Friday, 4 November 2011

Synopsis Spotlight - Ghost in the Machine

Please help blog-reader Fiona Maddock with her synopsis problem.
Fiona says: "Please find attached my synopsis for my debut novel, Ghost In The Machine, 86,000 words.  The genre is techno-thriller and it's for adults. I hope it appeals to men and women, but especially women, because I like reading stuff like this, so I've written my own, because girls like gadgets too.

What's wrong with it? *Sigh* It doesn't seem to be interesting enough to elicit a full manuscript request. One problem could be that I haven't got the genre quite right. Another problem could be that the ending needs to be stronger, and if I used another 4,000 words to do that, I would have a novel at a nicely rounded length of 90,000.

I'd describe it as 'techno-thriller with romance'.  The thing is, it's not 'blokey sci-fi' and it's not quite women's commercial fiction (or is it...?) I don't know.  I'm having a horrible bout of critical crisis at the moment so I've stopped subbing until I feel better.
[NM intervenes: Fiona, you need to remove your double character spaces before each sentence. Regardless of personal preference, it's really important only to have one nowadays or you'll cock up all the eformatting.]

I've added some notes as I go along. Bits crossed out indicate details that can disappear. Obviously, once those details are omitted you'll sometimes need to clarify things differently.

The year is 2020.  In a biomedical private clinic in the UK, divorcĂ©e Tess Brookes emerges as a nineteen-year-old babe, thanks to a bioengineering procedure called ‘Regeneration’.  Her new life will tick all the boxes: exciting, glamorous and pimped by technology, gadgets, and apps.  Tess is ecstatic over her fabulous looks and the promise of an A-lister lifestyle.
The cybernetics division of the Bio Multinational corporation, {omit comma] employs Lance Tully, brilliant robotics engineer, to build a new concept in humanoid robots for the Hungry Horse Burger Company.  He pushes Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the limit but the company wants sentience, using Artificial Consciousness (AC), which is still theoretical.  Pressured by the bean counters and marketing guys, Lance plunders the templates of Tess, the ‘regen’ client, to model the body and the pseudo-human ‘machine mind’ of the robot, Pandora. 
Uber-cool Pandora is Lance’s masterpiece.  Never mind that humans and robots are all mixed up, the company is delighted, and Lance is riding high. [add: until]  Pandora makes friends with the backup prototype, Dilip, and is distressed when the company sends Dilip away, so she escapes from the lab to find him.
A few days later, Tess returns from a business trip to Paris, and her colleague and best friend Jools is really pissed off with her; she thinks Tess has gone mad.  Tess is alarmed and  confused.She goes to get her car but unknown to her, Pandora has already taken it.[be more general about that stuff - show what's happening without giving all examples.]  She calls a taxi to take her home, and reports her car stolen.  At home, life has changed.  Tess finds a replica of herself in her hallway.  Tess challenges the stranger but only gets crazy answers from her.  The police arrive to investigate the complaint of the stolen car, but they see it in Tess’ driveway, where Pandora parked it, and they think Tess is psychotic.  It doesn’t help that Pandora goes into static ‘default’ mode and makes Tess look like a fool.
Rob Shaw, eCommerce lawyer, a client of Tess’ firm, is calling Tess on his Blackberry.  It’s their first date but she’s stood him up.  Tess had clean forgotten, but goes to meet him and asks him to help her unravel the mystery of her doppelganger.  [All the following paragraphs are more outline than synopsis. See my post from yesterday.]
Shaw threatens the Chairman with a writ when he discovers Bio Multinational has stolen Tess’ brain patterns.  The Chairman tricks Rob into a meeting and kidnaps him. 
Tess and Rob have fallen in love, and she tries to rescue him.  She finds him in the biomedical facility, but before they can escape, the staff catch them and lock her up too.
Lance must recover the robot or his career is finished.  When he does, the company orders him to decommission her.  Pandora overhears the command and she blacks out from panic.  While the programming team tries to revive the robot, Lance receives an SOS text on his iPhone; it’s from Tess.  Lance smuggles Pandora out of the lab, and they rescue Tess, but Rob is no longer there.  Tess is forced to flee without him.
Lance needs Tess’ brain updates for Pandora, and he persuades Tess to shelter the robot, now in jeopardy if the company discovers her.  In return, Lance pledges to help Tess find Rob.  Tess doesn’t trust the robot but agrees to do it, and she and the robot discover they need to co-operate in order to survive.  Lance fancies Tess and attempts to win her while Rob is out of the way.  Then Tess discovers that Rob has provided the human template for Dilip.  Lance has been holding out on her and Tess feels betrayed and is furious.
Unexpectedly, Rob turns up at his office unharmed.  Tess is desperate to be reunited with him, but he has no memory whatsoever of her, and she is devastated.    
Tess and Pandora conspire to trick Lance so the robot can steal a copy of Rob’s most recent brain template, which Tess hopes to use to restore Rob’s memory.  Tess’ own trusted bioengineer, Fraser Healy, succeeds.  Rob recognises her once more and the pair is reunited.
Lance programmes Pandora as his robot lover and she struggles to understand his human reactions with her hybrid mind. [Doesn't seem like a resolution.]

My comments: this reads too much like an outline, listing all the things that happen - which is useful in lots of ways but not quite a synopsis. When you do this you lose the atmosphere of the novel. It tells me that yes, you've put the plot togther, but it doesn't feel elegant enough. It focuses too much on details rather than giving an overal sense of the story. By cutting out lots of details and telling it in a more story-telling way, you'd make it read better. So, what we're looking for is more style and motivation, more generality and less detail. More emotion, more motivation, more interaction between characters. I think you'll find my post of Monday helpful.

And, by the way, I wouldn't normally expect to enjoy a techno thriller (or however you'd describe this kind of sci-fi?) this is but I thought this sounded intriguing!

What does everyone else think?


Tamlyn said...

I would call this science fiction. It’s soft science fiction, rather than hard stuff, but still science fiction. It felt a little odd that you were defining AI and the like because the genre readers would know, but if you were trying to market it as commercial fiction, I guess it would be needed?

As Nicola said, because it’s more outline (well, I’m trusting her as to that being the reason why!) it did make a quite dry read to me.

Despite the detail of the plot, you actually did lose me a couple of times with what happened and whys – but I guess that’s not really about the synopsis?

M Louise Kelly said...

Hi Fiona,
I think this gets the facts of the story over well most of the time but I think Nicola is right that it reads like an outline and not a synopsis and I think this has at least one main drawback: you don't get across the tone or voice of the book. The first bit sounds like we're in for a farcical romp (which would be fun) but then later you use a few words like 'devastated' and 'threat' which suggest something darker (but not strongly enough to make me sure there really is a darker edge to it).

I think if you try to convey the voice you'll automatically enliven the whole thing. Maybe it would help to go back to the book, see what kind of vocab, sentence structure, punctuation style etc. you've used and use them in the synposis.

i'm a synopsis struggler too so i'd be interested to see how it goes for you!
Good luck

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

I'm very grateful to you, Nicola, for subjecting my synopsis to a thorough examination in 'The Synopis Surgery' (book title candidate?) and for your edits.

Thanks also for the tip about the formatting.

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Tamlyn, Thanks to you for your comments. I think it's hard to tell when you've lost the tone, so I shall rework the synopsis with that in mind.
M Louise Kelly, you amke the same major point. I intended it to have a dark theme, but because it's sf I suppose there are moments when I feel that 'anything goes'. There are moments of black humour to balance the darkness and they balance quite well but I shall try to get more of that feel in the synopsis. Thanks again for your constructive advice.

Neal... said...

First of all, I'd say this is one of those great story ideas that gets you thinking of all the possibilities it has and how you'd approach it yourself.

On the synopsis side of things, I think the relationships between the characters could be brought out more. How do Lance and Tess know each other? Why they'd be relying on each other in a crisis doesn't seem clear. I think it'd help to indicate the budding relationship between Tess and Rob earlier, to pack a bit more punch when he's in peril and needs rescuing. And this may well just be me, I'd like to know what Pandora is thinking -- with AI/AC she's got feelings too hasn't she?

There really is loads of potential with this story...

E.Maree said...

This synopsis has a lot of potential, hopefully 'zooming out' and looking at the bigger picture will help it all come together.

Regarding genre - this is definitely sci-fi, and definitely NOT woman's fiction.

Also, I'd keep all mention of Blackberrys and iPhones out of the story - this is far in the future. Considering the amount phones have changed in the last 5 years, there's a high chance Blackberrys and iPhones won't be around (or will be under a different name) by 2020.

Anonymous said...

I agree with M Louise Kelly who said it sounds both like a farce and something darker. I also think that with the romance element, you might be steering it away from traditional sci-fi readers. I never read sci-fi but I might read this if it were humorous rather than dark. I think that's the way to open it up to a wider readership - concentrating on the comedy and romance rather than the science.
Having given a synopsis to others for criticism myself, I would add that you're free to accept or reject any comments that are offered. Its your novel and you know what will work better than anyone else.

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Out of interest Nicola, are you still inviting synopses to the blog or has the entry window closed (so to speak)?

Writing Jo Lawler said...

Fiona -

I found a really helpful system for creating a synopsis. It's actually a plot tool that has evolved to be called Rubik's Cube Plotting. See the complete explaination here:

By creating a visual overview of your entire story, it is easier to get away from the outline trap in your synopsis. I was doing the same thing, listing a blow-by-blow account of my novel. Once I filled in the nine boxes on my piece of paper, I could see the entire arc of the story, and portray that more clearly without all the unnecessary details.

As to genre - wow, I just don't know. It sound similar to iRobot, any idea what that was classified? I think I would call it sci-fi, but that's just me.

Best wishes!

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks for everyone's contributions.

Re the humour element - I think if the book only has occasional touches of black humor, you'd be best keeping it out of the synopsis, tbh. If it's mostly dark and thrilling, keep the whole tone of the synopsis dark and thrilling.

Mousebark - you said "I think that's the way to open it up to a wider readership - concentrating on the comedy and romance rather than the science." I'm not sure - mixing genres has a habit of putting more people off than it attracts. Unless there's a very strong batch of books in the crossed genre, I would try starting a new one or you risk being too niche.

Fiona - yes, people can still send synopses in for the spotlights, but I have quite a backlog! On the other hand, I'm not doing them in order and I won't put everyone's up here anyway, for various reasons.

To those who say you should just call it sci-fi - I agree.

David Griffin said...

Hi, I really like the sound of this; and it'd make a great film, I think. I'm still confused about synopsis versus outline so I look forward to Nicola's post on Monday.

As I say, it sounds really good to me; the only thing that struck me was that there's much scope for more "double-dealings' than has been mentioned, in my opinion; i.e more of the robot taking over Tess's life and being against Tess so as to introduce more tension and drama; and the the ending as an idea: Pandora giving the game away somehow only to the reader that it's a robot only with Lance quite unaware that he is wooing the robot and not the real woman. That would add quite a bit of satisfying spice, in my op. THe only thing is that would involve quite a bit of rewriting I guess but as these aspects were uppermost in my mind all the time I read the synopsis, I thought I'd mention it.

Still though, this is a novel I'd really like to read! (I haven't read much science fiction over the last few years, this sounds a really neat idea that would grab my interest).

Best of luck in your writing. :-)

Nicola Morgan said...

David - previous Monday!

David Griffin said...

Oops, silly me; thank you, Nicola! (I won't blame my mistake on the real ale festival I went to today.... OK, yes I will!) :-)

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Thank you all for your input. It has provided me with new insights. I shall rework the synopsis and comment on my blog in due course.

Briefly, in essence the tone is dark and ambiguous with an underlying menace. The black humour is sprinkled in to relieve the monotony of that, but a major shift of tone to full blown humour would turn it into a farce which is not the treatment I wanted to apply to this idea.

In particular, thanks to you, Nicola, for applying your editing skills. I have corrected the formatting issue you mentioned in my synopsis and in the manuscript.