Thursday, March 23, 2017

Synopsis Critique #6 - Adult Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of DARK AND LIGHT, an 85,000-word Adult 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!


Draca is the largest island in the Thalassian Archipelago, an ancient kingdom where people live in fear of Possession - being taken in the silver carriage to the Castle of Eternity and an unknown fate. [This is a nice way to establish the setting. Because there are a lot of names coming, I'd suggest deleting the reference to the Thalassian Archipelago and abbreviating that sentence to something like, "Draca is an ancient island kingdom where people..." Then you can combine that sentence with the next paragraph so you introduce the main character (I'm assuming Jubi is the main character) right away.] Nineteen-year-old Jubi’s life is upended when she arrives home from the market to discover that her father has been taken in the silver carriage. Years ago her brother had been Possessed. Grief drove her mother to kill herself. Since then Jubi has had no family but her father. Determined to rescue him, she journeys to the faraway city-state of Sammalore to seek help from Miiya, the greatest living witch. [Great paragraph. Gives us the inciting incident, the main character's goal, and what she's doing to work toward that goal.] Witches, mages and priests have coexisted in Sammalore for centuries. Asteri, the charismatic head of a new priestly order, the Custodians of Purity, wants to end this Balance and turn Sammalore into a hieratic city [I don't know what 'hieratic city' means, and I'm not sure you need that terminology here. Can you just say 'turn Sammalore into a city dedicated to the Twin God (though the Twin God isn't mentioned again, so you might be able to omit this name too)..." Or, if hieratic city means religious, maybe say 'turn Sammalore into a religious city ruled by his priest" or something like that?], dedicated to the Twin God and ruled by his priests. At first Sammalore’s elites don’t take him seriously. By the time they do, he has become the most popular leader in the city, a man who can summon a mob with a few words. Asteri forces the hereditary prince of the city to hold a plebiscite [what is this?] to decide Sammalore’s fate. Witches and mages fight back, but they cannot match Asteri’s cunning or his fiery commitment. At the plebiscite, a majority of Sammalorians vote for Asteri and his plan to outlaw magic. Witches and mages are given a choice - abjure their powers [what does it mean to abjure their powers? A lot of the terms in this paragraph seem to be specific to fantasy worlds. That's fine, but consider explaining or simplifying them to make sure any reader will understand] or go into exile. Miiya has been a witch of Sammalore for one and a half centuries. For her abjuration is impossible and exile inconceivable, not least because a witch’s power is rooted in the soil of her homeland. When a sister-witch is murdered, Miiya, overcome by anger, almost incinerates a mob. That incident makes her realize that she might push her beloved city into an internecine war [what does this mean?]. Horrified, she decides to end her life, but is interrupted by the arrival of Jubi, accompanied by Cillo, a priest who is opposed to Asteri. [I'd suggest leaving Cillo out of the synopsis. You've got a lot of character and place names already, and Cillo doesn't do much in the rest of the synopsis other than get killed. If you expand this to a longer synopsis, then you can definitely add him/her back in.] On her way to Sammalore, Jubi has been abducted by slavers and forced to endure months of brutalization in a slave colony. [I'm a little confused. In the preceding paragraph, you say Jubi has arrived in Sammalore, but here, she's been kidnapped en route. How/where does she meet Miiya?] Miiya’s initial resentment [why is she resentful?] turns into pity when she inadvertently catches a glimpse of Jubi’s memories. Moved by pity she agrees to help Jubi. Miiya, Jubi and Cillo journey to Draca. [How is Jubi released from slavery? Why do they go back to Draca?] During the weeks on the road, their necessary alliance develops into deep bonds of affection. [It's starting to feel like Miiya is actually the main character, and not Jubi. Are they both viewpoint characters? If not, and Jubi is the main character, make sure you're tracking her viewpoint throughout the synopsis. If they're both viewpoint characters, then you probably need to introduce both of them upfront, describing their stakes and what they do to achieve their goals. Maybe the first paragraph about Jubi and the second about Miiya?] Once in Draca, Miiya manages to visit the castle and uncover its secrets. Many decades ago, an illness deprived King Iretsa of Draca [just say 'the King of Draca' here without naming him] of the ability to beget a living child. He wants to stay alive until he has an heir. His solution is to kill the Possessed ritualistically and drain their spirits. The spiritless-bodies are used to create an army of non-human killers. [How does that keep him alive?] Jubi’s father is not dead. He has become a courtier. He is also the prime mover behind an impending alliance between Iretsa [the King of Draca] and Asteri. Jubi doesn’t want to accept the truth about her father. She thinks she can persuade him to leave the castle. Disobeying Miiya’s injunction she tries to enter the castle and is taken prisoner. Cillo who accompanies her is killed. [If you're deleting Cillo, take out this sentence] Miiya has no choice but to use her waning powers to enter the castle. She finds Jubi trying in vain to persuade her father to leave. But he is addicted to the idea of immortality and has arranged for Jubi to become Iretsa’s [the King of Draca's] latest wife. Miiya manages to rescue Jubi, with the help of Karila, a long time human servant of the king who has grown disillusioned with her role and horrified by the crimes she had been a part of. [I would end this senence after '...manages to rescue Jubi.' Karila doesn't recur in the synopsis, so it adds another character name that isn't necessary to the main plot description] Miiya’s only daughter, Saro, had been born without the gift of witchery. As a result, the relationship between the mother and the daughter had been fraught with disappointment and resentment. In the end, Saro, feeling betrayed by her mother had run away and died. [I would delete all three of these sentences. Since this is our first mention of Saro, you can revise the following sentence to say 'For Miiya, Jubi has replaced her dead daughter, who ran away when her mother's disappointment at her being born without the gift of witchery became too much for her to bear' or something like that.] For Miiya, Jubi has replaced the dead Saro. Jubi managed to survive the horrors she experienced by clinging to the hope of saving her father. Miiya knows that if that hope is taken away, Jubi won’t survive. Against her better judgment [is this referring to Jubi or Miiya?], she makes one last visit to the Castle, but is forced to admit that Jubi’s father is irredeemable. Miiya marshals every bit of her remaining powers and summons a tidal wave, destroying the Castle and all its inhabitants. Jubi discovers a dying Miiya and begs her forgiveness. Once Miiya is dead, Jubi realizes that it is by living that she can pay the debts she owes Miiya and Cillo. [Is this where the story ends? What does Jubi specifically do (or plan to do) to pay those debts?]


This synopsis is nicely written and the reader gets a good feel for the kind of fantasy world you've created. Here are my overall comments:

1) I've suggested places you can eliminate character/place names. Especially in fantasy, where many of the names are unfamiliar to readers, too many names too quickly becomes confusing. Further, you use some terms I suspect are specific to fantasy writing. Assume your reader isn't familiar with those terms (agents may rep fantasy along with many other genres) and use more familiar terms or explain the terms.

2) At the beginning of the synopsis, I thought Jubi was the main character, then it seemed like Miiya was the main character, and then I wasn't sure. If you only have one main (viewpoint) character, revise the synopsis with that in mind - every paragraph should have the main character acting, reacting, thinking, planning, or doing something, even if there are other things going on with other characters (subplots, etc.). If both women are viewpoint characters, then introduce the reader to the first viewpoint character (along with her inciting incident, goal, and plan) in the first paragraph, do the same for the second viewpoint character in the second paragraph, then interweave their stories as much as possible throughout the rest of the synopsis, tying both of them to the main plot. That way, without overtly stating the novel is written from two viewpoints, the reader will get that sense anyway.

Thanks for submitting and best of luck with this manuscript!

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