desperance (desperance) wrote,

Plot Synopsis Project

Damn, and double-damn. In response to an entry jpsorrow made about synopses (coupled with my own experience, because it's a question that new writers always ask), I suggested that some of us might post actual synopses that had led to actual published novels. jpsorrow ran with this, to the point of signing up a couple of dozen authors willing to join in. All across the interwebs, today is Plot Synopsis Day - and, um, I can't find mine.

I can find most of it on paper, but not in electricable format. It was made on another computer, but it really should have copied over with everything else, and it hasn't. Powering up that other computer to search for it, plugging in power cord and monitor and keyboard and mouse... um, no. Not going to happen.

Back-ups, you say? Yes, of course there will be back-ups. Somewhere. On the floor, most likely, where the boys have knocked 'em. Again, the search is really not going to happen.

So: herebelow is the list of other writers, who are no doubt doing this thing properly. And then, behind the cut for spoilers' sake, will be as much as I can bear to rekey from my own synopses for the duology (Bridge of Dreams and River of the World) that constitute Selling Water by the River. With apologies for the chaotic mess that is my life.

Plot Synopsis Project participant links:

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):


[Sadly the first page is missing, but it opens with an introductory section that's kind of like a pitch; we have this, from page two]

...The story is about venality and moral corruption, the rotten heart of empire and the devil's bargains made by weak and greedy people in positions of power. It's a complex and multi-layered tale, to reflect the complex and multi-layered nature of this world, its history, culture and politics. In essence, it's about rebellion: the narrative will encompass betrayal and assassination, warmaking and the exploitation of magic.

To counterbalance that sweep and drama, the story will be told from the points of view of two young and sympathetic characters, each of whom is pivotal in different ways. It will shift between the swift and deadly pace of city street-life and the exotic intrigue of the harem. The reader will be lured, teased, seduced, challenged, shocked - breathless all the way. They're not even going to notice how long the book is. And it will be long, that's another sense of epic. This kind of fiction needs space and time and commitment; we're talking whole-body immersion here, not a quick shower before work.


Maras-Sund: think Istanbul, with a hint of Buda/Pest. Imagine the Bosphorus with a city on the north bank and a city on the south bank, the river between too wide to bridge it. Now imagine a bridge.

Maras to the north is a distorted image of Istanbul at the height of the Ottoman Empire, though 'height' is not exactly the word. This is an empire that began to decay from the moment of its founding; one great emperor with a military power second to none, followed by centuries of corruption, conspiracy, extravagance, cruelty, paranoia and stupidity, all the attributes of despotism laid bare.

Sund to the south was always an independent port, its wealth and strength built on trade, its governance in the hands of a council of merchants and prominent citizens. Maras coveted that trade, and the city itself; Sund's independence was guaranteed only by its possession of the water magic, an art - or perhaps a science - that gave its people control of the great river. Maras couldn't bring an invasion fleet across; it did try more than once, but the waters rose up in fury to sink the boats and drown the men.

With the river broad beyond bridging, there was no other way to fetch an army over. Sund was always watchful but perhaps complacent also - until the morning when the city woke to find a bridge, an impossible bridge appeared overnight and Marasi regiments already within the walls.

That was twenty years ago, and much has changed. Officially the two cities are now one, Maras-Sund (and to anyone who's read Outremer and is murmuring "Oh, Marasson...?" - well, yes. In an alternate world). In fact Sund is still living under military occupation, its wealth stolen, its trade gone over the river and its freedom lost. The water magic has been brutally repressed and there is no clear resistance, no route to hope. Maras too has been changed, though, most obviously by the need to maintain the bridge. This too is magic, built on and sustained by the dreams of children. Being a wary man who likes to watch his back, the Sultan has seized the opportunity to demand hostages of all his generals and nobility; it is their children who are taken into the magicians' custody, and they are returned in a slack-witted adolescence where they are returned at all. It's a price that their fathers think worth paying.

The bridge has other prices, paid by both peoples. Sailing under it is bad, crossing it is terrible; it taints even the water that flows beneath it, and living anywhere within the span of its arch, within reach of its Shine can lead to deformity, mutation, death.



Issel is a Sundain street-boy. He lives on his wits and at his dagger's edge; he has been a thief, a messenger, a spy; at the moment he's a waterseller. All his life he's had an affinity with water, he's been able to do things that he's necessarily kept quiet about; being near water is a deeply disturbing thing for him, but it's also addictive. He can't keep away; he's even sleeping down on the shingle, dangerously in the Shine. He's heard all the stories, but it's still easier to be here than to live without the constant surge and thrill of so much water.

Until the night when he wakes up to see a man with all the signs of Shine mutation, selling water to a curious queue of people, down there where no one with any sense would go at any time but least of all at night. Issel is terrified; he cowers till dawn and loses his bed as a result, heads off homeless and distracted to the public fountains where he's beaten by Marasi soldiers who break his water-urn. When he goes to get that fixed, he's warned away by a fortune-teller, barely in time; he witnesses the sudden death of a Marasi, and can only escape the backlash by using his own water-power to kill another.

Then he flees, but still heads towards his waterselling beat. Going to fill his urn at a private well, he's seized by the man he saw last night, tainted by the Shine and selling water where no one surely would ever want to buy...

Meanwhile, across the river, Jendre is the daughter of a rising Marasi general. Ever aware of her father's ambition, she's spent the last years in the expectation of being his sacrifice, given over to the magicians of the bridge, never realising - or never allowing herself to realise - that she's no longer young enough to be of use. So it's her little sister who is taken; Jendre herself is to be married. To the Sultan himself, the latest of his many wives.

And so she is; it's just unfortunate that during the long days of public feasting and celebration before she's consigned to the imperial harem, a violent incident - a revolt by the slave-soldiers of the empire - throws her together with a young man of the court, Salem son of the pasha Obros. She's already seen him from a distance, admired him, conceived a hopeless fondness; now that grows into a fierce adolescent passion, which he entirely returns.

[and so on, for another dozen pages of Plot that maybe more or less resemble the books I actually wrote, until, on the last page, the final confrontation:]

...So what happens? It's not for telling, or not yet. Some things should come as a surprise even to agents, even to editors. I will say this, that the magicians are not of Maras; they come from that northern power that Maras has never dared confront - this is why the Sundains couldn't counter their workings with the water magic, their power is simply too alien - and having bargained themselves this foothold in the city, they are more than reluctant to leave it. I love this, that the Marasi don't even generate their own evil, they're that corrupt they simply buy it in.

Oh, and I will say this too, that there's a bitter little twist at the end, because I think that epic fantasy always needs that touch of sorrow or loss, where humans play with powers beyond their strength.

[The truth, of course, is not that I wanted to torment my agents and editors with years of omigod suspense; it is that I couldn't synopsise the ending, as I had no real idea what would happen. I could be accurate and detailed at the beginning because I'd already written that section; after that it all gets vaguer and vaguer, on paper as it was in my head...]

jpsorrow writes:

There’s also a book available that has other samples of plot synopses in it. It’s called I Have This Nifty Idea: Now What Do I Do With It? edited by Mike Resnick. Check it out for more samples!
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