Joshua explains it here:
Essentially, I gathered together a group of authors who were willing to post an entry about their own plot synopsis writing technique as well as a sample copy of one of their own plot synopses OR post an entry about how they got published without using a plot synopsis, to show everyone how different people write their synopses, and that it isn’t necessarily required to get published.
So today I'm honored to take part in...Plot Synopsis Project II. Because in science fiction and fantasy, we loves us a good sequel!
At the bottom of this entry I've included links to the other PSP2 participants, whose synopses are undoubtedly better than mine, or at least shorter. But not self-deprecating-er, I bet.
I'll present the synopsis with which I sold the Aspect of Crow trilogy to Luna Books in February 2005. I sold the trilogy on proposal, which means I didn't write the entire book before selling it, but only three chapters and this eighteen-double-spaced-page synopsis.
It's fascinating (and rather hilarious) to see how much the eventual book changed from the original synopsis. With Book One, Eyes of Crow, the changes were relatively minor [and are presented in italics and brackets with self-directed snark].
With Book Two, Voice of Crow, almost the entire story changed from my original conception, because I came to my senses and decided, what the hell, let's NOT kill off the hero of Book One.
And the synopsis of Book Three (what eventually became The Reawakened, which comes out November 1) bears no resemblance whatsoever to the final version, other than the Descendant occupation and ultimate good-conquers-evil ending.
NOTE: It should go without saying that these synopses contain THE ENTIRE PLOT OF THE FIRST BOOK, which means HEY, SPOILER ALERT. I hope that even after reading it, you'll still want to read Eyes of Crow and its two sequels. (I swear, the books are better written than the synopses. Check out these excerpts if you don't believe me. Oh, and this one, too.)
***To raise those hopes, I'll give away one signed copy each of both Eyes of Crow and Voice of Crow to one commenter. I'll draw a name at random from my three blogs next Thursday at 11:59pm eastern time.***
Here we go--the synopsis as submitted to Luna Books in 2004. For those short on time, just read the stuff in italics.
Aspect of Crow trilogy synopsis
by Jeri Smith-Ready
The trilogy covers the three major phases of the protagonist Rhia’s life and the coinciding evolution of her powers.
World background: Rhia lives in a pre-modern society [which is actually several thousand years in the future--can you believe I didn't even know that when I started? It can charitably be called 'improvisation.'] in which animals are revered, respected, and even worshiped in their iconic forms. Each animal has its own domain, similar to the members of ancient Greek and Roman pantheons. For example, Hawk is the messenger of secret truths; Turtle governs fertility; Bear and Wolverine are defensive and offensive warriors, respectively.
Each person, upon reaching adulthood, is bestowed a particular kind of wisdom and magic—their Aspect—depending on the characteristics of their own animal Guardian Spirit. One cannot choose one’s Spirit; the Spirit makes the choice, which follows neither lineage nor gender, but rather the needs of society. The powers evolve in three phases: the first phase lasts until the person becomes a mother or father, and the third and final phase begins when one becomes a grandparent. Some people manifest magic powers even before their bestowing but lack the wisdom to use them properly. One must possess and both parts of one’s Spirit power (Aspect): magic and wisdom.
Rhia’s village of Asermos has seen several generations come and go since someone possessed Crow magic, which influences the passage between this world and the next, particularly at the moment of death. In their youth, Crow people can sense if and when a sick or injured person is going to die or recover. Later, as their power grows, they can communicate with the dead. In the third stage of a Crow person’s life, he or she can cross over and bring back souls. While Crows are valuable to society, they are often isolated by others’ fear, as if they carry death with them wherever they go. On the other hand, people pay them tribute because they hope that someday the Crow will resurrect them or a loved one. [Mmm, not really. Resurrection is extremely rare.] Crows are also held in awe because the crow is the closest relative of the Raven, which represents the Spirit Above All Others, akin to a supreme god. No one has ever had the Aspect of Raven.
The people of Asermos fear the adjacent Great Forest. [Wow, I said that? Mostly it's Rhia who's afraid, because she's a scaredy-cat to begin with.] Particularly dreaded are the packs of wolves that lurk within and occasionally prey on livestock. The villagers hunt along the forest’s edges, but most only venture inside once: for the “Bestowing”—the time in each young person’s life when he or she must receive their Aspect from their Guardian Spirit.
The Asermons believe that the capacity for magic resides in every human being, not just those of their society and its kindred villages. Long ago, some of the Asermons grew arrogant in their humanity, splintered off and moved south to a gentler climate so that they could create a more “advanced” civilization, with bigger cities to hold their pride. In doing so, they lost their connection with the energy of nature—the source of all magic—and replaced it with their own works of technology, as well as a pantheon of human gods. The Asermons call these people the Descendants, a word with a double meaning—they are genealogical descendants, and in the Asermons’ view, they have descended or lowered themselves by spurning the old ways.
Book One: Crow Sees [Uh, actually, it's EYES OF CROW]
The novel opens as eight-year-old RHIA prevents her mother MAYRA from putting to sleep their sick dog. Despite all odds and signs to the contrary, she knows somehow that he will recover and even predicts the circumstances of his eventual demise, a prophecy that comes true a few years later. The villagers begin to ask her to diagnose their ill animals. Meanwhile, Asermons such as Rhia’s father LETUS [changed his name to TEREUS because a beta reader thought it could be pronounced "lettuce"] begin to worry that a war is approaching because so many young men are being called as warrior Bears and Wolverines.
When Rhia turns fifteen, the village shaman, GALEN the Hawk, comes to her family and tells them his suspicion that she has the rare Aspect of Crow. He tests her ability on his sick brother DORIUS. Rhia sees that Dorius will survive the illness, but then she receives a vision of his violent death, a vision she must keep secret. Galen asks her to journey to Kalindos, a forest settlement, to study with a Crow woman of another tribe. Though they share the same religion, Asermons consider the Kalindons wild and untrustworthy; for example, a Kalindon man named RAZVAN abandoned Mayra with twin sons several years before she married Letus.
Frightened both by her own powers and the thought of entering the woods, Rhia refuses. She resolves to shut down her mortality awareness, but the memory of her own near-fatal illness as a young child—when Crow visited her for the first time—haunts her still. The illness weakened her body forever, an effect exacerbated by her parents’ overprotectiveness and the chronic pain she still battles. Her years-long helplessness intensified Rhia’s desire to be useful to family and community, yet she is hampered by her sometimes inchoate fear.
On a late summer day two years after the incident with Dorius, Rhia is helping her best friend/lover ARCAS tend his flock of sheep in a secluded meadow. As predicted by his father Galen, Arcas has recently received his Aspect of Bear. [Or so we're told.] He possesses the strength, intelligence and acute senses necessary for a warrior, but also has an artistic side that he reveals only to Rhia. That afternoon, they make love for the first time. Afterward, her half-brother LYCAS arrives to tell her that their mother has taken ill. When she enters their home, Rhia’s awareness of Mayra’s impending death alights on her consciousness like a heavy bird. She finally accepts that she needs help coping with this power and decides to go to Kalindos for training.
During the half-year mourning period before Rhia can leave, Galen instructs her on the ways of Spirit. He teaches her to pray, meditate, and take spiritual journeys to prepare for her bestowing. These exercises, combined with her guilt over the fact that she could not help her mother cross over in peace, cause her to turn inward. Arcas begins to feel neglected. Fearing she will abandon him for another man after many months apart, he frees her of obligation to him. Rhia offers him a lock of her hair—now shorn close as a traditional sign of mourning—and a crow feather as a token of her faith, but he refuses it. Heartbroken, she leaves her home and enters the forest, with Galen as a guide.
Galen says that he cannot accompany her all the way to Kalindos, for she must fast and meditate for three days alone in the forest to claim her gift. She wakes one morning to find the shaman gone. The first night she spends sleepless, staring wide-eyed into the darkness, her empty stomach aching and her limbs stiff from the cold winter air. The second night an old, gaunt wolf approaches her, belly to the ground in supplication. She is terrified but takes pity and tosses it the last of her food. It accepts her offering and runs away.
As evening falls on the third day, when Rhia has reached the end of her strength, the forest around her turns to a place of enchantment, and the great Crow Spirit appears. Before bestowing its powers upon her, it guides her into a glade where the cold winds cease to blow and her fear drops away. There stand two trees—one lush and vibrant, one barren and scarred. The healthy tree, Crow says, is her own inner wisdom, resilience, and love of life. The barren tree symbolizes her powers’ self-destructive potential, which will manifest if she surrenders to the illusion that death makes life bitter rather than sweet. Rhia herself will become like the barren tree if she allows death to take over her life. After she pledges not to make such a mistake, the vision clears, and her Aspect is granted. Peace and serenity overcome her, along with a sense that someone is watching over and protecting her. She continues on the way to Kalindos.
A cloudy, moonless night falls, and a young man appears without sound or sight. He reveals himself as MAREK from Kalindos, sent by the Crow woman to guide Rhia the rest of the way. He has Wolf magic, which allows him to travel in silence and become invisible at night—in fact, he has been following her for the last night and day. His lupine nature frightens her, yet she cannot resist her attraction to this man who seems to know her so well. Their mutual lust is instant and all-encompassing—they make love in the dark before she ever sees his face, and it takes several extra days for them to reach their destination. In the meantime, he helps her overcome her fear of the dark, an essential element of her Aspect. Her encounter with the old wolf, he says, was a test of her compassion and will help her in return one day.
Rhia learns that Marek’s Wolf powers are in the second phase already, which means that though not much older than she, he is already a father. He tells her he had a child and will speak no more about it, except to say that he has no wife. His short hair and haunted look, however, suggest that he has suffered a recent tragedy. [He actually does tell her his mate (girlfriend) and son died in childbirth.]
When they reach Kalindos, she meets her new mentor, CORANNA. Rhia is relieved to discover that the Crow woman is anything but a menacing harbinger of doom; Coranna’s gentle humor and lightness of spirit put her at ease immediately. She gives Rhia a few days to grow accustomed to her surroundings before training begins.
Magic permeates the everyday life of Kalindos more so than that of her home village. Compared to the bustling riverside port of Asermos, Kalindos feels like a place of spiritual retreat. The people there live in close communion with the surrounding forest, which Rhia learns to regard with reverence instead of trepidation. A friendship blossoms between her and a young Wolf woman named ALANKA, who turns out to be the daughter of Razvan, the Fox man who abandoned Rhia’s mother and brothers over two decades ago. The warm, charming Razvan clearly loves Alanka and regrets the reckless irresponsibility of his youth. He explains that he left Asermos because Mayra’s family disdained him for being Kalindon. Rhia still has trouble trusting him, but she dismisses her uneasiness as a result of her family’s old wounds and her perceptions of Fox people (who possess powers of stealth and invisibility similar to the Wolves, but are also great liars and have none of the Wolf strengths of cooperation and social cohesion—Foxes are basically individualists who look out for themselves [And if anyone suggests a connection between lying Foxes and the cable news channel of the same name, I'll deny it until the day I die]).
Through Alanka, Rhia learns more about the Aspect of Wolf, the first phase of which grants certain powers of stealth as well as the ability to read others’ moods through the subtlest of body language. The Wolf wisdoms of devotion and loyalty also impress her as her relationship with Marek deepens into the emotional realm.
Her training begins in a baptism by fire. Before Rhia can help the dying, Coranna says, she must learn not to fear and dread death, and the only way to do that is to experience it herself. They will travel up the mountainside the following day, where Rhia will freeze to death and Coranna will bring her back to life. Naturally, Rhia is terrified at the thought of dying, even temporarily, but she pretends to agree.
That night, she escapes the village with Marek’s help. They travel on foot until morning, when she discovers that he has led her to the base of the mountain, where Coranna waits for her. Marek apologizes for his betrayal, but says his loyalties lie not with what Rhia wants but rather with what she needs. He accompanies them to the summit, both for emotional support and to prevent another escape attempt. Rhia weeps bitterly all the way up the mountain, until exhaustion overcomes her and Marek must carry her to the top.
[Screeching halt! In the final version, Rhia decides on her own to turn back and go through with the ritual--she is not I repeat NOT tricked by Marek. Because that would've made him a complete dick.]
When they reach the peak, Coranna removes Rhia’s coat, then chants and prays while Rhia paces, shivers, and curses both of them for their cruelty. A full day passes before her body surrenders its battle for survival. She lies down and immediately falls into the embrace of a warm, peaceful slumber. The chants of the Crone are the last sound she hears as a large black bird gently carries her into a place of light and freedom. The Crone pulls her back, though Rhia does not want to leave the Other Side and its peace. She discovers that dying isn’t half as painful as coming to life. Angry at her lover’s betrayal but even more ashamed of her own cowardice, Rhia rejects Marek. [Obviously this last part isn't true, since he didn't betray her (not a dick, remember?).]
Crossing over has changed Rhia in many ways. Newfound courage leads her to take risks she never would have considered before, and Coranna must warn her to be careful with her own life. She accompanies her teacher to deathbeds and assists in the ceremonies to help people cross over without incident. She learns to offset her new fearlessness with sensitivity for the dying and their families. At burials, Coranna speaks for the dead to deliver a final message, allowing people in effect to attend their own funeral. [Most of this was dropped or compressed for length.] Rhia will be able to perform this communication after she enters the second phase of her life, when she has carried a child inside of her.
Tapping into her powers makes Rhia unstable, unanchored, in a painless, dreamlike state—a welcome relief from the physical discomforts that have plagued her since childhood. [Also dropped for length.] Marek offers himself as an anchor to this world, and they reconcile. [No breakup = no makeup.] He convinces Rhia that she doesn’t need to prove her courage with reckless acts, that he accepts her as she is. He also divulges the truth about his late wife and baby—they died during a difficult childbirth nearly two years ago, and Coranna was unable or unwilling to bring them back. In his ongoing grief, Marek cut his hair not once, but many times, against the usual tradition. Furthermore, he became a parent before he was spiritually mature enough to move to the second phase; thus he struggles to control his Wolf powers (e.g., he has trouble not being invisible at night) and has been something of a rebel within his tribe. [All true, except in the final version he tells her this the day after they meet.] Since meeting Rhia, however, he has settled down and gradually learns to forgive Coranna and himself for the death of his wife and daughter. He wants Rhia to stay in Kalindos always, but they both know that one day she will have to bring her gift home to serve her own people.
Rhia begins to suspect Razvan in the recent sudden death of ETOR [ETAR], a Kalindon man, whom she had seen Alanka’s father threaten. She asks Coranna to communicate with the dead man to find information. Coranna remembers that Etor’s soul seemed restless and reluctant to let go of this world during his funeral. Because of his untimely death, his spirit still lingers enough to speak with Coranna when she tries to contact him. Etor warns of a “treacherous fox” before slipping away to the Other Side. [Etar is a little more direct than Etor--he comes right out and accuses a young Bear named Skaris, the brother of Marek's dead girlfriend.]
Coranna and Rhia decide to gather more evidence before confronting Razvan or revealing their suspicions to anyone else, mostly to avoid hurting Alanka. Rhia finds an opportunity to follow him alone through the forest, and is stunned when he meets with one of the Descendants to discuss the invasion of her home village. Razvan has long harbored a hostility towards Asermos for that community’s rejection of him. The Descendant takes the information Razvan offers, then slays him in cold blood. [Not really--he freaks out when Razvin shapeshifts into a fox in front of him. Also, Razvin tells the Descendant that Skaris tried to poison Rhia but accidentally got Etar instead.] Rhia feels his death and cries out. The Descendant chases her through the forest and easily catches her. She tries to fight him off, and he breaks her arm [dislocates her shoulder]. He is drawing his sword to kill her when they hear a low growl. The old wolf, the one she fed the night before her bestowing, leaps upon the Descendant. As they struggle, Rhia flees, her arm stabbing with every step. She is about a hundred yards away when a yelp, followed by silence, reaches her ears.
Panic and sorrow threaten to paralyze her, but she overcomes these feelings and acts to preserve her life, since her entire village depends on her survival. Realizing now that she can’t outrun the killer, Rhia evades him using her familiarity with the environment and the methods of stealth Alanka and Marek have taught her. Eventually the Descendant gives up and heads back to the river to return home.
Rhia runs to Kalindos and proclaims what she has just witnessed. Alanka is heartbroken at her father’s betrayal and death, but she alone vows to accompany Rhia back to Asermos. The rest of the village displays typical Kalindon isolationism and refuses to risk their paradise by getting involved in the upcoming war. Marek is torn between love for Rhia and loyalty to his tribe. Ultimately he decides to stay behind, infuriating Rhia. [No no a thousand times no. He takes off after Skaris to avenge the attempt on Rhia's life.]
After the village healer sets Rhia’s arm, the two women set off at full speed for Asermos. Along the way, Alanka’s horse is bitten by a poisonous snake, injuring her in its fatal fall. [This was removed for length.] Rhia uses all her strength, and then some, to lift her unconscious friend onto her own horse and continue on. They reach Asermos in time to save Alanka, who is overjoyed to meet her half-brothers Lycas and NILO for the first time. Upon Rhia’s warning, spies and scouts are dispatched to gather intelligence on the Descendants’ troop movements.
The people of Asermos prepare for battle, including the reluctant Bear warrior Arcas, who despite his vows to do otherwise, has remained faithful to Rhia in her absence. He gives her a beautiful wooden crow that he has carved in secret. Her bitter longing for Marek makes awkward the reunion with her former love. They turn their thoughts toward the upcoming conflict.
A major challenge is the enemy’s use of war horses, a concept that scandalizes the people of Asermos because it endangers the creatures. They want to disable the enemy horses without harming them, though Wolverines like Rhia’s brothers show little interest in fighting fairly or showing mercy. While the warriors work on tactics to remove the horses from the battlefield, Rhia devises a more innovative plan: tranquilize the horses before they even enter battle. On foot, the two sides will be better matched. But to steal into the Descendants’ camp requires someone with courage, stealth, and the willingness to sacrifice himself if necessary. Marek appears in time to declare his love for Rhia and volunteer for the assignment. He has brought with him dozens of Kalindons, including Coranna, who pledge their powers to aid Asermos. That night Marek sets out on his mission. [Some of these events are scrambled, but basically, yes.]
The Descendants invade the following day, without horses, yet Marek has still not returned from the enemy camp. Because the wounded outnumber the healers, Rhia and Coranna must perform battlefield triage, making instant judgments on who has a chance to live and who will die with or without help. Rhia’s brother Nilo is one of the fallen who cannot be saved, as is Dorius, just as her vision had shown her years before. She insists that the healers aid a few of the Descendants’ soldiers who would die otherwise. At last she comes upon a wounded Arcas, and a swelling of emotion clouds her ability to discern his chance at life. She tells the healer to save him, knowing that she may have given up hope for anyone else in his condition.
The two forces reach a stalemate until the Descendants reveal that they have taken Marek prisoner and ask a ransom of all the horses of Asermos. The villagers demand that the enemy prove that Marek is in their capture and still alive. He is brought forth, badly beaten and tortured, and Rhia must determine whether he will survive. When she faces him, he signals to her that he won’t be traded for such a high price, a price that would surely debilitate Asermos. She lies and tells the Asermons that he will die, anyway. The ransom is refused and the standoff continues.
Overwhelmed by the death and suffering around her and guilt-wracked over her complicity in Marek’s self-sacrifice, Rhia drifts into despair. [No! Over and over I planned to have her 'drift into despair' throughout this series. But when I tried to write it, it was depressing and lame. Anyway, she and Alanka and Lycas sneak into the Descendant army camp and rescue Marek.] But that night Crow delivers the vision of the two trees again, reminding her to fight for life. She wakes with a plan to free Marek from the enemy camp. When the rescue party arrives, Marek assists in his own escape, having exaggerated his condition to instill complacency in the guards.
On the way back to Asermos, they encounter Descendant troops, including the man who broke Rhia’s arm. In the skirmish, he tries again to kill her. Lycas knocks the Descendant’s sword to the ground. As they fight, Rhia picks up the sword and turns to her attacker just as he lunges for her. He impales himself on his own weapon, and feeling his death, she shrieks as if the sword had pierced her own body. [Mm, no. Marek stabs him while he's strangling Rhia.]
Frustrated at the loss of their bargaining chip and daunted by the villagers’ magic, the enemy warriors retreat, vowing to return. A few of the more seriously wounded enemies remain in Asermos.
Rhia and Coranna preside at a mass funeral. After reciting prayers for the departed, Rhia hears her dead brother Nilo’s voice. At first she mistakes it for that of his twin Lycas, but he is silent in his mourning, holding onto his sister Alanka for comfort. Rhia realizes that she has moved into the second phase of her powers, signifying that she’s pregnant with Marek’s child. She and Marek journey back to Kalindos together to marry and begin a new life.
Book 2: Crow Speaks [Voice of Crow]
[Here it's easier just to italicize the things that actually happened. IF IT'S NOT IN ITALICS, IT DID NOT HAPPEN. Look at this crazy tragic crap. You know, it's so bad, I'm just going to strike it through, lest anyone glance at it and think I actually wrote this.]
Rhia continues training with Coranna.
In retribution for assisting Asermos in the previous battle, the Descendants from Book 1 attack and overwhelm Kalindos,
Book 3: Crow Flies [Wings of Crow and then eventually The Reawakened]
Enemy forces now occupy Asermos. They suppress the expression of the old, animal-based religion and force the Asermons to worship the humanlike gods they have constructed. Asermons continue to practice magic in secrecy, in defiance of the Descendants’ death penalty for doing so.
[MY GOD, WHAT WAS I THINKING? HER CHILDREN KILLING EACH OTHER? WHO DID I THINK I WAS, SOPHOCLES?]
[Anyway, the rest of the synopsis for The Reawakened is also inaccurate, but it includes my original answer to the big Who Is the Raven? question, so if I tell you it's wrong, that eliminates one person.]
Aspect series possibilities: Other characters in this world could become the focus of later books, with titles such as Aspect of Wolf, Aspect of Eagle, etc. Many features of this world could form the basis for further volumes—issues such as:
What happens when someone strongly resists their Guardian Spirit and the Aspect it tries to bestow? [Covered to some extent in all three books.]
What happens when someone lives long enough to become a great-grandparent? [Nothing.] Is there a fourth-level power to these Aspects? [Nope.]
What happens when parents pressure their own children to reproduce before they’re ready, so that they themselves can achieve third-level powers? [Addressed in The Reawakened. Dire times call for dire measures.]
What happens when two people with the same Aspect fall in love? (When Rhia exhibits jealousy over Marek’s closeness to Alanka, he explains that sharing an Aspect makes two people more like siblings than sharing a parent.) [Addressed in The Reawakened. Hot stuff!]
And here are my fellow PSP2ers:
Alma Alexander (Will post on the 20th instead.)
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Jay Lake’s comments and his synopses