1. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Synopsis critique

    Discussion in 'Query & Cover Letter Critique' started by Selbbin, May 23, 2019.

    Ok, so I wrote this just then for a competition I'm entering tomorrow, so critique will mostly come too late for that entry, but I'd still like for the next one as I have no idea if this is even remotely ok or simply rubbish. I HATE writing these things. There's SO MUCH missing. It's meant to be 500 words, but I just can't get it down from 600 without killing either the plot or the themes.

    I've taken ten fucking years to write this book. Urgh. Here goes:


    Martyr - Synopsis

    Most of us live in relative comfort and happiness. We have our problems, sure, but also know others have it worse. We know that people suffer in abject poverty; experiencing hunger, abuse and misery, but it’s a horror we rarely get to know. It’s easy to forget it’s even real. But it’s very real for Mykhaila Podrebinsky, an anxious, obsessing compulsive fourteen-year-old girl surviving on the streets of an unnamed city.

    Told in a mixture of perspectives and tenses, Mykhaila guides us through the last days of her life as she struggles between her ethics and desires. More than anything, she just wants to be loved. Her mother never loved her, and despite a kind heart she only experiences deprivation and sexual abuse. She spends her days looking after lonely and vulnerable vagrants in a black hole called Needle Town, washing and caring for them in the hope it will give them some dignity and her some meaning. Then, every night, she migrates across the city to sleep in a cemetery on the grave of her twin sister, Zoia, who died shortly after birth.

    Dan, a fat and lonely security guard, lets her stay there in exchange for sex. And every Friday she stops along the way to spy on a clean, healthy teenage girl having tea with friends in a café. Mykhaila loves her, but only because of a hopeful imagination. In moments of horror she often escapes to fantasies of a life together, where she’s happy and warm and cared for. This routine gives her life a strange, yet vulgar, stability.

    And then it all goes wrong. Dan gives her a birthday present. She’s grateful but refuses to go home with him, knowing his darker intentions. Dan is furious and threatens to block her from Zoia. On the way to Needle Town Mykhaila is mugged by local thugs, the pain of losing her present challenging her to re-assess her values. She spends the day getting abused again by the usual characters in her life, such as Allan, the crazy hobo and Jack, the writer. Desperate for real affection, she finally tries to contact her fantasy girl. It’s a disaster, returning heartbroken to the cemetery. Dan is agitated and volatile. She agrees to go home with him, sacrificing herself to make sure he doesn’t hurt some other girl, especially ‘her’. After more horrific abuse, Dan takes Mykhaila back to the cemetery and forces her to dig a grave. She’s convinced her time is up. But Dan kills himself instead. She’s shattered, despite his evil, and decides to escape from the city she’s never left. Her plans are derailed when she gets involved in a random encounter of domestic violence. Waking in a house, cleaned and dressed, she meets Caleb, a teenage boy. He offers to drive her out of the city. But along the way Caleb abuses her, just like so many others. It’s the final straw. Broken beyond repair, Mykhaila slips away during a stop along the coast and walks to the top of a cliff. She closes her eyes, imagines herself in the arms of her lover, and lets herself over the edge...

    Martyr is a dark, multi-layered, often brutally confronting exploration of evil in the world; how it’s fueled by selfishness, and how stopping it can often feel impossible. It’s also about love and hope, empathy and forgiveness. The aim for Mykhaila’s story is to haunt the reader long after they’re done, to think about what’s really going on around us, and maybe, just maybe, inspire us to be a little more kind.

    Martyr - Synopsis

    Mykhaila Podrebinsky is an anxious, obsessing compulsive fourteen-year-old girl surviving on the streets of a contemporary, unnamed city. She struggles to find a balance between her ethics and desires. But, more than anything, she just wants to be loved. Her mother never loved her, and now that she’s homeless only experiences deprivation and sexual abuse. She spends her days looking after lonely and vulnerable vagrants in a black hole called Needle Town, and her nights sleeping in a cemetery on the grave of her twin sister, Zoia, who died shortly after birth. She feels Zoia is always with her, like a guardian angel, whispering assurances that she’s strong and everything will be ok.

    Dan, a fat and lonely security guard, lets her stay there in exchange for sex. And every Friday she stops along the way to spy on a clean, healthy teenage girl having tea with friends in a café. Mykhaila loves her, but only because of a hopeful imagination. In moments of horror she often escapes to fantasies of a life together, where she’s happy and warm and cared for. This routine gives her life a strange, yet vulgar, stability.

    And then it all goes wrong. Dan gives her a birthday present. She’s grateful but refuses to go home with him, knowing his darker intentions. Dan is furious and threatens to block her from Zoia. On the way to Needle Town Mykhaila is mugged by local thugs, the pain of losing her present challenging her to re-assess her personal values. She spends the day getting abused again by the usual culprits, such as Allan, the crazy hobo and Jack, the writer. Desperate for real affection, she finally tries to contact her fantasy girl. It’s a disaster, returning heartbroken to the cemetery to find Dan agitated and volatile. She agrees to go home with him, sacrificing herself to make sure he doesn’t hurt some other girl, especially ‘her’. After more horrific abuse, Dan takes Mykhaila back to the cemetery and forces her to dig a grave. She’s convinced her time is up, coming to peace with death. But Dan kills himself instead. She’s shattered, despite his evil, and decides to escape from the city she’s never left. Her plans are derailed when she gets involved in a random encounter of domestic violence. Waking in a house, cleaned and dressed, she meets Caleb, a teenage boy. He offers to drive her out of the city. But along the way Caleb abuses her, just like so many others. It’s the final straw. Broken beyond repair, Mykhaila slips away during a stop along the coast and walks to the top of a cliff. She closes her eyes, imagines herself in the arms of her love, and lets herself over the edge.

    Martyr is a brutally dark, multi-layered, often confrontational exploration of evil in the world; how it’s fueled by selfishness, and how stopping it can often feel impossible. Yet it’s just as much about love, exploring the virtues of empathy, kindness and, most importantly, hope.

    That's it! Be brutal! I need tough love!
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2019
  2. Hammer

    Hammer Senior Member

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    Hi @Selbbin - I am not an expert in synopses either, but in my limited experience, the synopsis is supposed to be a brief, dry description of events. You are going far too deeply into feelings, emotions, and atmosphere. For example -

    I won't go on because it is a scrap and start again IMHO, one thing I just point out though - as you may not have time for that before submission - the first sentence of the last para needs correcting

    (but even that is telling me the theme not what happens...)
     
  3. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Good and timely stuff, thanks. Will use some of this to amend.
     
  4. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Yeah, I don't have time for a re-write. I think this entry is going to be more of a training exercise than a realistic shot at anything.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2019
  5. jannert

    jannert Super Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I know what you mean about hating writing these things!

    Speaking as somebody who HAS actually read this story (one of the most gripping stories I have EVER read, never mind from a fellow forumite) I'd say you've missed out what, to me, is the most important aspect of this story. It's the element that mades the title—Martyr—make sense.

    Mykhaila has several chances during the story to escape this desperate loop she's in, but she turns them down. It's as if she can't give up what keeps her in such an abject state, even when she clearly gets chances to do so. Whenever those chances appear, she runs away from the opportunity they give her to escape, and she dives straight back to self-abasement. On the surface of the story, it looks as if terrible people are doing terrible things to her—which they are. But she allows it, and even encourages it. Others abuse her, because she lets them. She sees herself, somehow, as 'saving' others by giving into their darkest impulses so they will hurt her instead of others. And those impulses are dark indeed.

    You've left out of the synopsis any mention of the people who actually tried to help her, without trying to exploit her. There were a few.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2019
  6. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm pretty sure it's obsessive compulsive and not obsessing compulsive. Also, you misuse the semi-colon in that first paragraph.

    In terms of flaws the thing that jumped out at me is how it reads like just a series of abuses, some of them seemingly random, which makes it seem like the events are contrived. If the events could be better linked using just a few words (no need to spell everything out or spend an entire sentence on this), that would be great.

    Otherwise, it sounds like a layered story with a lot of depth and rather haunting - just the sort of story I would have devoured as a student when I was into super dark stuff. I'm afraid it's not something I'd read now - not because of quality but simply because I don't wish to fill my mind with such darkness anymore. It sounds thoughtful. I'd have liked to read it :)
     
  7. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Brutal. Good, this is good. I mean, it's bad, because it seems to have really missed the mark, but this is good feedback. Thanks.

    Jan: I'm going to try to add that observation. It's often so hard with a story so complex to filter out the crucial details that actually make it work, but it's super important, so thank you. As you know, there's a lot I haven't mentioned.

    Mckk: Obsessing compulsive was a typo I totally missed. Oops.

    I'm going for a major comp with a publisher that has strictly forbidden YA, Sci-fi and fantasy, so hopefully this is their kind of thing.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2019
  8. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Ok, this is what I boiled it down to, as another submission required less than 300 words.


    It’s the late 1990s and Mykhaila Podrebinsky, a fourteen-year-old homeless girl, struggles to maintain a balance between her needs and ethics. She looks after vagrants in a violent cesspool nicknamed Needle Town and sleeps in a cemetery on the grave of her twin sister. She feels Zoia always with her; giving confidence and guidance.

    Dan, a lonely security guard, lets her stay in the cemetery in exchange for sex. He’s one of many that abuse her daily. She escapes in fantasies of being with a wealthy girl she loves, and sometimes spies on. Her life has a strange, yet vulgar, stability.

    Then Dan gives her a birthday present. She’s overwhelmed but still refuses to go home with him. Furious, Dan threatens to block her from the cemetery. Mykhaila is mugged, losing her present, but she tries to stay positive and get on with life; helping others while getting abused. Turning down several chances to escape, it’s like she can't give up what keeps her in an abject state, seeing herself as protecting the innocent by letting people hurt her instead.

    In a moment of weakness she contacts her fantasy girl. It’s a disaster. Heartbroken, Mykhaila returns to the cemetery. Dan is agitated and volatile, so she goes home with him. After terrible abuse, Dan takes her to the cemetery to dig a grave, where he kills himself. Mykhaila is horrified and decides to escape the city, but a moral dilemma gets in the way. She meets a teenage boy who offers help. They go on a road trip, but he too abuses her. Broken beyond repair, Mykhaila escapes, walks to a clifftop, and then throws herself into the sea.

    Martyr is a brutally dark, multi-layered, often confrontational exploration of evil along with the power of kindness and hope.
     
  9. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Member

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    Jeez this is bleak! Does she find any kind of redemption at all before she throws herself off the cliff?
     
  10. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    No but hopefully the reader does. It's way more complex than I'm able to portray in 300 words. It's almost a modern Les Miserables.

    Edit: To be honest, even I'm discovering it's deeper themes. It's a bit scary but the story is getting way beyond my skills to handle.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2019
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  11. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Member

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    It sounds very interesting and I'm keen to read it! I can't critique the synopsis as a writer since I'm struggling with my own, but as a reader I found the lack of any hope (apart from in the very last sentence) just a tad too bleak for my tastes.

    The part where she refuses to go home with Dan after he gives her a present confused me a little as you already said she sleeps with him. Do they only have sex in the cemetery or was he intending/wanting for her to go live with him?
    Also unclear why Dan kills himself.
    Finally, 'she meets a boy'. You named the other characters in the synopsis but not here? Is that for a reason?

    All the best
    NC
     
  12. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    It is bleak, but all the beauty and hope is built into the fabric of the story, not the plot, so I'm really struggling with how to present that part of it.

    Yeah they have sex in the cemetery but he wants her to move in with him but she refuses for a host of reasons. He kills himself for many reasons that are impossible to include.

    And yes, I omitted his name for brevity, along with a host of other characters I would prefer to mention.

    Fuck you 300 word limit!
     
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  13. Hammer

    Hammer Senior Member

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    I feel your pain, but the abridged version is so much more hard-hitting; I haven't read the story but after reading the shorter synopsis I feel like I have been punched in the soul and really want to!

    It is so much more powerful that it is very difficult to crit, but will have a go... all comments to be taken with salt or ignored as you feel, it is very good as it stands.

    *Not sure about slipping in the extra her, but I think it reads better
    ** I have too much pity if Dan is simply lonely - allowing someone to sleep in a cemetry for sex is pretty bloody sleazy.


    Gimme.
     
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  14. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    There are samples in the workshop but they are all rather old and have since been improved. Happy to send a PDF of the first chapter to anyone interested.
     
  15. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Member

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    I'd very much like to read the first chapter if you're happy to share.

    NC
     
  16. jannert

    jannert Super Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    No, you've done an amazing job with the story. It sticks.
     
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  17. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Member

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    I've just finished reading the opening chapter to this story and all I can say really is "wow". You are a talented writer indeed and I'm envious to how you have created such an engaging piece.

    Sign me up to buy a copy when this gets published!

    Seriously, great effort, gripping/moving opening. I'm a little worried about reading on after checking the synopsis and knowing how it ends :eek:

    NC
     
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  18. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Exactly 300!

    Thanks to Jannert for the continued help. I appreciate the time. And the others here who have also made useful suggestions. See, I listen!


    In the late 1990s Mykhaila Podrebinsky, a fourteen-year-old homeless girl, struggles to maintain a balance between her needs and ethics. She looks after vagrants in a violent cesspool nicknamed Needle Town and sleeps in a cemetery on the grave of her twin sister. She feels Zoia always with her; giving confidence and guidance.

    Dan, the security guard, lets her stay in the cemetery in exchange for sex. He’s one of many that abuse her daily. She escapes in memories of her grandfather, who survived the Russian Gulags, and fantasies of a wealthy girl she loves, and sometimes spies on.

    Dan gives her an antique book for her birthday. She’s overwhelmed but refuses an invitation to live with him. Furious, Dan threatens to block her from the cemetery.

    Mykhaila is mugged, losing her present, but tries to stay positive and get on with life; helping others while getting abused. There are several opportunities for escape but she denies them, instead creeping ever deeper into the abuse, seeing herself as protecting the innocent by letting people hurt her instead of some other victim.

    In a moment of weakness she contacts her fantasy girl. It’s a disaster. Heartbroken, Mykhaila returns to the cemetery. Dan is agitated and volatile, so she goes home with him. After terrible abuse, Dan takes her to the cemetery to dig a grave, where he kills himself. Mykhaila is horrified and decides to escape the city, but a moral dilemma gets in the way. She meets a teenage boy who offers help. They go on a road trip and he abuses her. Mykhaila finally breaks and can’t take anymore. Escaping to a clifftop she throws herself into the sea.

    Martyr is a brutally dark, multi-layered, often confrontational look at human exploitation, self-abasement, and the struggles of kindness and hope.
     
  19. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Now I'm hoping the publisher has the same reaction. Thank you for reading it.
     

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