Plot synopses

So, when I saw writers posting their plot synopses as part of the jpsorrow‘s Plot Synopsis Project, my first reaction was to laugh hollowly, because I’m only half-joking when I say the best thing about having sold Bones of Faerie is that I’ll never, ever have to write a synopsis of that book.

Anyway, even though I haven’t actually formally signed up as part of said project, I’m going to babble about synopses–or my lack thereof–anyway. 🙂

I actually sold the Phantom Rider Books based on chapters and an outline, and tried to sell some other books that way, too. But in recent years, I’m not entirely sure why, but–well, I find synopses get harder to work with and from for me with time, rather than easier. I’ll absolutely do them if I have to–I have a background as a marketing writer, and can produce an outline as a marketing tool–but more and more, I find myself looking for ways to get out of having to.

Which is why my query letters, against all sensible advice about hooks and such, tend to actually say things like, “I’ve written a book. Here’s its title and genre. Can I send it to you please?” Notice how I not only avoid summarizing the book in the query–I also don’t offer to send a synopsis, though again, if actively asked, of course I will. (Though I did eventually come up with a hook-like thing for Bones to include in my query letters, when I began querying agents as well as publishers. It probably even helped.)

But I did, at some point while trying to sell Secret of the Three Treasures decide I needed a proper synopsis for it after all, and I wrote one, well after finishing the actual book. But then the next publisher I queried after that (with, yes, more or less a “I wrote a book. Can I send it please?” letter) just asked for the whole book, and then made an offer, so I was off the hook again and didn’t have to send said synopsis out. 🙂 (Though it was the synopsis, which I brought to my critique group, that made jennifer_j_s suggest that that publisher might be interested in the book–so maybe it served its purpose after all.)

So I guess this isn’t really, technically, a synopsis that helped sell a book–but here it is anyway. It contains spoilers, of course, and worse, spoilers for a book whose plot later changed in revision. 🙂


Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer


Tiernay West is determined to live a life of daring and adventure. Never mind that she lives in South Newbury, a suburban Connecticut town not known for its wild and untrammeled nature. Or that she’s too young to rent a car or buy a plane ticket or hire a caravan to more exotic locales. Adventurers are used to challenges, and when Tiernay overhears an old story about lost Revolutionary War gold, she jumps at the chance to find it.

Ignoring her Mom’s protests, inspired by the adventure novels written by her mostly-absent Dad, Tiernay sets off to find that gold, making her free-associating way from library to Internet to old antique shop; from history class to a fortune-telling friend to a secret club started by some of her more reality-based classmates. Through it all, there are ongoing threads: Tiernay’s discovery of her family’s Revolutionary War history in South Newbury, which isn’t as noble as she first assumes (Mom’s ancestors fought for the British, which to Tiernay’s mind makes them the bad guys); Tiernay’s changing relationship with her Mom’s boyfriend’s son, Kevin (who devours computer-generated adventures but is wary of the non-digitized world beyond his front door); Tiernay and Mom’s efforts to understand one other, different as they are (Mom’s idea of adventure is a business meeting in Manhattan, or maybe trying to get Tiernay to ballet class).

Tiernay learns that a Revolutionary War sword has been stolen from the antique shop; she searches for the thief, hoping the sword will in turn provide clues to the gold. Late one night she discovers the culprit is Daryll, the bullying son of the antique-shop’s owner and the older brother of the secret club’s most frustrating member. Daryll’s ancestors also have a Revolutionary War history in South Newbury, only they fought on the American side. One of those ancestors, a girl named Emma, hid her family’s fortune from the British in general and Tiernay’s ancestors in particular; the treasure was never found. For Daryll to be descended from an adventurer like Emma while Tiernay is descended from Emma’s enemies is almost unbearable to Tiernay. She decides she has to prove her adventurer credentials not only for herself, but also to redeem her troubled past.

Tiernay tracks Daryll and the sword through the dark, a reluctant Kevin in tow, without Mom’s permission but with Dad’s befuddled long-distance consent (he’s in Vladivostock researching a novel, and unclear on time zones). Tiernay and Kevin find an abandoned house that belongs to Daryll’s Dad; when they decide to search the house’s root cellar, Daryll finds them and locks them in.

The cellar was the right place to look, though; Tiernay discovers not only the missing sword, but also some computers stolen from their school. The computers are treasure enough for Kevin, but Tiernay is fascinated by the sword. As she swings it through the air, a cell phone rings. Tiernay forgot she had shoved Mom’s phone into her pocket after calling Dad.

Kevin grabs for the phone. Tiernay pulls it away, though she’s as tempted as him to answer. Yet she knows anyone who comes will see her not as an adventurer, but just as a troublesome kid. In the dimness of that cellar, Tiernay wonders whether they’re right; maybe she isn’t a true adventurer. She swings the sword again, as if to remind herself what being an adventurer feels like; as she does, it clangs against a bit of oddly hollow-sounding stone.

Phone forgotten, Tiernay examines the stone and finds a hidden passageway behind it. She follows the passageway and discovers the family fortune Emma hid from the British–a fortune that consists of dozens of gold coins.

For Tiernay that treasure changes everything. She phones her parents, not to ask for a rescue, but to triumphantly announce her discovery to the outside world.

The antique shop owner and local papers treat Tiernay in proper adventurer-style; even Dad is impressed, though he makes Tiernay promise never to use him to get around Mom again. Only Mom is unmoved; instead of congratulating Tiernay on her success, she grounds her for a month.

Tiernay does her best to be patient with Mom. She’s learned (through Mom and Kevin both) that not everyone is cut out to be an adventurer, even as she’s learned that she is an adventurer after all.
A month isn’t forever. Tiernay can wait to regain her freedom—for she now knows she has a lifetime of adventuring ahead of her.=-=-=-=-=-=

I do have a synopsis on hand for one other book–but that one’s unsold, and more, I’ve pulled it from circulation for some deep rewriting when I get a chance. That one, come to think of it, may actually sound better in synopsis than on the page, because the synopsis can’t convey things like how well-rounded and vivid and non-cliched your characters are.


Official participants in the Plot Synopsis Project

Patricia Bray (pbray):
Chaz Brenchley (desperance):
Mike Brotherton:
Tobias Buckell:
S.C. Butler (scbutler):
Barbara Campbell:
David B. Coe (davidbcoe):
Jennifer Dunne (jennifer_dunne):
S.L. Farrell (sleigh):
Diana Francis (difrancis):
Gregory Frost (frostokovich):
Felix Gilman:
Jim C. Hines (jimhines):
Jackie Kessler (jackiekessler):
Mindy Klasky (mindyklasky):
Misty Massey (madkestrel):
C.E. Murphy (mizkit):
Naomi Novik (naominovik):
Joshua Palmatier (jpsorrow):
Maria V. Snyder:
Jennifer Stevenson (smokingpigeon):
Michelle West (msagara):
Sean Williams (ladnews):

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