One page summaries

So, yesterday, my agent asked me for one-page summaries of two of my WIP, the ones scheduled to come out next year. This sort of extra little assignment, like one last editorial request for a minor revision or page proofs with a very tight deadline, appears surprisingly often, especially when you are just about to start working on the climactic scene of something else.

Which was not actually true this time, because I am still working on MOUNTAIN, but I’m not quite at the climactic scene yet, so it was a good time to take an evening to work on this instead of pressing forward.

So, go try to shrink your favorite 400 page novel to a one page summary. Think about writing the back cover copy; do it like that. Go on, I’ll wait.

*Twiddles thumbs*. *Whistles*.

Hard, isn’t it? Now that I’ve a reasonable version for each WIP, though, I thought you might like to see what I came up with. So, here:


The Keeper of the Mists

The ambition of the Wyvern King burns hot as summer and unrelenting as time. All lands will fall beneath the sway of his terrible sorcery, until he rules the world. Only the tiny land of Nimmira lies hidden from the Wyvern King, concealed behind its shifting borders of mist and confusion.

The magic of Nimmira is rooted in its Lord, who holds in his heart all the boundaries and enchantments that protect and conceal his land. On his death, a new Lord must take up the magic of Nimmira and renew the concealing mist that keeps the land and folk of Nimmira safe.

Ignored by her father, raised in humble circumstances by her mother, recently orphaned and struggling to build a life for herself, Kerianna Ailenn certainly never expected to become the Lady of Nimmira. Yet, on her father’s death, she finds a heart-deep knowledge of her land unfolding within her, for the succession has passed over all three of her older half-brothers and come to her instead.

Now Keri must learn to use both her new magic and her new authority. For allies, she has her half-brothers, if she can trust them; and the ancient mysterious Timekeeper of Nimmira, if she can learn not to fear him; and two childhood friends who are almost as much out of place as she is.

But she must learn quickly. Because the Wyvern King is waiting, and now the mists of Nimmira are failing . . .


Okay, so, how accurate is the above? Well, I sure left out a lot, but then, how else are you going to summarize the entire book in less than 300 words? I deemphasized some important elements (Keri’s friends) and left out some important elements (an important secondary character from a country I didn’t mention; some of the important magical elements of the story). And I rearranged some elements, implying that Keri realizes that the succession has come to her because of “magic unfolding within her” rather than because the Timekeeper tells her so; in the actual story, the magic starts unfolding shortly thereafter.

But the point is to capture something of the story, preferably something both of the plot and the flavor. What do you all think?

Okay, next:


The Mountain of Kept Memory

Long ago the Kieba, last goddess in all the world, raised up her mountain in the drylands of Carastind. There she dwells still, her ceaseless charge to protect the world from the unending plagues that arose at the ending of the age of the gods.

Gulien Madalin, heir to the throne of Carastind, finds himself more interested in piecing together fragments of ancient history than in the tedious business of government. Or of watching his father govern, for Gelder Madalin, king of Carastind, does not share power.

Of course, sometimes an ambitious man may discover a splinter of some forgotten god’s power, and then ancient history may suddenly become thoroughly relevant. But no such threat can trouble Carastind, for who would dare threaten the land in which the Kieba has chosen to dwell?

But Gulien has come to believe that his father may have somehow offended the Kieba – offended her so seriously that she has withdrawn her protection from Carastind. Worse, he fears that Carastind’s enemies may suspect this as well.
Then he learns that he is right, and that invasion is imminent.

Gulien’s sister Oressa knows what’s important: avoiding the attention of her royal father while keeping track of all the secrets of the court. No one is more skilled at remaining unseen than Oressa; no one is better at piecing together scraps of overheard gossip. But when she overhears news about the threatened invasion, even Oressa is shocked to discover what her father plans to give away in order to buy peace.

Then she is even more horrified to learn that Carastind’s enemies will not agree to peace at any price. They mean not only to conquer Carastind, but to cast down the Kieba and steal her power – and they may be able to do it, for ancient fragments of the gods’ devising have fallen into their hands. Now Gulien and Oressa must each decide where their most important loyalties lie, and what price they are willing to pay in order to protect the Kieba, their home, and the world.


Obviously I thought it was crucial to start with the setting — in fact, there are two setting paragraphs, the first and then the third.

Also, I made it look like Gulien is the main character, when he is actually the secondary protagonist. Oressa is the main protagonist. I did that because it seemed to make sense in the summary and because (unless I change my mind) the brief prologue is in Gulien’s pov, so the reader is going to meet him first.

I would like to have emphasized Oressa, maybe even started with her, but the summary didn’t seem to work that way.

Oh, and I don’t think there’s much doubt in the story about “where their loyalties lie.” I think this summary implies that Gulien and Oressa even find themselves on opposite sides, which would be a very cool story idea, but does not happen in *this* story.

Oh, and I see that I totally implied that the “enemies” of Carastind are all one faceless mass, which is not at all the way the story works out.

Still, in some ways, this summary is surprisingly accurate. How does it sound, though? Catchy, I hope. Can you tell at all that MISTS is YA, whereas MOUNTAIN is adult? In fact, one of the things I will need to do at the end of this revision of MOUNTAIN is read through Oressa’s sections and see if I can tell whether she now sounds like a young woman of 20 rather than a girl of 15.

Anyway, there you go: Summaries in 300 words (or so).

For my next trick, maybe I will try to come up with taglines — one-sentence summaries. That’s even harder!

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13 thoughts on “One page summaries”

  1. They both sound catchy; I want to read them both. But I’m already familiar with your work. I can’t judge how they would sound to someone that is new to it.

    The first one sounds YA because of the age of the protagonist. The second one — I can’t decide. I think I was “primed” by the first synopsis to expect YA. And since the second mentions the heirs, that sort of implies younger protagonists. But that’s conditioning from all the books I’ve read that normally focus on younger heirs.

    Maybe refer to Oressa as Lady Oressa? That’s fairly unambiguous, but maybe completely unhelpful if she’s never referred to that way in the book.

  2. Thanks, Robert! I suppose it’s true that the first one sets you up to read the second as YA. Hmm. Maybe the covers will help sort them out (eventually). I’m glad they both sound catchy!

  3. Both summaries make me even more anxious to get my hands on the books. :-)

    To me, the setting of the first book comes across as fantasyland Europe while the second setting seems more like Africa?

    Both seem like mature YA/adult, but I happily read both types of book so I’m probably not a good judge.

  4. Cheryl, good!

    Hmm, I guess I envision the setting of MISTS as perhaps a kinder, gentler, very small Switzerland. A rather idealized pastoral setting. MOUNTAIN doesn’t map all that well onto any physical setting . . . maybe kind of like the American Southwest, only without the mesas, since the Kieba’s mountain stands very much alone.

    Someday, if I write a third FLOATING ISLANDS story, I hope I’ll wind up visiting the Yngulin Empire, which is actually based on the real-word Ashanti Empire: splendid and cruel. Of course that’s not visible to the reader, yet, it’s just in my head at this point. It would be fun to develop that setting, but who knows when or if I’ll be able to get to it.

  5. ooooooooh, were you inspired by the Riddlemaster of Hed for that magical transfer of powers to the landheir in the Keeper book? I’ll love seeing what you’ll do with it – some tall shoes to fill though ^^.

    – Didn’t think it sounded particularly YA, but then the Riddlemaster books were adult with some YA protagonists mixed in.
    – tagline: Riddlemaster of Hed meets Brigadoon? ^^

    In the second summary I thought you could conceivably shorten:
    “Worse, he fears that Carastind’s enemies may suspect this as well.
    Then he learns that he is right, and that invasion is imminent.”
    “Then he learns that Carastind’s enemies suspect this as well and invasion is imminent”

    Not sure if it’ll be a concern that some people may expect a male protagonist in the book with a female sidekick when it isn’t like that – unless it’s an ensemble book overall?

  6. They both make me want to read them. I would have picked the first one as younger audience and the 2nd as older teen to adult.

    Possibly a change of wording in the last paragraph the Oressa will need Guillen’s help in order to save…. that would imply that she is the main character.

  7. These both look great. Just out of curiosity, will there be a Black Dog sequel. I really hope so!

  8. Estara, probably. Patricia McKillip is so embedded in my writer’s unconscious at this point, there’s no telling, and I sure red The Riddlemaster trilogy a bunch of times. But I was also thinking of McKinley’s Chalice when I started writing The Keeper of the Mists, so that was a more direct inspiration.

    Sarah, I think that’s a good suggestion; I’ll fiddle around with that kind of phrasing.

    Rachel D, there sure will, hopefully more than one. The sequel is ready to go, but the timing of the release depends on the exact terms of my traditional-publisher contract, and those are still under negotiation. You can bet I will be letting everybody know as soon as things are settled!

  9. They are both definitely catchy and I can’t wait to read them!

    For me, the descriptions themselves didn’t clue me in to whether they were YA or Adult, but then I think that many fantasy novels kind of straddle that line anyway — especially in first novels of series where the characters may be younger.

  10. Thank goodness. I find myself thinking about what happens after Black Dog quite a bit. I will try to wait patiently.

  11. I’m glad to think people are waiting for the sequel … and I hope you don’t have to wait too long!

  12. I agree about the Black Dog sequel–I had seen somewhere months ago that it was scheduled to come out in the beginning of February, and I’ve been planning on going to Barnes and Noble in 11 days to look for it. While I’m disappointed that it’s not coming out in less than 2 weeks, I’m excited to hear that there will be a sequel hopefully soonish. :) Also, your next two books look amazing!

  13. Thanks, Katie! I swear I will let everyone know what’s going on with PURE MAGIC as soon as possible!

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