Thursday, July 14, 2011

Synopsis 18: Under A Starlit Sky

"Lie under a starlit sky and your problems will seem insignificant compared to all the stars in the universe". JASON CALVERT’s mother used to say that--only he can’t remember because he can't recall his mother. He can't remember anything.

After waking up next to a small harbour in Victoria where he meets a man who says his name is IAN HOWTON, Jason is anxious to learn more about his identity. Under the impression he is named Ian, who works in construction, Jason follows a clue, a matchbook, from Victoria to a Vancouver pub. There he has an unsettling encounter with REMY HOLBROOK, a man he cannot remember, but who definitely remembers him.

Unable to find answers, his nights are plagued by a recurring dream set in a tower overlooking a war ravaged city, dominated by a locked wooden door. In the dream, answers emerge about his past--the address of his old house, his high school, and his sisters married name. A film showing a boy holding a purple dinosaur reminds him of the cherished toy from his father, and a man dressed in strange Victorian-style clothes with a bizarre metal prosthesis frantically, and threateningly, tries to give him a slip of paper with letters and numbers on it that will remind him of Toronto. One dream finds him on the war-torn streets and holding a card with his ex-wife’s phone number.

Though he ‘doesn’t believe in that sort of thing', Jason befriends EVE HENDRY, an attractive psychic medium. Through visions and instructions from her spirit guide, this leads Jason to the largest park in Vancouver. There, he meets a young woman, a student, who tells him his name is not Ian Howton but really Jason Calvert and explains he is a poetry teacher at the university.

Eve says someone used to tell him to lie under stars. After falling asleep while stargazing, Jason wakes to a stranger mugging him. Recovering his wallet, he finds an old photo of himself and his sister in Toronto. After uncovering more clues that point to Toronto, he hops on the next flight and learns that Hyde, his best friend, is the bizarre man from his dream who tells him about his sister, CAROL. While in Toronto, Jason runs out of money. Desperate, he turns to shoplifting as a solution, narrowly escaping with his stolen goods. He later meets with Carol reminds him of an estrangement with his mother. Intent on making amends, he visits her rest home only to discover she passed away that night. Due to the shocking news, he passes out in sudden overwhelming grief and wakes up in the rest home sick ward.

At the same time Jason has been struggling to find himself, Remy Holbrook is struggling to stop him. Using blackmail and false allegations of sexual assault against a student, Remy has stolen Jason's job, his wife, and his identity and will do everything in his power to keep it.

After witnessing a violent attack on a homeless man, Remy threatens to call the police and report TODD, the young man responsible, unless Todd helps him. Remy wants Todd to distract Jason from finding his identity. Using blackmail worked before and scared Jason away to Victoria where he changed his name to avoid the threatening phone calls, emails, and texts. But now that Jason is back in town, Remy must again turn to unscrupulous means to keep Jason away – using Todd. However, when Todd takes Jason for coffee and starts asking too many questions, Jason snaps. Hung-over from getting drunk with Todd the night before, which was all Remy’s idea, Jason attacks Todd in the café, throwing a chair at him and smashing his hand with a table leg, before fleeing.

When Jason learns of the false allegations that cost him his career, and ultimately his marriage, he confronts Remy and a violent struggle ensues. Waking in the hospital a victim of stabbing, Jason dreams again of the library tower, but this time, the door is unlocked. He comes face to face with himself and realizes for the first time he likes what he sees.

Comments

First off, kudos on the word count! The trick now, I think, is to unravel the threads of this story as they’re presented here and re-ravel them into a more clear structure. This is a synopsis that will benefit from not strictly following the story. As it is, it’s a bit convoluted and dense, and there were a number of times I was going “Huh?” and rereading sections to get the gist of what was going on. It isn’t because the story itself is complicated; the way the synopsis is presenting it makes it seem so.

"Lie under a starlit sky and your problems will seem insignificant compared to all the stars in the universe". JASON CALVERT’s mother used to say that--only he can’t remember because he can't recall his mother. He can't remember anything.

I know you’re trying to tie in the significance of the title, but maybe this can be worked in later when Mom and this phrase come up again. It feels out of place as an opener.

After waking up next to a small harbour in Victoria where he meets a man who says his name is IAN HOWTON, Jason is anxious to learn more about his identity. Under the impression he is named Ian, who works in construction, Jason follows a clue, a matchbook, from Victoria to a Vancouver pub.

There is some pronoun confusion throughout that I noticed, but it’s especially noticeable here. On first read, it seems as though the stranger is the one named Ian and I was wondering why Jason was so anxious to know more about this stranger.

At this point I’m thinking there’s some significance to this encounter. After reading the rest of the synopsis, I realize I don’t know why Jason is going through this amnesiac period at all. He’s apparently been forced/blackmailed into moving and taking a new name and a new job. What triggers all this?

There he has an unsettling encounter with REMY HOLBROOK, a man he cannot remember, but who definitely remembers him.

If the detail of their meeting is important enough to include, then it’s probably important enough to be more specific about the encounter. I bet it’s tied in with why it’s mentioned Remy definitely remembers him. As is, I’m trying to figure out if Remy simply told Jason things he didn’t want to hear or if the encounter led to fisticuffs or sex. It could go either way.

Unable to find answers, his nights are plagued by a recurring dream set in a tower overlooking a war ravaged city, dominated by a locked wooden door. In the dream, answers emerge about his past--the address of his old house, his high school, and his sisters married name. A film showing a boy holding a purple dinosaur reminds him of the cherished toy from his father, and a man dressed in strange Victorian-style clothes with a bizarre metal prosthesis frantically, and threateningly, tries to give him a slip of paper with letters and numbers on it that will remind him of Toronto. One dream finds him on the war-torn streets and holding a card with his ex-wife’s phone number.

Here, we’re first told that answers emerge in “the” dream and that it’s recurring, then we’re told that there seems to be another dream as well. And sandwiched between is mention of a film that I’m not sure is a real film or a film in a dream. The “will remind him” bit is confusing. Perhaps just deleting “will” will clear it up.

Though he ‘doesn’t believe in that sort of thing', Jason befriends EVE HENDRY, an attractive psychic medium.

I think in trying to keep to a low word count, some of the sentences have been compressed a little too much. In this case, the reader is left to wonder first why Jason doesn’t believe in befriending someone, then realizing maybe that isn’t what’s meant, so maybe he doesn’t believe in attractive psychics.

Through visions and instructions from her spirit guide, this leads Jason to the largest park in Vancouver. There, he meets a young woman, a student, who tells him his name is not Ian Howton but really Jason Calvert and explains he is a poetry teacher at the university.

Of course when I get to parts later where I learn Remy has stolen Jason’s identity, I have to wonder why students running around who know better and are having to explain to him who he is don’t report Remy to the university authorities.

Eve says someone used to tell him to lie under stars. After falling asleep while stargazing, Jason wakes to a stranger mugging him. Recovering his wallet, he finds an old photo of himself and his sister in Toronto.

I’m sure there must be something in the photo that clues him it was taken in Toronto? Beyond that, though, would someone who didn’t know who he was actually have a photo in his wallet that he hasn’t run across since waking up as an amnesiac? Seems he would have torn the wallet inside out within minutes of waking up looking for clues to his ID. Yet, it seems he runs across a seemingly undiscovered photo days, maybe weeks, later?

After uncovering more clues that point to Toronto, he hops on the next flight and learns that Hyde, his best friend, is the bizarre man from his dream who tells him about his sister, CAROL.

Who is Hyde and how does Jason know he’s a best friend? And what info does he have about Carol? After rereading the paragraph about the dreams, I’m thinking Hyde is the man with the prosthesis and the slip of paper? Or is he the one in the dream who lets Jason know Carol’s married name? Confused.

While in Toronto, Jason runs out of money. Desperate, he turns to shoplifting as a solution, narrowly escaping with his stolen goods.

I’m glad you mentioned this because when I read he “hops on the next flight” my immediate thought was “Where’s he getting all the money to do this?” I’m assuming he has no credit/debit cards, but even as I’m assuming that, I’m thinking there would be new ID cards (with his false ID) and other info to clue him in to at least his assumed identity earlier.

Still, even though I’m glad you mention the money situation, it really doesn’t play out much here. Does it go against his moral fiber to shoplift? Is he shoplifting food to survive, or does he fancy a new wallet?

He later meets with Carol reminds him of an estrangement with his mother. Intent on making amends, he visits her rest home only to discover she passed away that night. Due to the shocking news, he passes out in sudden overwhelming grief and wakes up in the rest home sick ward.

Other than getting info on his mother, the meeting with his sister seems a bit of a letdown, as with his meeting with Hyde. Between the two of them, I would think Jason would have pieced his life back together. Yet later on it seems that he’s still in the dark when he meets with Todd.

At the same time Jason has been struggling to find himself, Remy Holbrook is struggling to stop him. Using blackmail and false allegations of sexual assault against a student, Remy has stolen Jason's job, his wife, and his identity and will do everything in his power to keep it.

Jason is a poetry teacher. Why is Remy fixated on Jason and his job? Because he coveted Jason’s wife maybe? Jason has a wife? Or has the job situation become so desperate that someone has to go these extremes to get tenure? Just looking for motivation here. It can be a Single White Female fixation but getting across it's a psychopathic motivation, if that's what it is, will help.

After witnessing a violent attack on a homeless man, Remy threatens to call the police and report TODD, the young man responsible, unless Todd helps him. Remy wants Todd to distract Jason from finding his identity. Using blackmail worked before and scared Jason away to Victoria where he changed his name to avoid the threatening phone calls, emails, and texts. But now that Jason is back in town, Remy must again turn to unscrupulous means to keep Jason away – using Todd. However, when Todd takes Jason for coffee and starts asking too many questions, Jason snaps. Hung-over from getting drunk with Todd the night before, which was all Remy’s idea, Jason attacks Todd in the café, throwing a chair at him and smashing his hand with a table leg, before fleeing.

When Jason learns of the false allegations that cost him his career, and ultimately his marriage, he confronts Remy and a violent struggle ensues. Waking in the hospital a victim of stabbing, Jason dreams again of the library tower, but this time, the door is unlocked. He comes face to face with himself and realizes for the first time he likes what he sees.

Ah, but does the reader like him? And is that important? Todd is asking questions. Maybe he’s getting a little personal. But Jason doesn’t just walk out, he attacks Todd. Remy I can see as revenge/justice, but I’m not sure I like someone who loses his temper and physically assaults someone and decides he likes himself. It doesn’t matter that Todd is violent and may have had it coming. Jason doesn’t know that.

Do you mean it to be ambiguous about what happens to Remy? Did Jason kill him? Was Remy's body found close to Jason and now Jason will be tried for manslaughter or have to be cleared as self-defense? Does the unlocked door mean Jason remembers all about himself now? Ambiguous endings, especially in literary fiction, are fine. Just be sure the ambiguity comes across as a literary device in the synopsis.

I would suggest in a revision that you compress some of the things Jason is doing as he tries to discover who he is. Give the reader some emotion from him and a reason to care that he find his memories and himself. Right now he seems a bit bland. All he’s doing is following clues to his identity. And the people he meets seem to be in the story for the sole purpose of providing the next clue. I don’t get that he has any real relationship with any of these people. No one seems to care about Jason holistically. Why should the reader?

This is what I get about people not Jason or Remy from the synopsis:

  • Stranger at the harbor: There to tell Jason his assumed name and job.
  • Eve: There to tell Jason to go to the park
  • Student: There to tell Jason his real name and occupation
  • Stranger mugging him: There to remind him to look in his wallet and head to Toronto
  • Hyde: There to point him toward sister Carol
  • Carol: There to tell him he’s estranged from their mom
  • Mom: There to conveniently die
  • Wife: Not really there but doesn’t “stand by her man” – not sure if that’s a reflection on her shallowness or that Jason isn’t really worth standing by; another reason to wonder why we should care about Jason
 Look for the query for this story tomorrow. It's Query 100!

There's another synopsis scheduled for Monday. I'm open to critting one more synopsis after that to make it an even 20.

HAPPY BASTILLE DAY!

6 comments:

Caitlin said...

Phoenix - wow! thanks for your great critique! My synopsis actually *is* out of order, because I *thought* it would make it easier to follow by grouping some parts together more - obviously the opposite has occurred! lol. I'll work on your suggestions later today and pad stuff out again for the sake of more explanation and (hopefully!) less confusion...but i'll wait to hear what other people have to say too...

Ink and Pixel Club said...

Caitlin> In a story where the main character has amnesia, you readers are automatically going to have at least two questions: how did this person get amnesia and who is this person? As Phoenix mentioned, you haven't answered the first question, which I find unsatisfying. As it stands, Jason's amnesia feels like an extremely coincidental stroke of luck for Remy.

You cover more of the answer to the second question, but again, I feel unsatisfied. Usually when a character suffers from memory loss, it means there's some kind of big, earth shattering event that he or she has forgotten and will recall later on. All of the forgotten details of Jason's life seem rather underwhelming and a lot of revelations or meetings with people from his life that feel like they should be important to Jason end up being little more than a way for him to get the next bit of information.

My impression from the last line of your synopsis is that you want the reader to come away feeling that losing his memory and rediscovering himself has made Jason into a man more like the one he wants to be. But I don't get that from the rest of the synopsis. What I get is Jason travelling around, finding out information about himself, having weird dreams, and fighting with two guys. I have very little sense of what his life was like before he lost his memory or before Remy started blackmailing him. Was he good at his job? Did he love his wife? Was he well liked by his students and colleagues? I need to know more about who Jason was and how he felt about that person to understand why the end of the story is the first time he likes what he sees in the mirror.

Caitlin said...

Ink & Pixel Club --
Hi thanks for your comments. I've been working on a revision where i've addressed the question of why he gets amnesia, and who he (Jason) is as a person (before the amnesia). I'm hoping when Phoenix posts the revision it will be much clearer! thanks for your thoughts - very helpful! :)

Jo-Ann said...

Writing synopses isn't easy - hey, mine was #17, I should know!

I like the idea of somebody trying to piece together elements of their life to try to make sense of what’s happened, and to right a huge injustice. Your plot has elements of Bourne to it (hey, was his name Jason, too?) without the (yawn) car-chases and gun-fights (I’ve neither read Ludlum nor seen any of those movies in their entirety, just walked though the living room while hub was watching, which was enough!).

Reading through it, I couldn’t help but wonder if Jason's amnesia was engineered by Remy in order to steal his identity, (and if so, how?) or whether Remy was an opportunist who correctly read the situation and took hold of Jason's life, with the amnesia being a happy coincidence. Or was it the stress of false allegations and a marriage breakdown that caused Jason’s memory to wipe clean? That’s not impossible, but it is far-fetched.

I was also wondering about the time lapse between the event that caused Jason to lose his memory (stroke? accident? stress?) and the start of the story, (waking up beside a harbour). Had Jason been in a fugue for a while, or was it the next day?

I’m also confused about Jason’s wife. Is she at all suspicious about her new man, Remy, having the same job as her ex-, and elements of his identity or does she just see herself as being attracted to one type of man?

And to what extent does Remy take on Jason’s identity? It would seem a bit silly to imitate a man who’d been run-out of his job due to allegations of sexual assault, particularly if he’s now the incumbent of that job.

Also, in the synopsis it would be helpful to hear about Remy’s motives – had he known Jason all his life – (was he Jason’s half-brother put up for adoption, for example) or was it random (read Ian McEwan’s “Enduring Love” about one man who develops an obsession with another man, and how the obsession plays out).

I’ll have a look at the query in a day or so, and try to crit that on its own merits rather than doing so with the synopsis on my mind.

arrawyn said...

i was reading back over my manuscript and filling stuff out to increase my wordcount a bit...and read the part about the cafe attack scene - the reason jason attacks Todd is in self -defense! Turns out Todd attacks Jason first (or tries to) and that's when Jason throws the chair to keep Todd away and uses the table as a shield (but then squishes Todd's hand). I obviously had forgotten that! lol i was just remembering Jason 'attacking' Todd - so it wasn't out of the blue, there was reason! hahaha

Caitlin said...

oh, and that's me above ^^^ :)