinks she) knows, and without ever having the pieces of the mystery come together until the big infodump. That would get you a "not right for me"

Even in the synopsis, you don't give enough for me to understand why the dad's in the query (or the synopsis) and why you're interrupting the flow of the mystery to throw in bits about him. All you say is he surfaces and Lucy's more responsible than him. For all I know, he's living in a local homeless shelter.

Police ballistics are pretty good these days with finding the bullet, figuring what kind of gun was used, and where it was fired from. If you're going to be dealing with a crime as big as murder, you need to understand how the police work and you need to know and apply the legal code for the country/region where your mystery takes place. There need to be good reasons for your amateur sleuth to solve the crime. I don't see them here.

InkAndPixelClub said...

This still feels like two unrelated stories rather than a single narrative. Lucy wants a bunch of very understandable things, but none of them have anything to do with solving the mystery. A lower stakes mystery could make sense as a fun diversion from Lucy's tough life, but a murder mystery is just one more major problem for a girl who already has more than her share.

Figure out which plotline is the main story here. If it's the murder mystery, then the family drama should be dialed back a notch or two. Lucy can still have a tough life and an absent dad, but her situation shouldn't be so dire that we're wondering when she would even find the time to go poking around her dead neighbor's house and who's watching the twins while she does. If the main story is the family drama of Lucy putting all her hopes for the future on her dad returning and realizing he's not the savior she imagined him to be when he actually shows up, then the murder mystery should be minimized, if not scrapped altogether. I think the family drama is a stronger narrative than the murder mystery, since the latter seems to involve a lot of coincidence (Lucy being the only one to hear the gunshots, a conveniently timed lesson on eminent domain), a tough to follow plot on the part of the murderer, and only one suspect. But you know your story better than I do.

Evil Editor said...

On the other hand, scrapping the mystery will not only require coming up with a new title, but also abandoning the plan to turn this into a mystery series.

St0n3henge said...

Owlins is an anagram for Wilson? Sorry, that's about as "Scooby Doo" as it gets. No way the guy is going to pick an alias by anagramming his REAL NAME.

It seems that Lucy's dad really is just here so he can be framed for murder. That maybe ups the stakes for Lucy to find the real killer. It doesn't exactly explain why she got involved in the first place though. I'm thinking at this point she needed a distraction from the pressures of her life and got in over her head. But we don't need the dad if the guy can just frame her mom for the murder. Why add an extra character?

EE brings up some good points. Like the fact that shooting someone while cleaning a loaded gun is actually a serious legal matter. Accidental death is "A death caused by a lawful act done under the reasonable belief that no harm was likely to result." Obviously cleaning a gun while it was loaded and pointed at your neighbor's house doesn't count, since there's reason to believe that harm will likely result. Homicide committed with criminal negligence may be considered "involuntary manslaughter" depending on what state you're in.
On the other hand, if he claimed to be shooting at a masked intruder with, say, a knife, and there was "evidence" of the intruder like maybe a crowbar and a broken door jamb, this would be considered accidental.

I, also, don't quite see what eminent domain has to do with it when we're talking about a private land developer. Make sure you're clear on what you're writing about.

Julie said...

Dear Evil Editor, thank you for your comments on my query and synopsis for The Mysterious Death of Mr. Phelps. They were extremely helpful. Would it be alright to resubmit both with major revisions?

Evil Editor said...

Revisions are welcome.