Thursday, January 19, 2012

Whoseywhatsit Thursday: The Critiques

Two weeks ago, we had our monthly call for critique volunteers, and the winner was Nicole!  You can visit her at

We took a look at Nicole's synopsis for PIECES OF ELLIE.  As usual, I have summarized/combined our comments for this post, and will send Nicole everyone's full critiques.


Adopted at the age of seven with no memories prior, sixteen-year-old ELLIE COX cannot explain her missing time. [Could be reworded to be more clear and start with her current age: Sixteen-year-old ELLIE COX has no memories prior to being adopted at age seven, and no one knows why. (or something like that)]  Her dissociation [Can you make it more clear that she continues to have black outs and or memory lapses?]  has always been generally mild, insignificant moments in her day lost—taking a shower, driving to school—and has always been chalked up to forgetfulness. That is, until the decision to further her relationship with her boyfriend, SHANE, triggers a string of inexplicable blackouts.[furthering how? how does this trigger more blackouts?] Hiding in the forest, fighting with Shane…Ellie can’t figure out what’s making her do these things. Shane doesn’t know either. To him, Ellie’s behavior is bizarre. He doesn’t necessarily believe when she says it’s stress from school and the cross country team, but being the forgiving boyfriend he is, he lets it go. [I feel like this is a bit vague, and the questions I'm getting aren't necessarily ones to keep me reading. A synopsis should be engaging with an air of mystery, but this feels too thin on details]

But Ellie’s aggression is growing. And after she punches LEXI, Shane’s best friend, out of jealousy, her parents send her to DR. PARODY, a therapist they hope can guide Ellie back on track. One afternoon, leaving the office, Ellie bumps into a boy who immediately recognizes her, but mistakenly calls her “Gwen.” And with that she blacks out. Three days later, she awakens in the apartment of the boy. His name is GRIFFIN and after determining he had not kidnapped her, Ellie fights to gain back the three days she’s missing. [more detail here? How does she fight? Or is it just gone? I feel like I’m missing something here.]  Her parents are furious, of course, thinking she ran away in rebellion, but what’s worse is that neither Shane nor Ellie’s best friend, DANI, will speak to her. And she has no idea why. It’s SADIE, a girl from Spanish who divulges the heart-breaking news: she and Shane are no longer together.    [getting too many names. Do we need to know all these names? Do they come up again? I recommend sticking to just the primary characters]

When she confronts Shane, he shows Ellie a picture of her and Griffin together in the park. Ellie cheated on Shane and has no memory of it. Trying to make sense of everything, Ellie shows up at Griffin’s work, but the meeting doesn’t go as planned. Griffin is much more entrancing than she ever imagined and is the one person she’s comfortable sharing her memory secret with. [Why is the one person, of all the people in her life she'd confide in the guy she "cheated" with?] On the sly, she begins meeting him after school and while she’s still struggling to make amends with Shane, her feelings for Griffin keep growing. And it turns out Griffin needs Ellie just as much. Grieving the murder of Gabby, his younger sister, Griffin sees Ellie as a savior, someone who’s helped him understand that Gabby’s death wasn’t his fault, even though she’d been under his watch when he left her in the park to get high with his friends four years ago. As Griffin and Ellie grow closer, the guilt of pretending to be “Gwen” weighs heavy on Ellie.  [I needed this detail earlier – that she hadn’t corrected him about not being Gwen. Jarring when it comes out here for first time.]   But when she finally gets the nerve to set it right Griffin storms off, hurt that she lied to him, and cuts off contact.  

After a few sessions, Dr. Parody uncovers a haunting secret: mistreatment as a child fractured Ellie’s mind into three personalities—herself, a small child named Ruby who holds the memories of Ellie’s early years and Gwen, the reckless alter who cares for no one but herself. Dr. Parody explains that with continued therapy Ellie will begin the long, painful journey toward integration where all three alters will be unified into a single, cohesive whole with a solitary set of values and a shared memory bank. But a year passes and Gwen still refuses to integrate with her. [HOW DOES IT END?! SEEMS WE ARE LEFT WITH A CLIFFHANGER BUT WE NEED TO KNOW HOW IT RESOLVES.]

Larissa: I think you have an intriguing premise here.  It sounds awesome.  As I read the end of the synopsis, though, I’m unsure where the climax is.  Where does the big problem come to a head and get resolved? From this, it almost sounds like it happens at the doctor’s office, and I’m not sure that’s very exciting for what you have set up here. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I may be completely wrong, in which case, it could be more clear at the end of this synopsis.  Either way, best of luck with what sounds like a VERY interesting manuscript!

Jessie: I’m very much intrigued and would keep reading. I suspect Gwen is going to wreak some serious havoc!

Nikki: I think was pretty cohesive and tightly written. It could use a little bit of voice sprinkled throughout (just change a word here or there if possible) but otherwise I liked it and the premise itself. One note, I kept wondering if there were paranormal elements, so I would just make sure the query (or accompanying info) clearly states this is contemporary.

Sheri: This whole memory loss and black out premise is really cool. I like the mystery of it all. You seem to have well-crafted characters, too. Saying that, there are a few places within the synopsis you could tighten.

I was a little confused at the opening line. It felt like an ingredient was missing. After reading the rest of the paragraph, I think with no prior memories could be taken out. Most 7yr-olds wouldn’t have memories of those few short years, anyway. You could also plant a snippet of your last paragraph, which is very, very powerful. That would definitely heighten the intrigue and tie the beginning to the ending.

Small notes: you can eliminate a few flow-cutting words like but & and. Read the paragraphs with them and then without. You’ll know which ones to cut. Mentioning SADIE by name isn’t necessary. She doesn’t come into play again. Using the word entrancing gave me the impression he held some power over her, but then you say she’s comfortable with him. I would have thought his hold over her would make you uncomfortable. Just explain why, brief sentence.

A.E.'s notes are in purple.

Have something you'd like critiqued by the six Oasis Sisters?  Come back Thursday, February 2, for our next call for volunteers!  Happy Whoseywhatsit Thursday!


  1. Great job putting this together, Larissa!!

  2. I think you've got some interesting ideas here, but I don't feel like
    I'm getting a good picture of the story from this synopsis. If I had
    to guess, I'd say you were summarizing the story as it happened,
    which, weirdly, is not always the best way to write a synopsis. I
    agree with the comments above that you need to cut down to as few
    character names as possible, and that will help with the clarity

    Beyond that, I'd really like to see a version of this that's more
    relaxed. I felt distanced from it, somehow, like it was a book report
    rather than a shortened version of your story. Maybe it would help to
    imagine how Ellie would tell this story to a friend over lunch. That
    helps me when I'm trying to work in voice for my synopses.

    Tighten it up by cutting out the details of unimportant events (like
    many of the character names in the second paragraph) and make sure
    you're giving us the relevant story details. For example, I was
    confused when she was suddenly back in her old life after waking up in
    Griffin's apartment. How did she get home? And why does she only
    share her secret with him? Wouldn't her boyfriend know she has
    missing time?

    I agree with the others that you need to tell us the ending.
    Currently, it feels like it's left hanging, or unfinished, and with
    all the exciting events leading up to that point, that seems unlikely.
    Don't tease us--tell us! Is she aware that she's living as two
    people? How does this affect her memory? Does she ever integrate?
    What about the boys in her life?

    One final thought--be careful how you present the fractured
    personality. I get the impression this is supposed to be a
    contemporary story, but Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known
    as Multiple Personality Disorder) is extremely controversial, and not
    all psychiatrists even believe it exists. If there's some
    supernatural element to the fracture, bring that into the synopsis so
    it's clear. If not, you might want to read up on what the latest
    terminology is for someone with distinctive personalities, not to
    mention the treatment.

  3. Thanks, Sheri!

    And great critique, Liz! *waves*

  4. Wow, thanks you guys! Looks like I have some work to do :)


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