Thursday, August 3, 2017

Synopsis Critique #11: Adult Fiction

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of CHASING NIGHT, a 79,600-word Adult Fiction, 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!


JONATHAN MCCULLOCH is the sole heir to his family's fortune and a curse that has haunted his male ancestors for generations. When Jonathan is thirteen, his mother tells him the truth of his family history: that all McCulloch men, while gifted with charm and good looks are also selfish and self-destructive. But if he's fated to make a mess of his life, Jonathan decides, he's going to have fun doing it. So he spends his nights knee-deep in debauchery, a stark contrast to summer days devoted to indulging his love of reading in the public library. [Is Jonathan still thirteen when he makes this decision and begins his debaucherous lifestyle? If not, you should clarify that he's older by the end of the paragraph] One day, Jonathan arrives at the library and discovers a shy girl named ALY has taken his favorite chair. The two share a love of reading and soon become unlikely friends. After graduation, Jonathan abandons the East Coast for college at Stanford, only to return home to Virginia when his mother passes away. There, he renews his friendship with Aly and makes an impulsive decision to seduce her. [So here, Jonathan is a college freshman? Eighteen/nineteen is awfully young to 'seduce' someone. He might hit on her, ask her out, etc., but, to me, seduction implies an older, experienced person who knows how to be suave and charming. 18/19-year-old guys are generally a bit more bumbling than that. If Jonathan has racked up this kind of experience by that age, it's worth pointing out.] Although Aly loves Jonathan, she repeatedly resists his attempts at seduction, citing a purity pledge she made as a teen. [Isn't she still a teen?] Nevertheless, Jonathan continues his pursuit, satisfying his darker urges with a nightly stream of wild parties and willing women. Jonathan nearly succeeds in convincing Aly to surrender her virginity on a trip to Italy following his graduation from law school. [So it's been at least seven years since they met, right? Why is Jonathan so focused on winning Aly? You've noted that she loves him, but why does he stay with her?] She stops him at the last minute, and Jonathan retreats to the hotel's bar where he comes to the drunken conclusion that his only remaining option is to marry Aly. [So far, Jonathan is not coming off as a particularly likeable main character. That's okay (I love writing unlikeable characters!), but consider giving him a redeeming characteristic or two and dropping them in throughout the synopsis] Back in Virginia, Jonathan finds a longed-for distraction in KAT, the cunning [what does 'cunning' mean in this context? Not sure this is the right adjective to use unless you're going to tell us how he knows Kat is cunning this early on] trophy wife of one of his firm's senior partners. But Jonathan can't keep Aly out of his mind, even when he's with Kat, so he proposes to Aly, and they marry several months later. Although he and Aly are happy together, Jonathan continues his affair with Kat, believing he's unable to remain faithful to only one woman. [Why does he believe this? Just based on what his mother told him? Did he ever tell Aly about this?] On the night of their second wedding anniversary, Aly bravely performs a strip tease while reciting Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "How Do I Love Thee." [This is a really colorful detail] Jonathan realizes he's in love with his wife, although he's afraid to say the words aloud. [What is he afraid of?] A few weeks later, Aly discovers she's expecting a baby. Newly-reformed Jonathan remains faithful to Aly throughout her pregnancy. He cuts off contact with Kat, believing his ex-mistress will simply let him go. But soon after his son, MICHAEL, is born Kat shows up at the mansion [what mansion?] and blackmails Jonathan into continuing their affair. [How does she do this? It's worth saying what she does so the reader will understand why Jonathan goes along with it] Aly becomes pregnant with twins when Michael is three but suffers a late-term miscarriage following a car accident. Jonathan's guilt about the accident [was he driving?] drives yet another wedge between the grieving couple. He physically isolates himself until Aly confronts him in his office one night, begging him to come home. Jonathan does, and several years later Aly becomes pregnant again – this time with a little girl they name GABY. Michael is gentle and unselfish like his mother, but Gaby is a different story. Believing he's passed along the family curse to his daughter, Jonathan pulls away even more. By the time Michael is ten and Gaby is three, Jonathan has become little more than an absentee father. After Jonathan misses Michael's art show to meet with Kat, Aly confronts him, revealing her suspicions about his infidelity and demanding the truth. Jonathan confesses everything, including his love for Aly, and begs for a second chance. Aly wants to forgive Jonathan, but she's confused and upset. So after one final night together, she and the kids set off on a cross-country road trip to see her sister in Colorado. [Good! I'm glad to see Aly take this step] When Jonathan wakes the next morning, Aly and the kids are gone. The only information the family's butler can give him is their planned destination and Aly's promise to call upon arrival. But she never does, and after several days – during which Jonathan misses an assignation with Kat and confesses the affair to his boss – he begins to fear something is wrong. [Any repercussions after he confesses the affair to his boss (presumably Kat's husband)?] While trying to outrun a blizzard to her sister's house, Aly's SUV plummets off the side of the road and into a wooded valley. Aly and the kids find shelter in a small cave about a mile from the accident site. [Did she not have a phone? Were they so far from the road she couldn't flag down someone for help?] After Gaby succumbs to her injuries [wait, she dies? If so, say that. "Succumbs" is a little too polite] and Aly realizes she too is unlikely to survive, she sends a mostly uninjured Michael out to find help with the last of their provisions and a message for Jonathan. Michael can't bring himself to leave his mother alone to die, so he doubles back and witnesses her final moments. The second time he leaves the cave, he walks deeper into the forest instead of back to the road. Jonathan and a search party find Aly and Gaby's bodies several weeks later [how did they know where to look?] , but Michael has disappeared without a trace. A few months after the accident, Jonathan temporarily loses his hold on reality and is admitted to the hospital on a psychiatric hold. Kat picks him up after his release, disguised as his chauffeur, and extorts three million dollars from him as compensation for her pain and suffering. [What pain and suffering? And I'd forgotten that Jonathan is wealthy. He's wealthy enough to be able to give her that much, or does it bankrupt him?] Years pass, during which Jonathan continues to isolate himself from the outside world. The butler and his wife, more family now than employees, are his only company. Every May he and his sister-in-law search the accident site for clues related to Michael's disappearance. Jonathan spares no expense in the search, but the case has gone cold. Those closest to Jonathan encourage him to forgive himself for his past transgressions and move on as Aly would want, but he is unwilling. Eventually, Jonathan's beloved companions [butler and his wife?] both pass away, leaving Jonathan completely alone. After twelve years of no income and mounting expenses, the McCulloch fortune finally runs out. Jonathan sells the mansion to pay his debts and plans to relocate to Denver. The U-Haul is packed and ready to go, but before Jonathan leaves, he spends one last night sifting through a safe full of his most precious memories, reliving the past one item at a time. As morning comes, Jonathan's attention is drawn to a figure standing in the doorway. When he recognizes his long-lost son, he weeps with joy. [How old is Michael now? If he was ten when the accident happened and at least twelve years have passed, would Jonathan recognize his twenty-something son? And where has Michael been this whole time?] He and Michael sit on the front doorstep and talk about the past. As Michael witnesses his father's remorse, his anger begins to fade. When he shares the truth of his mother's final hours, and the gift of forgiveness she gave, Jonathan is finally able to let go of his past and the curse he once believed controlled his life. [And do what? If this character truly changes throughout the book, I'd want to know what actions he takes at the end that reflect those changes]


I've included a lot of comments here, but they're exclusively about character motivation and plot questions. This is a VERY strong synopsis. You've followed all the rules, and the synopsis has a through-line from beginning to middle to end. I wasn't confused at any point. In revising, just think about addressing some of these questions, but structurally, I wouldn't change a thing.

Fantastic job, and best of luck with the book!


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