Monday, July 18, 2011

Synopsis 19: Hard Nox

Life in River Styx, Ohio is anything but easy for sixteen year old Nox Sumner. A human lightning rod for tragedy, everyone close to her dies. When her older brother and legal guardian, Haden is killed in a car accident, Nox is stuck living with her crush’s family, the Coles. The last thing Nox wants is to become the de facto ‘sister’ of Memphis, the boy she loves, despite her desperate need for family. Nox refuses to let the dangers threatening those brave enough to get close to her hurt the second family that is all she has left, but this is one problem her rambunctious survivor support group and kind therapist can’t help her solve.

In the midst of gut-wrenching grief, while burying her dead pet in her backyard, Nox finds hope in Death himself. Introducing himself as Grim, he offers her a way to save Memphis from imminent disaster. Grim lost a bet with his boatman, allowing his centuries long partner to disguise himself as River Crowe, a mortal boy at Nox’s High School for one year. Only one teeny, tiny problem. The year’s up, but the Boatman refuses to return. Never born, the Reaper’s List doesn’t hold his name and Grim, for once is powerless to do anything about it. But Nox isn’t.

If Nox convinces River to return to, then Grim will move Memphis Cole’s name out of its current position – dangerously close to the top. If River refuses, Memphis will die and he and Haden are stuck on this side of the River Styx with no way to cross over. They’ll have lots of company in the other stuck souls, too. It’s not a good idea to leave lost souls confused on the river banks, they become lonely, distraught, angry. They start eyeing the living for new company. The River Styx claimed more lives lately than it should.

Grim is crystal clear, if River won’t return of his own volition, Nox will have to force his hand – and kill him. Having experienced the pain of loss so often, Nox can’t bear the thought of taking even a ‘borrowed’ life, even for the greater good. Crossing her fingers and praying River will see reason, Nox accepts Grim’s proposition, determined to persuade River to surrender his mortality so she doesn’t have to take it from him.

River, a centuries old being in love with life and bursting with vitality, is not what Nox expected –of the Boatman or of the slightly snotty senior he pretended to be. To protect Memphis and his parents, Nox uses River as a wedge to force distance between them, pushing him and his family away with both hands as if shoving them out of a burning building. Nox cleaves to River and her mission. He not only understands her, he answers questions she has yearned to know all her life. River confesses he has never been in love, never experienced physical intimacy. Nox has only one thing River wants in return for giving up his mortal life, herself.

Unsure of what to do, Nox delays resolving her quest, reveling in a stronger connection than she has ever known, until the unthinkable happens. During a group therapy outing, a member of her support group nearly drowns. Nox is able to save her by attracting and distracting the souls piled up on the bank since the Boatman abandoned his post, but she recognizes the warning shot across the bow. Things rapidly fall apart. Her favorite cop and part time father figure is shot in the chest. Another member of her survivor support group drowns when Nox isn’t there to save her. She succeeds in pushing Memphis away, only to have Memphis confess he has loved her all this time and beg her to forgive him for whatever he had done. Finally, Billy, the taciturn survivor she finally forged a connection with comes through his suicidal downward spiral, only to be killed saving Nox’s life.

Furious with Grim, furious with Haden, furious with River, Nox demands to know why didn’t they help her, warn her, stop this from happening? Grim reminds her she has the power to end all of this; River named his price if she will pay it. Nox turns her anger inward. She didn’t want River to die, to leave her and now Billy is dead because of her own selfishness. First, Nox goes to Memphis and lets him down as easily as he always let her down. She no longer needs to cling to Memphis, her childhood love for him is preserved perfectly like a pressed flower in her journal, but it is not the real love she feels for River.

Nox accepts River’s offer and confesses her feelings, knowing after this they will never be together. River accepts the bittersweet gesture, his anticipation painted with sadness. They spend one last glorious night together, talking, touching, getting comfortable with each other. When the moment for them to consummate their feelings rises, they are both nervous and excited. They kiss for the first time, and are immediately struck with lightning in a very literal sense.

River dies; Nox survives and everything in the world shuffles into its proper place. In the dream state between life and death, Nox bids her farewells to Haden and Billy on the banks of the river. Billy she will never see again; Haden has his own destiny she can only guess at now. As they step onto the boat, she catches River’s eye for a moment, but he does not speak or acknowledge her in any way. Before Nox can call to him, she awakes in the hospital to a world unchanged by the events of the past few weeks. No one knows River Crowe. The Boatman attends the river. Grim reaps souls. And Nox is heartbroken. Grim comes to her side. She inquires about River, but Grim is evasive. His last words in her ear chill her bone marrow as she repeats them, “Be seeing you.”

Comments

There is a lot of energy here, and a lot to like. There are few questions I have that I think can be cleared up easily, and there are some grammatical issues that can be dealt with post-haste. I accept that many of the larger “why?” questions can be ignored in stories of this ilk. The author sets up a premise and then the rest of the story simply has to be consistent with this premise for it to work. So I promise not to bring up any of the theological and philosophical questions the story raises.

The synopsis clocks in at exactly 1000 words. It would be nice to excise 100-200 words.

Life in River Styx, Ohio, is anything but easy for sixteen-year-old Nox Sumner. A human lightning rod for tragedy, everyone close to her dies. When her older brother and legal guardian, Haden, is killed in a car accident, Nox is stuck living with her crush’s family, the Coles a foster family. Despite her desperate need for family,The last thing Nox wants is to become can't bear becoming the de facto ‘sister’ of Memphis, the boy she loves's crushing on despite her desperate need for family. Nox refuses to let the dangers threatening those brave enough to get close to her hurt the second family that is all she has left, but this is one problem her rambunctious survivor support group and kind therapist can’t help her solve.

I think you can tone down the hyperbole. Everyone dies eventually. Are those close to her all dying at once or did her parents die when she was a toddler? Has she lost a couple of best friends before she figured out anyone she likes dies? I wouldn’t name Haden. When his name shows up later, a reader like me will need to refer back here to remember who he is.

You’ve also presented two issues here: Nox doesn’t want her new family to start dying nor does she want to become Memphis’ sister. The synopsis says the last thing she wants is not to become his sister, so you’re prioritizing that over him dying. Just another example of the excess hyperbole.

I don’t understand the last sentence. How can she refuse the danger when she doesn’t know what it will be or how it might appear?

In the midst of gut-wrenching grief, while burying her dead pet in her backyard, Nox finds hope in Death himself. Introducing himself as Grim, he offers her a way to save Memphis from imminent death disaster. Grim lost a bet with his boatman, allowing his centuries-long partner to disguise himself as River Crowe, a mortal boy at Nox’s Hhigh Sschool for one year. Only one teeny, tiny problem. The year’s up, but the Boatman refuses to return. Never born, his name isn't on the Reaper’s List doesn’t hold his name and Grim, for once, is powerless to do anything about it. But Nox isn’t.

The first sentence reads a little oddly to me. It seems she's having a stronger reaction to her pet's death than her brother's. I kind of like the detail of yet another thing dying around her, but ultimately I think it can be deleted.

If Nox convinces River to return to, then Grim will move Memphis Cole’s name out of its current position – dangerously close to the top. If River refuses, Memphis will die and he and Haden are will be stuck on this side of the River Styx with no way to cross over. They’ll have lots of company in the other stuck souls, too. It’s not a good idea to leave lost souls confused on the river banks,; they become lonely, distraught, angry. They start eyeing the living for new company. The River Styx has claimed more lives lately than it should.

Grim is crystal clear,: if River won’t return of his own volition, Nox will have to force his hand – and kill him. Having experienced the pain of loss so often, Nox can’t bear the thought of taking even a ‘borrowed’ life, even for the greater good. Crossing her fingers and pPraying River will see reason, Nox accepts Grim’s proposition, determined to persuade River to surrender his mortality so she doesn’t have to take it from him.

I’m confused here about what Grim is/isn’t capable of doing. Earlier we’re told because River’s name isn’t on The Reaper’s list, Grim is powerless to do anything. Now we find out Grim can kill him. So why doesn’t he? I’m not clear on what Grim’s motivation is. Can he reclaim his Boatman only if River returns voluntarily?

Also, Nox is once again (as in the first paragraph) faced with two priorities: If Nox can’t convince River to return then 1) Memphis will die soon and become a homeless ghost and 2) River will die. Which one is THE priority for her and which the collateral damage?

Why does the synopsis claim a couple of times that if Nox can’t convince River to return that she’s the one responsible for Grim killing him? She isn’t the one taking River’s life, right? Just because she can’t save him doesn’t mean she kills him.

River, a centuries-old being in love with life and bursting with vitality, is not what Nox expected –of the Boatman or of the slightly snotty senior he pretended to be. To protect Memphis and his parents, Nox uses River as a wedge to force distance between them, pushing him and his family away with both hands as if shoving them out of a burning building. Nox cleaves to River and her mission. He not only understands her, he answers questions she has yearned to know all her life. River confesses he has never been in love, never experienced physical intimacy. Nox has only one thing River wants in return for giving up his mortal life,: herself.

Unsure of what to do, Nox delays resolving her quest, reveling in a stronger connection than she has ever known, until the unthinkable happens. During a group therapy outing, a member of her support group nearly drowns. Nox is able to save her by attracting and distracting the souls piled up on the bank since the Boatman abandoned his post, but she recognizes the warning shot across the bow. Things rapidly fall apart. Her favorite cop and part-time father-figure is shot in the chest. Another member of her survivor support group drowns when Nox isn’t there to save her. She succeeds in pushing Memphis away, only to have Memphis confess he has loved her all this time and beg her to forgive him for whatever he had done. Finally, Billy, the taciturn survivor she finally forged a connection with comes through his suicidal downward spiral, only to be killed saving Nox’s life.

Instead of being unsure here, I think this is where you can mention that Nox knowingly delays so she can be with River longer.

Would the support group girl drowning have been more thinkable?

It doesn’t sound like things were really ever together to have them be falling apart now.

I think Billy can be lumped in with the support group girl who does drown. And if we aren’t going to learn why Nox’s life was in danger, being vague about it doesn’t help us connect.

Furious with Grim, furious with Haden, furious with her dead brother, and River, Nox demands to know why didn’t they help her, warn her, stop all this from happening?. Grim reminds her she has the power to end it all of this; -- just pay River's named his price if she will pay it. Nox turns her anger inward. She didn’t want River to die, to leave her and now Billy is others are dead because of her own selfishness. First, Nox goes to Memphis and lets him down as easily as he always let her down. She no longer needs to cling to Memphis, her childhood love for him is preserved perfectly like a pressed flower in her journal, but it is not the real love she feels for River.

I think we need to know that Nox has a change of heart before she goes to Memphis to break up with him.

Nox accepts River’s offer and confesses her feelings, knowing after this they will never be together. River accepts the bittersweet gesture, his anticipation painted with sadness. T and they spend one last, glorious night together, talking, touching, getting comfortable with each other. When the moment comes for them to consummate their feelings rises, they are both nervous and excited. They kiss for the first time, -- and are immediately struck by with lightning in the most a very literal sense.

River dies; Nox survives and everything in the world shuffles into its proper place.

I’m confused again. River can indeed become the Boatman if he dies. He doesn’t return voluntarily but is killed – I’m assuming by Grim. If Grim can kill him that easily (River was truly mortal, right), why doesn’t Grim just kill him in the first place? I’m just thinking the setup for this moment could be made clearer earlier.

"Everything in the world" is just more hyperbole.

In the dream state between life and death, Nox bids her farewells says good-bye to Haden and Billy her brother and her dead support group members on the banks of the river. Billy she will never see again; Haden has his own destiny she can only guess at now. As they step onto the boat, she catches River’s eye for a moment, but he doesn'ot speak to or acknowledge her in any way. Before Nox can call to him, she awakes in the hospital to a world unchanged by the events of the past few weeks. No one knows River Crowe. The Boatman attends the river. Grim reaps souls. And Nox is heartbroken. When Grim comes to see her,  to her side. She inquires a heartbroken Nox asks about River, but Grim is evasive. His last words in her ear chill to her bone marrow as she repeats them,: “Be seeing you.”

Is the clause about Haden put there as a clue this is part of a series? It seems out of place since we have no indication earlier that there is anything special about Haden.

With a little editing to tighten and attend to a few loose details, I think this synopsis will read quite well!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just to answer a few questions, so it's clear for commentors:

Everyone close to Nox died - her parents, her first set of foster parents, a garden's worth of pets - everyone.

Nox feels the danger is herself, as the connecting link. If they get close to her, they will die. In 'refusing to let them be endangered', she means she refuses to let them get close. I think I need help clarifying that. Any suggestions?

Grim can't kill River, Nox has to. In the end, the lightning isn't from Grim. It's from Nox.

The part about Haden was a clue to the series, and I have decided to leave those out. Thanks for helping me see that! :)

~Author of Hard Nox.

Jo-Ann said...

Hi Author
Your synopsis was a rare creature - it didn't make my eyes glaze as I read it, so that's a credit to your writing skills.

As the synopsis stood, I "got" that everybody close to Nox died. The sentence in Para 1 beginning "Nox refuses..." is convoluted (those who are close to her don't know they're being "brave" for getting close to her, as it's very unlikely that they blame her for the deaths around her - even if she does) so you can remove that segment of the sentence altogether.

Why not just say: "Nox does not want to risk more lives by allowing people to get close to her, as all those who have met an untimely end" or something (I'm not pretending that its polished).

I really think that it's an original story, so again, well done.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I did get that Nox either has to convince River to return to his appointed task willingly or kill him, though I think you could make it clearer that she has these two options and that Grim probably doesn't much care which she choses. What I didn't get was that either of those two options was what ultimately happened. My best guess was that the lightning somehow tied in to River accepting Nox's offer: her love in exchange for hum returning to the land of the dead. If I'm reading your additional comments correctly, what actually happens is that River accepts Nox's offer and is then killed anyways because that's what happens to whoever gets close to Nox.

One of my big concerns in reading this query is that the sheer amount of death in the book might leave the reader with sympathy fatigue. I'm particularly worried by the sixth paragraph where so many of the important people in Nox's life are introduced and killed in the same sentence. I'm guessing that you flesh them out a little more in the book, but I'm still concerned that there's just not enough time to adequately deal with all of the deaths in this story and that the reader may do what Nox is not very successful at doing and simply stop caring about the characters because the great likelihood is that more of them will be dead than living by the story's end.

Is River Styx, Ohio literally on the border between the world of the living and the dead? If the name of the town and the name of the river which souls cross to reach their final resting place being the same is just coincidence, I'd change the name of the town to keep from confusing your readers.

I don't love the names Nox and Memphis. The former feels like it's been forced onto the character to make the title of the book work and the latter reminds me of the confusion caused by having characters named Chicago and Babylon in a previous query. It's a minor gripe, but one you might want to think about.

If the pet was that important to Nox, you can at least mention what species it is. If Nox is aware that she causes the untimely deaths of anyone close to her and is trying to keep that from happening by avoiding close relationships, why does she even have a pet?

I am fine with the name "River Crowe" since the boatman likely chose it for himself and the wordplay is probably intentional on his part.

At least hint at what questions River answers for Nox.

Why is Nox angry at Haden? I don't understand what she expected her dead brother to do.

I'm not sure about the ending. I have no problem with the idea that Nox ultimately has to sacrifice any hope of a future with River for the greater good of saving Memphis and restoring the natural order. But I'm left with the knowledge that Nox is heartbroken, she may well still be doomed to bring death to anyone close to her for reasons that I still don't understand, her own death is still inevitable and she seems no more at peace with that idea than she was to begin with. Since I don't really understand what would happen if the souls of the dead were left unable to cross the River Styx, all I know for certain is that Nox has saved her crush from dying in the near term. I'm not sure I feel like it was worth it.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Anon,
Your comments clearing things up read like a great synopsis opening.

The syn you submitted seems too bogged down in the deaths and the big picture is lost. I wanted to know what pet she buried as well. Now it is a variety.

I think it is better organized in your comments. If you can keep that thread and style going I'd be more inclined to love this.

I do love the writing in your comments. Why? Direct, clear, a sense of control? Purpose? Seems to be missing the determination in the syn.

Best of luck here.

Chelsea P. said...

This story sounds really good to me. I agree that some things can be edited/clarified, but all in all, I would definitely pick this up in a bookstore :)