Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Synopsis 14: Child God

This synopsis is overlong at 1356 words, and the author knows it. He's been working hard to bring it in under 1000 words. He hasn't quite made it, but since there's nothing else in the queue and we haven't had a new synopsis in awhile, let's indulge him :o) I hope you'll read his synopsis, but if not, at least skip down to the comments. I've tried to offer suggestions that might be helpful to anyone struggling with word count and structure.

Summer. A small town in upstate New York . Fourteen year-old ANGELA DAWN meets her friends at the local MacDonald's, where one of them lost a notebook earlier. When ROY WILEY, twelve, a loner, and a certified genius, determines who stole the notebook and recovers it. Angela is intrigued enough to accompany Roy when he goes to fly his remote-controlled helicopters at a nearby park.

Later, Angela learns that her mother and Roy ’s mother have agreed that Roy should tutor Angela in math. Her mom says it's so Angela won't be kicked off the baton squad for her poor grades. Roy 's mom thinks it will help her son "integrate" more.

Angela meets Roy at a local diner to discuss the arrangement. Roy describes his theory that any goal, no matter how fantastic, is achievable once you have a sufficient interest in achieving it. Angela is skeptical, until Roy uses an unorthodox method of teaching Angela about negative numbers that involves shutting themselves in the diner’s walk-in freezer.

Through more demonstrations, Roy shows Angela a world of unlimited potential, where every object has a thousand uses that “grown-up minds” cannot imagine, and a way of thinking that enables him to quickly discover vital connections. Angela takes to Roy ’s lessons, and soon catches up not only on math, but elsewhere in her life.

Meanwhile, LAURA KENZER begins posting negative comments about Angela on her blog, mentioning Angela’s creepy new “boyfriend.” Laura and her twin brother JACK are the terror of Richport’s teen set; Jack bullies the boys physically while Laura harasses the girls on cyberspace.

Roy shows Angela where it all began for him- a sheet of construction paper upon which he had drawn two columns, GOOD THINGS ABOUT THE WORLD and BAD THINGS ABOUT IT. He tells Angela the first column won out, and so Roy has spent the last four years on his Master Plan to help save all the world's children from famine, war, disease and abuse. This involves the colonization of an island- Wiley World- that will function outside of all adult control. Roy confides to Angela that he's discovered the secret truth about adults.

"Grown-ups," he says, "don't know what they're doing. They don’t deserve to be in charge."

Later, Roy and Angela are walking through town when a group of boys starts harassing them. When one of the boys takes a swing at Roy , Angela watches in horror as Roy uses toxins he has hidden on his person to send his attackers running.

Although Jack Kenzer was not among the bullies, Roy tells Angela he is convinced Jack was behind the incident.

Roy and Angela soon receive anonymous, threatening letters and phone calls. Roy tells Angela she has nothing to fear, but she alternates between feeling safe and feeling worse than ever. Then someone shoots out one of the tires on Roy ’s mother’s car. Roy and Angela deduce that the shooter was eighteen year-old RUDY KENZER, the oldest of the three Kenzer kids, and recently released from juvie hall.

Angela seeks out Rudy Kenzer. Rudy denies that he or Jack has done anything, but Roy appears and steals the illegal pistol Rudy is carrying. Rudy chases them, but they escape. Roy tells Angela he will drop off the pistol at the door of the local police precinct, saying that Rudy’s prints on it will send him back to jail. Rudy, knowing this, disappears.

Then Jack Kenzer approaches Angela on the street and tells her that his father is going to have her and Roy killed for making Rudy run away. Angela is terrified. HANK KENZER is rumored to have criminal connections, but Roy shrugs this off.

Roy and Angela attend on evening of theatre together in the nearby city of Rochester . The next morning, Angela hears that Hank Kenzer was killed the previous night in a car accident.

Despite the fact that Roy was with her the entire evening, Angela is now more scared than ever. She contacts Roy 's father, MICHAEL WILEY, a New York State Trooper helicopter pilot, and the two exchange information. Angela realizes she has been the victim of a massive deception. Not only was Jack Kenzer not behind the initial attack on Roy , it was the Boy Genius himself who shot out the tire on his mom’s car. Roy wants Angela to feel under siege by the Kenzers so he can “protect” her, and ultimately convert her to his way of thinking, which includes his psychotic hatred of all things adult.

The Boy Genius starts deteriorating rapidly, alternating moodiness with fits of rage. Roy 's parents agree to admit Roy to a psychiatric facility. However, when they confront him, Roy runs off.

Roy leaves a false trail, but Angela knows where he has gone- and what she has to do. In some way she cannot yet define, Angela knows she loves Roy Wiley. On her own, she finds him at a local state park.

Angela now knows the truth- how Roy assassinated Hank Kenzer with his largest radio-controlled helicopter, Roy Force One. She begs Roy to give himself up, but the Boy Genius has passed beyond reason, and decides to activate his Contingency Plan. He raves that since all the harm that has been done to children always originates with adults, all grown-ups therefore have to die. He claims to have designed a virus that will kill anyone who has already passed through puberty. He says a prototype is already hidden at a hideout in Rochester .

A helicopter approaches overhead. Michael Wiley has also deduced his son’s true whereabouts. However, Roy launches Roy Force One, and nearly shoots down Michael's police helicopter. The elder Wiley manages to destroy Roy 's chopper, although he is forced to crash-land nearby. A squad of police officers tries to take Roy into custody, but the boy is now armed with his most lethal weaponry, and massacres all of them.

Michael Wiley arrives, but Roy, who hates his father more than any other adult, ambushes and is about to kill him with a homemade flamethrower. Angela grabs the weapon and tries to turn it on Roy , but she isn’t fast enough.

A game of cat-and-mouse ensues through the darkening woods, as Roy uses his entire arsenal as well as his vast intelligence to hunt down and kill Angela. However, using the skills Roy himself has taught her, courage she never knew she possessed, and even her own "pointless" baton-twirling skills, Angela manages to hold Roy off at every turn.

Michael Wiley has recovered and again confronts his son. Angela runs off- not to safety, but back to the bodies of the police officers Roy has killed. Angela triumphs over Roy’s last weapon- his legion of armed toy helicopters- and returns to the father/son struggle just as Roy is about to kill his dad, screaming that this is all the elder Wiley's fault for "not believing" in him.

Angela believes very much in Roy , which is why she raises the gun she took and fires, mortally wounding him.

Epilogue: Three weeks later. A DVD, recorded the night before Roy ran away, arrives for Angela from a law firm.

In Roy’s final message, he says that he has indeed fallen deeply in love with Angela, but is afraid to tell her because he’s convinced she doesn’t feel the same way.

“I’m the smartest boy in the world,” Roy states. “I would have known.”

Roy goes on to reveal the location of his Rochester hideout, where lies his private journal on how to make Wiley World a reality- along with the virus prototype. He begs Angela to “do anything but nothing.” The world’s children are still suffering, and the task of saving them cannot be left to the same adults who caused and perpetuated this horror. Roy signs off by telling Angela “this decision now lies in better hands- and a better heart- than my own.”

Unsure of what to do, Angela wanders back to her bedroom. Seated at her table, she takes a piece of construction paper and draws a line down the middle…


Three quick things – and while the examples are from this author’s work, they tend to show up in other synopses routinely – then a big piece of advice on structure follows.

  1. Too many names. When possible, keep to 4 or 5 names and if you have to intro someone else, refer to them by relationship. Always consider how relevant each character is to the story. Here, for example, Laura gets a name, but only one sentence. No reason to have her appear at all. Here, too, even the RC helicopter has a name. Also, keep to a single name or descriptor when referencing the character. Here, Roy (as well as Michael and the Kenzer clan) pops up randomly with his last name attached.
  2. Too much “he said, she said.” When you have a synopsis full of talking heads you’re telling not showing. The related trap, of course, is telling and then showing the same thing you’ve just told. In this author’s case, actual snippets of dialog are also used to punctuate what’s just been said. No reason dialog can’t be used in a synopsis. Just be sure it does as much to move the story along as any descriptive verbiage. And fudging is perfectly fine. For example:
    Roy confides to Angela that he's discovered the secret truth about adults.
    "Grown-ups," he says, "don't know what they're doing. They don’t deserve to be in charge."
    "The truth about Grown-ups," Roy confides, "is they don't know what they're doing. They don’t deserve to be in charge."
  3. Too much attempt to make it sound like the story itself. You don’t want a boring synopsis, but at the same time all that luscious prose and cool ideas have a whole book to be showcased in. Choose your battles when you don’t have many words to work with. For this author, bookending the theme seems important. He wants to highlight the closure, and gives us 176 words of what happens in the epilog. Just realize that making a choice like that means something else will have to give. A character will have to be cut or an event excised.
A couple of questions for the author:
  • Just how rich is this kid? RC planes are expensive and law firms at a 12-yo’s disposal to act as an intermediary don’t come cheap. Is he playing the stock market and amassing the money to buy Wiley Island? Or is Daddy a rich playboy who always dreamed of moonlighting as a State Trooper helicopter pilot? 
  • If Angela is 14, hasn’t she already gone through puberty? Why does Roy trust her?

Synopsis Structure

Here’s a way to think of the synopsis that will have you revising in a new and shorter direction. A 2-page synopsis is not the same as a chapter-by-chapter outline. Compressing events and timelines is perfectly acceptable. Leaving out less-relevant subplots and minor characters is encouraged. And unless you’ve written a mystery and how and when events take place is especially important to convince a reader you have a viable, cohesive story, you can reveal characters’ intents well before other characters catch on.

Events that are being manipulated by a single character can all be lumped together. A synopsis can follow one story thread through in a single chunk even if that thread is woven throughout the actual story. In fact, that often makes it clearer for the reader to process. We still need to understand motivation and consequences, of course, but a synopsis doesn’t have to strictly follow the play-by-play action of the novel.

My Version

Here are the major threads I picked up in this author’s synopsis. 738 words.

Angela Dawn and Roy Wiley are thrown together by their parents for a summer of study. Bored, infatuated, in need of someone to control and revere him, rich-boy genius Roy finds an apt disciple in Angela. Already an unstable personality who gets his rocks off on devising under-the-radar ways to harm – even kill-- others, he forms an unhealthy attachment to Angela.

When a group of bullies attacks them on the street, Roy takes advantage of Angela’s fear to make it seem as though he and she have become targets of a conspiracy, figuring if he can keep Angela off balance, she’ll look to him as her benefactor. In an attempt to brainwash her into his way of thinking, including his psychotic hatred of all things adult, he fabricates anonymous, threatening letters and phone calls and even goes so far as to shoot out the tires on his mom’s car. Tapping a known criminal family as the scapegoat, Roy convinces Angela the Kenzers are after them because (of some plausible reason I didn’t get from the original synopsis). Said criminal element doesn’t take kindly to rumors and accusations about them, and when Roy, trying to further impress Angela, swipes a gun from one of the Kenzer brothers who’s just been released from juvie, Daddy Kenzer threatens to kill them both.

As the situation escalates, Angela takes a hard look at the boy who seems to relish the game of cat-and-mouse. He’s kept her safe so far and she’s certainly indebted to him for showing her new ways of looking at the world. After all, he once demonstrated his theory that any goal is achievable if you have sufficient interest in achieving it by shutting them in a walk-in freezer to teach her about negative numbers. And his Master Plan to help save all the world’s children from famine, war, disease and abuse by colonizing an island, Wiley World, that will function outside of all adult control -- since Roy believes adults don’t know what they’re doing and don’t deserve to be in charge – is so altruistic it makes it hard for her to doubt his sincerity. But when Daddy Kenzer is killed in a suspicious car accident, even though Roy was at the theatre with her when it happened, an ever-more-frightened Angela contacts Roy’s dad, a helicopter pilot for the New York State Troopers.

Roy’s dad offers her convincing proof that not only were the Kenzers not behind the attacks on her and Roy, it was the Boy Genius himself who shot out the tire on his mom’s car. He’s aware of Roy’s growing moodiness and fits of rage and has already made an appointment for psychiatric evaluation. More disturbing, State Troopers find a radio-controlled helicopter belonging to Roy near the scene of Daddy Kenzer’s car accident.

Roy runs off, and Angela, disillusioned and betrayed, finds him in a local state park with another of his RC helicopters and a stash of weaponry that even Angela didn’t know he had, raving about how it’s time to activate his Contingency Plan. A prototype of a virus that will kill anyone who’s already gone through puberty is in a nearby hideout. All he has to do is replicate it and release it and all the grown-ups who have ever harmed children will die. As a squad of police officers close in from the ground and Roy’s dad spots him from above, Roy starts lobbing grenades at the unsuspecting officers, catching them out and killing them all. He sends the RC helicopter against his dad’s chopper causing his dad to spin out and crash land.

When Roy aims a homemade flamethrower at his father, Angela grabs the weapon and turns it on Roy – but she isn’t fast enough. She runs – toward the downed officers. As Roy once again threatens his dad for “not believing” in him, Angela raises a police-issue revolver and – because she very much believes in him -- fires, mortally wounding him.

A few days later, Angela receives a DVD in the mail – from Roy. In it, he reveals how much he’d come to love her, though he knows she doesn’t feel the same. Still, he’s convinced she’s the one to carry his work forward. He gives her the location of his hideout where she can find plans for making Wiley World a reality, along with the virus prototype. The fate of the world now rests in Angela’s uncertain hands…


Anonymous said...

I found Roy and Angela meeting at a diner to be a little unbelievable—at fourteen, I was always at friend’s houses, not going out. Also, Roy writing his list on construction paper makes him seem very young.

I thought you could condense Roy’s theories a bit—they’re abstract, as it is, so it wouldn’t lose too much to condense them a bit further.

Roy Force One—I initially pictured it as distracting Hank, and “assassinating” him because Hank then couldn’t concentrate enough to drive, but later apparently it has a gun attached to it. Why did R’s parents let him attach a gun? How did he get so much weaponry in general, that he can “massacre” many police officers? Also, I’m not sure if “massacre” is the word you’re going for. Are the weapons grenades or homemade bombs?

Condense the epilogue: Yet, three weeks later, Angela receives a video from an apparently living Roy, telling her he loves her and asking her to join him in his scheme. He even tells her his location. Suddenly unsure (why?), Angela goes to the table, gets a poster, and draws a line down the middle…

I also had questions about Roy’s age. How old is he? Ten? Twelve? If he’s closer to Angela’s age than twelve, why is it such a big deal that he’s tutoring her?

I also found it a little hard to believe the scope of what Roy was trying to accomplish—it sounds a lot like the games I played as a kid but that I knew, even at the time, were outside anything that might actually happen. Maybe you can explain it more in the synopsis.

Finally, I found the familial bonds between Roy and his dad to be… lacking. Yes, Roy’s hatred of all things adult would put a strain on the relationship, but then Roy shoots at his dad, and his dad comes in by helicopter to…what? Shoot at Roy? Why would Angela go to Roy’s dad, who might very well be too emotionally involved to do anything, instead of the police? I presume it makes sense in the novel, but if it can’t make sense in the synopsis I’d find a way to leave it out.


Anonymous said...

I did think it sounded like a really interesting story, though. (Sorry. I posted without rereading.)


Wilkins MacQueen said...

I like this, dear author, if you read Divine Miss p's version, she humanizes it.

I know you are having a few trials doing the synopsis, and you are doing a good job (here comes the but) don't remove yourself and your ability from the action. Humanizing is important. Wish you well, I wanted you to like your characters more. I liked them and the story. Best,

Jo-Ann said...

I liked the premise for the story, but I have a soft spot for adolescent misfits.

I had a chuckle at Angela's baton skills helping her when she's being tracked down by Roy, I think you need to keep that in the synopsis!

Otherwise, Phoenix did a great job with her synopsis, and, as Wilkins said, humanised it well.

Orlando said...

Pretend you're writing a query letter. That may shrink it down a bit. I couldn't finish the whole thing. You have a lot of useless information that can be removed. It sounds like you did a play by play description. That's not what you want. You don't want an agent to give up reading it.

William Keats said...

Thank you all very much for your comments (Yes, this is the author). I'm glad to see your responses, and even happy that they're honest and direct (I have a thick skin, but not so thick that I can't see where I need to improve!)

The big problem here is that even my "short" synopsis version (1350+) leaves out so many details that when Miss Phoenix rewrote it, she made many assumptions about the plot that are not true.

If anyone is interested, you can go to agentqueryconnect.com, and find my query letter and original (2300+ word) synopsis, which gives a much better idea of the story. I am listed under "bkeats" there.

Again, thanks to everyone for their interest. I really believe in this story, and I hope to be able to bring it to print!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Deep breath, Bill :o)

Realize that no author has ever said, "Gee, my plot is so simple and my characters so stereotypical, why are they giving me two whole pages to tell my story?"

So I read your 2300-word version and, save for some minor character nuance, I really don't see that much of a story difference between it and the 1300-word version posted here. There's more DETAIL, but synopses are not about the details. The same story is told in both.

Laura's blog attack, the extended fight scene at the end, and the extended epilog: These are things YOU want in the synopsis but not things the READER needs.

Three people -- one at AQ, Orlando and I -- have all mentioned the synopses read like blow-by-blow accounts. That means you're giving us way too many details. Just show us -- once -- that "Angela is conflicted. What is it she feels for Roy? Surely not love." Then move on from that.

Of course I got the details wrong. But please look at the structure again. See how it's another way to tell your story in the synopsis? There's room in it to add more words back in at need, too.

One detail I know I stuck in that isn't right is finding the RC copter near the car wreck. I didn't know how Angela and Roy's dad figured out for sure Roy was involved. If it's another clue that tips them, substitute the right clue, of course. If the Kenzer teens really are the ones harassing Roy and Angela with letters and calls, then say that and then indicate what Roy is doing to make Angela feel protected by him. These are details that add to the story so are important ones, yet I didn't figure out what they were from your synopsis.

In the last synopsis I wrote for one of my novels, I condensed 60 pages into 2 sentences. I left out 3 subplots, 4 fairly major characters, and several minor characters -- some of whom earned a chapter apiece in the novel. Writing a synopsis isn't as much about "how do I put all that in" as about "what do I leave out."

Be aware that I had to provide a 1-page synopsis a couple of times. So you may need to condense your story down even further. But you know what? After I finished cussing, I found I actually liked my 1-pager better.

Stacy said...

My niece is fourteen and she is definitely still going through puberty.