Thursday, March 2, 2017

Synopsis Critique #4 - YA High Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of UNQUEENLY, an 87,000-word YA High Fantasy, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are [blue and in brackets], and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at, and I'll post one critique per week (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!


Fifteen-year-old JANAIYANNA is crowned Queen of Emerise after her father and brother are killed by a traitor. One cycle of the moon after her family’s death, Janai and her defender, RALEL, visit the traitor in the dungeon. The traitor is mad now and only speaks nonsense to Janai. However, he seems to be telling her something, but she can’t figure out what. She leaves to attend a meeting in her throne room, where an offender who plotted to overthrow her is brought before her. When he spats [I don't know what 'spats' means] about how young and weak she is, she challenges him to a swordfight and wins, so the offender is carried off to the dungeon. Later, Janai’s friends, CHAY and NYA, arrive back from a diplomatic trip. [This is a strong first paragraph, but there are a whole lot of characters being introduced. Consider starting a new paragraph after '...she can't figure out what.' Also, since Ralel isn't mentioned again for a while, consider not introducing him so early. You can introduce him when you mention him in the next paragraph. By making both of these changes, the first paragraph will be focused on Janai and the traitor, and you set a straightforward foundation for the rest of the synopsis.] The next day is the sixteenth celebration of Janai’s birth. A huge feast is held in the castle. When it’s time to open the gifts, one of them is a scepter [Consider revising to 'One of Janai's gifts is a scepter...] that emits a powerful blast of dark magic when Janai touches it. The blast kills one of Janai’s councilors, and her guests accuse her of being a dark priestess like her mother, who was executed years ago for destroying a village. Chay [this is where I think you should introduce Chay, rather than in the preceding paragraph] pulls a sword and tries to fight the guards, but in the end he is captured and Janai is sentenced to death. Before she is carried away, Ralel, Nya, [this is where I think both of these characters should be introduced, though as I mention below, I don't think you need to name Nya at all] and some of her defenders come to her rescue, fighting the guards and helping Janai escape. [Great narrative flow here. If you clean up the introduction of characters and split up the paragraphs a bit, the first few paragraphs will really draw the reader in.] Janai, Nya, Ralel, and two of her defenders head south, traveling across the realm for a moon. They reach a desert, and as they’re trekking through it, they are attacked by creatures made of sand. The two defenders are killed as Janai, Nya, and Ralel barely escape with their lives. They reach Nya’s birth city of Sivanna [Sivanna seems to be the most important setting in the book, and so it warrants naming, but between Sivanna and Emerise and all the character names, it's getting a bit confusing. I'd suggest not naming Nya, since she seems to be the least significant of Janai's friends/defenders], where the buildings are decorated with colorful art, and the people expose skin with images painted on them with dye. Sivanna’s not as wonderful as it appears though, because the social hierarchy leaves those at the bottom poor and mistreated by the City Guards. [This becomes a relevant detail a little later, so I'd add a little more here about how the social hierarchy works. Why is Janai starting at the bottom, when she's a queen elsewhere? What would she have to do to move up in the hierarchy? In what ways are the poor mistreated by the City Guards?]
Janai and her friends live in Sivanna for four moons, until one night when Janai is attacked by an assassin. Ralel comes to her rescue by killing the assassin. The next night, Janai gets a surprise visit from Chay, who was finally released from the dungeon back in Emerise. They have a joyful reunion, and he encourages her to fight for her throne, despite her misgivings about going back. Chay heads back to Emerise and returns with an army of soldiers willing to fight for Janai, so she decides to try for her throne. Two defenders from the army become Janai’s personal bodyguards. As they are riding through Sivanna, a City Guard harasses Janai and starts to abuse her. [What, specifically, does he do? Physical or mental abuse, or both?] Ralel punches him, getting himself sent to the City Dungeon to await punishment. Janai wants to help him, but her low status in the city [again, as a queen, why does she have low status in the city? Is she hiding her true identity?] doesn’t allow her to meet with the leader of Sivanna. Then she comes up with an idea: she can fight in the Spar Games, which is a semi-annual event where warriors fight in a ring to gain recognition and gold. To win, the victor must acquire their opponent’s weapon or render their opponent unable to fight; it doesn’t always have to end in death. [You don't need the last clause here. Sufficient to say what is required to win] This event is the solution Janai needs to fund her army, gain the attention of potential allies, and save Ralel. Janai’s friends help her train for the event. For her first Spar Games match, she uses her sword to beat a man with a mace, and she walks away with only a few scars. She receives a sack of gold and has dye painted on her arm to mark her victory and her higher status in the city. People begin to spread word of her name and her quest to reclaim her throne. [Right, so it seems like she's not hiding her identity, then. Why would a queen start on the bottom rung of the social hierarchy?] Janai’s second fight is against a woman with a wooden staff, who gives Janai a good beating, but in the end Janai acquires her opponent’s weapon to win the match. Afterwards, Janai is approached by CHIEF DEEG, the leader of Sivanna. He invites Janai to a ball at his palace. Janai is thrilled to attend, so she and Nya head to the palace a couple days later. Janai talks to Chief Deeg, who agrees to free Ralel. He also says he will consider helping Janai get her throne back, but only after she fights against one of his elites in the Spar Games. As Janai and Nya are leaving the ball, another assassin attempts to kill Janai, but he is thwarted by her defenders. Chief Deeg tells Janai the man is part of a gang of assassins known as the Kuthras, who are led by a man named SHASTION QUICKBLADE. [The character soup is spilling over now. Can you get away without naming the Kuthras or Shastion? Referring generically to 'a gang of assassins' should work, as well as referring to Shastion as 'their leader.'] Ralel returns the next day, but soon after, Janai is approached by a homeless little girl whom she has befriended. The girl is distraught, and Janai goes off with her defenders to find that the girl’s mother has been killed by the Kuthras, just to send a warning to Janai. Janai is furious, and orders her defenders to locate Shastion and his gang. She decides to make the little girl her ward. [I'm not sure you need this paragraph at all. The little girl doesn't recur later in the synopsis, so if she is an important character in the novel, tie her into the main plot here somehow. If she can't be tied into the main plot, consider deleting this paragraph.] Janai fights in her third and final Spar Games match against her toughest adversary yet. After a long battle of clashing swords, Janai kills her opponent, but not before she receives a grievous wound in her side. She has to be helped out of the ring and brought to a healing priestess. Janai goes to her bed to rest, but that night, an assassin sneaks through her window and stabs her with a knife. Janai blacks out. The next morning, Janai discovers all of her wounds have been miraculously healed, with no trace of any scars or bruises from her fights. Her friends and a priestess tell her that she died last night, but she revived herself using magic. Janai learns she has come into her priestess powers, and they are of light, not darkness like her mother’s. Janai is relieved, and begins training in magic with a High Priestess. [I really like this turn of events.] Janai meets with Chief Deeg again, and he is willing to form an alliance with her—but only if she marries him. Janai reluctantly agrees. After leaving Chief Deeg, she and her defenders are ambushed by the Kuthras, who trap them in a building. Shastion emerges, saying he no longer wants to kill Janai, and he wants to offer his services to her. [Why the sudden change of heart? He just tried to kill her. There must be something in it for him...] Janai holds a sword to his throat and almost kills him, but then he reveals shocking information that Chief Deeg is the one who hired his gang to assassinate her. Janai doesn’t believe Shastion, and he manages to slip away. She heads back to the inn where she’s staying and tells her friends about her betrothal. Chay storms away, and when Janai goes after him, he admits the betrothal bothers him because he’s in love with her. [Have there been hints of this earlier in the manuscript? You might want to drop a hint earlier in the synopsis, since we don't know much about Chay's character at all by this point, so it comes a little out of left field.] Janai has feelings for him too, but she knows she must put her empire before her own happiness. Chay leaves, heading back to Emerise to meet with potential allies for her [Can delete 'for her.']. Janai uses a truth spell and finds out Shastion told the truth—Chief Deeg did want her dead. She also learns that Shastion himself thrust the blade that killed her the other night. Janai leaves the city for a while to spend time with her army. While there, a dove brings a message from the capital of Emerise, saying that the traitor who supposedly killed Janai’s father has escaped. Janai is happy about this—this means the traitor is innocent, which is why the captain back in Emerise helped him escape. [Wait, this doesn't track. He escaped, so he's innocent? He escaped, so that means the captain must have helped him? If this makes sense in the context of the novel (I'm sure it does), add a few details here to explain] Janai goes back to Sivanna to attend her engagement party at Chief Deeg’s palace. When she goes out on the balcony for some air, she finds Shastion waiting for her. Janai tries to kill him with a dagger concealed in her gown, but he gets the better of her and holds the knife to her own throat. He threatens her, saying it’s better to have him as an ally rather than an enemy. A fortnight later, Janai prepares for her wedding to Chief Deeg. She makes sure that after they are wed, she will have control over Sivanna, his army, and his gold. After the wedding ceremony and feast are over, she and her new husband head to his bedroom for the night. Janai excuses herself just as Chief Deeg is about to undress her, and she leaves the room. When she comes back, she finds her husband assassinated in his bed, just like she and Shastion planned. [Nice ending to this part of the story, but what's happening with her quest to get back to Emerise and claim her rightful throne/title? What about the subplot with Chay? What about the weird jibberish the traitor said to her in the first paragraph - now that he's escaped, will she try to find him? You may not conclude these plotlines in the book (especially if it's planned to be the first in a series), but some finality is needed. If you can explain, for example, what Janai is planning to do to get back to her own kingdom now that she has control over Sivanna, then you don't necessarily need to show her doing it if you're saving it for a future book, but it would close the loop for this one.]


This is a very, very strong synopsis. The narrative flow is spot-on, and you've got good world-building, as well as nice character details and motivations woven through. I also like that you make use of the language of your world (fortnight, one cycle of the moon, etc.) without going overboard, so the reader is able to get a sense of your writing and what kind of world this is. Just a couple of overriding points:

1) Character soup. This is especially tough in fantasy, since many of the character and place names will be unfamiliar to the reader. That actually makes it harder for the reader to keep track of each character and place when there are so many new names to learn. Think of it like a teacher entering a new classroom on the first day of school (having to learn twenty new names) as opposed to the last day (when all the names will be second nature). I made some suggestions for names you can take out, but in this book, you do need many of them. I'd suggest keeping Janai, Chay, Chief Deeg, Emerise, and Sivanna, but see if you can omit some of the others.

2) Make sure you don't lose track of Janai's ultimate quest (reclaiming her throne in Emerise) throughout the synopsis. The bulk of the synopsis is set in Sivanna, so it makes sense that the story focuses on what happens there, but you should tie those events in with her ultimate quest as much as possible. Unless, of course, part of the story is Janai herself losing sight of her ultimate quest, in which case, you should make reference to that character shift in the synopsis.

Overall, great job, and best of luck with the manuscript!


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