One-sentence Plot Summaries

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The aim of these is to condense the unique features of the work, or of the writer’s repeating themes, to aid structural and thematic analysis.

Joan Barfoot

Gaining Ground

Abra finds inner peace in solitude, but hurts her family in doing so; it would have been better if she’d been raised to accept herself as an independent person, but they all survive.

Peter S. Beagle

The Folk of the Air

A drifter meets up with old friends, watches an old goddess dying, and discovers both creative anachronism and faith.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

City of Sorcery

A woman, her wife, her lover (the wife’s auntie), her boss (the wife’s ex-boss), and the personnel manager carry out a hazardous but spiritually rewarding all-woman mission through snowy mountains to rescue the wife’s ex-girlfriend (and business partner) and the woman’s difficult younger colleague.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

Thendara House

Magda thinks she wants undivided loyalties, so she joins a religious order that indirectly conflicts with her job; Jaelle thinks she wants to be valued as an equal by others for her intrinsic worth, so she behaves like a doormat until she snaps and almost kills Magda’s ex (her husband); naturally, they swear undying love to each other.

British boys’ school stories

All the books I’ve read so far

The protagonist starts school and makes some friends.

Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game

See Frank Herbert, Dune.

G.K. Chesterton


Chesterton points out the ways in which the philosophies of a number of well-known writers fail to promote greater general health and well-being for humanity; however, his own philosophy fails to regard truth as the foundation stone for any view of the nature of reality.

Stephen Donaldson

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever and Mordant’s Need

The justifiably miserable protagonist enters a fantastic world that may or may not be a delusion, acts irresponsibly, gets backed into a position where they can’t save the day in any artistically satisfactory way, and then saves the day in an artistically satisfactory way (as if the author has pulled the ending out of an obviously empty hat).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sherlock Holmes series

Sherlock Holmes impresses Dr Watson very much by doing a whole lot of apparently pointless things that enable him to solve the mystery.

Elizabeth Goudge

All the books I’ve read so far

The love, advice, and good examples of other people, and a range of astounding coincidences, help everyone to reconcile with their lives and loved ones.

Frank Herbert


The highly trained, psychic hero grows up to trigger huge destruction while saving the day and becomes spiritually enlightened by his meditations on the situation, resulting in his rejection of the values of the people who caused him to be trained and the founding of a new religion.

(Also the summary for Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game.)

Georgette Heyer

All the books I’ve read so far

Because the not-unattractive protagonist and love object learn to rely on and trust each other as they develop a partnership based on their similar senses of humour and of what is important (and because they’re sexually compatible), they happily commit to a lifetime’s love with each other rather than with any other interested parties, possibly also finding out whodunnit along the way.

Diana Wynne Jones

All the books I’ve read so far

Despite an absence of good parenting, the protagonist and their friends or siblings mend the situation, discover their natural talents, and grow up some more, despite others’ selfish efforts to the contrary.

Mercedes Lackey

All the books I’ve read so far

The slightly unusual-looking protagonist, who doesn’t conform entirely to gender stereotypes and is skilled in a craft or art form, learns independence, follows their vocation, resists the temptation of selfishness, and saves the day, with the support of both contemporaries and older members of the community and with the aid of a member of another species, who helps them deal with their trauma or angst.

The Book of Job

Job, an extremely wealthy man, with higher standards of morality than are usual for his people, has his possessions and loved ones taken from him as he is used as a playing piece in a contest between cosmic powers; he waits it out and the cosmic powers give him new loved ones and possessions.

See Michael Moorcock, The Elric of Melniboné series.

Tanith Lee

The Silver Metal Lover

The protagonist falls in love and, in attempting to protect her lover, grows up and discovers the intrinsic validity of her own emotions; the government is not ideal.

H.P. Lovecraft

All the books I’ve read so far

The well-educated protagonist is horrified to discover at first hand just how weird the universe can be and how small the human race’s place is in the overall scheme of things.

Patricia McKillip

All the books I’ve read so far

The protagonist becomes powerful in the course of struggling to survive the highly complex situation, finally being surprised by the way in which their assumptions about the situation were wrong and also figuring out what the hell is actually going on.

Robin McKinley

All the books I’ve read so far, but not all the short stories

The bookish, animal-loving protagonist,who is foreign to her community but has magical abilities that suit her for it anyway, learns self-respect as she saves the day (and her love interest) before settling down happily.

Michael Moorcock

The Elric of Melniboné series

Elric, an extremely wealthy man, with higher standards of morality than are usual for his people, has his possessions and loved ones taken from him as he is used as a playing piece in a contest between cosmic powers; he destroys the world.

See the Book of Job.

Christina Rossetti

Goblin Market

The heroine saves her sister from a fatal but romantic magical withdrawal syndrome with nothing but immense sisterly devotion (barely stopping short of incest and masochism) and fruit juice.

J.K. Rowling

See Diana Wynne Jones.

E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith

All the books I’ve read so far

The ruggedly handsome hero, who never lets his incredible intellect stop him from brawling in a good cause (preferably in a cheap dive while working under cover) encounters weird aliens with different values from ours and a woman who is his female counterpart, and is able to work successfully with these entities to make the galaxies safer for personal liberty.


Most of the stories I’ve read

The highly analytical characters deal with their inner demons in a manner that fails to avoid causing further harm to themselves and those around them but is still surpringly effective and may even be the best option under the circumstances (taking the decidedly unusual circumstances into account).

J.R.R. Tolkien

Middle Earth

Love is enough, though the world is a-waning, to defeat evil temporarily, as long as someone sacrifices themselves so that others can enjoy things.

Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman

The Dragonlance Chronicles

The self-centred, odd-looking, weak man coughs a lot and makes depressing predictions, but manages to come across as very sexy (and save the world), while surprising the whiny half-elf who really needs to get over his adolescence and the not-hobbit who is immune to fear (but never fails to run from danger).

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