Monday, December 17, 2012

Synopsis 34

Guess the Plot

Fire and Ice

1. It's like rock paper scissors, but there are only two items. Fire melts ice, ice puts out fire. Rarely settles anything.

2. Volcanologist Ginny Rains knows that under the glaciers of Ranier lies a magma chamber waiting to explode. No, wait, she's thinking of her hunky massage therapist, Rainier Lourdes.

3. Warm-hearted Noa is a Samoan fire juggler. On an international cruise he meets Sedna, a gorgeous Inuit vixen. When a violent storm flings them overboard they find themselves stranded on a desert island. Can Noa keep them both alive and melt Sedna's icy heart, or is love between them more unlikely than their chances of being rescued?

4. Aoal Aoalbjorn, an eager young attorney in Reykjavic, is given a career-making case -- sue Disney Corporation for infringing Iceland's "Land of Fire and Ice" trademark. But soon seven shadowy figures are trailing him, muttering Hi-ho, Hi-ho-micide. Can Aoal's knowledge of trademark law and Krav Maga keep him safe?

5. When demons from hell attack an ice-bound town, Jenna and her friends flee. The demons follow. Desperate, Jenna's friends theorize that the demons are actually after Jenna, and not them.

6. Kieran Keene quits Fire Robinson’s Rock-N-Blues Band and takes his sax to Ice Coffee’s Bluegrass Revival. Once again mutilated groupies are found – this time near Ice Coffee’s venues. Now Kieran suspects Ice and enlists Fire’s help to expose the killer. But hot detective Mary McRae is on the case, intent on proving Kieran’s guilt.

7. John Bound, Agent 005, is relegated to office duties while agent 007 gets the prestige assignments. Bound -- John Bound – has a plan to frame that prissy Bond. He conspires with the head of French Intelligence. But Bound is betrayed by a Bulgarian being blackmailed by Bond. Can he clear himself or is it life in solitary for John?

Original Version

Jenna and her friends are living hard but peaceful lives in the far-flung, snowy town of Cirrus. The circle consists of six close friends, who like everyone else who lives in the isolated town, have chosen to abandon their pasts and start over as far away as possible. They’re all running from different things: Jenna from the scorn she faces for marrying an elf, [Time out. Give me a minute to recalibrate my thinking from litfic to fantasy.] Quael; Danath from a string of selfish decisions he made after losing his family to war; Shea from the ghosts of her parents; Thane from his haunting past among his people, the dwarves; and Geth and Bretton from their constant persecution for their sexual orientation. [Are they both men or both women or is one an elf and the other a dwarf?] Still, they all seemed to have found happiness in starting over. [Is the elf part of the circle? If you run away to the far-flung town of Cirrus to escape the scorn you face for marrying an elf, the least you can do is bring the elf along with you. If the elf is part of the circle, why isn't he one of seven close friends?]

But their peaceful lives are shattered when a group of demons descends [If you just say "when demons descend", you won't have to worry about whether "group of demons" is singular or plural.] upon Cirrus. As members of the town guard, Jenna and her friends throw themselves into battle and are successful in fighting off the attacking horde. [I'm sure there's a good explanation for how these characters are able to repel a horde of demons. I suppose it's a horde of incompetent demons who've consistently been driven away by humans until they finally got together and said, We suck at this, why don't we attack some far-flung snowy town where everybody's a loser, just to build our confidence, and then we can come back to civilization and whip some ass, except now it turns out they can't even demonize six clinically depressed people who've totally given up on life.] Although the demons are pushed back, the city is not without casualties, the most painful of which are Jenna’s husband and children. As she and her friends struggle to swallow the pain, they set out on a journey southward to find supplies for the devastated town. But the first town they come to, [Cumulus,] Nocht, denies them any aid, saying they simply have nothing to spare. The group decides [Avoid the decide/decides decision by saying "The Cirrusians decide..."] to send home what few supplies they can scavenge or buy, and continue onward to the much larger town of Selliswyth in search of real help for Cirrus.

On the road between Nocht and Selliswyth, a surly elf named Ethos joins the group. Having been heading to Cirrus in search of Quael, he’s upset to find out that his quarry is dead, but tentatively decides to stay with Jenna and her friends as they continue south. When Jenna can no longer hide the fact that she’s pregnant with Quael’s last child, Ethos becomes rather protective of her. Upon reaching Selliswyth, the group again finds [find] no aid for Cirrus. As they contemplate their next move, [Note that you've referred to the group as "they" rather than "it", possibly suggesting that a plural verb is best.] the band of demons attacks [Hmm. I'll let you have "attacks," although I doubt minions from across the pond will be so generous.] again, forcing the seven friends to flee the city. Believing it unsafe to return to Cirrus, the group continue[(s?)] southward down an isolated pass through the harsh mountains. As they journey, they slowly come to realize the demons are in fact hunting them down – specifically, Jenna and Quael’s unborn child. [I get the impression Ethos could have told them this from the get-go, rather than let them slowly realize it.] [When you're being tracked by demons, what clues lead you to the conclusion that they are after one member's unborn child?

Shea: We'll never outrun these demons.
Danath: If only we knew why they want to kill us all.
Geth: Maybe they don't want to kill us all. Maybe they just want to kill one of us. By which I mean one of you.
Bretton: Maybe they're after Jenna's unborn child.
Thane: Then it's settled. We leave Jenna behind and see if they quit hounding us; if they don't, we'll assume they're really after . . . Geth and Bretton.
Geth: You bastard! How do we know they aren't after you?
Thane: Hey, I'm not the one with the perverted sexual orientation.]


A synopsis should carry the story beyond this point. If you're trying to keep it short, we can do without knowing what each character has gone to Cirrus to escape. You could refer to "Jenna and the other members of the town guard," rather than naming each of them. Jenna, Quael and Ethos are the only characters whose names appear more than once; maybe they're the only characters you need to name.

While the part of your book you've summarized here may be a substantial part of the story, I'm thinking the most interesting part of the story is what happens after they realize it's the unborn kid being hunted. So give us some of that. How do Jenna and others handle knowing everyone's in danger because of Jenna's child?

Collective nouns have complicated rules, at least in the US. Whether you give them a singular or plural verb depends on whether all members of the group are acting as one. For instance, you'd probably say, A bunch of children are swimming in the pool, even though the subject is "bunch" and not "bunches." The children are all swimming, but they're also doing their own thing. But you'd say The synchronized swimming team is practicing in the pool, because they're all doing the same thing as one. (Unless they're the Australian synchronized swimming team.) In Britain, they like plural for everything. For instance, note that in the caption below this photo of the Russian synchronized swimming team, the verb is plural, though the swimmers are all celebrating as one. If those Olympics had been held in Chicago rather than London, it would have been a different story. Whether you get it right or wrong, there will always be people who think you got it wrong, so don't worry about it too much.

I would go with The group decide, not decides, as I'm guessing more than one viewpoint was expressed, and agreement was reached through a discussion or a vote or one person acting as the loudmouthed big shot who has to get his way.

Interestingly, adding an "s" to a noun usually changes it from singular to plural, while adding an "s" to a verb usually changes it from plural to singular.


Jill Spiceland said...

Hey, author here. The reason the synopsis stops short is because that's where the story ends. Fire and Ice is the first in a series of books (likely four) and this synopsis does cover all of that story.

I seem to have overlooked a major plot point of the story, which was that Quael was a sorcerer. He passed the trait onto the baby, which is why the demons are hunting the unborn child. But the child of a sorcerer doesn't always get the magic, so it's not clear until quite a ways into the book whether or not the baby will have the magic. Ethos doesn't tell them the demons are hunting sorcerers because he doesn't know that Jenna is pregnant with one.

Hopefully that clears some things up. Now I'm going to go review my plural nouns before writing another draft.

khazar-khum said...


'Ethos' makes me think of 'ethics', yet somehow he doesn't seem particularly ethical to me. Why not say that the demons are hunting sorcerers? If it's something he knows, and he isn't an amoral bastard, I'd think he'd want to share that with the group.

I also wonder why a pregnant woman is making this sort of trip. Is she aware that she's the demon magnet? If so, doesn't she owe it to the others, at least for their safety? If she doesn't care about anyone else, then why is she looking for help? I'm confused, as usual.

150 said...

Hi, Jill. I was afraid of that. The synopsis sounds like it's cut off because it doesn't sound like a full story. Marion Zimmer Bradley describes a story as: "A LIKABLE CHARACTER overcomes ALMOST INSUPERABLE ODDS and BY HIS OR HER OWN EFFORTS achieves a WORTHWHILE GOAL." I see characters here, and a few odds, but almost no efforts and absolutely nothing achieved. Are you totally sure this story must be stretched out over four books?

For what it's worth, it does sound like a relatively entertaining first half of a book.

IMHO said...

The word 'quarry' made me think Ethos was hunting Quael, so I was confused when he becomes protective of Quael jr.

Also (to me) some of the phrasing is weak. For example: the city is "not without casualties" (vs. "the city suffers casualties"); "Having been heading to Cirrus" (vs. "on his way to Cirrus"); Ethos becomes 'rather protective' of Junior (vs. simply 'protective', or maybe even 'fiercely protective'?)

Evil Editor said...

It's unlikely a publisher will be interested in this book, knowing the story cuts off and is continued for three more books. This book needs to Have a satisfying ending.

Anonymous said...

Like IMHO, I also got the impression from "quarry" that Ethos was hunting Quael with intent to kill or capture.

And yeah, this feels incomplete like it's only half a story. I get that you want it to be a series, but there has to be some sort of conclusion to a story arc. You can have the overall story continue for three more books, but book 1 needs a self-contained story with the fundamental elements 150 described.

And lastly, I'm from the US and "The group decide" sounds quite awkward. "The group decides" sounds correct. "Russia retain ... title" and "The Russian team celebrate" sounds outright wrong to me. I wasn't aware this was acceptable abroad.

If the author is from the US they need to stick to conventional US grammar, or if they're from the UK they need to stick with that. Whichever is fine, but it needs to be consistent throughout the text.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Am i the only one who thinks an individual town can't be "farflung"?

I thought we were in bush Alaska till you mentioned elves.

And yeah, I third the series thing. The first book has to work as a stand-alone.

Jill Spiceland said...

Okay, a couple of answers and tomorrow I'll post a revised version. First: The characters don't know that they're hunting sorcerers, and in fact they're not even sure they're the ones the demons are after for quite some time. However, just because the characters don't know doesn't mean I can't reveal it in the synopsis.

Jenna is unaware that she's a demon magnet. She doesn't know that the baby is a sorcerer (her first two children weren't, and elf-human relationships are uncommon, as are sorcerers, so she doesn't know a whole lot about it). She does care about the others in her group, but really has no idea that she's the one drawing the demons to them.

As far as stretching it out over four books, I feel like there's more story and more worldbuilding than I can really get across in a four hundred word synopsis. The story is made to be epic fantasy, and as such, it won't fit in a single book. Even a very long single book.

I do understand that being unwilling to stuff a story into a single book makes publishing MUCH harder. And I'm OK with that. If I have to finish all of the story, get a ton of rejections while I write something short and likable, publish that and THEN come back to this, then that's all right with me. I'm not in this to become a sensation overnight.

You're right about the weak phrasing, too. I'll be fixing that in my next version. I also think it'll be worth my time to explain the satisfying ending that does come eventually, even though it won't happen for quite some time.

Thanks everyone for your comments!

Evil Editor said...

That something doesn't sound right to you is no reason to assume it's wrong. Perhaps you were never taught the right way. A simple googling of the rules for verb agreement with collective nouns will show that what is right in Britain is at least sometimes right here in the US.

Anonymous said...

Jill, I have an easy way for you to make book one have its own self-contained story while leaving your series plans in tact. Name one particular demon/sorceror who gives them the most trouble in this story, and have them defeat this character by the end of this book.

Make this guy/gal the one chiefly responsible for their struggles and, at the moment, in charge of the enemy horde. Maybe it's the demon that personally killed Quael and the kids. I understand if you'd want this guy be killed in book 4, but it'd be best to have him defeated in book 1. Overcoming this particular enemy gives the audience some emotional closure at the end of book 1, but they know there's still plenty of stuff waiting to happen in the next few books.

I'll use Star Wars as an example. There's an obscene amount of galaxy-building, lore, history, etc., in the Star Wars series. How much of it is in the first movie, though? Barely any. It's about Luke's journey to be a hero, realizing his potential, and blowing up the Death Star. It's far from the end of the series, but you can watch just that movie and by the end feel satisfied. Even someone who's not a fan of Star Wars (like myself) can appreciate the story, it doesn't require a big investment.

I write epic fantasy too, and my story also involves encyclopedic world-building and multiple character arcs. But I can step outside myself and see what is and isn't entertaining to the uninitiated reader. I focus on the story and characters first, and make sure that someone can pick up any book in the series and enjoy it without having to consult a big backlog of lore.

Show, don't tell. For epic fantasy that means much of your world building has to be on-the-fly, shown to the audience through the characters in the moment without getting in the way of the story. They won't fully "get" your world by the end of book one. Maybe not even by book three. Hell, from The Hobbit to Return of the King, Tolkien only gave us a glimpse of Middle-Earth.

So yes, this can be your first book. And yes, it can have its own story with closure and still pave the way for your massive series. But people need to be very satisfied at the end of book 1 to want anything to do with 2, 3, and 4.

AA said...


It is not unusual for a writer to insist on doing things her own way. We tend to be individualists who disregard rules we dislike. Unfortunately, in a competetive market, this can mean that some of the brightest writers don't get published at all.

Certain rules are negotiable, but this one is not: A book must come to at least a partial conclusion, even if the overall story isn't finished.

Imagine watching an exciting adventure movie that stops suddenly with all the characters still in peril, running from the bad guys. Then you're told there won't be another movie in the series until the next summer.

What you're saying is that you don't care if this book ever gets published. That's fine. But I wouldn't bother querying for it, I'd just write it for practice or my own amusement.

If you ever decide you want to try to get it published, you'll have to know what I learned on an episode of Between The Lions (on PBS): A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Anonymous said...

Methinks EE was trying to bait any Australians reading his notes... and none bit.

Mister Furkles said...

Jill: Some random comments:

Replace the noun “group” with the pronoun “they”. A group is impersonal and “they” implies people with individual personalities.

Tighten the prose. For example, “with Quael’s last child” should be “with Quael’s child”. Most readers expect pregnancies to come in a chronological order.

You follow “pain” in one sentence with “struggle to swallow the pain” in the next. Replace “the pain” with “their anguish” – a word I really like an rarely get to use. And I like the metaphor of swallowing anguish.

How many demons? If you specify a small number like 3 or 5 that's a hint they possess individual powers, traits, and goals. But 239 identical demons are boring.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

The old linguistics scholar has to chime in here that ultimately there is no difference between what "sounds right" to Anonymous and what is "correct". No academic body has been able to agree on what standard English is, at least not in the US, and most efforts have ended in tears. There are many rules on which no one can agree.

FWIW, I have only seen group nouns treated as plurals in British headlines ("Belgium Take A Commanding Lead") and in Harry Potter books.

I like Anonymous's suggestion for solving the ending problem.

BuffySquirrel said...

In Britain we have the same singular/plural rule, it's just no bugger seems to know it any more.

Evil Editor said...

Billy-Bob: If it don't sound right, it ain't.

Bubba: Exackly.

Billy-Bob: Hey, a bunch of us are going to the movies; wanna come?

Ed: A bunch of us is going to the movies.

Bob: That don't sound right to me.

Ed: Me neither.

150 said...

I had a whole long thing typed up because your attitude toward epic fantasy and standalone books is so interesting, but now I'm just curious: How long is this (half of a) book?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

AA is, as usual, correct. The exception is always Literary Fiction, which I'm not sure anyone actually reads.

EE: Exactly.

Jill Spiceland said...

A revised version that hopefully solves several problems:

No one gets to Cirrus without running away, or so the saying goes, and it’s truer for Jenna than anyone. After marrying and starting a family with an elf, Quael, Jenna faced enough scorn from her family to leave them all behind. Quael, too, abandoned his magical powers and his high rank in the Elven church to start over with his new bride and baby.

Despite the long winters and harsh isolation, Jenna and Quael are living a happy life. When Jenna invites her closest friends over to announce her third pregnancy, she expects a night of laughter and celebration. But before she can tell them anything, demons descend upon their peaceful, snowy town. Even though the town guard is successful in fending off the attack, Cirrus suffers hard casualties; most painfully, Jenna’s husband and children are killed in the attack.

As they struggle to swallow their anguish, Jenna and her friends set out on a journey southward to find aid and supplies for the devastated town. Although Cirrus is truly in desperate need of help, the possibility of revenge against the demon who took Quael’s life also weighs heavily on Jenna and the others’ minds. Jenna makes the decision not to tell her friends about her unborn child. When the first town they come to, Nocht, denies them any aid, they decide to continue southward towards the much larger city of Selliswyth – at the same time, moving closer to center of the demon activity, the Twilight Valley.

Along the way, they meet up with another elf, Ethos, who had been traveling north in search of Quael. He knows that the demons are hunting sorcerers, and that Quael may be one of the last living ones. When he finds out Quael is dead, he reluctantly joins the group heading south. His attitude changes when he realizes Jenna is pregnant with Quael’s baby, and slowly they all begin to realize the baby may have inherited Quael’s magic.

Selliswyth denies the group any aid for Cirrus. As they contemplate their next move, the demons attack again, forcing them out of the city and into a harsh mountain pass. Believing it unsafe to return to Cirrus and still hoping to meet Quael’s killer again, the group continues heading south. As they reach the center of the Valley, they are finally able to face the demon that murdered Jenna’s family – and their own mortality at the same time.

Jill Spiceland said...

I really think that epic fantasy should follow the conventional rules of books and that a single story should stand alone, especially for a first time author. I guess I just differ in that I would rather publish a story that I'm happy with than add things that I'm not, and if that keeps me from publishing, I'm OK with that.

The story is currently FAR TOO LONG at 180,000 words. I am hoping to slash and burn to get it down to between 100k and 120k. But at this point I'm so invested in my own story and writing, I really need feedback from someone that's not quite so familiar with the story. Which, thankfully, I'm getting here in spades.

150 said...

I think we're mostly telling you to add stuff that you DO want, but for whatever reason have assigned to book 2 or 3 or 4. Want me to do a quick read? I am a CRUSADER for slash-and-burn. 150words at gmail dot com.

Anonymous said...

Just going by what's here, you could slash all the Nocht incident. The same thing (community refuses to help so the protagonists keep travelling) happens in the second city.

Chicory said...

Your new version has a much better conclusion but I'm thrown by being told that Jenna hides her pregnancy just after she and her husband threw a huge `we're having a baby party.' I know the demon attack could have come before the big announcement, but I had to stop reading and work that out, which was distracting.

Evan said...

I'm the first two Anonymous(es) on here. I'll try to stick with a name from now on.

I like the new version much better, Jill. It still needs tightening and focus, but it's getting there. I'm not feeling a 180K word count from either synopsis, though. You can definitely trim this story to 120K.

Janice Hardy's advice on cutting words is incredibly helpful:

I'm sure you can tell all of this story within 120K and not murder too many of your darlings in the process. It's most likely extra descriptive passages, world-building and such, pumping up your word count.

About 5 years ago, early into my massive MS, I realized that world-building was getting in the way of the story. So I made an annotated version. Any time I felt the need to go into detail about something I put in a superscript number and typed it out in a separate file. If the story was understandable without that info, then it stayed out.

By the end it turned out I didn't need ANY of it in the text. I've got an extra book's worth of history and lore that may be quite interesting, but none of it was doing the actual story any favors.

I'll go ahead and offer my help as well. Contact me if you'd like. kheper at hotmail dot com.