Thursday, May 03, 2007

Face-Lift 329


Guess the Plot

Queen's Justice

1. Cross-dressing lawyer Chip Childers throws down the gauntlet when mob boss Guido Sicilio tries to put a hit on Chip’s client, whistle-blower Jimmy “the weasel.”

2. Rica wants only to be with her brother, but a heavenly being appears and declares her the new queen. Her first duty will be to bring to justice the advisers and lords who've already tried to assassinate her.

3. Billy-Bob just killed a man. Put a gun against his head, pulled the trigger now he’s dead. But he's reckoned without crime fighting Zombie Freddy Mercury, and now he’s under pressure. Can Festerin’ Freddy halt Billy’s rampage before another one bites the dust?

4. In the fantasy world of Diamelakasis, in the land of Vandandelia Vas'i, can Queen Lortaria d'Nandaleia convince the vleiu from the mountains to attack their common enemy, the Quensk'rik d'Kor, before they lay siege to the castle of Rue Dasselia v'Adoradun, the ancient home of her people the Chressiun d'Noria?

5. When Don Imus calls Queen Latifah a 'nappy haired ho', she gets revenge -- and then some. By the time she's done with that mumbling octogenarian, he's begging to kiss the black ass of that self-serving opportunist Al Sharpton.

6. When Queen Kilardey becomes pregnant out of wedlock, she must decide what is just: to kill the baby or to give up her throne and raise the child as a peasant.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor:

I’d like to tell you about my 82,000 word fantasy novel, Queen’s Justice.

After her parents died, Rica wanted to stay by her brother's side and that meant becoming a swordmaster. Yet her wishes weren't consulted when Sano, a heavenly being that selects the next ruler of Santor, shows up at her sword school and designates her as the new Queen. Rica tries her best to learn the subtleties of ruling, but her high ministers keep her isolated and are less than cooperative when she tries to assert herself as a ruler. [Subtlety of ruling #1: When your high ministers are less than cooperative, have them put to death and appoint some spineless, toadying grovelers.] Then two commoners attack her…and she discovers that her high ministers and the general of her army might have been behind that assassination attempt. [Subtlety of ruling #2: If there's the slightest chance the general of your army is disloyal, have him put to death and appoint a servile, boot-licking apple polisher.]

Rica escapes the palace disguised as a mercenary. She’s determined to find out which of her lords and ministers are corrupt and which are trustworthy. [Subtlety of ruling #3: If some of your ministers and lords are corrupt, have them all put to death.] During her travels, she learns that Lord Darris is terrorizing his people. She seeks to gather evidence against him, [Subtlety of ruling #4: Evidence is for wusses; queens use the guillotine.] but no one will talk to a common mercenary for fear that Lord Darris may hear of it and kill them. [Someone talked to her; who informed her Darris was terrorizing his people?] Rica considers giving up and leaving the country, but Sano makes it clear that he will kill her if she leaves. [Why doesn't Sano kill (or at least identify) the disloyal ministers?]

Yet it’s not safe to stay, either. One of her high ministers has usurped her power and has people out searching for her. [Subtlety of ruling #5: Before disguising yourself and leaving your center of power, make sure all your high ministers have been put to death.] Rica comes across further evidence against her corrupt lords and ministers but is unable to bring them to justice without help. She finds a group of men willing to fight against Lord Darris and joins their revolt. After they capture Lord Darris, she regains control of her army, orders the arrest of those who plotted against her, [Arrest? Subtlety of ruling #6: Put those who've plotted against you to death first, then arrest them.] and is finally able to bring about the Queen’s Justice.

The full manuscript of Queen’s Justice is available upon request. A self-address, stamped envelope is enclosed for your reply. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

It's just an outline of the plot. Instead of merely telling us what happens, try to make us care about Rica. This might require more about her relationship with her brother, how she feels when she must leave him to become queen.

If the ruler is always chosen by a heavenly being, I would expect the people to blindly accept the choice, yet they immediately start plotting against Rica. Aren't they worried about the wrath of Sano?

If there are a group of people willing to revolt against Darris, it's surprising Rica couldn't even find anyone willing to talk about him.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Darn, I was really hoping for number 5.

Anonymous said...

I assume Sano must have had some compelling reason to choose Rica to become Queen (please tell us what it is), but she seems too passive to be a strong character.

Consider:
'I want to be a swordmaster.'
'You can't. You have to be Queen.'
'Oh. OK'
'My minions are so mean - they're even trying to kill me. I know, I'll run away.'
'Now I'll gather evidence ... Gee, this is awfully hard. No-one will talk to me. I know, I'll leave the country.'
'You can't.'
'Oh. Darn. OK.'

Did you see the movie Elizabeth? (the one with Cate Blanchett as E1, not Helen Mirren as E2) All kinds of treachery and she fought back and won. And she wasn't even a swordmaster with Sano on her side.

The biggest plot problem has already been mentioned - if Sano wants her to be Queen, doesn't that pretty much end the discussion? Why doesn't Sano smite the bad guys?

whitemouse said...

Y'know, the phrase "wrath of Sano" doesn't strike fear into my heart.

Sano, god of scrupulous personal hygiene.
Sano, god of toilet bowl cleaner.
Sano, god of trolley buses and delightfully gay men.

Yeah, go ahead and start plotting against the new queen, you evil ministers - what's Sano gonna do? Q-tip your ears really hard?

Okay; I'll play nice now.

Author: EE's got it right. This query is dry because I don't care about how Rica gets herself out of the spot she's in. I know what happens to her, but I'm not empathising with her.

I'd suggest trying to work in a bit about how all this makes her feel. Try to make us understand just how dire her predicament is. You need the reader to think, "That really sucks. How's the poor kid going to get herself out of this mess?"

You might consider structuring the query like this:
- Rica has problem A
("Oops, I'm queen, but they're all out to get me.")
- Rica attempts solution A
("Ha! I smite thee with my queenly mojo! Eat it, dudes; I rule!")
- This results in problem B
("Crap. Now they're trying to kill me...")
- Rica attempts solution B
("Run away! Run away! No, really; it's a tactical retreat.")
- This leads to problem C
("I AM SANO. SEE MY Q-TIP AND DESPAIR, MORTAL.")

Then stop. You have a nice escalation of tension there, and that's the heart of your story.

Good luck with it!

writtenwyrdd said...

My first thought was that this sounded like a YA novel, although I suspect that this isn't your intention.

Based on what you have written, I think that your plot elements sound rather bland, and that is because only events are listed, not motivations. Well, there is one exception, and that is your first line, "Rica wanted to stay by her brother's side and that meant becoming a swordmaster," which, quite frankly, immediately establishes Rica as a follower and a fairly weak character despite her swordsmanship. You then continue this trend by pointing out her failings.

I think that approach defeats the purpose, because you no doubt are going to have her be a strong character who gets a handle on her role as queen (or makes the attempt). So, rethink the language you use and tell us what she does to fix the problem and her motivation for doing so.

I'm not sure yet if I'd like to read this, but it certainly seems like the plot elements can make a workable book.

Anonymous said...

I feel the query is well-written and easy to follow. EE makes a good point, which I interpret meaning that it comes across as a little dry and needs more about the main character. Rica being separated from her brother and what she goes through when having the title of queen thrust upon her sounds compelling, and you may very well be exploring this more in the book, but I think it would be good to touch on it in the letter. The rest of the story sounds good as well, if you clear up the questions EE mentions.

Dave said...

I think that we can al use a visit (and laugh) if we visit
"The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord" by googling "evil overlord"
http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html

It's a revelation of fun and bad movie and TV show plot lines. But the lesson to draw is try to avoid these things.

Spartezda said...

"I smite thee with my queenly mojo" wins as my phrase of the day (yesterday's was "Rule Three: Don't stare at invisible faeries").


I'm a fantasy reader, so I can manage some pretty big suspensions of disbelief, but my first thought upon reading this query was "Why would Sano-the-heavenly-being pick someone with no training, talent, or desire to be queen as the next monarch?"

Someone with talent and training who doesn't want to be ruler, but feels duty-bound to take the throne, okay, I could go with that. But making the country some sort of oversized San Quentin? (complete with competing gang lords---I mean, high ministers). Unless Sano is one sick, sadistic heavenly dude, I'm having a hard time buying it (perhaps he really is twisted and sadistic and he likes to watch random victims be torn apart in the government piranha-fest. If so, the story might be a lot more interesting than it appears).


And EE, I am printing out the Subtleties of Ruling and using them as a bookmark in my copy of Machiavelli's The Prince. No, seriously.

mutegi said...

1) Swordmasters train with swords
2) Swords are meant to kill people
3) Rica wants to be a swordmaster

Therefore Rica wants to kill people.

She should be chopping heads off left and right to secure her throne.

Anonymous said...

Toooo wimpy. No monarchy is well served by some wench who slinks off in disguise when the going gets tough. This chick is fired. Go find her kick-ass cousin and rewrite.

liosis said...

Have you ever read the book or watched the anime The Twelve Kingdoms? Because this automatically reminded me of it. [spoiler plot here] Girl who doesn't mean to be queen chosen by heavenly emisery, she gets abondoned for a while though. When she finally gets to her court she finds the ministers disloyal and tries to please all of them at once. Then they try to kill her so she goes and talks to a sage in the countryside and learns exactly how the country works. She fights with the rebels and gains the confidence to be a good queen who can control her ministers.

--

I think this should give a little more of the reasons:

Why does she want to join her brother?
Why does she want to be a swordsman?
Why is she chosen to be queen?

It always strikes me with these kinds of plots (I've got one too, its very bothersome) that the character, being built for the position she finds herself in, is rarely suited for her previous life. Not in the manner that she can't surive, but in that it doesn't make SENSE for her to be there.

Give us a feeling that she really wants to be a swordsman, and then have the philosophy of a swordsman (or a loving sister) carry through in her change, that will give the reader some attachment and help tie the entirety of the query together.

I'm not saying that your story doesn't sound interesting of course, if I found this in a bookstore I would probably pick it up: I have a softspot for girls becoming queen. Hence I should be very interested it your query being good and finding notice.

Dave said...

For those who missed them:
Rules of Subtle Leaders

Subtlety of ruling #1: When your high ministers are less than cooperative, have them put to death and appoint some spineless, toadying grovelers.
Subtlety of ruling #2: If there's the slightest chance the general of your army is disloyal, have him put to death and appoint a servile, boot-licking apple polisher.
Subtlety of ruling #3: If some of your ministers and lords are corrupt, have them all put to death.
Subtlety of ruling #4: Evidence is for wusses; queens use the guillotine.
Subtlety of ruling #5: Before disguising yourself and leaving your center of power, make sure all your high ministers have been put to death.]
Subtlety of ruling #6: Put those who've plotted against you to death first, then arrest them.

pjd said...

Why would Sano-the-heavenly-being pick someone with no training, talent, or desire to be queen as the next monarch?

You're making the assumption that Sano is a good judge of character. Just because you've got power doesn't mean you know how to use it. We've had six years of the perfect example in Washington.

I'm more curious as to what a "heavenly being" is and whether there are more of them than just Sano. If not, does Sano get bored being all alone in the heavens? Why does he get to pick the next monarch? Why would he (or maybe she) "show up at her sword school"? Is becoming Queen like being selected for American Idol, and Sano is like Simon? "You're through to the throne! No, try the other door, darling."

So many questions!

Anyway, I agree with all EE's comments. If Rica became Queen, wouldn't she be able to fire her ministers? Or, more likely, have them imprisoned and one or two beheaded as examples? If I remember my English history, I think that happened every three or four months from 1100 to 1600 or something. I slept through a few of those classes, though, so I may have the exact figures wrong.

December Quinn said...

I don't understand why she can't bring justice to the fore right away? She's the Queen. Surely at least a couple of her ministers, soldiers, and high ministers are loyal enough to help her.

The rest (sneaking off to solve a mystery, etc.) doesn't bother me, but the idea that the Queen is powerless to administer justice or actually be in charge of anything does.

Now if you take out the Sano bit and have her chosen by the ministers to be Queen because they think she's a weak woman...but then you can't have her want to be a swordsman.

Author said...

I think I'll take EE's advice to other Face Lifts and just cut Sano and the brother out. There are no one-sentence answers to those questions that won't raise more questions. Does the following query letter work any better?


Dear Evil Editor:

I’d like to tell you about my 82,000 word fantasy novel, Queen’s Justice.

Rica was unprepared to be Queen of Santor, and she knew it. She was raised as a soldier and knew how to follow orders without question, but now she’s desperately struggling to learn how to give orders. Her high ministers are less than cooperative when she tries to assert herself, and they block her attempts to get advice beyond their own. When Rica goes against her high ministers' wishes and holds a traditional grievances court open to all, two commoners try to kill her during their audience. She suspects that her high ministers and the general of her army may have been behind the attack.

Uncertain of who to trust and fearing for her safety, Rica retreats into a role that she knows how to play. She flees the palace and roams her country disguised as a mercenary. Still, she isn’t ready to give up. She’s determined to discover which of her lords and ministers are corrupt and which she can trust. During her travels, she sees indications that Lord Darris may be abusing his power and terrorizing his people. She tries to gather evidence against him, but no one will talk to a common mercenary for fear that Lord Darris may hear of it and kill them.

Then she learns that Sansu Kobri, one of her high ministers and Lord Darris’ uncle, has usurped her power and has people out searching for her. Rica finally stumbles across the evidence that she was searching for, but she no longer has the power to bring her enemies to justice. Unwilling to let that stop her, Rica joins a group of rebels who hate Lord Darris and leads them in revolt. After they capture Lord Darris, she regains control of her army, orders the arrest of those who plotted against her, and is finally able to bring about the Queen’s Justice.

The full manuscript of Queen’s Justice is available upon request. A self-address, stamped envelope is enclosed for your reply. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Redfox said...

To writtenwyrdd:

I know what you mean about the YA vibe, but this sounds more like the kind of "fantasy for teenage girls" stuff by Mercedes Lackey (e.g. "Arrows of the Queen") which is usually published under a regular fantasy imprint rather than as YA.

To the author:

That's much better! Amazing how a bit of rewording can transform a synopsis :)

Couple of teensy points:

She was raised as a soldier and knows how to follow orders without question (she presumably still knows how, so present tense, not past)

now she’s desperately struggling to learn how to give orders - I would drop the 'desperately', as this clause is already quite long, and you don't need the adverb anyway. I would also change the italics myself, but that's a matter of personal style:

She was raised as a soldier and knows how to follow orders without question; now she’s struggling to learn how to give them.

pjd said...

Bravo on the rewrite. Gives us a look into what's driving Rica and highlights her story. It sounds FAR more interesting to me this way, particularly without the heavenly being. (But of course, anyone in marketing will tell you to beware a sample of one.)

A little tuning and tightening and I think you've got something.

phoenix said...

The good news: Your rewrite is much clearer as to what is happening in the story.

The bad news: Two-fold -- it reads like a mini-synopsis and there's still nothing to really hook me as to why it's different. Honestly, I still don't care about Rica or her queendom after reading this.

Because it reads like a synopsis and I never care to read synopses unless there's a real reason to (someone asks me to critique one; I didn't finish the book and my reading group meets in an hour), my eyes started to glaze in the second paragraph. Partly, too, because there are a lot of unnecessary words and sentences in there.

I don't usually try to rewrite someone else's hooks, but here's my shortened version, which still leaves room for you to put in some more touches about Rica and what you have in your story that sets it apart from others of its ilk.

"Rica is unprepared to be Queen of Santor. Raised as a soldier, she knows how to follow orders, but not how to give them. More insidiously, her attempts to rule and seek outside advice are being undermined by her high ministers. In fact, when Rica is attacked during an open audience, she suspects a cabal of her own ministers to be behind the plot to kill her.

Uncertain who to trust and fearing for her safety, Rica retreats into a role she knows how to play. Fleeing the palace, she roams the country disguised as a mercenary, determined to discover which of her ministers are in league against her. The most likely ringleader: Lord Darris. Now she just has to prove it.

But when High Minister Sansu Kobri, Lord Darris’ uncle, usurps the throne, Rica realizes the stakes have been raised. It's up to her to amass a rebel force, lead a revolt against her own throne, and at last mete out Queen's Justice."

Rei said...

Okay... let's play "count the plot points". I'll be generous with scoring.

1) "After her parents died,"
2) "when Sano, a heavenly being that selects the next ruler of Santor, shows up at her sword school and designates her as the new Queen."
3) "Then two commoners attack her"…and she discovers that her high ministers and the general of her army might have been behind that assassination attempt. 4) "Rica escapes the palace disguised as a mercenary."
5) "She seeks to gather evidence against him"
6) "Rica considers giving up and leaving the country,"
7) "One of her high ministers has usurped her power and has people out searching for her."
8) "Rica comes across further evidence against her corrupt lords and ministers"
9) "She finds a group of men willing to fight against Lord Darris and joins their revolt."
10) "After they capture Lord Darris, she regains control of her army orders the arrest of those who plotted against her, and is finally able to bring about the Queen’s Justice."

That's being kind; I skipped a number of things that might be considered plot points, and #10 is really several plot points.

This is way too many for a hook; what you have is a synopsis. I'd recommend picking perhaps three or four, and limiting yourself to them. With all of your "free space", you now have room to just "write". Sure, you're not going to have characters exchanging dialogue or anything of the nature, but you can give a sense of setting and character. By doing so, you'll also give the reader a sense of your voice -- that elusive thing that everyone is trying to convey. You can't really do that in a synopsis.

Rei said...

It's a revelation of fun and bad movie and TV show plot lines. But the lesson to draw is try to avoid these things.

Avoid those things? No way! In the novel I plan to write after my current WIP, I plan to deliberately use as many of those as possible, but in reverse. There's a "good overlord" who's taking over the world, and the antagonists are a plucky band of evil adventurers. The "good overlord" sends her minions after the evil adventurers, one at a time, in order from weakest to strongest. Her fortress is almost straight out of the evil overlord's handbook, except all nice and happy.

The MC is one of the good overlord's minions who realizes that what is going on is pure idiocy, and sets out on her own to develop a better plan. Various other elements include things like spells that literally work through handwaving, a battle that ends with a literal deus ex machina (a god-machine in a greek style amphitheatre falls on one party), a band of "Mary Sue" adventurers on a completely unrelated quest that keep showing up and bungling their way around (including an amnesiac named "Bahb", who they always have to explain things to -- "As you know, Bahb ..."), etc.

The problem with cliches is when you use them without realizing that you're doing so. You don't want to simply repeat them; you want to twist them.

Dave said...

Kinda like The Princess Bride, huh REI? Or maybe Cheech and Chong's Corsican Brothers

phoenix said...

BTW, whoever was channeling Queen in GTP #3 -- time to lay off the mushrooms!

It would be fun to see whose deviant minds are coming up with some of these. EE, is it too much trouble to credit the GTPs? Or is there a reason not to that I'm missing? (Like you're already spending inordinate amounts of time on this great blog?)

Evil Editor said...

EE, is it too much trouble to credit the GTPs? Or is there a reason not to that I'm missing?

If everyone read the GTPs for laughs, and no one tried to actually guess, I could credit them. But let's assume there are those who enjoy trying to guess the real plot. If I were crediting them, I could never use two or more fake plots from the same person (which often happens) because it would be obvious those aren't the real plot.

Plus, while there are a few people who submit fake plots only occasionally, there are many minions who submit fakes for every title. Their names would be recognized after a few queries as regular fake plotters.

Suppose you happen to know Kate Thornton writes mysteries, and you see her name on a plot for a book titled Torrid Love or Joey's Birthday Party or Battle for Planet X. You know hers is fake.

Then there's my laziness. I usually have ten or fifteen to choose from, so I'd have to keep a record of the authors of all of them, as I don't choose the five I post until the query comes up. Too much trouble.

Authors of GTPs are welcome to take credit in the comments if they wish. Readers may ask in comments who wrote a specific one; no guarantee you'll get an answer, but you might.

phoenix said...

Ah. Understood, EE. Thanks for answering.

Robin S. said...

Toadying grovelers.

Haven't heard that one before. I'm looking forward to a time I can use it on someone.

Kings Falcon said...

You had the first 13 of this up on Hatrack and though you growled at me there, I liked it. So, here's another chance for you to growl at me.

The rewrite is much better. Great job. I understand why Rica goes into hiding and what she hopes to accomplish.

Now you need to stop chopping.

The main tension in your story is: Rica is picked to be Queen when no one was expecting there to be one and now she has to assert control and unseat an evil lord/ advisor without causing a war with the nobility. Focus on that.

But show me why you are different from the rest. Rica is the main reason - She's the hook because she's a warrior (unlike my MC in a similar situation who is a spy).

Also, after mentioning her brother, he gets lost in the synopsis. I'd suggest cutting him from the query.


Stream line:

Ex:

Raised as a soldier, Rica was unprepared to be Queen of Santor when Sano, a heavenly being chooses her. Now rather than practicing her drills, she's struggling with high ministers, who have lost power because of her elevation, and seek to subjugate her to thier will. At a traditional grievances court, two commoners try to kill her during their audience.

Suspicious of her her high ministers' role in the foiled assasignation, and uncertain of who to trust, Rica retreats into a role that she knows how to play that of a common mercenary.

She learns that Lord Darris is abusing his power and terrorizing his people. Chased by assigns and declared dead by one of her advisors, Rica joins a group of rebels and captures Lord Darris. (How does capturing him allow her to regain her throne?)

***
Per Miss. Snark:

Ideally a query is:

The MC X and her main problem/what she wants;
Y; and his main goal;
They meet and all L happens.
If X suceeds then A, if not then B.

Try to find the main thread of your story and build the query around it.

Keep trying.