Author Topic: The Matador - Lit. Fiction  (Read 340 times)

Offline michael12489

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The Matador - Lit. Fiction
« on: October 06, 2022, 03:04:56 PM »
Hello! Below is the synopsis for my novel THE MATADOR, which is a novel about a group of friends and their experiences together in the MMA scene of Southern California. If I'm being honest, writing the synopsis felt like homework and I believe it is the weakest part of my submission package, but I've also heard it's the least important in the eyes of potential agents, and regardless I want to improve it. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

On a Saturday night in Ventura, California, the Matador Cantina closes early. It’s late September, 2013. RED, working as a barback, is nervous: in a few hours NICK CROMWELL, one of the cantina’s bouncers and Red’s best friend, will be competing in a cage fight. And not just any cage fight: a lightweight title match. By far the most important contest of Nick’s life, the crew at the Matador has been given leave to attend.

With them is STACY, Red’s quasi-girlfriend; KEENAN, a fellow bouncer; JULIAN, Nick’s training partner; and STELLA, Julian’s new girlfriend. They go to the fights in Santa Barbara and Nick wins his match via submission in the first round.

The next week Red visits Nick’s gym in Santa Paula and is surprised to see Stella there. He learns that Nick signed a contract with an international MMA promotion and has a fight set for that December. Julian agrees to a fight in November in a prestigious amateur show in Thousand Oaks. Over the ensuing months, Red and Stella observe from the sidelines as Nick and Julian prepare for their respective matches. Both athletes lose, and the year ends with Nick resolved to keep improving and Julian questioning his commitment to fighting.

Julian breaks up with Stella. He doesn’t cite a reason. In January the crew takes the train to Carpentaria to celebrate Stacy’s birthday at a local brewery. Red notices tension between Nick and Julian. That afternoon, Keenan (who has a history of violence, and carries a sidearm concealed under his shirt) gets in a fight with a stranger. The stranger is badly beaten. In the aftermath, Keenan avoids legal trouble, but he’s fired from the Matador. A week later, in the midst of training, Nick and Julian have a seemingly inexplicable fight of their own and Julian walks out of the gym, never to return. Red learns that Nick and Stella have been conducting an affair. Stella is reintegrated into the group, and she and Red become friends. Nick has one more match—this time as a short notice fill-in against a tough but aging veteran of the sport. The fight is broadcast on national television, and against the odds Nick wins a hard-fought unanimous decision.

Nick enjoys a short period of niche celebrity. In April, he and Stella go to Los Angeles for the celebration of Songkran (Thai New Year), where they’re accosted by Keenan and Julian. It’s revealed that Stella is a successful actress starring in gonzo porn. A fight breaks out between Keenan, Nick and Julian. In the course of it, Keenan unholsters his gun and shoots Nick in the head. Nick is rushed to the hospital and dies shortly after.

Stella, blaming herself for Nick’s death, commits suicide. Stacy, saying that she has to get out of Ventura, leaves Red, and then the country. Utterly devastated, Red returns home to live with his parents, where he resolves to write the story of Nick, Stella, and the world they briefly shared.

Offline gushags16

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Re: The Matador - Lit. Fiction
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2022, 12:47:04 PM »
I think the synopsis is a good place to figure out if your story has a plot. So assuming it does (and it looks like the elements are there), I think you need to do a better job of showing the causality. Right now this reads like:

Nick loses a fight.
AND THEN he has another fight, which he wins.
AND THEN he signs a contract.
AND THEN he loses.
AND THEN Julian breaks up with Stella.
AND THEN there is tension between Nick and Julian.
Etc.

Whatever stakes you have in the novel are not being transmitted in this synopsis. These story beats work better when there is a "BUT" or "THEREFORE" preceeding the lines (at least metaphorically). This is not your novel, but as an example:

Nick is running out of money to pay his rent.
THEREFORE he agrees to fight in an underground MMA match.
BUT his girlfriend already told him she would never stay with a violent man.
He fights anyway, vowing to himself it will only be this once.
BUT a promoter in the audience offers him a contract.
He signs the contract, and tells his girlfriend.
THEREFORE she leaves him
BUT the next week he learns she was dating another MMA fighter!
Etc. etc. etc.

Events need to cause other events for a story to be engaging. The synopsis needs to show that yours does. I'm sure it does, but this synopsis isn't doing it.

This is a helpful blog post I recently found. It details how this writer writes synopses and uses Star Wars as an example. She has a lot of hard and fast rules (like 3 characters max in the synopsis) and no one says you have to do exactly what she says, but it's a good starting point.

https://stdennard.substack.com/p/how-to-write-a-1-page-synopsis

Good luck.

Offline michael12489

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Re: The Matador - Lit. Fiction
« Reply #2 on: October 07, 2022, 04:55:56 PM »
Thanks again for your feedback.

I think I'm having trouble because the two plots--Nick's rise as a professional fighter, and his relationship with Stella (which ends in a fatal confrontation with his former training partner)--are woven together, but are only tangentially related. He would be fighting (and winning, and losing) whether Stella is there or not, but it's Stella's advent into his life that triggers the chain of events--which happen in tandem with his career--leading to his sudden death. So ultimately it's a story about a man (Red, the story's teller) trying to document a specific moment in time he experienced, and to bear witness to a pair of close friends who died needlessly, the knowing of whom changed and enriched his life. I'm also fairly sure this is not being conveyed in my query letter.

Any advice? 

Offline gushags16

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Re: The Matador - Lit. Fiction
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2022, 10:35:15 PM »
With that description, it makes me think of The Great Gatsby, a little bit. It's Gatsby's and Daisy's story, but it's told by Nick Carraway (I think that's the narrator's name). So I might take a stab at writing the synopsis by only naming Stella and Nick.

If I were to tell the Gatsby story to someone — quickly — how much would I really talk about the narrator? I would talk about Gatsby falling in love with someone who was out of his class; how he then became rich by being unscrupulous; moved across the bay from Daisy, who was married to someone who was in her class by this point; and how he threw amazing parties to get her attention; etc.

See if you can do something similar with only the Nick and Stella story. You say "it's Stella's advent into his life that triggers the chain of events--which happen in tandem with his career--leading to his sudden death." I would tell that story in the synopsis. And I guess I would challenge whether the story is actually about Red. Bearing witness does not seem like something a protagonist does.

Anyway, I'm sitting here as agent-less as you, so take this advice for what it is. But since you asked, my advice is to cut Red out of the synopsis and focus it on Stella and Nick as much as you can.

Offline michael12489

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Re: The Matador - Lit. Fiction
« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2022, 12:55:16 AM »
Thank you again. I must confess, I have never actually read The Great Gatsby, nor seen the movies. But one of my beta readers also made the comparison. So your suggestions are helpful.

My biggest influence at the time of writing the first draft was Junot Diaz's Oscar Wao novel, wherein a seemingly omniscient narrator (Yunior) tells the story of Oscar, whose life briefly intersected his own. Yunior's role in Oscar's story is ultimately one of the witness. Red is Nick's closest friend. Red is left behind after Nick is murdered and Stella, who becomes Red's friend through Nick, commits suicide. Red is in Ventura because of Nick. He works at the Matador because of Nick, and it is only through Nick that he is granted access into the world of regional MMA.

There is no challenge. You're right, the story is not about Red; he's just the one left behind. And he's our camera into the story, even if something of an outsider among the community he documents.

Your advice is sound and I thank you for it, truly. I'll try a new draft and see what happens.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2022, 01:03:55 AM by michael12489 »

Offline MichelleG

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Re: The Matador - Lit. Fiction
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2022, 06:41:41 AM »
So this is written in a 2nd person point of view.  That's fine, but I don't think the synopsis should be. Instead of writing it how Red sees it just write it as if the reader is observing it.

I think you should just tell the story of Nick and Stella.
"You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of isolation and the impunity with which crime may be committed there." - Sherlock Homes, The Copper Beeches - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Offline michael12489

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Re: The Matador - Lit. Fiction
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2022, 02:31:47 PM »
Hey Michelle thanks for your advice; it echoes what others have been saying, and I'm going to give it a shot. But the novel is not written in the 2nd person POV; it is written in the 1st person, from Red's perspective, many years after the events of the story have taken place.