Thursday, March 15, 2018

Synopsis Critique #16: Historical

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of AT THE HEM OF THE EMPIRE, a Historical novel, 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 (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 1838, Eighteen year old [this should be ‘eighteen-year-old’] Ann Neilson is living in poverty amid the Glasgow Wynds [can you explain what this is? I assume it’s Scotland, but the reader may not have heard of Wynds]. Her father’s enigmatic friend, John Smith, talks of emigrating to the convict free [‘convict-free’] settlement of South Australia. Ann naively admires John but she thinks him oblivious to her, until he unexpectedly proposes. Ann immediately regrets her shocked refusal [why does she refuse? Why is it shocking?]. John perseveres, and they become intimate, so must marry. Ann’s mother is unaware of the urgency, and opposes the match as she does not wish to lose her daughter [does the father have an opinion about this match? What does Ann think/feel about it?].

Sailing to Liverpool, they board the newly constructed railway to London. Ann learns of John’s less admirable traits after he tricks her into riding without a ticket [that’s sneaky, but are there other, more extreme examples of John’s less admirable traits?]. They discover only labourers are eligible for free passage to the Colony [Is this detail necessary?]. While Ann enjoys the sights of London, John purchases, without consultation, a berth on the first cargo ship to call into Adelaide on its way to Sydney [why is this significant?].

At Adelaide they disembark onto the beach. The roads and houses of the colony are rudimentary. The presence of Aborigines, and the murder of a shipmate has Ann questioning their safety. Meanwhile, the colony is suffering economic difficulties. With fewer opportunities than John hoped, he is keen to try New Zealand. John conceals the dangers to obtain Ann’s agreement [If Ann is the main character, it’s helpful to keep the focus on her throughout the synopsis. What is Ann doing/thinking/feeling while these things are happening to her?].

Settling in Kororareka, they establish a business [what kind of business?], and their family grows. Meanwhile, Maori relations with the European’s [Europeans] deteriorate. John downplays the risks, keeping Ann ignorant. The Maori attack, the town is ransacked, and their eldest [child] suffers a life threatening [‘life-threatening’] accident [In the last paragraph, it appears this child died. So it’s not a life-threatening accident, it’s a fatal accident. Right?]. Discovering the extent of John’s duplicity [How does she discover this?], Ann loses faith in him [which results in her doing what? How does Ann change?].

By 1890, Ann is a wealthy widow. After returning to South Australia, Ann and John prospered. They established a township, owned an elephant, even revisited Scotland [The last two sentences are good details, but belong at the beginning of the prior paragraph]. But Ann is chaffing at the restrictions placed on her by John’s will [what are those restrictions?]. A lifetime of subjugation has made her selfish and manipulative [if this is true, it would help to have a few more examples of how John treated her badly]. Desperate to be recognized as an individual, she is determined to establish her own bequests [to whom? Why?]. However, unwittingly, she is the architect of a very different legacy which has greater ramifications. Her youngest and middle daughters do not get along, unaware their attitudes have been shaped by Ann’s refusal to discuss the death of their 16 year old [‘sixteen-year-old’] sister, which she finds too painful to acknowledge. At their mother’s deathbed, the sisters open up, compare their experiences, and reconcile [is this the very different legacy you mention a few sentences earlier? Why is this significant? It’s good the sisters get along now, but is this the only legacy Ann leaves to the world?]


This sounds like an interesting story, but I’m finding myself wanting more details throughout the synopsis. Your reader is going to want to know what motivates your characters to act, because that’s much more interesting than how they react to things that are done to them. Here, even though it seems like Ann is the main character, a lot more of the focus is on John. As you’re revising, keep the focus on Ann and ask yourself what she thinks and feels, and how and why she takes whatever actions she takes in response to what’s happening around her.

Best of luck with this novel!

1 comment:

  1. Great comments. I enjoyed reading this. I am new to writing a synopsis so I found this very helpful even if it wasn't my story :) Thanks


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