The Plot Synopsis Project – and why I didn’t participate

Check out this excellent post for your fabulous entry into the Plot Synopsis Project, in which a number of authors have joined together to make today National Post About Writing The Synopsis Day.  I was invited to participate, but after some reflection I decided I couldn’t participate because, you see, I’ve never learned how to write a decent synopsis.

Let’s go back two decades.  My first novel sale came about in this way:  my then-agent sent an sf manuscript to an editor;  said editor rejected the ms, saying she had just published something that was similar enough that she didn’t want to be seeming to repeat herself but that she had liked the writing and, by the way, did I have any fantasy?  I had only one complete fantasy novel at that time but it was my college novel and quite unpublishable.  Unbeknownst to me, my agent sent on to the editor a paragraph description of a fantasy novel I had sent to my agent as an example of things I would like to write in the future because, you know, I was thinking ahead even then.

The editor bought it.  Based on a paragraph.

This proves the old adage that sometimes it’s simply the timing that matters.  She was looking for fantasy at that moment.  I could have tried the same market six months later and been laughed out of the room with my scrawny paragraph (which turned into the novel The Labyrinth Gate).

Some time after that, the sf manuscript sold.  It was volume one of The Highroad Trilogy, and I have no memory of writing a synopsis for volumes 2 and 3, although we sold all three books and I subsequently wrote the second two volumes.

My first Kate Elliott novel, Jaran, sold as a complete manuscript.  The Jaran novels that followed were option books.

The Golden Key sold on concept and name recognition (the names recognized being Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson;  I was the junior author on the project).

I may have written a page and a half of vague outline for Crown of Stars, but whatever I wrote (and whatever it was, I have no idea whether I even possess a copy of it now) bears little resemblance to the seven book trilogy that was ultimately published.

As for my most recent project, Crossroads, it was genuinely easier for me to write 250 pages of text (what are now parts one and three of Spirit Gate) than to write a synopsis.  I did append a one or two page outline, which my agent was not enthusiastic about; indeed, he made very clear that it was the partial manuscript, not the synopsis, that sold the project.

Maybe, you’ll say, I avoided learning to do something that is hard for me to do well, and that’s bad.  Or maybe, you’ll say, I avoided having to spend too much writing time trying to do well something I’m unlikely to ever do well, and that’s good.

However, I’m inclined to say there is no moral to this story.  It just worked out that way.  Draw what conclusions you will.

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There are 3 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Jackie

    I wish I didn’t have to write a synopsis. Well, no, that’s not exactly true; now I find it very useful to write a synopsis and use it as a road map when I actually then write the story. But the actual writing of the synopsis is a royal bitch, and I don’t think it will ever get any easier. Ever. Gah.

  2. 2. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    I say . . . whatever works, do it. (especially if it involves chocolate–though I think I’m biased on that).


  3. 3. Simon Haynes

    “I decided I couldn’t participate because, you see, I’ve never learned how to write a decent synopsis.”

    Heh .. that didn’t stop me participating …

Author Information

Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is the author of multiple fantasy and science fiction novels, including the Crown of Stars series and the Novels of the Jaran. She's currently working on Crossroads; the first novel, Spirit Gate, is already out, and Shadow Gate will be published in Spring 2008. Visit site.



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