Thursday, August 23, 2018

Synopsis Critique #27: Adult Fantasy

And now, it's time for this week's synopsis critique! The author of DESERT AWAKENING, an Adult Fantasy novel, submitted this synopsis. My in-line comments are in brackets, and I'll include a summary at the end. Feel free to comment below!


Ella Dawson has spent her adult life documenting the deplorable state of the middle east [1] in her award winning photographs. Frustrated [2], she continues her relentless quest [3] until one day in a troubled Syrian city she witnesses terrorists [4] exchanging a package. When the transaction is interrupted by a group of soldiers, Ella opens the crate, and discovers an antique bronze idol of a woman. 

She takes it [5] back to her apartment, which is owned by her personal driver TAAMIR and is worried they will be followed encourages him to leave with his family for a few days [6]. Upon handling the idol alone in her room [7], it shows her a vision of unknown women dressed in robes chant and encircle [8] a stone altar with an eight-pointed star on it. A beautiful woman [9] tells her that she is called EDHUANNA and Ella she is now the guardian of the Bridge of Vela [10]; a portal leading to infinite knowledge in the city of the gods. 

When Ella awakens, she discovers a burn in the shape of the eight-pointed star on her palm. Confused and scared she feels she has no choice but to call JASON PRICE [11]. A lead operative for Division 12— a private contractor organization— he also is her ex-boyfriend. She tells him she’s in trouble and to come get her. He takes her to a safe-house where he leaves to contact Division 12, hoping to learn more about the stolen statue. 

Alone in the hotel room [12], Ella is attacked by the two Division 12 guards from downstairs. Reacting instinctively, she learns she has a new ability to super heat whatever she touches, burning the men and killing them. 

When Jason returns, Ella tries to explain what happened, but Jason says there isn’t time, and they have to leave now. They drive toward Baghdad, where Jason says there is one person he can trust as he suspects Division 12 has a mole. He apologizes for leaving her last Summer [13] in New York. As ten months have passed, Ella has forced herself to move forward and tries to reluctantly forgive him [14]. 

They arrive at an Arabian horse ranch in Baghdad where Jason introduces KATHERINE MAYBERRY. A retired professor from Oxford, she’s a witty seventy-year old who lives with her much younger and exotic girlfriend, ZALIKA. She finds Ella’s scar intriguing and agrees to help them. [15]

Jason and Ella rekindle their relationship, and Ella finds herself enjoying the seclusion of KAT’S [16] estate. KAT has an extensive personal library and they search it to learn more about the Bridge of Vela. EDHUANNA visits her dreams [17] on the second night and warns her she has until the New Moon to stop whomever is seeking it. She shows her the bloody devastation, another 5000 years of civil war in the Middle-East [18] should she fail to stop it from being opened. 

After venturing to the Baghdad museum to view the rare Cuneiform tablets, she [19] learns of the eight colored stones, that must be placed on the altar have been stolen [20]. KAT discovers the location of the ancient city EDRIS. [21]

The next day, Ella returns to find her apartment in ashens [22]. A note is left, [23] TAAMIR and his daughter will die unless she brings the statue to Damascus. She escapes with TAAMIR and his daughter by freezing the air inside a guard’s lungs. As they attempt to get in a vehicle, TAAMIR is shot, sacrificing himself so ELLA and his daughter can escape. ELLA drives the vehicle to a nearby town and calls KAT’s trusted driver ASSEM. TAAMIR’s daughter is taken to safety. She then calls JASON for help who asks where she is [24]. When suspicious men enter the cafe, she escapes out the back and steals a motorcycle. An SUV chases her through the congested streets of Damascus where she is eventually captured. 

When ELLA awakes, she finds herself on a private jet. A handsome man with a black fedora appears and tells her his name is DEREK KANE. Second in line to the Kane United fortune [25], he wishes to open the gate and use the power to grant him eternal life. He confiscated her bag and now has the statue in his possession. Ella is angry and tells him he is delusional. When Ella is carried off the plane, she is surprised to see JASON standing beside DEREK. Angry at the betrayal, Ella is forced into a holding cell. 

She feels her power waning and needs the statue to recharge. EDHUANNA appears in her dreams and she sees the entrance to EDRIS. In exchange for an innocent man’s life [26], she discloses the location to DEREK. He opens the entrance, and they descend into the side of the mountain. They trek through an ancient city toward the temple of Inanna. DEREK discloses to ELLA that the statue is now worthless, as all of its power has gone into her. She must be sacrificed on the altar for the bridge to open. ELLA struggles to fight, but the bridge opens. DEREK eagerly ascends up the translucent blue path of light, but JASON shoots him. ELLA discovers the enormous power she can now summon and splits the massive stone altar in two, severing the tie to the bridge. 

They escape. JASON tells her Division 12 had been trying for years to capture DEREK and needed him [27] as a double agent. A plane takes them to Cairo and eventually the U.S. Ella notices she still has the scar on her hand. A shimmer of magic ripples across it.


[1]: This should be ‘Middle East’
[2]: What is she frustrated about?
[3]: What is her relentless quest? To document the conditions of the Middle East? From the first sentence, it sounds more like a job/career than a quest
[4]: How does she know they’re terrorists?
[5]: Explain what ‘it’ is. The idol?
[6]: This is a run-on sentence. Redraft as something like “…TAAMIR. His worry that they will be followed encourages him to leave…” 
[7]: Make sure the reader knows you’re talking about Ella here (‘she’ is nonspecific). Is Ella alone or is the idol alone?
[8]: This should be ‘chanting and encircling’
[9]: Is the beautiful woman inside Ella’s vision?
[10]: This should be something like, “and proclaims Ella the guardian of the Bridge…”
[11]: Why does she have no choice? Couldn’t she contact someone else, or is he the only person she knows/trusts in Syria? Is Division 12 more than just a private contractor organization (which sounds pretty neutral on its face)?
[12]: Are the safe house and the hotel room the same place?
[13]: This should be ‘last summer’
[14]: This should be ‘and reluctantly tries to forgive him.’ She’s not trying to reluctantly forgive him (‘reluctantly’ modifies ‘forgive him’ in your draft) – ‘reluctantly’ is how she’s trying to forgive him.
[15]: You’ve got a number of named characters already, and Kat and Zalika don’t appear to be significant enough to merit naming (at least in the synopsis). Try to keep named characters to 5-6, and only the ones who recur repeatedly in the synopsis.
[16]: You can put a character name in all-caps the first time it appear in the synopsis, but after that, it should be in regular type. No need to re-capitalize any of these character names in the rest of the synopsis.
[17]: Whose dreams? Ella’s? Kat’s?
[18]: No hypen: ‘Middle East’
[19]: Who? Ella?
[20]: This doesn’t make sense as written. Rewrite as something like, “learns that the eight colored stones that must be placed on the altar have been stolen”
[21]: No need to put a place name in all-caps
[22]: I assume you meant ‘ashes’
[23]: This should be something like, “She finds a note telling her that Taamir…”
[24]: Rewrite this as, “She then calls Jason, who asks where she is.”
[25]: Is Kane United significant to the plot? We haven’t heard of it before in the synopsis. If so, introduce it earlier so this revelation has more of an impact.
[26]: What man?
[27]: “Him” is Jason or Derek?


This is a good synopsis in terms of tracing the main plotline from start to finish. I have a very clear idea of what this book is about, and the things Ella must do to get what she wants (to prevent District 12 from getting the idol and opening the bridge). You don’t have much work left to do to have a workable synopsis, from a plot standpoint.

Most of my comments relate to grammar and syntax. Just as you would for your query and the book, make sure you have time to carefully line-edit your synopsis (or work with a trusted friend or critique partner to do so). Then, read it again. Then, read it again. You’ll want to make sure it’s as clean as possible before it goes to agents.

Overall, good job and best of luck with this book!


  1. Very helpful, thank you! Kudos to the bravery of the person who posted!

  2. I read the first page of this in Grab my Heart. It was really good. It sounds like a really interesting story and I'd love to read it someday. Good luck!


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