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A Hazardous Occupation

My Successful Plot Synopsis

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My Successful Plot Synopsis

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I was fortunate enough to begin my writing under the guidance of Faith Hunter (faithhunter, published novelist of both fantasy and mystery. A few years after we’d started working together, I had the opportunity to show my work to a big-name agent from New York, and Faith helped me get it ready. He wanted to see a one or two page synopsis, but all I had was a twelve-page, chapter-by-chapter outline. I wanted to impress the agent with the story, not with my loquaciousness. How could I possibly trim it down to a reasonable two pages?

By only including the pertinent facts, that’s how. It was tough, believe me. I kept wanting to leave in a mention of this really nifty secondary character or that great description of the islands, but eventually I learned that I needed to pique the agent’s interest, not tell him every detail of the story before the book was even published. I listed only the most immediate characters, and only the biggest plot points. The structure I used is pretty basic, but you'd be best served by checking with the agent or editor you're submitting to before assuming my structure works for everyone.

The synopsis is there to get someone’s attention and prove you can finish what you begin. Don't worry that you're stuck with only what's in the synopsis, though. If a brilliant idea pops into your head while you’re showering, and you’re still a ways out from your final deadline, no worries! Behind the cut is the original synopsis that I sent to Tor, but it isn’t actually the way the story plays out anymore. The importance of the synopsis was to show that I could put a story together. Tor became excited about the story, and my editor asked for some pretty extensive changes, which improved the book immensely but do not appear in the synopsis.

Other folks will be talking about this today as well, as part of jpsorrow's Plot Synopsis Project, so if you'd like to read what they have to say, you can find them all by beginning here.

Synopsis: Mad Kestrel
110,000 words

The pirate sloop Wolfshead crosses paths with a mysterious warship of unknown origin. When quartermaster KESTREL raises her spyglass to get a closer look, the warship’s captain blows her a kiss, as if he can see her without the help of a glass, although that would be impossible. Kestrel’s captain, ARTEMIS BINNS, fires a playful warning shot over the warship’s bow. The warship suddenly vanishes from sight. The Wolfshead’s crew is spooked by the “ghost ship”.

Kestrel worries that the man might be one of the feared and hated Danisoban Magi, a sect of powerful wizards who murdered her parents and the only thing in the Nine Islands she fears. Kestrel is a Potential, someone with raw magical ability. If she makes any sort of music, even a rhythm tapped out on the railing, she will cause objects to move. She’s special even among the wielders of magic; salt water weakens the Danisoban mages, but it doesn’t affect her at all.

As they are dropping anchor in Eldraga Harbor, she sees the warship. Binns assures her there is nothing to fear, but she can’t help thinking something is wrong. She is stopped in the market by a foul-smelling beggar who gives her an urgent message for Binns. Her fears are increased when she sees the captain of the vanishing warship, standing across the street and staring at her.
Kestrel meets Binns for the evening meal, and is about to deliver the message when the strange captain appears again. Binns invites the man to sit and drink with them. PHILIP MCAVERY tells them he was once a well-to-do farmer wishing for a life at sea. Now all he wants is to go home, but to do that he must sell his huge ship. Kestrel watches him cautiously, still distrusting him, but understanding that Binns wants a better ship at a pauper’s price.

Next morning, while she and Binns are having breakfast, royal soldiers arrive and take Binns into custody. Kestrel leaps out a window, Binns’ log book in her arms, only to run into two bounty hunters. They are searching for McAvery. They tell her he is a swindler and a thief, that he stole the warship Thanos and cheated them out of their share. She narrowly defeats them, but is abducted by JAEGER, a bounty hunter in the pay of the Danisobans. He imprisons her in an underground prison, but she uses her magic to free herself. She incapacitates Jaeger and makes her way to the home of her friend, OLYMPIA CAMBERLIN. Olympia helps her sneak into the prison to speak to Binns. Binns at first tries to convince Kestrel to run away. When she refuses, he admits that the log holds secrets that, in the right hands, could save his life. But only if she can give the book to a man named LIG in the royal court of Pecheta.

Kestrel gathers as many of the crew as she can find, and they hurry to the docks, only to find that McAvery has stolen their sloop and sailed away. His own ship, the Thanos, is still at anchor, so Kestrel and her men slink aboard, overcome the guards and sail after McAvery.
They catch up to him near Cre’esh, an island known for its vicious rock shoals. McAvery accidentally runs the ship aground. Kestrel is forced to rescue him from her own sinking ship. He brings with him a large crate and a small potted plant, which he later tells her is a sanguina, a magical plant that grants fifty years of health and vitality to its eater. He also tells her that Binns was more than he appeared – he was the royal privateer, an agent of the king. He and McAvery were scheduled to meet on Eldraga and exchange their ships, to throw enemies off the track. Binns’ log book contains coded messages that only the king’s man, Lig, can decipher. Kestrel finds herself becoming attracted to McAvery, despite her fear that he is one of the Danisobans. She eventually admits to her secret ability to him.

Late on the third night, a few of the men attempt to mutiny, taking Kestrel by surprise. McAvery encourages her to use her ability to turn the situation her way. Seeing no other solution, she finally agrees. She blows a hard whistle, hoping to bring her sword to her hand. Instead she brings all the weapons on deck flying toward her. The ensuing panic gives her the advantage she needs, and she retakes control of the ship. McAvery finally tells her that while he is not a mage, he does have access to magic objects that they can use to free Binns. Kestrel has no choice but to trust him.

Arriving at Pecheta, Kestrel and McAvery slip though the dark streets to the royal palace. Once there, McAvery casts an illusion on the two of them to make them look like the bounty hunters Burke and Volga. Carrying the sanguina, they hope to get in the palace and find Lig. Instead they are dragged before JEREMIE, the Crown Prince. It was he who tried to steal the sanguina in the first place. He demands the plant. Suddenly the door opens to reveal the real bounty hunters, with the real plant in hand. A fight ensues; in the confusion, the prince takes the fruit and runs off, Kestrel in pursuit. She catches up to him on a turret landing, where she also finds Binns in captivity. Jeremie is about to pluck the fruit and eat it, so Kestrel begins to whistle, concentrating on the sanguina. It slips free of the prince’s grasp, floats up into the air, just out of his reach. He attacks her, but she buries her dagger in his belly and he falls.

The king is grateful to Kestrel for stopping the conspiracy. He introduces her to Lig, who turns out to be his personal Danisoban. Lig has been informed of Kestrel’s unusual ability and tries to convince her to join the Brotherhood. She turns him down, but he assures her he will have his way, someday. Binns officially retires, and the king offers the position of Royal Privateer to Kestrel, along with the Thanos. No longer afraid of her own magic, she whistles up a breeze and sails away, captain of the finest ship on the water.
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