Monday, June 6, 2011

Synopsis 15: Kingdom of God

ROWENA MARTIN, 38, wakes up to find she has died and risen to Heaven. Though great peace surrounds her, she's extremely worried about her 7-year-old daughter, BRIDGET, who found her dead body and has been left behind, traumatized, on Earth. Then Rowena meets THE LORD GOD face to face and He shows her how her death was an integral part of His plan for humankind. He assures her Bridget is safe under His watch and encourages her to relax and enjoy her perfect afterlife.

The same morning, ERICK TORRES, 19, discovers he has also died and come to Heaven. He befriends a beautiful seraph, ELIZA, who arranges for him to visit the throne of God. There he too sees His plan and comes to terms with his death.

Together, Rowena and Erick explore Heaven. They instantly receive everything they pray for and learn answers to the universe's most vexing mysteries. They're especially thrilled by their new God-given ability to read souls and communicate telepathically, as it makes them feel immediately akin to every new person they meet.

But they notice many souls seem to be hiding something. Rowena prays for an explanation to this phenomenon and receives a vision of a fallen soul undergoing torture in Hell. Disturbed by the graphicness of the image, she turns to God. He explains there must be a just, eternal consequence for those who choose to become depraved and violent criminals. Accepting this, but weary of gruesome details, she asks Him not to reveal which specific sins sent the woman from her vision to Hell.

Erick visits a place where the saved are allowed to view the grisly goings-on in Hell. He becomes convinced God must be testing him--and he will only reach the real Heaven by standing up for the unfortunate souls in the fire. When informed this theory is incorrect, he's greatly distraught. To calm him, God places him in a temporary state of dreamy amnesia.

Meanwhile, the vision of the burning woman continues to haunt Rowena. Soon the full, horrifying truth comes to light: the woman is Bridget in the future, an atheist condemned to eternal suffering for her lack of faith. Rowena is furious with the Lord for concealing this from her, but He points out she asked Him to withhold the details. She now realizes the vast majority of the damned were ordinary, well-intentioned people whose beliefs denied them access to Heaven. This knowledge leaves her so enraged and disgusted God places her in a state of mindless half-sleep as well.

She emerges exhausted and suggestible; everything the Lord says seems reasonable and fair. But gradually she remembers the terrible facts and her anger resurfaces. She could choose to do what most others in Heaven have done and forget the horrors of Hell forever. Instead, she begins carefully disciplining her thoughts, pretending to wholeheartedly agree with God and His faithful while hiding her true feelings. Everyone--including Him--seems to believe her act.

When Erick awakens, he writes Rowena off as another blindly obedient zombie. He turns bitterly vocal and belligerent; God subjects him to multiple rounds of forced anesthesia and brainwashing. Still, he continues opposing Him, stubbornly.

Worried about Erick, Rowena approaches his friend Eliza. The angel, always a model of sincere piety, reveals she's actually working undercover for a grassroots resistance movement determined to liberate Hell. As a seraph, she can access a special curtain of privacy known as Celestial Sanctuary. While behind it, the resistance is able to secretly plot against the Lord. While outside it, they must maintain constant, flawless control of their thoughts so as not to arouse suspicion.

Eliza, impressed by Rowena's natural talent for regulating her thoughts, asks her to join the movement. Rowena doubts they can fight an adversary as powerful as God. And the risks involved are high: if she slips up and thinks the wrong thing even once, she might compromise the entire endeavor and God might send her into eternal oblivion--or worse, to Hell. But since this is the only chance she may ever have to help Bridget, she agrees to join.

Eliza considers recruiting Erick as well, but decides he lacks the necessary personality and skills. Hoping to distract him from his obsession with overthrowing the Lord, she starts up a romantic relationship with him. But Erick soon decides she only seduced him because God ordered her to. He ignores His final warning against inciting revolution. In response, God throws him down to Hell, where he's transformed into a demon and forced to torture others for eternity.

The resistance embarks on a mission to seize a device called the Hand of Man, rumored capable of defeating His absolute power. The moment it's in their possession, His wrath rains down. By seeming chance, only Rowena is left able-bodied enough to confront Him with the Hand.

The Lord goads her to use it to annihilate Him. He says He created the Hand Himself because He's tired of existing--sick of having to decide everything on His own, sick of debating with humans. People's arguments against Hell have begun to sway Him, and He finds this intolerable since He has to be the universe's final, unchanging authority. He knew about the movement all along and only allowed them to proceed because it fit His plan for self-destruction.

Rowena begs Him to tell her what will become of Earth and the hereafter if He is out of the picture. He refuses to answer, saying she must rely on faith alone. Then He shows her what He'll do if she doesn't destroy Him: He'll make Erick Bridget's personal rapist in Hell. This pushes Rowena over the edge, and she deploys the Hand.

The Earth remains intact, orbiting around the sun as it has for millennia. The existence of Heaven and Hell, however, remains unknown for those living on Earth. It's up to everyone (including the reader) to decide for themselves what they believe.

Comments

I think this is one of those synopses you’ll want to run by a number of folk to see how they react, and then you’ll still have to do double duty to weed out the comments being levied at the story and those being levied at the mechanics of the synopsis itself in how well it’s conveying that story.

This appears to be sort of revisionist religion, so it’s best to be sure the reader is going in with the mindset that this story is kind of like a revisionist history story where the Nazis are still committing all the atrocities they did, but in the alternate world they are the good guys. It’s a story you can certainly tell. It’s a story that might well sell to a niche audience. But it’s also a story that most readers will dismiss right up front. When I put on my editorial hat, my impulse is to say the shorter the synopsis in this case, the better. My other immediate thought after reading the synopsis is that this doesn’t feel like a story that will carry the 100,000 words the query says it has. It feels from this synopsis that it’s a big concept with little actually happening.

As set up here, it feels like the middle of the story is kind of like a prolonged Groundhog Day. Rowena and Erick seem to keep getting bonked back into that half-sleep thing, wake up brainwashed, and then have to remember again why they’re angry. There’s also mention of “eternal oblivion,” which feels a bit problematic. Is that the half-sleep thing or is that limbo, because isn’t limbo where most of the souls who haven’t heard the Word go? Or is that not a part of this Heaven-Hell system?

Mentioning that Rowena specifically asks God not to tell her what sin condemned the woman in her vision to Hell makes this bit sound like a plot contrivance instituted by the author. She may not want details in case the woman killed her kids by boiling them alive and then ate their livers, but most people, I think would want to know in general why someone gets, say, the death penalty: they killed two kids, killed a cop in cold blood, etc. Knowing is justifying, and Rowena seems to be someone driven by a sense of justice.

Here’s where I get most tripped up on the story as told here. God seems to be a very two-dimensional villain. Everything seems to be black or white for Him. Instead of looking for alternatives, he pretty much just says screw it and goes all in for the big infinity of non-existence. He seems to be taking the suicide-by-cop way out, but instead of doing something that goads a lot of souls into taking him out, he disables the very folk he’s relying on to get the deed done. You’ve turned Mr. Omnipotent into an irrational coward who sets up an oddly complicated suicide. The big question readers of this synopsis will have, I think, is not what happens to the Heaven and Hell in the end, but why God can’t come up with at least a different solution to try, especially if he’s being swayed by arguments against capital punishment fitting every crime.

Motivation for the Big Bad here seems to be what’s lacking most. Even in epic fantasy the audience is sophisticated enough to want their ultimate, world-destroying villain to be a shade of gray. This story comes with the baggage of a highly complicated character who, in other pretty well-known books, has demonstrated everything from petty jealousy to the ultimate sacrifice for love. Making such a 3-D character so 2-D is going the wrong way, IMO. If your novel explores God’s motivation more, that should come out in the synopsis.

My Version

[This edit cuts it from 993 words to 753.]

ROWENA MARTIN, 38, wakes up to find she has died and gone to Heaven. Though great peace surrounds her, she's extremely worried about her 7-year-old daughter, BRIDGET, who’s been left behind, traumatized, on Earth. Then Rowena meets THE LORD GOD and He shows her how her death is an integral part of His plan. He assures her Bridget is safe under His watch and encourages her to relax and enjoy her perfect afterlife.

Rowena befriends ERICK TORRES, 19, also newly dead, and together they explore Heaven, delighted to discover they instantly receive everything they pray for and learn answers to the universe's most vexing mysteries. Still, they notice many souls seem to be hiding something. Rowena prays for an explanation and receives a vision of a fallen soul being tortured in Hell. Disturbed, she turns to God, who explains there must be a just, eternal consequence for those who choose to sin.

While Rowena accepts this, Erick becomes convinced God must be testing him--and he will only reach the real Heaven by standing up for the unfortunate souls in Hell. God, though, dissuades him from this theory and, when Erick becomes distraught, places him in a temporary state of dreamy amnesia to calm him. Meanwhile, Rowena learns a horrifying truth from the vision itself: the soul is her daughter in the future, an atheist condemned to eternal suffering for her lack of faith. In fact, the majority of the damned are ordinary, well-intentioned people denied access to Heaven because of who and what they are or what they believe. This knowledge leaves her so enraged and disgusted, God places her in a state of mindless half-sleep as well.

She emerges exhausted and suggestible; everything the Lord says seems reasonable and fair. Gradually, though, she remembers the terrible facts and her anger resurfaces. She could choose to do what most others have done and forget the horrors of Hell forever. Instead, she carefully disciplines her thoughts, pretending to wholeheartedly agree with God and His faithful.

When Erick wakes, he writes Rowena off as another blindly obedient zombie. He turns bitterly vocal and belligerent, and God subjects him to multiple rounds of forced unconsciousness and brainwashing. Still, he continues stubbornly opposing Him. Worried about Erick, Rowena approaches one of his seraph friends, ELIZA. The angel, a model of sincere piety, reveals she's actually working undercover for a grassroots resistance movement determined to liberate Hell. As a seraph, she can access the Celestial Sanctuary, a special curtain of privacy where the resistance is able to secretly plot against the Lord without arousing suspicion.

Eliza invites Rowena to join the movement. Rowena doubts they can fight an adversary as powerful as God -- and the risks involved are high: If she slips up outside the sanctuary and thinks the wrong thing even once, she might compromise the entire endeavor and God could well send her to Hell. But since this is the only chance she may have to help Bridget, she agrees.

Eliza considers recruiting Erick as well, but decides his personality and blind obsession make him too militant for their subversive group. Her fears are realized when Erick ignores yet another of God’s warnings against inciting revolution and throws him into Hell, where he’s transformed into a demon and forced to torture others for eternity.

The resistance, meanwhile, discovers the location of the Hand of Man, a device rumored capable of defeating God Himself. Only too late do they realize they didn’t find it by chance. The moment they seize it, God’s wrath rains down. When the storm clears, only Rowena is left to confront Him with the Hand.

The Lord goads her to use it to annihilate Him. He created the Hand Himself because He's tired of existing--sick of having to decide everything on His own, sick of debating with humans. In fact, He’s allowed Eliza and the resistance to exist simply because they fit His plan for self-destruction. Rowena begs Him to tell her what will become of Earth and the hereafter if He is out of the picture. He refuses to answer, pronouncing she must have faith. Then He shows her what He'll do if she doesn't destroy Him: He'll make Erick Bridget's personal rapist in Hell. Pushed over the edge, Rowena deploys the Hand.

The Earth remains intact, orbiting the sun as it has for millennia, its people living and dying as always. It's up to the readers to decide for themselves what they believe happened to Heaven and Hell.

3 comments:

vkw said...

I don't think I have commented on this query here or over at EE's abode - because well from the very beginning it didn't show any understanding of what I understand to be Christianity. I am not familiar enough with other religions to know if it has basis with those religions.

2-I don't like something controversial just to be controversial-like burning the Qu-ran. There is no Christian, political or any other reason to do that except to be controversial in order to seek publicity. So - part of me was wondering if that was the point of the book to shed controversy over the entire concept of God. God and religion doesn't need any help in this area.

But . . . you know how you could maybe make this work? The Epilogue could be the revelation that it was the devil disguising himself as God to make a believer turn from God all along.

Like a modern day Job. Tempted by a shallow representation of who and what God is, a shallow representation of heaven and hell, a shallow understanding of Scripture mixed together with the concept that God would be so flawed as to want suicide by cop tossed in with a little ego . . . little me can do the slaying and I am important enough that God would argue with me . . .and in the end to learn it was Satan all along . . well, if done right it may be an interesting literary fiction piece.

As is. . . . I don't find it interesting beyond a brief wonder at what is the point?

vkw

Ink and Pixel Club said...

Having an all-powerful character in a story is a challenge, because you're going to run into the question of "Why doesn't God just...?" Why doesn't God just prevent people in Heaven from knowing about what goes on in Hell? Why doesn't God just wipe everyone's memories of Hell forever? Why doesn't God just relax his rules, abandon Earth, or commit suicide?

How do you intend to deal with Rowena and Erick learning the answers to the great mysteries of the universe? If the main characters are asking these questions and getting answers, it's going to be hard for you to justify not letting the readers in on the answers. And even if your version of God is not an infallible entity, those answers are going to have to be pretty good to keep your readers with you.

A couple of points strike me as contrived, In addition to the one Phoenix mentioned, there's the fact that Rowena gets an image of future Bridget in Hell in answer to her question. Why Bridget as opposed to any of the other countless souls who are or will be in Hell? If God grants her the vision, then God looks incredibly dumb or arrogant for doing so. I know that we ultimately learn that God wants Rowena to kill Him, but His actions should still make sense before your readers learn that. (A possible way around this is to say that these visions don't come immediately, but over varying amounts of time and have Rowena ask about both the secret other souls appear to be hiding and whether her daughter will join her in Heaven someday. Then you can have Rowena get the vision and believe it's the answer to her question about the secret when it actually answers both that and the question of Bridget's fate.) Same goes for the Celestial Sanctuary. Why would God create a place for the seraphs to be shielded from Him unless he believed they were having thoughts that contradicted Him and wanted them to? Either your readers are going to suspect that God is up to something or they're going to think you're putting in these elements because you need them for the story to work. Finally, there's the Hand of Man, which really feels like a deus ex machina. "How can we ever defeat God, who is all-knowing and all-powerful? Oh wait, there's been this magic artifact that can defeat God all along." Again, God allowing that Hand to exist doesn't make sense unless we know that God wants the Hand to be used.

I don't get why the final confrontation has to be between God and Rowena. It seems like God has engineered events so she's standing alone, but you don't explain why he singles her out. Is she really the one person in all of human history who ended up in Heaven with the most reason to hate God? I guess it could be that she's the best thought-shielder in the world, but I'm having trouble with that concept too. It seems like a pretty arbitrary limit on God's power if souls in Heaven can trick Him just by working really hard not to think anything blasphemous. If God is only pretending that he can't read Rowena's traitorous thoughts, then we're back to the question of why Rowena?

I'm not sure how you're going to pull off the ending without your readers feeling cheated. I've enjoyed stories that end without answering every question before, but you still have to play fair. The whole story has been told through the eyes of Rowena and possibly Erick. The question at the end of the story is what happens to Hell and Heaven - where Rowena and Erick are - after God dies. If you just cut to Bridget or some other random person on Earth for the sake of not having to reveal what happens to Heaven and Hell, I think readers are going to feel that you aren't playing fair. I know I would.

This is a very ambitious story concept with a lot of challenges for the writer. I admire you for being willing to take it on and I hope you can work through the various issues inherent to telling this kind of story to create a thought-provoking and satisfying narrative.

Alice B said...

Thanks for the comments. You've raised great questions/concerns. I'm frustrated that the characters and plot are coming across black/white and overly simplistic here. I cut so much out in the interest of brevity; I guess I need to make some different choices about what to include and what to omit.

Someone who's read the MS also pointed out the MS has an allegorical, darkly tongue-in-cheek tone this synopsis obviously lacks. I have no idea how to incorporate that tone into 500-1000words but I'll give it a shot anyway. I think it will make more sense if it's all not presented so literally.