Monday, September 24, 2007

Face-Lift 425


Guess the Plot

The Loathly Lady

1. Myra Bendle spent many hours knitting and pondering the following thought: Am I lonely because I'm loathly, or am I loathly because I'm lonely? Or do I smell? When she resolves to find out, she learns that not all people are of the same quality. Nor all deodorants.

2. Medievalist Geoff Hanson's been assigned to transliterate and transcribe a fragmentary text of the "Loathly Lady." Soon she comes to him in a series of visions, telling him about the location of other manuscripts. Can he gain access to the secret rooms beneath the library, or will the trustees silence him first?

3. She had the perfect face for blogging, and the perfect personality for spamming. Could her Jane Austin reading circle prepare Lola, the loathsome lady, for Lyle, the loudmouthed lout?

4. Jaida thought the apparition called the Loathly Lady was rather cute, to which the ghost took violent exception. Thus began a personal haunting that followed Jaida home from a Scottish vacation, wrecking her job and relationships, bringing her sanity into question, and threatening her life.

5. As an unseen force wipes out everyone, Brandywine, a lowly, drunken, womanizing squire, turns over a new leaf and resolves to save what remains of the kingdom. With no idea where to start, he turns to a vile old hag for answers. Yes, if anyone can save the day, it's . . . The Loathly Lady.

6. Though she's the most beautiful woman in Regency London, Lady Charlotte's personality is so repugnant she's known as the Loathly Lady. If she's to attract a husband, she'll have to change her ways. Or should she just pretend to be a mute?



Original Version


Dear EE,

Brandywine is a squire with no interest in courage, honor, or chivalry, who has no ambitions towards knighthood. Along with his close companion, the wealthy Prince Dioneo, he seeks only the sophomoric pleasures of drink, women, and childish mischief. [Hey, that's my life you're calling sophomoric.] But Brandywine’s world is changing: Dioneo has decided to settle down and announced his intention to marry their mutual friend, Princess Ettarre, daughter of their King Ceolwulph [who, every full moon, morphs into a wolfman who can balance a beach ball on its nose]. Their modest kingdom of Dagâ Dainâ is besieged and surrounded by enemies, their neighbors offended by the king’s heterodox beliefs. [Heterodox beliefs stress that having a few circumflex accents in your kingdom's name makes you more cultured than the surrounding kingdoms.] And [the] very soil of the land is shaking, shifting the face of an entire mountain valley, causing one river to die while another springs to life far away.

Tired of the low opinion he has earned, Brandywine decides to amend [mend] his ways. He breaks off his shameful, adulterous relationship with Princess Ettarre. He takes up the cause of a damsel in distress, earning the enmity of a barbarian warlord. And he volunteers to investigate the cause of the earthquake and the death of the river.

As he begins his new-found quest for honor and redemption, Brandywine’s world quickly begins to change. King Ceolwulph shames Prince Dioneo, betrothing his daughter and his kingdom to the fanatical and controlling seneschal [(werewalrus)], Sir Birrstan. A faceless army of barbarians, invisible and unstoppable, begins ravaging the kingdom’s outskirts, striking without warning with unprecedented savagery, leaving nothing in their wake. When the king leads his mightiest knights to face this threat, they are slaughtered to the man. [It's almost always a mistake to go into battle against an enemy that is invisible and unstoppable.] Ettarre [Anagram: retreat!] is left mourning her father and anxiously anticipating the marriage to a man who does not respect her.

Sir Birrstan easily settles into his position as regent. He sees this army’s deprecations as a prelude to invasion, [An army has been ravaging the kingdom with unprecedented savagery and has slaughtered the king's mightiest knights, and Sir Birrstan sees this as a prelude to invasion? What is he, psychic?]

[Barbarian general: We should invade Dagâ Dainâ.

2nd-in-command: I don't know, those circumflex accents scare me.

Barbarian general: As a prelude to the invasion, storm through their lands leaving nothing in your wake, and slaughter all of their soldiers. That should soften them up.

2nd-in-command: The accents, sir! What about the accents?]

but by what nation? Surrendering diplomacy to fanaticism, he readies his nation for multiple preemptive invasions and relies on God to see them to victory. But Brandywine’s humble investigations of a dead river have uncovered unexpected answers: The stealthy barbarian army is more than it seems. Either by artifice or accident, an ancient force was awakened, a massive storm of magic that passes from the site of one attack to the next, slaughtering man, woman, and child and befuddling the minds and memories of the survivors. It shattered the mountain valley, and now its fury has been unleashed upon the kingdom.

As Birrstan prepares to lead the kingdom to destruction--he and his armies deep under the spell of the storm--only a select few seem immune to the mind-clouding magic. Brandywine must persuade a fanatic away from his visions of holy war. He must uncover the source of the magical storm, why some are immune and others are not, and what is required to put it back to rest. And he must determine who it was that awakened it and why. [I'd concentrate on what is required to put it back to rest. We'll work out the who's and why's later.]

But the only person who appears to offer answers is Gwnhyudwy, a [Welsh] crone of repulsive visage and vile disposition [and remarkably few anagrams]. She is the Loathly Lady, and the price for her answers may be more than anyone can pay. [No one uses the word "loathly." And she doesn't sound like a lady to me. Go with The Creepy Crone or The Hideous Hag.]

[Brandywine: Sire, our kingdom is doomed unless we listen to the Loathly Lady!

Birrstan: Then it's about time you worked her into the query.]

To save a kingdom, Brandywine must solve the riddle and become the hero. The Loathly Lady is complete, 147,000 words in length.

Thank you for your attention,


Notes

Dioneo and Ettarre disappear from the query, leading me to wonder if they were needed in the first place. Meanwhile, the only hope of stopping the unstoppable lies with a character barely mentioned, except in the title.

Your plot is: As a new king prepares to lead his nation into war against an invisible and unstoppable army, lowly squire Brandywine discovers that the enemy is not an army of men, but a powerful magical force released from it's age-old confinement by a mammoth corkscrew. Only the mysterious hag Grunhilda (English pronunciation) knows how to stop the destruction, but she refuses to help unless Brandywine convinces Prince Dioneo to father her children. Expand on that with stuff that's important, like Brandywine's obstacles and heroics.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's a lot of story. I think EE's summation makes it sound very interesting.

I have more questions than comments though.

Why is Brandywine a squire if he has no interest in knightly things? I thought they became squires to learn how to be knights.

The king (seal-wolf!) chooses his seneschal over a prince? That loses him the chance to align with another country. And what country is Dioneo prince of? Why isn't the king wanting to align with Dioneo's country? This almost sounds like the king and the prince are in the same country which would make them father and son. It sounds like Dioneo is wanting to marry his sister.

Brandywine decides to risk life and limb because of other people's opinions? He doesn't seem the sort to worry what other people think, especially not to this extent.

If Brandywine is such a good friend of Dioneo, why is he shtooping Dioneo's intended? This makes him seem even less likely to throw caution to the wind and go on a dangerous quest.

Is there an army or not? I can't tell. It seems like there is, but then it also seems like it really is the storm that kills almost everyone and leaves survivors with false memories of an army.

And this storm also moves mountains? Wow. Does it leave false memories when it does that?

So Birrstan is already under the influence of the storm before he leaves the castle to go do battle?

If the storm has reached the castle, why does it wait for the people to go do battle before it kills the ones it wants to kill?

Are all the things that Brandywine must do necessary to defeat the storm? Seems like a very tall order and like some would be unnecessary once others are done. If the storm is destroyed, what does it matter who set it free? Unless there's another one waiting to be unleashed.


You really seem to have one heck of a story here, but the query opens up a host of logic issues.

Good Luck!!
Sarah

Dave F. said...

At first I thought this was a "Falstaff" type story and that we were going to see how Prince Dioneo grew up and either took or left Brandywine behind.

Then I thought that this was Prince Dioneo's story because he (although a reprobate) eventually reforms and gets Princess Ettarre. Apparently, Princie Dioneo can marry Princess Ettarre and not the son of King Ceolwulph. But she's the daughter of Ceolwulph. That's important.

And I'm confused about which kingdom this is? Is it the mountain one where the water dried up or the neighboring kingdom which never felt the earthquake. BTW usually water wells go dry after an earthquake because the water table changes. Streams seldom dry up because they are fed from rainwater.

Birrstan is the equivalent of the Prince of Wales (heir to the throne) and not the Prince Consort? Why wouldn't Ettarre be the heir?

And then we hit the Loathly Lady and I think that she is Papagena and Dioneo is Papageno. Or is Brandywine Papageno? That makes Dioneo into Tamino.

The story is about visiting Prince Dioneo and his squire Brandywine as they discover a kingdom in the midst of magical war with faceless barbarians and headed to defeat. That's what I think is happening.
And because of Dioneo's love of Princess Ettarre, Dioneo and Brandywine seek a solution to the war and the salvation of the country to gain Ettarre as his bride.

BTW - These names are killing me but that's unimportant. They are your characters.

And to EE's minions - I changed the name that appears on my blogs ever so slightly.

WouldBe said...

At about two-thirds of my way through the synopsis, I had completely forgotten about the loathy lady. I gave up there and jumped to Master Evil's summary so that I find out what the story was about, and there she was.

Lightsmith said...

Why do all of the names sound like they're derived from different languages? Ettarre sounds vaguely French. Dioneo sounds Italian. Gwnhyudwy sounds Welsh (as EE pointed out). And Dagâ Dainâ sounds like it's from Star Wars.

Unless this is a country of immigrants, wouldn't the names be more linguistically uniform?

BuffySquirrel said...

Squires started their training very young. It's unlikely Brandywine had much choice in the matter.

I found this hard to follow, and after a while I gave up trying. Does Brandywine have any redeeming features to keep the reader reading? Okay, THIS reader reading :D.

Bonnie said...

I snorted so hard I spewed circumflexes all over my keyboard :)

Anonymous said...

Dioneo is a mispelling of Dio Mio because when he was born, the doctor slapped him on the butt and said Dio Mio what a man this baby will be. Look at the pisser on that kid!

WitchEmber said...

Thank you for your comments, EE.

I put the circumflex accents in to prevent the EE from discovering Daga Daina was an anagram for "Dada again".

Amend: Improve, better.
Mend: Correct, rectify, repair.
But I understand that if it looks like an error, it might as well be.

Thank you again, sir. I shall look towards improving my focus.

WitchEmber said...

Sara:
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. They are much appreciated.

Why is Brandywine a squire
This is a detail explained in the book, but I didn't include in effort to budget an already long query.

Brandywine was forced by his father to serve a superior knight in an attempt to improve his character (perhaps a Medieval version of military school?). BW accepted the situation because the alternative was either vagrancy or learning a trade.

The king chooses his seneschal over a prince?
Dioneo's title is purchased. His family is extremely wealthy. Another detail explained in the story. Perhaps for the purposes of the query, I should use "courtier" rather than "prince?"

Brandywine decides to risk life and limb because of other people's opinions?
An event occurs very early in the book that humiliates him publicly and makes him realize that his behaviors have ranked him as a fool in the court, humiliated his master and the memory of his family, and threatened the planned marriage of Dioneo and Ettarre. He decides to (a)mend his ways.

The arc of the story is his growth from grown-up child to true knight.

why is he shtooping Dioneo's intended?
Because he's an immature a-hole. Breaking it off with her is one of his first steps towards improvement.

Is there an army or not?
No.

This question and all of your remaining comments seem to pertain to my lack of clarity on the nature of the storm and the source of the mayhem.

"Storm" is probably a bad word for me to have used, as it is only visible to those sensitive to magic. A wizard witnessing its approach describes it as a "storm," and I guess the word got stuck in my head.

I've tried a couple times to address the rest of your specific comments, but I just end up going into lengthy descriptions that pretty much amount to a synopsis, so I back off on them.

I think my difficulties to answer them just go to show that my query isn't addressing the right parts of my plot.

Thank you again for your comments. :)

Evil Editor said...

Amend: Improve, better.
Mend: Correct, rectify, repair.

I wasn't claiming you didn't know the meaning of amend. "Mend his ways" is a common expression. If you Google it, you'll find most of the hits contain the exact phrase. If you Google amend his ways, most hits will include those three words, but not consecutively. You get stuff like He will amend the bill his committee sent to the Ways and Means committee. Taken literally, either form is extremely vague. But because we all know what "mend his ways" means, it's less vague, at least in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like an interesting story, but it doesn't sound at all like a story whose title would be "The Loathly Lady"

From the title I'd think this was either a book about a boat (The LL) or a Regency romance with the LL as the main character.

It would be really annoying to find out that an agent or editor had passed on the manuscript because they thought it was a totally different kind of book. You might want to think about choosing something that more closely reflects the kind of story you're telling.

Robin S. said...

Ooooh- love this- " King Ceolwulph [who, every full moon, morphs into a wolfman who can balance a beach ball on its nose]"

and this -
"[It's almost always a mistake to go into battle against an enemy that is invisible and unstoppable.]"

I love laughing out loud.

And I think GTP 2 would be a really good plot.

Hi Author- There was, as has been said, a lot of information to take in. Good luck with distilling it down - I know that's a tough thing to do.

Dave F. said...

Witchember,
when you say - "I've tried a couple times to address the rest of your specific comments, but I just end up going into lengthy descriptions that pretty much amount to a synopsis, so I back off on them."

Might I suggest that you write out those answers for yourself and then step away from them and look to see if there is a simple way to say what you wanted to say. A one sentence way.
I find that sometimes when I try to answer the minions questions that I find a better way to write what I want to say or I find clarity in what I want to say.

You don't have to post those answers. And if they turn out to be useless, then you know the technique didn't work for you.

When I had to answer critiques of technical papers, I wrote answers to every comment no mater how inane, silly or (in some cases) downright nasty.
It's a technique for the author to learn about their writing.

AmyB said...

I rather like the name "Loathly Lady," though the query makes it look like she's a minor character, not one the book would actually be named after.

I found the query hard to follow--I think too many names and concepts were thrown at me. Is it possible to reduce the number of characters in your query to 2 or 3? It sounds to me like the key points to hit are Brandywine's desire to redeem himself, his investigation into the mysterious attacks, and the Loathly Lady.

I think fantasy must be the hardest genre to query--so hard to condense and focus.

WitchEmber said...

dave f,

Thanks for both comments. I actually replied to your first set, but either EE is delayed in his approval, or I failed to correctly type in the veri word, or it was otherwise lost to the ether.

Regardless, thanks!

The one comment I remember responding to was:

BTW usually water wells go dry after an earthquake because the water table changes.

This was exactly what I was imaging. The quake shifts the water table, sending the river along an underground path until it surfaces some distance away. Meanwhile, the old river bed goes dry.

WitchEmber said...

I did a rewrite of the query. I stripped out all names but three. I explained more the source of the danger through the storm. And I tried to better explain the importance of the character of the Loathly Lady.

It might not be better, but it's different.

Is the appropriate thing to just repost here as a comment?

Andrew said...

Yikes!!!....that's a pretty heavy duty query....any poor agent would need a new desk after that dented it!!!!

Heed EE's words (well notes, his jokes probably wont help) and aim for that kind of brevity.

A query is not the time to include salient plot details unless it is in the hook!. That's the synopsis' job....you're query must be designed solely for the purpose of catching an agents eye and getting them to read the whole manuscript.

Which brings me onto point two. You don't have a hook!...sin of all sins that is. Well, you do but you've done 1 of 2 things.

1) you've wrongly identified your hook as the fact that your protagonist doesn't want to be a hero at first but realises he must change because no one likes him

or

2) You know what you hook is but for some inexplicable reason you've hidden it until the penultimate paragraph AFTER a lengthy history lesson. Why? WHy? Why would you do this? The hook is you're most devestating weapon (some would argue you're only real weapon.) you wouldn't go fishing at six am, sit about and drink some beers and finally throw your line in at 3 in the afternoon would you???

Hook: Evil army terrorzes nation, but is in fact only a cloud of magic that makes people think there's an evil army terrorizing them.

That's a pretty unique hook. Use it. Bash the agent over the head with the damn thing until they're so dumstruck by the thought of thousands of people being run through by their own imagination that before they know it they've got 50 pages in their lap and they've read the first 49!

Once you've got your hook sorted and worded so it is as smooth and eyecatching as possible, cut you query by at least half and revise it.

Then you're cooking on gas!

Shannon said...

"Surrendering diplomacy to fanaticism, he readies his nation for multiple preemptive invasions and relies on God to see them to victory."

This reminded me of one of those advertisements for TV shows that start out "Ripped from the headlines." I have to ask, was that on purpose or the subconscious?

Andrew said...

AmyB:

Fantasy isn't as hard as any other genre to query....the problem is fantasy itself leads to a feeling of posession and paternity.

--You've created this world and you'll be damned if anyone is going to imagine it any different from you!!!!--

and I'm as guilty as the next man of that. Query fantasy takes much, much more trust and faith that the agent/publisher will 'get' the world. You can only hint at some of the hundreds of ideas you've put together, not like, say, an urban fantasy where the world is fine save for 1 or 2 little twists (and they're in your hook probably anyway).

You've just got to trust the agent has enough savvy to think "well it's a fantasy world, so there's going to be a whole new set of rules, histories, maps I've got to learn. I'll wait til I request the manuscript before I worry about the finer points."

If you try and explain too much you end up qualifying every little comment or new word and before you know it you've written a synopsis. They hit agents bins pretty quickly so I've heard.

Evil Editor said...

Is the appropriate thing to just repost here as a comment?


Yes.

Bernita said...

Ar present the title (which has a rather specific provenance) is not justified by the query.
While I'm all for stretching the boundaries of language and myth, your lady seems mia.

AmyB said...

Andrew:

You've just got to trust the agent has enough savvy to think "well it's a fantasy world, so there's going to be a whole new set of rules, histories, maps I've got to learn. I'll wait til I request the manuscript before I worry about the finer points."

I think the problem arises--and I'm not talking about my own query, which is problematic for other reasons--when one's hook or central conflict ties directly into specific world details, which means you have no choice but to describe them in the query. And in my opinion, it should be necessary to describe those key world details, because a fantasy novel should tell a story that can't take place in any other world. Otherwise there's no reason for it to be fantasy.

WitchEmber said...

Thank you everyone for your remarks. I have tried to glean as much of your wisdom as I could and rewrote the query from a different angle. I eliminated all names but the two principles. I tried to focus solely on the core problem and BW's involvement in it.

Hopefully, it's more effective. It is shorter (no desk denting here).

Thanks again!

Dear EE (again)

The last dragon has been awakened. When a raid on its hoard fails, it rampages across the land in search of the one piece of treasure successfully lifted from its lair: a single gold coin. Blind greed aside, the dragon is not stupid. There are reasons why it has survived while its brethren have been slain. This dragon masks itself with a powerful storm of illusory magic. All who survive its deprecations remember not a dragon, but a horde of savage barbarians. The kingdom prepares for war against its neighbors rather than hunting an epic beast.

Brandywine is a squire, struggling to repair his reputation after years of sophomoric dalliances, and he hopes to one day restore his name and earn his knighthood. He becomes the target of the dragon’s vengeance when he inadvertently comes into possession of its coin. Vastly ill-equipped to deal with such a foe, he flees across the land in search of a means to put it to rest before it can incinerate everyone and everything. He is not immediately aware that proximity to the coin is the only safeguard against the dragon’s illusions. How can he warn a kingdom of a dragon when he and his companions are the only ones who can remember it?

Gwnhyudwy is the Loathly Lady. In appearance, a crone of repulsive visage and vile disposition, she is in truth a creature of great power and greater wisdom, suffering from a curse that only an act of singular generosity can lift. In Brandywine, she sees the possibility of release, and she offers answers to his problems at every step in his journey… if only he would listen. At first he deems her price to be too high, and he refuses to believe she could be of any use to his needs.

Learning that the very existence of his kingdom may hinge on his actions, Brandywine struggles to rise to the challenge. When he narrowly survives a murderous betrayal by his queen, he discovers a vast conspiracy against his nation. All invaders might not be illusory, and there are more monsters here than just a dragon. To save a kingdom, Brandywine must solve the riddle and become the hero.

The Loathly Lady is complete, 147,000 words in length.

Thank you for your attention.

Sarah said...

I will try and comment in greater detail another time, but here are a few things.

Wow! A dragon! That's a different image.

I like that you are down to just a few characters. Makes it cleaner.

I'm not sure about the whole curse on the lady bit as it hints at a beauty and the beast reversal. If that's the gist of it, I don't know that it's very interesting. If that's not the gist, maybe a bit different wording. Right now, it leans towards the 'happily every after' fairy tale ending with Brandywine and the lady falling in love and she becomes beautiful.

"When a raid on its hoard fails, it rampages across the land in search of the one piece of treasure successfully lifted from its lair: a single gold coin."

If the raid fails, how does the coin get out? This sentence bothers me with its placement as well. I had to stop and read it a second time to get the context.

"and he refuses to believe she could be of any use."

Last paragraph, Brandywine is trying to save his country then gets betrayed by his queen and then continues to try and save them? Not sure I believe he'd find her worth saving after she stabs him in the back.

On the whole, it's looking much better, though I think some of the excitement is gone.

Hopefully more later. Hope this helps.

Phoenix said...

Much better, Witchember, but still a bit on the heavy side. I've taken a stab and trimmed close to 100 words. I've probably also taken a liberty or two that might or might not have anything to do with your story. But for the most part, it's your words, just about 25% shorter.

Now, if you can trim your novel by 25%, you'll have a better chance of capturing an agent's attention. The price of publishing a book over about 110,000 words is generally just too costly to gamble on a first novel.


The last dragon has awakened. It rampages across the land in search of the one piece of treasure lifted from its lair in a failed raid: a single gold coin. Blind greed aside, the dragon is not stupid. It masks itself with a storm of illusory magic, cloaking itself as a barbarian horde and inciting kingdoms to war against each other.

Brandywine is a squire, struggling to repair his reputation after years of sophomoric dalliances, hoping to one day earn his knighthood. When he inadvertently comes into possession of the dragon's coin, he becomes the beast's target and flees across the land in search of a means to stop it. He soon discovers that proximity to the coin is the only safeguard against the dragon’s illusions. But how can he warn a kingdom of a dragon when he and his companions are the only ones who can remember it?

Gwnhyudwy is the Loathly Lady. Although a crone in appearance, she is in truth a creature of great power and greater wisdom. Once she had the ability to slay dragons with little more than a thought, but now she suffers from a curse that only an act of singular generosity can lift. In Brandywine, she sees the possibility of release, and she offers answers to his problems at every step in his journey… if only he would listen.

Soon, Brandywine realizes the dragon isn't the only trouble in the land. There's conspiracy and intrigue afoot, and a fanatic monarch who's just another kind of monster. To save a kingdom, Brandywine has only to tame a dragon, dethrone a king, and in the process become a hero.

The Loathly Lady is complete at 147,000 words.

Thank you for your attention.

Andrew said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Phoenix.....a vast improvement, but still a little heavy.

I won't cut and slice it up because it'll just become a mess of different versions and points of view.....what I will say though is keep doing what you're doing with regards to revision. Find another two sentances you can explain in just one, find information that isn't necessary, even if its just three or four words. You want you query to be as lean and as dense with information as it can be.