"Ben Crowell" <"crowell05 at lightSPAMandISmatterEVIL.com"> wrote in message
> This is a synopsis meant to be sent to prospective agents for my first
> novel. Would anyone be willing to give comments on it as a document for
> selling my work?
OK, this is obviously a synopsis intended as part of a portion-and-outline
submission, so I'm commenting on it as such. If that's *not* how you intend
to use it, let me know and I'll give you the other version.
> synopsis of Have Dominion
> science fiction, 80,000 words
If you're aiming for the YA market, 80,000 words is long. YA tends to
prefer 50,000-60,000 in a first novel; yes, there are longer ones, but
they're usually by established YA authors.
It's not a bad job, by a long shot, though it doesn't particularly grab me.
You do a good job of summarizing the events of the story without being
confusing or going off on too many tangents. However, the overall
description lacks a certain amount of focus/drive. Stuff just keeps
happening; the main character doesn't seem to have any particular goal in
mind or overall problem to solve. Looking at it closely, I suspect this
does not reflect the actual book. It looks to me as if you were focusing on
"what happens" when this is more of a "why" book, which makes the synopsis
look a little disconnected. You also provide a bunch of information that is
irrelevant *to the synopsis*. It may be vital to the whole story, but
you're not telling the whole story here. Leaving out some of the
unnecessary information will give you more room to clarify and expand on the
things you *do* need.
You're using a rather formal format, which a) isn't necessary and b) in this
case, doesn't seem to be serving your story as well as it could. Given what
you have here, I don't think I'd go for the sort of free-form,
just-tell-the-story plot summary that I normally use, but I *would* use a
slightly different format. (I've posted a riff on different formats for
synopses before; try googling on "Linda purple monkey." If that doesn't
work, I can always repost.) I'll give you the specifics in a minute.
> The year is 2191. In its expansion into the solar system, Homo
> sapiens has created an underclass of artificial intelligences and
> genetically modified humans. But unknown to the human tribe, an
> older, more advanced race has been working behind the scenes; they
> have built a vast, hidden habitat under the surface of the asteroid
> Ceres, where samples of Earth life have continued to evolve in a
> low-gravity environment.
A good bit of this information is either irrelevant to the synopsis (the
"underclass" status of AIs and genetically modified humans seems to have
nothing to do with the plot, for example) or raises serious questions that
you don't answer in the synopsis. One of the things you really, really,
really do not want to do is to get an editor/agent really interested in some
intriguing bit (who are those "older, more advanced race" guys, and what are
they up to?) only to have it turn out that the story is focused on something
else entirely. I'd delete this entire section and incorporate the really
necessary information in the synopsis. (BTW, a lot of the time you will
find that if/when critiquers want to know *more* about things in a synopsis,
like "who are these older race guys?" or "how does April find out she's
intended as a host mother?", the actual solution is to provide *less*
information in the synopsis, so that the questions don't arise.)
> April, the protagonist, is a hominid from Ceres with a coat of yellow
> fur. Asteroid miner Luiz Diegues has stumbled upon the Cerean
> habitat, stolen the infant April, and sold her to genetically
> modified humans in an Earth-orbit colony, who plan to use her as a
> host mother to circumvent Earth's reproductive controls. April has
> been raised by Nanny, an artificial intelligence housed in the body
> of a panda.
Based on the rest of this synopsis, this is the bit you need to focus on a
little more. As it stands, you leave out Monica, who is clearly a central
character; you may possibly also want to include Sonu as well.
The other thing you want to do in this section, I think, is to actually
focus *on the characters*. Right now, this paragraph is really just more
background information about what happened to get April into the situation
she's in at the start of the story. If you are going to have a section on
"characters," it should usually provide stuff like personality and
motivation that are hard to get into an event-based plot synopsis. What
does each of the characters want; how do their wants contrast or conflict;
which ones are cynical, innocent, easygoing, impulsive, trusting,
The reason to include and expand this section is that your story, as
presented, seems to be character-centered: your protagonist is trying to
find her identity (almost literally), and that seems to be the primary
central thread to the story (as compared to, say, a story in which her main
goal was to give hope to the genetic underclass or defeat the Evil Overlord,
and the identity stuff sort of came along with as an acillary benefit). So
you need a bit more information about these people, their personalities, and
> Audience, Tone, and Theme
> The story is aimed at the female YA market, but should also interest
> adults. Until April escapes from her owners, old public-domain books
> are her sole source of information about the human race, and this
> leads to humorous and satirical episodes. Her quest to find out where
> she came from is also her quest to learn what it is to be a human
> being, and how to love and be loved.
I suggest you leave this paragraph/section out. First off, there's no such
thing as a "female YA market." YA isn't broken down that way. The "of
interest to adults" part and the reference later to "humorous and satirical
episodes" don't need to be in this synopsis; they should be obvious from the
portion of the work that you're sending along with this outline. The only
useful information in this bit that doesn't appear elsewhere is 1) this is
intended for the YA market, and 2) the main character is on a quest to find
out where she came from and what it is to be a human being. #1 should be in
that bit up above, under synopsis ("YA science fiction, 80,000 words"
instead of "Science fiction, 80,000 words"), and #2 should be obvious from
the plot synopsis (it isn't, and that's the main problem with it).
> April learns of her owners' plan to use her as a host mother, and
> looks for a way to escape their orbiting farm habitat. Luiz sneaks
> aboard the habitat, locates April via her DNA trail, and steals her
> and Nanny.
How old is April?
Why is Luiz back, looking for April, after so many years?
Your first paragraph needs to do a lot of work -- you're setting up the
opening of the story and the central story-problem for the main
character(s). You do a fine job of providing *what* happens, but there is
consistently little or no *why* (apart from April's reason for running
away). This continues in later sections -- why do they pick up Monica, but
leave Luiz's girlfriend behind? Why do they go back to Ceres and the
underground habitats, except for the convenience of the plot? If you don't
want to provide this information, don't give the reader (agent, editor) the
chance to ask the questions. (Also, remember that the agent/editor is going
to have the first three or four chapters along with this outline, so you
don't have to go into quite as much detail here as you might have thought
you needed. They can see the specifics in the portion.)
You can also get away with a far greater level of compression than you're
using for your plot events, which will give you more room to include
important motivations, emotional reactions, and/or thematic stuff, almost
all of which is now missing.
>He hasn't seen April since she was a baby, and, like her
> owners, believes that she isn't intelligent. Aboard his spaceship, he
> intends to put April into a state of hibernation, but she puts him in
> the hibernation chamber instead, and takes over the ship.
As you have presented the story, it is not important for me to know *in the
synopsis* that Luiz is the one who brought April here in the first place,
nor what her owners' plans are (since the host mother business is
irrelevant -- they could have been planning to send her to Harvard, but Luiz
would still have snuck aboard and stolen her, kicking the plot into motion).
Also, since April is the protagonist (and presumed primary focus of the
story), you want that obvious in the synopsis. So you can compress this
whole paragraph into how things look from her viewpoint:
"When 16-year-old April and her artificial-intelligence Nanny are kidnapped
by asteroid miner Luiz Diegues, they quickly turn the tables on him, taking
control of his ship and relegating Luiz to a hibernation chamber."
That keeps all of the relevant information from the first paragraph, leaves
out the stuff that is irrelevant or raises too many questions...and gives an
impression that this is going to be a slam-bang exciting action story.
Since that doesn't seem to be what you have, you don't want to use this as
your first sentence. However, having severely trimmed the paragraph, you
can now add in some of the motivation/character stuff that will provide more
of a flavor of the story:
"16-year-old April has just begun to wonder why she is so different from the
other inhabitants of the orbital farm when she and her
artificial-intelligence Nanny are kidnapped by asteroid miner Luiz Diegues.
They quickly turn the tables on him, taking control of his ship and
relegating Luiz to a hibernation chamber."
If, as you said in your "Audience, Tone, and Theme" section, this is
supposed to be a story about "where April comes from" and "what it means to
be human," the synopsis needs to include more recognition of April's
emotional development. The details of, for instance, April and Nanny's
discoveries aboard Luiz's ship and its malfunction are not nearly so
important for us to know as the details of, for instance, her emotional
reaction to the discovery that she has a sister and to that sister's later
> A chain of events set in motion
> by the meteor impact has led to the accelerating deterioration of the
> habitat's life-support systems. They evacuate the tribe's children to
> orbit, and the rest of the tribe's prospects for survival are
> uncertain. Monica manumits Nanny, and behaves heroically, confirming
> April's decision to forgive her.
From both the plot-angle and the character-angle, this climax comes out of
left field. It doesn't seem to have much to do with April's growth; all of
a sudden, it's about Monica (who seems to have undergone a truly remarkable
change of heart for no particular reason except possibly the passage of
time). But the really telling problem from a synopsis perspective, is that
this doesn't provide any sense of resolution. There's a sudden new, big
problem (the life-support system is suddenly deteriorating! Which it's been
doing for 15 years, since the meteor impact, but nobody's noticed until
now!) which has apparently got nothing to do with April's search for her
background or her attempts to understand/reconcile with Monica. The new,
big problem is incompletely resolved *without* providing any new answers to
overall-book questions -- in other words, it appears to function a a big,
splashy, artificial climax-event that ends up leaving the story with *even
more* loose ends than it already had. There's no resolution, no closure;
things just stop.
One of the main functions of a synopsis is to reassure the editor/agent that
the story has an ending, a resolution; that it doesn't fall apart at the
end. If you are intending to write sequels, and want to leave loose ends
for that purpose, explain that that's what you're doing...but the
editor/agent is still going to want to see some closure on *this* book and
In the case of this novel, I am guessing that if the relationshp between
April and Monica is as central as it seems, then the emergency evacuation
and Monica's "heroic behavior" are the occasion of some rapproachment
between them. If so, then that's the closure that you need to provide more
clearly -- not just "April forgives Monica and was right," but "April and
Monica are forced to work together to save the children, and in doing so
settle their differences and come to a new understanding of each other."
Patricia C. Wrede