Synopsis - AMÉRICA! - historical fiction

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dgaughran
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Synopsis - AMÉRICA! - historical fiction

Post by dgaughran » September 29th, 2010, 7:11 am

Hi all,

I've read Nathan's guidelines above. I'm new to this forum (but have been reading the blog for some time). I haven't critiqued anybody's queries so far, but have begun answering some questions in the other parts of the forum, and if anyone needs any advice on submitting to UK agents, they can send me a message. Some background: I first began submitting this to agents in the UK a year ago, and got poor responses (only 1 partial request). One draft later, and with a tighter query, the responses were much better (10 partials, 4 fulls - all passed). For UK submissions the synopsis is crucial, often much more so than the query letter (which can be slightly different - little on the plot, more on the writer and the genesis of the story), which would explain my far-greater success rate in the US, as, without a doubt, the weakest part of my submission package was the synopsis: I didn't reveal the ending, left out main characters; left in minor characters; left out major plot developments; I did all the don'ts. It's a complex story with seven characters, so I have tried to keep it short and sweet so your head doesn't spin off. Main question is: is it too short? Does it make sense?

Thank you in advance to anyone who takes the time to read and/or comment on this.

Regards

Dave

*****


AMÉRICA! is the story of seven people whose lives intertwine when their quests for freedom become tied to the liberation of a continent.

San Martín deserts from the Spanish Army, absconding to Buenos Aires. Desperate to free his homeland, he must first free himself from his opium addiction. Catalina’s father is murdered, leaving her to fend for herself in Valparaiso, but when Spain reinvades, she flees into the Andes. Diego is expelled from home after a tragic accident, forced into a life of crime. Jorge buries both their parents, and when the snows melt, goes in search of his brother. Zé, a slave on a sugar plantation, kills his master and stows away on a boat bound for Buenos Aires. Pacha, freed from the death mines of Potosí, enlists to protect his family, despairing as the war moves him to a strange land, far from home. And Lord Cochrane, Britain’s greatest living seaman, is framed in a stock exchange fraud, and escapes prison, bound for Chile.

Forming a rag-tag army of slaves, mercenaries and ex-convicts, San Martín unites them all. They scale the Andes, liberate Santiago and attack Lima by sea, frustrating Napoleon’s secret plan to conquer South America. Diego, conscripted from prison, is reunited with Jorge, but they have grown distant. Turning to prostitution in the refugee camp, Catalina sleeps with both brothers, causing a family feud, for Diego loves Catalina and Catalina loves Jorge, but Jorge loves no-one, not even himself.

By 1822, after twelve years of brutal war, costing the lives of Zé, Pacha, Jorge and countless others, Spain is on the verge of losing her Empire. After the fall of Lima, the two greatest South American generals, Bolívar and San Martín, meet for the first time to discuss the conclusion of the conflict. San Martín is backed into a corner: the fragile political alliances he has constructed are falling apart, and Bolívar is noncommittal on sending reinforcements crucial to finishing the Spanish off. He realises that his presence is the only impediment to Bolívar agreeing. He resigns, leaving Bolívar the glory of the final battle.
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Re: Synopsis - AMÉRICA! - historical fiction

Post by arbraun » September 30th, 2010, 12:57 pm

dgaughran wrote:AMÉRICA! is the story of seven people whose lives intertwine when their quests for freedom become tied to the liberation of a continent. This seems a bit vague to me. I'd start with a sharper, more specific opening. You're synopsis is the right length though. You're right at about a page and a half.

San Martín deserts from I'd delete "from" the Spanish Army, absconding to Buenos Aires. Good word choice with "absconding." Desperate to free his homeland, he must first free himself from his opium addiction. Catalina’s father is murdered, leaving her to fend for herself in Valparaiso, but when Spain reinvades, she flees into the Andes. Diego is expelled from home after a tragic accident, forced into a life of crime. How is he forced into that? Details. Plus, can we identify with and love a protagonist that lets himself be coerced into criminal activity? The protagonist should be willing to die for the cause. Jorge buries both their parents, and when the snows melt, goes in search of his brother. Zé, a slave on a sugar plantation, kills his master and stows away on a boat bound for Buenos Aires. Pacha, freed from the death mines of Potosí, enlists to protect his family, despairing as the war moves him to a strange land, far from home. And Lord Cochrane, Britain’s greatest living seaman, is framed in a stock exchange fraud, and escapes prison, bound for Chile.

Forming a rag-tag army of slaves, mercenaries and ex-convicts, San Martín unites them all. They scale the Andes, liberate Santiago and attack Lima by sea, frustrating Napoleon’s secret plan to conquer South America. Diego, conscripted from prison, is reunited with Jorge, but they have grown distant. Turning to prostitution in the refugee camp, Catalina sleeps with both brothers, causing a family feud, for Diego loves Catalina and Catalina loves Jorge, but Jorge loves no-one, not even himself. Great plot twist here.

By 1822, after twelve years of brutal war, Delete comma ". . . brutal war that takes the lives . . ." Reads awkwardly costing the lives of Zé, Pacha, Jorge and countless others, Spain is on the verge of losing her Empire. After the fall of Lima, the two greatest South American generals, Bolívar and San Martín, meet for the first time to discuss the conclusion of the conflict. San Martín is backed into a corner: the fragile political alliances he has constructed are falling apart, and Bolívar is noncommittal on sending reinforcements crucial to finishing the Spanish off. He realises that his presence is the only impediment to Bolívar agreeing. He resigns, leaving Bolívar the glory of the final battle.
Otherwise, good synopsis. Don't know about him resigning the glory to another, but that may up the likeability factor for some readers.

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Re: Synopsis - AMÉRICA! - historical fiction

Post by clara_w » October 1st, 2010, 10:58 am

San Martín deserts from the Spanish Army, absconding to Buenos Aires. Desperate to free his homeland, he must first free himself from his opium addiction. Interesting beginning here.
Catalina’s Whats her connection to San Martin?father is murdered, leaving her to fend for herself in Valparaiso, but when Spain reinvades, she flees into the Andes. Who's Diego, whats his connection to the other characters presented?Diego is expelled from home after a tragic accident, forced into a life of crime. Jorge buries both their parents, and when the snows melt, goes in search of his brother. Zé, a slave on a sugar plantation, kills his master and stows away on a boat bound for Buenos Aires. Pacha, freed from the death mines of Potosí, enlists to protect his family, despairing as the war moves him to a strange land, far from home. And Lord Cochrane, Britain’s greatest living seaman, is framed in a stock exchange fraud, and escapes prison, bound for Chile. Again, connection to other characters? This is a good synopsis but so far I havent felt sympatethic to anyone but San Martin. Id stick at telling the main story with the main characters. This seems to be all backstory, which damages greatly a query or synopsis.

Forming a rag-tag army of slaves, mercenaries and ex-convicts, San Martín unites them all. He unites an army would be ok, you dont need to mention every single one of the people in the army, at least not now.They scale the Andes, liberate Santiago and attack Lima by sea, frustrating Napoleon’s secret plan to conquer South America. Diego, conscripted from prison, is reunited with Jorge, but they have grown distant. Turning to prostitution in the refugee camp, Catalina sleeps with both brothers, causing a family feud, for Diego loves Catalina and Catalina loves Jorge, but Jorge loves no-one, not even himself.

By 1822, after twelve years of brutal war, costing the lives of Zé, Pacha, Jorge and countless others, Spain is on the verge of losing her Empire. After the fall of Lima, the two greatest South American generals, Bolívar and San Martín, meet for the first time to discuss the conclusion of the conflict. San Martín is backed into a corner: the fragile political alliances he has constructed are falling apart, and Bolívar is noncommittal on sending reinforcements crucial to finishing the Spanish off. He realises that his presence is the only impediment to Bolívar agreeing. He resigns, leaving Bolívar the glory of the final battle.

Ok, so you could make this synopsis much, much better by not mentioning so many characters, just the main ones. Also, you introduced San MArtin first in your synopsis but it seems he's just a secondary character. If he is the main one, then show it on the rest of the synopsis too. This seems to be a very interesting story, because I studied this at school and because this seems to be a genuinely good story. Good luck! =)

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Re: Synopsis - AMÉRICA! - historical fiction

Post by dgaughran » October 1st, 2010, 11:05 am

Hi Clara,

I hear what you're saying, but there are seven main characters in this novel, making it difficult to write a query and synopsis for, without being misleading. On the last round of submissions I focussed only on San Martin (as he is the link between them all, draws them all together), but several agents complained that the MS didnt reflect the query/synopsis (San Martin doesnt appear until Ch 5, and all characters are given more or less equal page-time). I suppose if I was to get technical, the main character is the independence struggle, and each of these seven guys are just faces of that. But how do I write that query? How do I write that synopsis?

Dave
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Re: Synopsis - AMÉRICA! - historical fiction

Post by clara_w » October 1st, 2010, 11:26 am

Thats really, really tricky Dave.

I can only tell you how I'd handle this, which might not work at all. After all, I dont know your story in all its details and beauties, so, this might work for me, but it can also be a bunch of horses****, you know.

In the end, we really have to do what we think its best. So feel free to spit and toss away what I will say here.

I think my advices will work for the synopsis, but they would end up selling something your book isn't. I have no idea how to write an effective synopsis with so many main different characters. But there's gotta be a way, since there are some excellent books out there using the same format you do.

I'd advise you to start your first chapter on San Martin though, maybe him, fleeing, desperate to cure his addiction. You`ve said this was a problem before, so I guess its a good hint to go and fix it.

Regrding the synopsis (but this can also apply to the book if you wish): My main character would have to be a person. The independence struggle can be A character, but not the main one (Again, this is my opinion, and it can be a bunch of crap.).
An example: Carrie is the main character from Sex and the City, NY is a secondary character. But would Sex and the City work with NY being the main character? Sure there are Samantha, Charlote and Miranda, but who are we kidding? Carrie owns the story, its her who carries the plot forward.

Which brings us to the next topic: I would filter my main characters a bit. Wait, dont hate me yet!
Even on fantasy stories, which usually have a lot of characters, we find one or two more evident ones, which I would call main. (Ex: Frodo and Aragorn in LOTR or Auraya and Tryss in "Priestess of the White".). Because they put the plot forward. And those are the ones you should focus on your synopsis.
There are brilliant second characters on so many books (Following the example: Gandalf, Legolas, etc), but main ones are seldomly more then 3 or 4.

Again, I really think you can pull off 7 main characters, because this is your baby (Im honestly not trying to nose in here, seirously), but I know I couldn`t, for example. Both in a synopsis and a book.
What happens to me is that one or two characters will kind of "fight" for natural selection against the others, and they end up standing out from them.

Sometimes, we dont notice this selection happening, but we do tend to give more attention to some characters then others. I`d stick with my favourite characters, and explore them a tad more then the secondary ones, because they are the ones the reader will want to follow. With 7 main characters, its hard to keep focus on all main characters and subplots that acompany them.

Again, this can be a bunch of bull and be totally NOT what you're looking for, so feel free to curse me as much as you wish. Hope it helps though!

Good luck!

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Re: Synopsis - AMÉRICA! - historical fiction

Post by dgaughran » October 5th, 2010, 7:24 pm

Thanks Clara you have given me a lot to consider.

Dave
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