I've written a hard-science fiction novel and wish to submit it to Tor books. Tor Books wants a 4-10 double-space summary of the entire novel including emphasis on the beginning, end, and character development.
My synopsis is horribly "stale", as it is an info-dump of a 425-page novel. How does one explain 425 pages of rich detail, color, and characterization in only a few pages? Some folks tell me that synopses are inherently un-exiting and are a tool meant to give the publisher the picture it needs, rather than present the gripping, glorifying, story itself. With that intro, here is the synopsis. It's lengthy, so anyone who gets through it deserves something very great.
Synopsis of The Linking
Author: Jeff Richardson Word Count: 115,000
Marc Krause, a young high school math teacher in San Diego, finds a mysterious silver ball on a canyon hike. Marc is astonished to discover the ball is frictionless and falls slower than ordinary objects. He shows it to a colleague named Fred Clemmons, a chemistry teacher. A small space exists between its surface and anything pressed against it. Messages appear on the ball telling Marc to return home to receive more information regarding it. The ball floats through a classroom window to the school’s front lawn where it burns up in a white fire so hot it leaves a three-foot crater melted into the ground. Marc and Fred then discover that the electronic devices in the building have stopped working.
Marc arrives home to find a large electronic tablet in his back yard. The tablet states the ball was one of many across the world to intimidate people into keeping quiet about the tablets and balls until their creators make themselves public in one week. While the creatures do not disclose their intentions, they claim no ill intent. This causes great distress among the main characters, as why would creatures provide so much information about themselves to people worldwide but then want their information kept secret until the creatures make themselves public? The main characters must decide whether to tell the authorities what they have been told.
From the tablet’s description of the creatures, the main characters envision them as a hybrid between polar bears and large white weasels. The creatures come from a colder planet one hundred and fifty light years away. Due to their weather, they sense infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths in addition to regular visible light. They are more water-based, and communicate ultrasonically like marine mammals.
The creatures, who later call themselves the Cleeskl, have a psychological weakness due to the similarity between their speaking and thinking. They think, speak, and hear using the same part of their brain. This creates extremely fast and effective communication but leaves the creatures susceptible to suggestion. They can confuse their thoughts with another Cleeskl’s spoken words. Because of this weakness, Cleeskl leaders in the past manipulated their people too often. Their society remained stagnant for millennia. Eventually, the Cleeskl set up mechanisms to make their leaders’ actions more transparent to their followers. Their society flourished ever since. One of the mechanisms they put in place on their world was a global informational database called the Linking.
To a large degree, the creatures are a physiological composite of a number of animals on Earth, most especially marine and polar animals. Their infrared organs are similar to those of a pit viper. Their breathing and speech are similar to dolphins. While the story mentions none of these correlations, knowledgeable readers will recognize some of them. One unique characteristic of the creatures is they have neither bones nor muscles, but a type of bone-muscle combination that provides both tension and compression (pull and push). It is a single, interconnected structure that can extend and contract at will. This makes the Cleeskl uniquely flexible to meet the demands of intelligent, modern life.
Marc has difficulty describing these events to his wife, Gwynn, who has been in Las Vegas tending her mother. Meanwhile, Fred’s wife, Marge, feels threatened and demands to leave their home after witnessing one of the balls in their living room. Fred, near retirement, cannot afford the risks Marc takes. Marc must make difficult decisions affecting his wife and friends.
Marc, Fred, and their wives are among thousands worldwide to whom the extraterrestrials have revealed themselves via their electronic balls and tablets. The creatures say they are informing a wide range of people ahead of time to amass a large number of living rumors to force Earth’s governments to be forthcoming about them. The tablets claim the beings will then return to their world.
Jackie Atkins, a metallurgist at JPL, is drawn in after the Cleeskl coerce Fred into giving her Marc’s tablet. The tablet contains science related to the refining of a form of extraterrestrial (but naturally existing) exotic iron. She is concerned about what the Cleeskl will expect of her in return for this information. Jackie wants to have a romantic relationship but is married to her job. She becomes interested in Ian Rayner, a geological/mining engineer working for the USGS. Her relationship with Ian grows. Ian is not given the inside information the other characters possess and must deal with events as an outsider.
One of the tablets discloses the existence of an extraterrestrial exotic iron under the Chesapeake Bay Crater (a large meteor crater is there in real life). The Cleeskl tell Fred that if those on Earth use the material to build interstellar vehicles to seek out the Cleeskl, the Cleeskl will destroy eastern Virginia.
The Cleeskl claim no interest in retrieving Earth’s exotic iron because they have their own sources. The exotic iron has the property such that a magnetic field reduces its mass and creates a localized negative energy field. When the field is removed, the original mass returns. This is the foundation for propellantless propulsion. The negative energy field is the basis for faster than light travel, consistent with current (in real life) scientific theories.
The Cleeskl declare that in approximately five years Earth’s planetary imaging telescopes will detect an industrialized atmosphere on the Cleeskl world. Earth would have discovered the existence of intelligent life there even if the Cleeskl hadn’t come.
The Cleeskl meet with the President of the United States and other world leaders as promised. They give the President two of their intel-gathering balls cut in half for study, and a Cleeskl tablet. The Cleeskl surprise the President by telling Earth never to travel to their world. They have no interest in becoming allied with Earth unless a majority of Earth’s nations conforms to some of the mechanisms used on their world to keep leaders in check. The Cleeskl admit that 1,500 years ago they expelled from their world a Cleeskl civilization called the Moaruth. This occurred soon after the Moaruth found another habitable world (not Earth). The more advanced Moaruth had increased the quality of life for the Cleeskl. During a war, the Cleeskl killed the remaining Moaruth who refused to leave and destroyed any remnants of Moaruth culture and science. The Cleeskl regressed to their previous knowledge level and standard of living. After realizing their poor choices, the Cleeskl spent the following 1,500 years regaining what they once had with the Moaruth.
Jackie learns in a department meeting that JPL solicited NASA for a contract to perform metallurgical analysis of some of the ball parts the Cleeskl gave the President. This concerns Jackie because she fears the Cleeskl will get her involved. Sure enough, her management assigns her the analysis of the parts. She feels increasingly drawn into a Cleeskl plan which end is unknown to her.
While on a vacation near Lake Tahoe, a Cleeskl spacecraft (one of hundreds on Earth) visits Marc and Gwynn. Cleeskl give Marc additional technological information and reveal to them the real reason they came to Earth, which is for Earth to continue the Cleeskl’s discontinued faster-than-light communication (FTLC) program. The Cleeskl ask Marc to forward their request to the U.S. government. Decades ago, the Cleeskl discontinued their FTLC research because when in development, they intercepted two FTLC transmissions from an unknown source 8,300 light years away, farther than Cleeskl had ever traveled. The Cleeskl feared if they continued their work they would attract the Moaruth, assuming they still existed.
Marc is soon among people with greater education. This causes him increasing concern. Marc and Gwynn work with a group of scientists in Boulder, Colorado, contracted by the Department of Defense to advance the technologies given to Earth by the Cleeskl in exchange for restarting development of Cleeskl FTLC technology. Jackie is instrumental in refining exotic iron and in building the first prototype propellantless propulsion engine.
The Cleeskl regret their ancient past and are still afraid of a Moaruth return. This fear has overshadowed their culture for fifteen centuries and is the Cleeskl’s motivation for solicitation of Earth’s assistance in completing their FTLC research. Marc is part of a team that creates the first FTLC transmission test.
While all this is unfolding, Earth’s governments must face their inability to verify Cleeskl intentions and claims and are very concerned about Earth becoming potential bait for the Moaruth.
The Cleeskl warn Earth that war has begun on their world between the country of Anees La and five others. Anees La is opposed to further dealings with Earth, and intends to sabotage potential relations between Earth and the Cleeskl world by attacking Earth. Because of this, the U.S. Air Force moves the scientists from Boulder to a classified W.W. II facility on Amatignak Island, one of the Aleutian Islands.
Marc is challenged even more when everyone around him is more capable. It isn’t until his wife Gwynn has to face danger alone in the island valley when he questions his resolve and falls to doubt.
In a climactic battle on Amatignak Island, Gwynn and Jackie put their lives in jeopardy by facing 1,500-year-old automated Moaruth aircraft drones. Surprised by the existence of the drones, the Cleeskl explain how and why the drones could have survived on Earth for so long. Jackie and Gwynn receive life-threatening injuries during the conflict. A minor character is killed, and others are injured.
By the time their stay at Amatignak Island ends, the main characters resolve their major issues:
1. Marc and Gwynn no longer must act covertly. Marc becomes a meaningful contributor to the advancement of U.S. faster-than-light travel and communication. 2. Gwynn becomes progressively concerned about those around her. She contributes to a greater cause even at her own physical risk. 3. Fred retires from teaching and is hired by a company developing FTL technologies. Marge accepts what is going on. She and Fred are no longer at odds with each other. 4. Jackie finds career fulfillment while working on propellantless propulsion engine development. She progresses from being timid to bold and outspoken. She gets Ian, the man she has been pursuing the entire story. 5. The Cleeskl have their FTLC program restarted with Earth’s help. The Cleeskl do not find the Moaruth or their remains. The Cleeskl must begin to face their obsession with the ancient Moaruth.
Dominant themes throughout the novel are: the unknown, agency, commitment, knowledge, choices, pride, obsession, and trust. The story presents scientific principles in a clear and interesting manner intending to increase public awareness of, and interest in science.
This should probably be moved to the Fragments and Feedback for Books discussion thread.
However, I will share that I stopped reading after the second paragraph. This was not because of any perceived plot issue, but because of faulty sentence structure and poor proof-texting.
E.g. "Marc is astonished to discover ball is frictionless and falls slower than ordinary objects. He shows it to a colleague named Fred Clemmons, a chemistry teacher, in Fred’s classroom at night."
Sentence 1: I believe the word "the" is missing--i.e. "Marc is astonished to discover the ball is frictionless..."
Sentence 2: The sentence is poorly structured. Consider ending the sentence after "teacher".
Similar poor sentence construction is present in the next paragraph (especially glaring problems indicated in bold):
"The tablet states the burning ball was one of many across the world to intimidate people into keeping quiet about the tablets and balls until their creators of them make themselves public in one week. The tablet describes that the beings as resembling large, white mammals, from a colder planet one hundred and fifty light years away."
At least consider omitting "of them" in line 1 and "that" from line 2.
In addition, I have trouble conceiving why aliens who wish to be secretive would scatter many alien devices across the world.
Finally, I'd desire richer descriptions than "burning ball" and "large, white mammals"--but this is a personal preference.
Of course, this is only my opinion. Others may critique differently.
The synopsis is your opportunity to not only reveal the plot of your story, but your craftsmanship as a writer. When both are compelling, an agent or publisher may be enticed to request more.
To delete a post or thread, click the edit button on the post's title bar--the icon is a piece of paper with a pencil alongside--check the "Delete Post?" box, and click the gray edit post button below the text entry box to submit the post or thread deletion.
If you want to delete an entire thread; one, you must be the topic starter; two, you must select delete from editing the first post, and otherwise follow the above sequence.
When you're ready, you can then post a revised version in the book feedback forum.
I strongly encourage you to copy all content and responses before deleting so that you have it for later review. Also, History expended much effort that deserves other members' review for everyone's benefit, as have you. So perhaps instead of deleting the thread, Ms. Dalton Woodbury might move the thread as is to the books feedback forum.
I'll wait to comment once the synopsis' status stabilizes.
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jerich100, as extrinsic pointed out, History's comments may be of use to others as well as to you, so I'd strongly recommending not deleting this topic.
If you want to edit the original post (whether to shorten what's there or to add later versions--which we recommend as well--for comparison if nothing else), you can do as extrinsic explains--ues the "edit" link.
But others may have things to offer about the content of your synopsis and may be more willing to read further than History did. If you leave version one up, you may get more help.
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And another thing we recommend is to get at least three opinions before you really start changing anything (except for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, of course).
We also encourage that you only incorporate changes that fit what you are trying to do or that are suggested by at least three separate individuals--and only make the changes your way, not theirs.
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I do appreciate everyone's comments. The problems Dr. Bob pointed out are changes I made seconds before submitting the summary. To Dr. Bob's credit he caught them, which actually impresses me greatly.
I should have looked it over before submitting it. Somehow there needs to be an undo-button where the more egregious things can be fixed, as those take up everyone's time, too. Why should everyone have to read the same issues when they can be fixed so quickly?
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Hello. I'll echo History that the grammar issues and typos are a huge deal, so definitely keep that in mind.
Actually, I almost stopped reading after the second paragraph also, but for a different reason. Like, I get it. The first paragraph introduces the novel's mystery. What is this weird ball? But I think the way you describe it seems...familiar. More often in fantasy that takes place in the "real world", the story often begins with the main character finding something strange. And this object acts as a narrative vehicle to open up the usual to the unusual.
The second paragraph seems like the plot controlling the story. Marc finds this orb on a random hike, but then, when he gets home, he finds the tablet in his backyard? There's nothing I read in the rest of the summary that explains why this is the case. Did the tablet seek him out after he found the ball? I also don't exactly understand how he's able to use the tablet. Give an iPad to a man living two hundred years ago, and I can't imagine him ever figuring out how it works, especially going so far as to get a lot of information from it.
And yet, Marc finds this alien technology and is able to access all of this important backstory from it? You may have a great reason why in the novel, but in the summary, it feels like an awful big omission.
Now, paragraphs 3 and 4. This is where I became intrigued. I immediately thought that the summary should begin with the Cleeskl and their dilemma dealing with the Moaruth. That, to me at least, is quite interesting.
And this is one of my main concerns with the summary. So far, I simply do not care about the humans. You create this really interesting alien species with this intriguing problem, and that's great. And if the novel was simply about that, I, personally, would be interested to read more.
But this stuff with the humans seem incidental, and actually a bit trivial.
Also, the resolution at the end is a bit of a disappointment. It's like, everyone lives happily ever after, and the only character who dies is a "minor one". This makes me think that there probably isn't enough tension in the novel to keep people reading on.
Right now, I can't tell what the central conflict is. And there seems to be no antagonist, because the summary reads as if the Moaruth don't really exist. They're something the Cleeskl are worried about, but the conclusion seems to read as if they really shouldn't be.
And from this summary, I'm not entirely sure what the Cleeskl want from humans, or with humans.
quote: The Cleeskl claim no interest in retrieving Earth’s exotic iron because they have their own sources.
So they don't need our resources.
quote: The Cleeskl declare that in approximately five years Earth’s planetary imaging telescopes will detect an industrialized atmosphere on the Cleeskl world. Earth would have discovered the existence of intelligent life there even if the Cleeskl hadn’t come.
So they aren't trying to hide their home world, which seems to diffuse another potential narrative tension.
quote: Cleeskl give Marc additional technological information and reveal to them the real reason they came to Earth, which is for Earth to continue the Cleeskl’s discontinued faster-than-light communication (FTLC) program.
I *think* this is what all of the tension is supposed to be around, the fact that the Cleeskl wants to build this device on Earth so that the Moaruth won't find them. Of course, if Earth will discover the Cleeskl in five years, I'd think that if the Moaruth go to earth, they'd quickly discover the Cleeskl, who can't be all that far away, and who have left all of these balls and tablets everywhere.
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Another feature of workshop presentation for critique response purposes is progress through trial and error. I don't like subjective and judgmental terms like error, mistake, problem, correction, bad, poor, and so on, when exploring creativity. They serve little meaningful purpose, since they are by nature subjectively biased.
Anyway, we all learn most and strongest by trial and error, or heuristics in order to evade that pesky "error" word. Learning the many advanced functions of a BulletinBoard venue can be daunting regardless, and subject to heuristic learning, learned.
No issue being a courteous and graceful "problem." We've all been there, done that, will again. After all, part of what drives us to create is finding our expression niche in a writing culture, a new community that can seem alienating, hostile, or indifferent toward our participation from new beginnings, but sincerely and genuinely wants the best outcomes for each and all. We learn anyway by our trials; our "errors" perhaps more so, since we feel them most strongly.
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Kudos on great efforts and capturing a lot of detail in such a short length.
The first and perhaps most important question I'm left unanswered from the synopsis is who's the novel about? Or in an alternative, what's the novel about? Orson Scott Card locates four principal narrative emphases: Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event, or what's known as the M.I.C.E. quotient. In that context and texture, who is character; what may be milieu, idea, or event. Card asserts that all four are crucial but one should have principal emphasis. I don't know from the synopsis which emphasis or pecking order is intended.
I'm unclear as to how the novel title relates to the whole. Strategically, an appealing title expresses who or what a narrative is about, mainly the main character's, his, her, or its dramatic complication, perhaps an event or setting's complication. Titled The Linking implies to me that alien trait will be a central complication to the parts and parcels of the narrative.
The synopsis portrays an event pattern and sequence to some extent, but I'm lost in the way the content is organized, giving exacting detail on setting development focused largely on explaining the milieu's science, which has an idea background.
Human characters feel underdeveloped in the synopsis. This is in part because I feel the synopsis focuses on developing the extraterrestrial species and their complications and conflicts, motivations and stakes, and inciting causes and outcomes.
Picking a high-hanging fruit that spans all the above, I feel the overall narrative point of view is unsettled. Whose story is this? Seems to me the viewpoint is predestined to be an alien's. One alien's. A singular focal character, a protagonist is less challenging to portray, more accessible and appealing for readers, even screening readers, and potentially strongest from being most identifiable with and associate-able with when one dramatic persona is intended for readers to accompany and root for, feel for, and care and be curious about on his or her or its complication satisfaction journey. Plus, one focal character's viewpoint is possibly most artful for developing the all-important illusion of reality favored generally by readers and certainly fantastical fiction readers.
The synopsis names no individual alien for protagonist, though. Marc Krause is by default in first position--first introduced in the synopsis, and by default the protagonist. He develops complications due to the extraterrestrials, but his role seems to me either underdeveloped or unimportant. Meaning his character I feel is underdeveloped for the synopsis.
Jackie Atkins next presents as a possible protagonist. But, again, I feel her role is either underdeveloped or unimportant.
I feel as though the synopsis wants to come from a human viewpoint, but it feels closer to an alien viewpoint--why I feel the narrative point of view is unsettled.
One question to ask and answer for organizing a plot's event pattern and sequence is who has the greatest want or problem that complicates his or her existence? I feel the Cleeski as portrayed in the synopsis fulfill that role. If one stood out, or a human, I'd know who and what this novel is about and be aroused by that to want to publish the novel.
One strong, sublime feature that stands out to me as a noteworthy strength for narrative purposes is the portrait of aliens as motivated by hidden agendas, emotional frailties, personality faults, and flawed behavior traits. They have a value system somewhat like humans' in that regard and are thus adequately human-like to be empathy worthy for their faulty following of their preferred value system. Though they are portrayed globally in that vice-ridden manner, this makes of them fully rounded characters. They have greater personality depth potentials, due to their developed vices, than the human characters.
The humans are more or less portrayed as noble, faultless, and vice-less, one- or two-dimensionally at most. Exquisite multidimensional details about the Cleeski personality shortcomings--hence, why I feel that might be the stronger narrative point of view, a Cleeski viewpoint character as protagonist experiencing humans.
I am familiar with the meteor that shaped the Chesapeake Bay. It was a stony asteroid that may have contained metals, iron in particular as befits the novel. Eastern U.S. gold deposits in Virginia's mountains and North Carolina's slate belt may have been splattered in those places by the asteroid impact.
But that raises a credibility issue for the sake of preserving willing suspension of disbelief. Meteoric iron exhibits unique properties, but not as exotic as the synopsis relates. Meteoric iron has certainly undergone extensive analysis, magnetic property testing in particular. That defies the exotic iron properties the synopsis relates. What I'm getting to is that perhaps a cometary impact site is more credible for authenticity's sake.
Cometary bodies do and have impacted Earth, less often than asteroids since the comet bombardments that gave Earth its oceans. Asteroids are leftovers from our sun's last nova event and subsequent accretion disk and planetary formation; in other words, similar materials that formed the inner Solar System planets. Comets, though, have mixed origins. Some are leftovers from accretion disk formation, some are products of solar wind gases and planetary outgas condensation deposits. Some are gravitational captures from interstellar drifters, grabbed from other solar systems' outer Oort clouds, or accreted interstellar dust and gas particles. Some may contain iron, and since no one knows for sure at the present time, one or more such errant comet captured from outside our Solar system, their impact craters may be ideal candidates for the as yet undiscovered, requisite "exotic iron" deposits here on Earth.
Consider organizing the synopsis' narrative point of view from one character's viewpoint. I favor an alien's. Or further develop a more proactive human character, one with a highly problematic, epic, larger-than-life personal personal want or problem wanting satisfaction caused by the extraterrestrials' complications. Note that the seven deadly vices are fertile ground for developing character dimensionality and authenticty: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. And for developing a human character's main dramatic complication; that is, a want or problem wanting satisfaction.
I recommend against listing themes in a synopsis. They are best implied in the body of the summary. Also, consider organizing the synopsis into a dozen or so divisions reflecting dramatic divisions of the novel. Below is a fundamental outline structure for organizing a prose synopsis.
Traditionally and conventionally, those divisions are scenes in the playwriting sense of acts and scenes, though chapter divisions in prose's vernacular:
Act I (Scene 1): Introduction of the main dramatic complication's initial event impact on a protagonist character in a focal setting
An act bridging scene (Scene 2) Inciting crisis turn compels protagonist to act proactively to satisfy the complication
Act II (Scenes 3-5) Three rising action scenes escalate efforts to satisfy the complication
Act bridging scene (Scene 6) Realization crisis turn portrays a full realization of the complication's circumstances
Act III (Scene 7) Climax turn scene, midpoint in word count, in which satisfaction efforts are greatest, complication outcome most in doubt, opposition to satisfaction greatest, and most knowledge known about the complication
Act bridging scene (Scene 8) Tragic crisis turn, when all complication seems about to be satisfied, a prepositioned turn of events raises its tragic head
Act IV (Scenes 9-11) Three falling action scenes portray efforts to salvage complication satisfaction or come to a satisfactory accommodation with failure
Act Bridging scene (Scene 12) Satisfaction crisis turn in which either success or failure to satisfy a complication is finalized, finally realized
Act V (Scene 13) Denouement, final, irrevocable, unequivocal outcome of the protagonist's main dramatic complication
That's a structural organization basis; assembly may and does vary to minor degrees.
Thanks History, extrinsic, Denevious, and Kathleen for your generous, rich, and well-reasoned comments.
You must know that nearly all of your comments pointing out missing or weak content in my summery are (in my opinion) fully developed in the novel. What I am saying is, (nearly all of) your comments match and describe my novel better than my own summary, and yet none of you have read my novel!
This strikes me as very eerie, but I appreciate it very much. You deserve more credit than you get.
I hope this means I am an okay novelist but a very poor summary writer.
This reminds me of when they made the latest movie version of “The Count of Monte Cristo” a few years ago. The filmmakers changed a certain scene from the book because they thought they liked it better that way. They thought they were hot stuff. When they previewed the movie to test audiences, the viewers commented on the scene with, “It would be better if the scene did such-and-such instead.” That “such-and-such” was how the novel was written. The viewers had not read the novel, but knew how the story should have gone better than the filmmakers. The filmmakers said they learned a lesson that day.
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We who have been at this writing workshop process for any length of time and who read and write passionately have learned that dynamic creative writing follows a formula. When a piece--thirteen lines or a synopsis, for example--of a narrative contains an accessible creative vision that informs the whole, the whole can be intuited. This is largely due to content implying and readers inferring what a narrative is about in its many splendors.
Proficient critique and editing demands a strong degree of insight into a narrative's creative vision so that an auditor does not impose an inappropriate and alien creative vision. That is one of the laws of developmental editing, a more demanding editing process than copyediting or proofreading.
A challenge and perhaps the challenge of winning creative writing is to exceed readers' expectations and intuitions by developing narratives that benefit from and exceed those prepositioned parameters readers bring to their reading experiences. If only . . .
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jerich100, I am also a poor summary writer. I am very intrigued by your plot. I have read many alien books and seen many movies, but none of them have a plot like that. I like the silver balls! I think their properties are interesting! I want one! (Just leave out the aliens coming to Earth.) All in all, most of the issues have already been addressed. Personally, I would like to know a little more personality-wise about the characters. I'm still sort of a newbie here, but I think your story is good! Good luck!
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