I haven’t posted much lately, and that’s not a bad thing if the reason is that I’ve been working tirelessly to finish a novel AND its synopses AND its query letter AND a short story for GlimmerTrain. :)
I thought I’d post the long version of the synopsis here and perhaps get some feedback. I’m working today to trim it down to a short version of 3-5 pages, which will be no easy feat since it’s currently 14 double-spaced pages and 4,644 words. It’s an intimidating task, but so was writing the long version, and I did that in four days, blood, sweat, and tears notwithstanding.
(An aside… synopses are written in third person present tense, which is a format not used for much else. All week my brain has been narrating everything I do in third person present tense. E.g. She walks down the hall… she makes herself a sandwich… she is very annoyed by this.)
I’m pretty darn good at writing synopses, by the way, so if you’ve got a novel that needs one, feel free to use this as an example of how to write one. I also write query letters and synopses for hire for other writers, although I typically encourage writers to instead workshop with me on the process and then write those on their own. Queries and synopses are not only good writing practice, but they should also reflect the voice and style of the novels they represent, which only the author can truly accomplish!
As always, if you’d like to read Frances Grubb’s full book, simply message me with your email, and I’ll send it right over. It WILL BE PUBLISHED eventually (note confidence!), and won’t it be super cool to have been one of its first readers from way back before I was famous? :)
The laundry and dishes may be piling up, but I’m a writer, goddamnit. And there’s no stopping me now.
Frances Grubb & the Shapeshifters – A Synopsis
FRANCES GRUBB is half-way through the seventh grade in Shreveport, Louisiana. She’s having a miserable day and is glad it’s Friday. At her locker, Frances uses a whiteboard marker to countdown the days until the end of the schoolyear on her mirror. As her locker neighbors arrive, Frances drops a binder and bangs her head on the corner of the locker door. Once outside, Frances trips on a shoelace and lands hard on the sidewalk, scraping her hands and knees. A bully makes fun of her, calling her Fanny Chubb. It begins to storm, and Frances gets drenched on her short walk home.
Frances’ parents are divorced, and she lives with her MOM and her mom’s fiancé, TOBY. Once inside out of the rain, Frances is greeted by her mom, who wraps Frances in a towel and tells her to change and come back downstairs for a family meeting. As Frances showers, she notices the scrapes on her hands seem to wash away. When she stares at her fingers, they seem to change before her eyes. She blinks, and her hands go back to normal. She shrugs and assumes the steam was making her vision foggy.
Downstairs, Mom and Toby excitedly tell Frances they are expecting a baby. Frances becomes angry and screams, “Why is everybody ruining my life?” She then storms back up to her room, falls on the bed, and sobs into her pillow.
By dinnertime, Frances is feeling better after her much-needed cry. She makes her way downstairs, where she finds her mom alone in the living room. Toby has gone out with his brother, and Mom has ordered pizza for an “old-fashioned girls’ night.” Frances apologizes for her outburst. Her mom is understanding. They eat pizza and ice cream and talk about Frances’ day. Suddenly Frances’ head begins to ache. She looks flushed and has a fever. She goes to bed where she sleeps restlessly. She has strange dreams in which she has webbed feet and is covered in itchy feathers. Frances wakes and is relieved to discover she was only dreaming. But she is horrorstruck when she sees her cat playing with a long black feather under the bed.
Frances falls from the bed in a pile of blankets and more feathers. She begins to panic as her mom enters the room. Frances’ feet shift into black, webbed feet, and feathers sprout from her arms. She looks at her mom and asks, “What’s happening?” Then her legs shift into hooves, and her wings change into large paws. Mom tries to get Frances to relax. Frances calms down and shifts back to normal. Mom says, “I think there’s something I need to tell you.”
Frances is now exhausted. Her voice is hoarse, and she has a headache. She wants to know what’s going on. Mom can’t explain but says she knows someone who can. Mom calls PAPAW (Frances’ great-grandfather) in Dallas and asks him to come.
Frances is tired and traumatized. Her entire body throbs, and her skin feels loose and ill-fitting. All her body hair feels electrically charged. She says she is hungry, and Mom leaves to get food. Frances falls asleep, and when she wakes four hours later, Papaw is standing in her room. They go to the kitchen to talk with Mom. Mom explains that she suddenly believes all the stories Papaw used to tell her about his grandmother shifting into animals. Papaw explains that his grandmother, HELEN Carter Reese, was a shapeshifter. He has a phone number they can call for information. Mom calls the number and schedules a meeting with a man named FLETCHER.
Next morning, Frances, Mom, and Papaw go to a tattoo shop with a symbol over the door of a tree with a split trunk. In the back of the tattoo shop is a large training room covered in squishy mats and surrounded by mirrors. Frances meets her shapeshifter guide, Fletcher, and his two other apprentices, GRAY and BRIGID. Gray is very friendly, but Brigid seems to dislike Frances from the start.
Frances accidentally croaks a bird call and begins to panic when she feels tingling sensations all over her body. But Fletcher encourages her to allow her body to shift. Frances completes a full shapeshift into a large aquatic bird called a Great Cormorant. Frances notes the new sensations of being in a new body. When she sees herself in the mirror and flaps her large wings, she realizes she feels great. Her anxiety melts away. Her train of thought shifts between human and bird thoughts until she accidentally poops on the mat. She is mortified and becomes anxious, which causes her to begin to shift back into human form. Mom rushes everyone else out of the room so Frances can change. Frances “wants to die” because she has just pooped in a room full of people. Mom points out that Frances was a bird, and nobody even noticed the poop. Frances feels better when she accepts that she is a shapeshifter.
Fletcher works with Frances through relaxation and meditation techniques. Frances wonders if she’ll have to go back to school or perhaps live in some type of shapeshifter commune. Fletcher tells Frances that learning to control her shapeshifting will be hard work. Frances thinks that she is good at working hard, but regardless, she usually only gets mediocre results. During lunch Fletcher, Gray, and Brigid talk about their backgrounds, and they explain some things about shapeshifting. Frances learns that she is very young to have started shifting already – probably the youngest ever. She will have eight years of apprenticeship before she will be considered a Novice Shifter. After a few more years of practice she will be considered Independent. Then she could reach Shiftmaster level after another 50 years of work. Frances is intimidated, and she is sure Fletcher shouldn’t expect so much of her. Fletcher explains that for First Class Shiftmasters, shapeshifting becomes as easy as breathing. He then shifts into a gigantic tree supported by his human legs, and Frances realizes he matches the symbol outside the tattoo shop.
Next, Brigid and Gray take turns demonstrating some of their shifts. Frances accidentally mimics some of them like changing her hair color and her height. The shapeshifters are all very surprised. When Brigid shifts into a rhinoceros, Frances does too. She then feels strong and marvels at her heightened senses of hearing and smell. When prompted, she effortlessly shifts back to human form.
Back at home the next morning, Frances wakes up very sore but refreshed. Upon seeing her cats, she decides to shift into a cat. She is able to understand her cats’ thoughts by “feeling their feelings.” She notes that some colors are missing from her vision but that her eyesight is sharper. She has the urge to eat a spider crawling on the wall across the room. She practices changing colors in front of the mirror until her mom enters. Frances enjoys being a cat so much, she is unable to change back. Mom takes her to the tattoo shop wrapped in a blanket. When Gray pats her head, Frances becomes nervous and shifts back to human.
Frances explains to Fletcher that she shifted into a cat on purpose, and Fletcher is amazed. Fletcher “tests some theories” by having Frances mimic Gray’s color-changing hair and then practice in front of a mirror. Frances continues to impress everyone by adding fur to her body, by changing colors, and by stopping herself mid-shift. Fletcher has no idea how to train her with such advanced abilities.
They all sit down to talk, and Frances learns that Shiftmasters can live hundreds of years and that there are only around 7,000 shapeshifters in the world, making Frances one in a million. She also learns that each shifter has a signature shift called an “alter” and that her alter is the Great Cormorant. Fletcher points out that the cormorant is probably the most useful bird on the planet because it can both fly and swim. Fletcher explains that Frances’ great-great-great-grandmother, Helen, was a very powerful, well-known Shiftmaster who served on the shifter Council in the 1930s and 40s and that Frances is now famous among shifters for being Helen’s descendent.
Frances returns to the tattoo shop every day that week, her friends and school under the assumption that she is sick with the flu. During training, Fletcher has Frances copy Brigid and Gray’s shifts, which she does flawlessly every time. On Friday, Frances shifts into a mountain lion completely on her own, which baffles everyone. On Sunday, she is working on homework in her kitchen when she thinks back on her week of training and realizes it’s been a week “since her life changed forever.”
Fletcher arrives with a swimming pool, which is a gift for Frances from the shifter community. Fletcher explains about the shapeshifter web forum and gives Frances her password. But he tells Frances that her advanced abilities should be kept secret for now.
At bedtime, Frances stands before her bathroom mirror and practices shifting her hair, eyes, and face. She adds inches to her height, melts away some of the fat around her middle, and blinks zits from her chin. She thinks that maybe school won’t be so bad after all.
At school the next day, Frances has a few shapeshifter mishaps including bird-croak hiccups during a math quiz, an awkward high jump and backwards knees in gym, and streaks of pink in her hair during French class, which her best friend MEREDITH seems to notice. Now in last period English, Frances hears molecules humming and croaks a hiccup again. When her teacher, MRS. BARRY, asks if she’s okay, Frances asks to go to the bathroom. When she reaches for a bathroom pass, a feather falls from her sleeve onto Mrs. Barry’s desk. Frances does not see the look of realization appear on Mrs. Barry’s face.
In the bathroom, Frances discovers a hole at the base of the wall, and decides she would rather shift into something small and leave school early than get caught in the bustle of students after the last bell. She hides her clothes behind a ceiling tile just as Meredith enters the bathroom. Frances quickly shifts into a rat and hides in the hole as Meredith investigates the locked stall and finds Frances’ sock. Frances retreats into the wall and races toward an exit. She notes that moving is effortless for a rat. And her powerful sense of smell more than makes up for her fuzzy vision. The bell rings, and Frances hears students filling the halls below. She jumps over a beam and finds herself in freefall. She lands on the floor below, and students begin to scream all around her. Frances runs through the exit and into a bush. She then hears Brigid asking about her nearby and shifts into a cat. Brigid realizes the cat is Frances, picks her up, and drives her to training.
At the tattoo shop, Frances tells Fletcher about her day. She feels she is not ready to be back at school, but Fletcher points out that in every instance Frances demonstrated a huge amount of control. He says, “Most young shifters can’t do any of those things.”
Brigid shifts into a sloth, and Frances copies the shift. A sloth is very different from anything Frances has done so far. Walking feels awkward, and Frances realizes sloths are obviously made for the trees. Her eyelids feel heavy, and she feels like she has been drugged. Her sluggish body isn’t able to keep up with her brain. When Frances shifts back to human form, her ears ring, and her head throbs. She faints briefly, but when she wakes up, she can’t speak properly. In the mirror, her facial skin appears droopy, and she sees one of her eyebrows slide down her nose. Her bones feel like Jello, and when her eyes fall to either side of her face, she begins to hyperventilate. Someone dumps a cooler of ice water over her, and she passes out.
When Frances wakes a while later, she is dry, dressed in sweats, and covered with a blanket. Fletcher enters the training room followed by a doctor who explains that what happened to Frances was a fairly common thing called a melt-down. It likely happened because Frances had done so many new shifts in such a short period of time. Frances’ mom arrives, and after Fletcher explains what happened, Mom bursts into tears. She feels helpless when it comes to preparing Frances for life because she doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a shapeshifter. Fletcher says some encouraging words, and Mom feels better. As Frances and her mom leave the shop, Gray invites Frances to the shapeshifter camp-out on President’s Day weekend.
Frances returns to school on Tuesday, and aside from a few more bird-like hiccups and one seemingly unnoticed incident involving her teeth turning to fangs during lunch, she makes it through the next few days as fully human. On Thursday, Mrs. Barry gives a quiz on Greek mythology, and Frances notices a familiar theme – all the questions are about shapeshifting.
After school, when Meredith suggests they do their homework together, Frances nervously makes up a story about taking music lessons and rushes off to ride with Brigid to training. In the training room, Frances learns that advanced Shiftmasters can speak human language while shifted into animals when Fletcher speaks to her as a bloodhound. They then hear Meredith in the front of the tattoo shop, and Fletcher-the-dog barks and chases her out.
Toby calls Fletcher’s cell phone to say that Frances’ mom is in the hospital for painful cramps. Though Toby assures Frances that her mom is fine, Frances is too distraught to shift. Fletcher takes his apprentices for ice cream and then drops Frances at home. As Frances steps onto her porch, Meredith appears from the bushes and confronts her about the mysterious things that have been happening. Meredith is adamant that she won’t leave until Frances answers her questions. Frances invites her inside.
Frances explains everything to Meredith, but Meredith is skeptical. She asks Frances to show her a shift. Frances shifts into a cormorant, and Meredith is shocked and now bursting with more questions. Frances tells Meredith not to make a big deal of it and reminds her that everything she has just revealed must be kept secret.
Frances tells Meredith about the other shapeshifters, blushing when she mentions Gray. Meredith suggests Frances has a crush on Gray. Frances tries to brush it aside by pointing out that Gray is three years older than she is and likely only views her as a little kid. Mom and Toby return from the hospital, and Frances is relieved to see that her mom is okay.
On Monday, the shapeshifters meet for training at the new pool in Frances’ back yard. Mom sits in a lawn chair by the pool to watch. Frances shifts into her alter and jumps into the water as Fletcher, Gray, and Brigid stand around the pool. Frances practices paddling on the surface, and then diving. While swimming underwater, she accidentally shifts into a catfish. She practices swimming as a fish, and after a while she is swimming in aimless circles around the pool unable to remember who or where she is.
Suddenly, another catfish appears in the water, and Frances becomes defensive and charges at it. The other fish shifts into a crocodile, and Frances’ shifter instincts finally take over. She shifts into a massive hippo, breaking through the pool wall in the process. She snaps at the crocodile, who leaps out of the water and shifts into an owl. Frances-the-hippo angrily charges through the side of the pool and nearly tramples her terrified mom. At the last possible second, Frances realizes who she is, quickly shifts into a cormorant, and flies away.
As Frances flies, she is overcome with anxiety and guilt about what has just happened. She feels that she can never go back home for fear of accidentally hurting someone she loves. She lands atop a downtown building, and after a few minutes, Fletcher arrives as an owl. Frances shifts into a fury human and bursts into tears. She is hysterical over the idea that she could have killed her mom. Fletcher reminds Frances that her amazing shifter abilities are what saved her mom at the last second. Frances still feels that she should avoid shapeshifting, but Fletcher convinces her to at least go home.
They do no more training this week, and by Friday Frances finds that she has quickly become bored with everyday life. Though still worried about losing control while shifting, she is eager to meet other shapeshifters on the camping trip. Fletcher’s group picks Frances up Friday afternoon. Frances notices a hawk circling above throughout most of the drive.
At the campsite Frances meets another shifter guide, MARY ELLEN, and her family. Mary Ellen’s apprentices includes another young shifter, ERIC, who has only been shifting a few weeks, and BETH, who, Frances soon discovers, is Gray’s girlfriend. At dinner, everyone introduces themselves around the campfire, and Frances learns each shifter’s level and alter.
Next morning, Frances awakens with ringing ears and hears billions of shifting molecules all around. Outside her tent, she discovers two large stags charging each other and crashing antlers together, an orangutan doing yoga, half a dozen squirrels playing freeze tag, and Fletcher as a centaur. Mary Ellen is making breakfast with several extra arms. Frances again notices a hawk watching them from its perch high in a tree. The electric buzz of so many shapeshifters around her seems to tug at her own molecules, urging them to reorganize, and when the hawk takes off into the sky, Frances realizes she wants nothing more than to shift into a bird and fly after it.
After breakfast, everyone is divided into pairs for a warm-up. Fletcher tells Frances not to be afraid to shift. He encourages her to show everyone what she can do. Frances is paired with Beth. Beth tells Frances, “Gray says you’re a really cool kid.” Frances decides her crush on Gray is over, and she explodes into a colossal mammoth.
Frances-the-mammoth bellows a rumble and trumpets her newfound exhilaration. Everyone backs away in shock and awe. Fletcher explains Frances’ advanced abilities, and all the shifters are surprised and full of questions. After warm-ups they split into two teams and compete to see which team can create the tallest pyramid by using only North American mammals and who can make the longest train without using any snakes. Frances completes long jumps as a kangaroo and high jumps as a mountain goat. She climbs a tree as a raccoon, catches Frisbees as a dog, and attempts to peel a banana as a donkey. They compete in a relay race as their alters and play a game of literal “Duck, Duck, Goose.”
After dinner, the group is split into different teams for “Capture the Flag,” in which they are not allowed to shift at all. During the game, Frances hides in the bushes near her team’s flag. When she spots Eric, who is on the opposing team, behind a tree, she begins to chase him through the woods. Eric gets very far ahead, and Frances realizes they are getting too far from the campsite. When Frances catches up to Eric, they decide to call a truce as they walk back to camp together.
Frances and Eric see movement ahead of them, and a large angry bear appears and charges toward them. They run toward a clearing. Frances is ahead of Eric when he trips and sprains his ankle. Frances turns back just in time to see the bear standing over Eric. Frances suddenly remembers she is a shapeshifter, but before she shifts, she realizes she can hear the hum of the bear’s shifted molecules. She thinks the bear is one of her shifter friends playing a joke and confronts it. But a second, larger bear appears on Frances’ other side, and Frances realizes that even though they are shifter bears, they are not her friends.
A large hawk swoops down and attacks the larger bear, distracting it long enough for Frances to dive out of the way. When the bear falls to the ground, Frances suddenly feels a surge of electric power flow from the top of her spine throughout her whole body. As it reaches the tips of her fingers, she somehow knows what to do with it. She grabs the bear’s foot and forces the charge through it until it begins to change into a human foot. The forced shift continues violently and painfully throughout the bear’s body, and when his is a fully human man, he vomits and angrily asks, “What did you do to me?!” before running away into the woods. The other bear also retreats in the opposite direction. Eric says to Frances, “I don’t think we’re supposed to be able to do that.”
Frances and Eric have momentarily forgotten about the hawk until a voice comes from that direction. They shine the flashlight toward the voice and see a young woman covered in feathers from the neck down. Frances thinks the woman looks familiar, but she can’t place her. When Frances asks who she is, the woman shifts her face into the wrinkly, aged face of Mrs. Barry. Frances is shocked. Mrs. Barry explains that her elderly teacher persona is a shift, and that she is really a young shifter named ZOE. Zoe tells Frances and Eric not to tell anyone else about her.
They are about to discuss a plan to get help when they hear someone calling for Frances and Eric. Mrs. Barry shifts back into a hawk and flies away just as Fletcher and Gray enter the clearing. Back at the campsite, when Frances and Eric tell everyone what happened, they leave out the part about the hawk and the part about Frances causing the bear to shift to human. Eric’s ankle is only sprained, so he does not go to the hospital, but Fletcher and Mary Ellen decide to end the trip a day early. That night, Brigid gives a dramatic telling of a story about The Fae, an ancient magical people from whom shapeshifters are supposedly descended.
According to the legend, the powerful Faerie princess EILIDH, who has exceptionally strong healing and shapeshifting magic, falls in love with the human fisherman, MAON. When the Faerie Kings and Queens learn of Eilidh and Maon’s forbidden marriage, they send warriors to kill the human. Eilidh transforms three times to defend Maon, first into a bear, then a bull, and finally a fierce dragon. She kills all the warriors except for one, who is named BAIN. Before Eilidh has a chance to heal the injured Maon, Bain shifts into a snake and bites Maon over his heart, killing him instantly. Eilidh is so filled with rage that she summons lightning from the sky and focuses the power through her and into Bain, causing him to return to Faerie form and cursing him with permanent scars and diluted magic.
Eilidh brings Maon back to life only to have him killed again by her father. The princess is so distraught, that she plans on hurling herself from the cliffs into the sea. But when she realizes she is pregnant, she has reason to live, and she hides until the baby is born. When Bain tells the kings and queens what Eilidh did to him, they are outraged, and they send more warriors to find her. By the time Eilidh is found, however, the Fae have been defeated by the invading Gales, and they are told by the Gales that they must leave the earthly realm of men forever. Bane seals Eilidh in a fissure and sentences her to remain there for 3,000 years. But before Eilidh was caught, she had given birth to a baby boy and hidden him with a human family. The child appeared human, but he had inherited the Faerie magic from his mother, and he became known as the first part-Faerie, part-human shapeshifter. Eilidh is known as the mother of shapeshifters, who, by protecting her precious son, gave life to them all.
Frances is mesmerized by the Faerie story, and she feels a magical connection to Eilidh and Maon. She recognizes the striking similarities between Eilidh’s powers and her own. That night, she has dreams of shimmering winged creatures with golden eyes, but she doesn’t remember them in the morning.
On Sunday evening, when Frances is back at home, she suddenly remembers the shifter web forum. She decides to finally check in and is immediately overwhelmed by the number of messages from the shifter community. They are all welcoming and encouraging, and many shapeshifters tell Frances stories about their first shifts and offer to answer any questions Frances may have. She reads many stories from older shifters who knew Helen – stories about how powerful she was, but also how clever and kind. She sees articles posted with headlines like “Helen Carter Reese Descendent Shifts at 12 Years!”
Frances reaches a turning point and feels that she is finally able to accept her new life. She wants to embrace her role as the descendent of a great Shiftmaster and live up to the high expectations of the shifter community. Frances scrolls through her messages until she reaches the first one, a message curiously dated for the first day Fletcher registered her on the forum. The simple note states: Helen had enemies. You will too. Exercise caution. –A Friend
Frances is intrigued, but also a little dismayed by the ominous tone of the message. She jumps at a noise from her window, and when she turns toward it, she sees a something flutter away in the twilight. She makes sure her window is locked, closes the curtains, and climbs into bed. She reflects on everything that has happened to her in the last three weeks. She still can’t erase the vivid image of her mom’s terrified face when Frances-the-hippo lost control and nearly trampled her, but Frances is now intensely in love with shapeshifting. She realizes that she feels different after the “power-surge” moment in the woods. She feels super in control and that nothing can touch her. She drifts off to happy thoughts of new friends and adventures. She dreams of flying through the open air, the sun warm on her feathered back.
(Epilogue) Frances is at her mom and Toby’s wedding reception two months later. She shares a table with Meredith, Brigid, Gray, and her 19-year-old cousin, Lily, from New York. Mom and Toby announce the sex of their baby, and Frances is excited to learn it will be a girl.
Brigid leaves for the bathroom as Lily looks through Frances’ yearbook. Lily recognizes Mrs. Barry as her own high school English teacher. She is amazed by the coincidence that the same teacher that taught her is now teaching her cousin in another state, but Frances knows it is no coincidence. Zoe had told her that she had been watching Helen’s descendants for shapeshifters, and Frances realizes that Zoe must have been monitoring Lily in New York first. But when Lily never began shapeshifting, the teacher had switched targets. Frances thinks of the warning message in the forum and wonders if she should be wary of trusting Zoe.
Frances goes to check on Brigid and finds her sobbing on the bed in the guest room. Brigid invites her in, and, though Frances doesn’t know what’s wrong, she does understand that Brigid will appreciate being comforted. She shifts into a cat and nuzzles close to Brigid, purring loudly. Brigid thanks her through tears, and Frances knows that things will be different between them from now on.
Copyright © 2015 by Angie Tonucci.