Thursday, 25 March 2010


Remember when I used to do those Submission Spotlights? When brave blog-readers would offer part of a submission for public scrutiny and comment? As you may remember, I stopped doing them when I decided to help people more directly by setting up Pen2Publication.

Well, the other day I was contacted by a newish blog-reader, Siena, who was having problems writing a synopsis. Pen2Publication is fully booked at the moment so I couldn't suggest she use my services there but it struck me that since this is "only" a synopsis and since she said nice things to me, I could, with her permission, put the synopsis up here and hand her over to you good people for your reactions. So, I have.

Now, this is not a game, but someone's writing life we have here, so there are some rules:
  • Please respect Siena's work by making only genuine and constructive remarks.
  • Respect her copyright.
  • Siena is not presenting this as a finished draft: the whole point is that she doesn't know what is right or wrong about it. So, bear this in mind.
  • Remember that this would form part of a standard UK submission, so it would be accompanied by a covering letter and the first three chapters as a sample.
  • In your comment, please say something to indicate your experience, if any. For example, if you are an editor or a published author with some experience of the genre, please say so. If you have no special knowledge but are offering more amateur (but still very welcome) advice, say so. Just something that allows Siena to know where you are coming from, so that if, some of the remarks conflict, she can judge how to respond.
Oh, and I asked her to write me a little "pitch" - the sort of thing that would form part of the covering letter. This is so that we can get a sense of the book's style and theme, which a synopsis doesn't always indicate.

Here's her pitch. She is not asking for comments on the pitch but if you have a startlingly useful comment, I see no reason not to give it. But do remember that it would be within a covering letter and, of course, Siena will have said what genre it is... (YA, btw.)
The Phantom Prince is about being young, famous and miserable – teenagers discovering themselves in the public eye, excess, escape an impossible love across the divide of the new ‘celebrity’ class.
Since Sophie’s sister made it as an actress, her world has been divided. At home, she is responsible for paying the bills and chasing down her father’s rent check, yet in another world her sister has been casted as the lead in The Phantom Prince alongside latest poster-boy Blake Edwards; star of the ‘Moonlight Saga’ films. The worlds cross when Sophie begins a summer placement at Pinewood Studios and falls for Blake, but her sister – not one to be outshone – is not happy and when her partying grows out of control, rumours on set threaten her career. Sophie must make a choice between family and love, and decide if that love is worth the sacrifice of her anonymity for ever.
And here's the synopsis, which is what she's asking you about. It fits easily onto two sides of A4, by the way.
At 17, Sophie Heaton’s most notable achievement is being the sister of Lydia Lowe - a bona-fide A list actress and her biggest worry is how to pay the bills; having a famous sister doesn’t mean that normal problems just end. When Sophie goes to see her sister at Pinewood Studios, it isn’t to get a taste of celebrity life (though she is intrigued by her sister’s world secret world); her father’s rent cheque is weeks later, and her mother - who had never got over the divorce, spends a good part of her day in bed- aided by her bottle of sleeping pills.
It wasn’t like she expected Lydia to make everything better, empathy wasn’t exactly her forte (not when it wasn’t scripted anyway) and Sophie was used to taking care of things on her own. Her sister had moved on, moved out of the family home, even changed her last name! So when she is met with her utter indifference, it doesn’t come as a surprise. Despite this, her journey isn’t wasted. Sophie is captivated by the world of film, and in particular Blake Edwards- a mysterious actor and star of the ‘Moonlight Saga’.
Blake has had little time to get used to fame, the press say he is the latest heartthrob, battalions of teenage fans think he is their dream guy, and the director considers him the best new acting talent since Johnny Depp; but alone in his luxurious Mayfair suite, he can’t remember what normal life feels like.
For Sophie, the situation at home reaches breaking point when her father admits that there will be no more cheques. She has no other option but to go back to Pinewood and beg her sister’s help. Lydia is more than forthcoming in offering it, and taking advantage of her sister’s good spirits, Sophie asks if she can stay and help out on set.
Finally, her life begins – sure, there are coffee runs and a lot of standing around, but she’s actually at Pinewood, there are no more bills to worry about and she’s found a friend!  Amelia Brightside is the daughter of Kurt Brightside (deceased rock-star), Lilly Brightside who last she heard was still in rehab and step-daughter to the director. It is no wonder that at the end of a long week, Sophie finds herself at a loss with what to do on her day off. And OK, it isn’t exactly a co-incidence that she bumps into Blake Edwards at the National Portrait’s ‘Live Fast Die Young’ exhibition (she did kind of steal the flyer from his trailer, which might technically be kind of creepy, but its Blake Edwards for God’s sake!)
It is the simplest of boy-meets-girl stories. They got on, they had a lot in common and...Yes she was smitten but that’s normal, right? When you meet a boy you like? And with the filming moving from Pinewood to location in Dorset in a matter of days, she doesn’t have long. Sophie’s fantasy begins to unravel when she learns just how far removed their two worlds are at a cast party. She knew Blake was famous, but the press and the screaming fans were more than she’s been expecting. More worrying is the Issue of Lydia whose excess has begun to draw attention. As Amelia explains, everyone does drugs, it’s fine as long as no one knows, but people were beginning to talk. Then, her last hopes for happiness are shattered as Blake is snapped leaving the party with her sister. A phone-call from Blake the next morning explains the situation, but Sophie has little time to be relieved. Lydia is in trouble, Blake found her five sheets to the wind and whisked her away before tongues began to wag. He forces Sophie to face up to Lydia’s problem and the sisters talk frankly for the first time in years. Her head full of other worries, Sophie is surprised when she is asked to go to Dorset with the actually accompany Blake, as his assistant. It is obvious to both her and Amelia that the request could only have come from one person.
A long drive north brings them together and feelings are re-kindled as Sophie enjoys Blake’s growing attentions; but he is confusing and indecisive, suspecting that Sophie has fallen for the public image, rather than the real him. He pushed her away, and Sophie- used to being the plain sister - believes herself unworthy, something which isn’t helped by her discovery that it was Lydia and not Blake who requested her presence in Dorset.
The loss of Sophie- the only person in his who does not judge him, and his only link to the real world – effects Blake more than he expected and when he makes his feelings clear, it looks like Sophie can finally be happy, but Lydia has other plans. Her condition deteriorates and she finds herself at the same time reliant on her sister and envious of the attention she receives. Lydia convinces Blake that it would be in Sophie’s best interest to be kept away from the media attention, and agreeing with her, Blake leaves Sophie with little more than a note explaining that he is returning to London, alone.
Heartbroken, Sophie tries to piece her life back together, but when your first love is Blake Edwards, getting away isn’t easy. She takes to her bed, and when Lydia finds her with a handful of their mother’s pills, she finally begins to take responsibility for the situation she has brought about. With Lydia in charge, the mother is sent away to get better and Sophie takes comfort in a world of credit cards and designer dresses, but Lydia continues to party and rumours of her breakdown finally begin to affect her career.
The Phantom Prince is premiering in the West End and Lydia asks her sister to go as her date. She is  confident that the new designer- clad Sophie is over Blake and sees no threat in the meeting, but she has underestimated the connection. Blake’s  is confused when he sees Sophie in front of the cameras, he confronts her and she learns of Lydia’s part in the break-up.  The lovers make a run for it, leaving the celebrity circus behind. Their exit down the red carpet is captured by a shower of flashing lights and no one notices that Lydia has stumbled out of the screening, determined to find her sister and explain. She finds a row of parked black cars, waiting to take the guests to the after-party. One of the cars is empty, keys still in the ignition and Lydia falls behind the wheel ; drunk. When Blake’s Porsche pulls up outside the Heaton house, Sophie immediately knows something is wrong, there isn’t usually that much traffic, and the police cars could mean anything, but she knows before she sees the wreck , that her sister is inside.
It has been almost a year since the accident. Sophie has moved to California with her mother to start a degree at UCLA. She hasn’t seen Blake since that night, well, aside from on TV. Sophie understands- she told him she needed to be alone and she thought he seemed relieved; being associated with the accident could bring negative PR. She’d caused him enough trouble. Amelia comes to visit, and Sophie arrives at the restaurant excited to see her friend. What she wasn’t expecting was Blake to be there too, his feelings for her, unchanged.  Sophie and Blake decides to give it another go, a new start in a new city, but being on the arm of the hottest actor in town will undoubtedly bring new problems.
Over to you - be kind! I hope to comment myself soon, but, as some of you know from Twitter, the mother of all house moves has begun...


Thomas Taylor said...

I'll only comment as an adult male reader of MG and YA fiction.

Being an adult male, this isn't for me, but igniting my inner teen princess for a moment, wow, this sounds GOOD! The dazzle and the dark heart of celebrity, the super-successful sister who is really failing big time, and the chance for everygirl to meet a dreamy screen legend make this sound like a winner to me.

There are typos and tense shifts. Do we worry about those here? Also, the synopsis seemed a little cluttered and perhaps a trifle over-long. Perhaps it could all be tightened a little. And I'd like to have more of good stuff like this:

...empathy wasn’t exactly her forte (not when it wasn’t scripted anyway)

And a little less blow by blow accounting.

Spider Griffin said...

Also, being an adult, I have never read any YA fiction (and when I was a young adult, that termed hadn't been coined!) But as far as I know, this could be just right for the market it's intended for.

My only (constructive, I hope) criticisms would be, that the main points of any tension need to be somehow highlighted more; they seem to blend with the overall synopsis. I mean to say, some aspects need to make the reader (in this case an agent) sit up and want to read on. Just my opinion there.

Blake Edwards, the name you have given to your mysterious actor, is also the name of a well-known and established American film director. Does that matter? I could also point out that I didn't quite get why the actor was so mysterious, or perhaps that was just me.

As was previously mentioned, a few tense shifts. One typo which stood out for me was: " her sister’s world secret world".

The whole thing just need a little bit more polishing.

I hope I've helped here and wish Siena the very best of luck and good fortune in finding a suitable agent.


behlerblog said...

Nicola asked for creds; I'm editorial director for a small trade press in the US.

Since I'm a Yank, I have little choice but to look at this through that prism.

The first thing I noticed is the changing POVs. I would have preferred that you stick to one POV. Reason being is that I think it would help you cut down on the many little details that don't really need to be included.

The more little details you include, the easier it is to become confused because it forces me to ask more questions.

Because of the space considerations, you don't have that ability to get too detailed, so I would suggest tossing anything that doesn't directly impact the main story. This will cut down on some of the elements that lack logic. It will also cut down on making this feel so rushed.

That goes for characters as well. We don't need to know Amelia right now.

I also look for paragraphs to transition into each other so that I'm led into a new point in a smooth, logical manner. Again, I think because you switch POVs, this creates a difficulty in creating a smooth para transition.

Since this is a oft-used plot, I was looking to become endeared with your characters because they are the ones who propel the plot. I would have loved to get a better feel for why I should like them and align myself with them. If I don't care about the characters, I find it much easier to put the story aside.

Lastly, I assume Lydia died in the accident? You never said, and this is an important point.

So to recap, I would have liked to see less minute detail and more of the main foundations of the story - which would create a tighter, more cohesive synop that would have good transitions. I would have liked to know more about the characters and why I should like them.

You've done a great job, and I think that with a bit of tweaking you would have a very effective synop. Good luck to you!

Elizabeth West said...

Writer here, unpublished, alas. But I recently finished writing four synopses for my book and I've read a lot of YA fiction.

The story itself sounds great! It's the kind of thing I might have fantasized about as a teen. The synopsis is a bit wordy; I think you could tighten it up quite a bit. This post on Chuck Sambuchino's blog helped me focus mine:

I must be a masochist; I wrote a one-, two-, five- and eight-pager.

Another site that helped me a lot is Lisa Gardner's "Conquering the Dreaded Synopsis." Her lectures helped me consider the things that were most important in my summaries. Here is the link:

I hope that helps. Good luck!

Elizabeth West said...

I apologize; those links did not post well, it looks like.

Lisa Gardner's

Chuck Sambuchino's

Nicola Morgan said...

Useful comments, people. I agree that a great deal needs to be pared down from this. And the grammar and punctuation need to be perfected.

Lynn (behlerblog) is absolutely right about the POVs. If you hadn'e POV switches correctly, this is fine, but from the synopsis it's not clear whether you do. You can SAY in the synopsis how POV switches are effected - eg is it chapter by chapter?

And Lynn is also quite right about the need for us to like the main character(s) enough to care.

I'd want to add two things to everyone's comments:

1. Because this is YA, you need to show how you are going to deal with the drug issue in a sensitive way. Drugs are a very valid issue in YA fiction but they do have to be handled in certain ways. Your synopsis FEELS more like an adult novel at that point. You had mentioned to me about not being sure about the YA aspect because of the age of the MC - as I said to you, the MC is the right age, but the problem is that too many of the other characters are adults and this takes us onto difficult territory. You need to nail that the POV is 100% Sophie's, simply in order to keep this YA focused.

2. I sense a conflict between the humorous/glamorous touch and the darkness of the drug spiral. This is not in itself a problem but you need to be very clear that the voice is going to carry the weight of this dichotomy.

Good luck! It sounds as though you have an exciting story all ready to polish, but quite a bit of polishing to do!

Jo Franklin said...

Hi Siena, What a surprise to bump into you here in the world of the Crabbit rather than at EDWG

I agree with everyone else - you need to pare it right back. For example you say :
"It wasn’t like she expected Lydia to make everything better, empathy wasn’t exactly her forte (not when it wasn’t scripted anyway) and Sophie was used to taking care of things on her own. Her sister had moved on, moved out of the family home, even changed her last name! So when she is met with her utter indifference, it doesn’t come as a surprise. Despite this, her journey isn’t wasted. Sophie is captivated by the world of film, and in particular Blake Edwards- a mysterious actor and star of the ‘Moonlight Saga’."

But I wonder whether something more like this would be appropriate

When Dad is threatened with eviction, Sophie is forced to go to Pinewood studios to ask Lydia for a loan. She knows that her sister will be reluctant to help out but she has no choice. While on set she meets Blake Edwards the star of the hit 'Moonlight Saga'. She is bowled over by him and wonders how she can see him again.

You've got to constantly focus on what are the characters problems and how are they going to overcome them. That is your narrative thread. Ditch all subplots, red herrings and scenes which are primarily character development. Don't mention any characters unless they are crucial to the main narrative thread.

Hope this helps

siena said...

A big thanks to everyone who has commented and especially Nicola. Really appreciate you help!

Some lovely positive feedback on here and I can't wait to get this the best it can be.

In response to Nicola's comment about POV switching, there is one chapter in 3rd person from the POV of Blake Edwards and another late in the book in from the POV of Lydia. When I wrote Blake's scenes originally he came across as rather arrogant so I needed to show my readers that he was just shy.
Similarly I needed to show Lydia's softer side but this isn't something she shares with her sister.
The rest of the narrative is 1st person, and I did try to rewrite in 3rd (as was suggested by my writing group) but it simply didn't work.

I fully agree that dealing with drug use in a YA novel needs to be handled responsibly (something I've thought about a lot) so highlighting that in this the synopsis is a good idea.

Jo> Hello! Fancy seeing you here! Your comments are useful as always. I think my edited synopsis will be my next writing group piece!