Thursday, May 18, 2017

Synopsis Critique #9 - Adult Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of THE BOY IN THE HAWTHORN, a 150,000-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!


In his first days as a freshman at Auburn University, Ryan Aleman is eager to begin his education to become a veterinarian. [Just a quibble, but stating he's a freshman (which implies he's in undergrad), yet also beginning his education to become a vet (which implies he's in vet school) might confuse the reader as to how old he is] As he refuses to be separated from his dog, Ryan lives in a house in the country, renting from a retired professor. The house is very old and the owner claims the hawthorn tree on the side has magical powers. [Does Ryan believe this or does he question it? Is there precedent in this world for a tree with magical powers?] Every night, strange dreams about the hawthorn trouble Ryan’s sleep. As Ryan learns the campus and starts attending classes, he meets Michael, an often drunk older student who courts Ryan to join his budding fraternity, DEP. [I would spell out the Greek letters the first time you introduce the frat: Delta Epsilon Pi?] Ryan soon finds himself hosting all of the newly-forming, multicultural fraternity’s events. [Because he has a house off-campus, right? I'd specify. Also, you already described the frat as 'budding,' so you don't need to also describe it here as 'newly-forming] Though unsure he even wants to join himself, Ryan is glad to meet the other students the parties draw in. Twice, Ryan returns home to find Dr. Featherstone loitering oddly around the house with no explanation. [Who is Dr. Featherstone? The owner of the house? Since you don't reference him much below, if that's who he is, I'd leave out his name here and just say 'the house's owner.'] One evening, when Ryan steps outside a party, he finds a naked boy sobbing underneath the hawthorn tree. The boy is more than simply drunk, as Ryan soon finds a crystal cave where his bedroom should be. [Whose bedroom - Ryan's or the boy's? Add a little detail here to connect these dots] The boy uses smoke magic to learn modern English and reveals that he is the wizard Merlyn. [How does Ryan initially react to this reveal?] Once Ryan is sure that Merlyn is real, Merlyn moves in with him while they try to retrace how Merlyn arrived in Auburn, Alabama—trapped inside a hawthorn tree—and what released him during the party after a thousand years imprisoned. [Is Merlyn in danger? Trying to get home? There should be some incentive spelled out for why Ryan is helping him] Ryan and Merlyn both attend classes at the university and Ryan joins several service projects for DEP, learning that they are only a colony until they reach the required membership, dues, and service hours. [Is this info about DEP relevant here?] He and Merlyn find themselves attracted to two girls, Rebekah and Mary-Kat, who attend parties at their home. Though Ryan is not sure Merlyn is being truthful with him, they are growing closer as friends and Ryan introduces Verne, his father, who quickly takes to Merlyn. [Verne is your seventh named character. You don't need his name in here. Just refer to him as Ryan's father.] Ryan wonders if passing classes and becoming a veterinarian is still relevant in a world of magic. [So far, it seems like Ryan and Merlyn are enjoying college life, but not working too hard on figuring out Merlyn's situation. If this isn't the case, add some detail about what they're doing to achieve their goal] For instance, Merlyn shows him that someone has woven a magical net over the earth which keeps magical forces away. He breaks one line, so men can do magic, but leaves the rest intact. [I'm a little confused by this. What does it mean that 'men can do magic'? All humans, but no supernatural beings? Only men, and not women? And if men can do magic, what magical forces are being kept away? Add some clarification here]
Clues to the hawthorn’s history come in the form of other dreams had over the years from Ryan, the retired professor, his wife, and his daughter. [I'd rearrange this sentence to '...other dreams Ryan, the retired professor, his wife, and his daughter have had over the years.'] They piece clues together by tracing important stories of hawthorns from throughout history and around the world. While in the tree, Merlyn was worshiped by druids, sailed across the sea as a mast, caught a German U-Boat, and saved a young boy from drowning. [I still need to know what Merlyn's ultimate goal is. Also, do they know yet how Merlyn came to be in the tree?] Ryan juggles his adventures with Merlyn, his often-missed classwork, and his new friendships. Merlyn turns metals into gold in backyard alchemy lab, giving them money to pay rent. [That's an ideal roommate, right there] Ryan grows frustrated with his new group of friends, as he feels Michael and the fraternity are forcing him to do things he doesn’t want to do. [Like what?] At a Halloween party, Merlyn does a powerful spell to save Rebekah from a date-rape drug, drawing everyone there into a magical state where they dance and burn their clothes. [These seem like two different events, unless the magical state was to distract everyone and get Rebekah away from the drug] The next day, Merlyn reveals that he murdered the boy who tried to rape Rebekah. Ryan has to weigh his own feelings for Rebekah against Merlyn’s actions, as the police begin investigating the boy’s disappearance. [What are Ryan's feelings for Rebekah? And if they're romantic feelings, then his feelings would be somewhat aligned with Merlyn's actions, even if he didn't agree with the murder] Merlyn’s mentor, Blaise, [no name needed here] appears to tell them that Merlyn was released [from the tree?] because Nimue committed suicide. [Who's Nimue?] Ryan learns about research his teacher is doing into native languages. [Is this relevant?] When a bar they are in accidentally catches on fire, Verne convinces Merlyn to use his magic to save people. Photographs are taken of him leaping from the flames and Merlyn because famous around the city. Ryan worries over Merlyn’s new found fame, but Verne encourages Merlyn to use his magic openly. Ryan learns that all of the money from the DEP bank account was stolen, and unless they could [can] find it, the colony could never afford to [will never be able to afford to] become a full fraternity. Verne continues to act strangely, interrupting an evening with Ryan’s mother to demand that Merlyn return to Auburn to defend his reputation. [Where did Merlyn go?] Later, they find that Rebekah has committed suicide. Ryan comforts Mary-Kat and Merlyn disappears. [This feels a little abrupt. Ryan had feelings for Rebekah, right? Tell us a little about his emotional state, whether he blames Merlyn for murdering her would-be rapist, and sending Rebekah over the edge, etc.] Ryan is now dodging inquiries about two deaths. When Merlyn reappears, they discover that Verne has been controlled by Merlyn’s demon father—Turiel—all semester, and the demon brought Rebekah’s body back [he brought her body back where? to whom?] to taunt Merlyn into traveling [to] Hell to retrieve her soul. Though he is able to temporarily free Verne from the demon, Merlyn’s magic leads him too far and he steps down into Hell. Alone now, and searching [yearning?] for the non-magic part of his life, Ryan grows closer to Mary-Kat and throws a fundraiser to replace the stolen DEP funds. He discovers that it was Turiel, in Verne’s body, who killed Rebekah, all to trick Merlyn. The demon returns to Ryan’s home to meet Merlyn, [I thought Merlyn was in Hell?] who is trying to reopen the portal home. With the help of his teacher’s native language research, and a spell Merlyn taught him, Ryan helps Merlyn confront the demon. A soul Merlyn brought back from Hell occupies Rebekah’s body and joins their fight, helping them to finally destroy Turiel once and for all. Verne is killed in the process. Rebekah’s appearance changes to Nimue’s, as it was her soul Merlyn brought up from Hell. [I definitely need to know more about who Nimue is if he/she plays a major part in this plot] Merlyn is too weak to defend himself as she transforms him into a falcon and he flies away. After tracking him down, [how do they do this?] Ryan, his teacher, and Mary-Kat turn Merlyn back into a man.


This is a nicely-written synopsis and it sounds like a really interesting book! Here are my main critiques:

- What does Ryan want? Or, in other words, what's the main plot of the book, as it pertains to Ryan? I'm assuming he's trying to help Merlyn discover why he's on Earth in modern times, but is he also trying to help Merlyn get back to his time, or are they trying to fight a bigger foe, or something else? Once you make clear what Ryan wants and what's standing in his way, you can move on to...

- Be sure to trace the main plot arc throughout the synopsis. If the main plot is Ryan's attempt to help Merlyn get back to his world, then we need to know how they plan to do this, what actions they take to implement the plan, and what obstacles stand in their way. If you include information about subplots in the synopsis (here, I think the subplots are the budding romances with the girls and Ryan's attempt to remain a normal college kid through all the magical happenings around him), make sure to relate it to the main plot. But the most important thing for a synopsis to achieve is letting the reader see the beginning, middle, and end of the main plot.

So, again, start by answering these questions:

1) What does Ryan want (this can be more than one thing)?
2) What does he do to achieve these goals?
3) What stands in his way?
4) How does he overcome (or succumb to) those obstacles?
5) What's the ultimate outcome?
6) How does that outcome affect/change him as a person?

- You have a lot of named characters here and it gets a little confusing. I'd limit the names to Ryan, Merlyn, Rebekah, Nimue (once you describe who he/she is), and possibly Verne. See if you can reference everyone else generically (Rebekah's best friend, Merlyn's mentor, etc.)

Great job, and best of luck with this manuscript!

No comments: