Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Face-Lift 1026

Guess the Plot

Hunting Trouble

1. When the blind falls over. When the dog runs away. When your shotgun accidentally takes out your mother-in-law. Oh wait. That was a good day.

2. The haunting and chilling memoir of a man who pushed his friendship too far and criticised Dick Cheney.

3. On a hunting trip upon the Mimsy Borogroves, Carol Lewis is in search of the mighty Jabberwock. However, upon finding the eviscerated body of her companion, Beaujean Snarkh, Carol finds herself hunted, as well as hunter.

4. It's the first day of deer season, and the gals at Buck Country Beer Store who are trying to keep the shelves stocked for the guys heading to deer camp have just one message for anyone who might venture into the woods: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

5. Two perennial adversaries find themselves stalked by a predator in a remote woodland. Will a battle of wits determine the survivor of the encounter, or will it be a simple deus ex machina?

6. Leo Rogan has a thriving business hunting down runaway slaves and returning them to their owners. Then James Reynard shows up and starts claiming that all the slaves Leo captures are actually his servants. This kind of trouble can kill a business. A slave hunter has nothing without his reputation.

Original Version

Dear sir,

Leo Rogan is determined to be a land owner. Under the laws of Sarkine, he has a chance to buy his father's fief from Sir Egan, thus fulfilling his father's deathbed wish. Sir Egan gives him a year to come up with the money; if Leo fails, all of his profits will go to Egan's coffers and Leo himself will be trapped as Egan's servant.

The fastest way to earn money is tracking down runaway faery slaves. Leo, a skilled hunter, uses his abilities to establish a thriving slave-catching business. The work is difficult, but Leo perseveres.

Until he meets the Reynards.

James Reynard, an abolitionist who poses as a slave-owner, claims that the runaways are his servants. Leo suspects that he's actually smuggling them to the Faery Realm. With nothing more than the real owner's description to base his claim on, Leo has to give up his prey. [Isn't returning runaway faery slaves to their owners the way Leo makes money? If Reynard claims a captured runaway faery slave is his, he should pay Leo. Who pays slave-catchers if not the slave owners?] But giving up doesn't mean giving in. Instead, he finds a way to expose Reynard as a thief and send him to prison.

With Reynard imprisoned, his faery wife Zara is auctioned off. Out of pity, Leo buys her, intending to set her free. [Why isn't she free? She was a landowner's wife, not a slave.] But Zara refuses to leave her husband. She threatens to undermine Leo's reputation as a slave-catcher by claiming she escaped from him. [But she isn't a slave, is she? People know she's Reynard's wife.] To save his business, Leo reluctantly agrees to let Zara stay with him until her husband is freed.

Living with a faery causes Leo to look more sympathetically at the slaves he tracks. It's a sympathy he can't afford, though, for the year is drawing to a close and he still doesn't have Egan's fee. [Maybe if he didn't blow all that money buying Zara he'd have enough.] Worse, he is beginning to fall in love with Zara.

Hunting Trouble is a fantasy novel in progress. [No need to include that sentence, as you won't be sending the query anywhere until the novel is complete.] Thank you for your time and criticism. [No need to thank me for criticizing you. Criticizing people is my pleasure.]

Yours sincerely,


You say, "With nothing more than the real owner's description to base his claim on, Leo has to give up his prey." If Leo captures a runaway who meets the real owner's description, what more does he need? DNA tests? Doesn't the real owner get a chance to identify the captured slave as his own before Leo just accepts Reynard's claim that it's his servant?

How do faeries differ from humans? I assume they don't look like Tinkerbell if Reynard married one. Do they have magical abilities?

The fief workers already work the land and give all their profits to the landowners. And the landowners have servants. So what do the landowners need faery slaves for?

Tracking slaves is the fastest way to make money, and Leo's business was thriving. If he doesn't have the money, how does anyone ever manage to buy a fief? If the price is too high, isn't there any land for sale besides his father's fief? He can start his own business, but he can't leave town and buy land somewhere else?

I'd combine the first two paragraphs, which have some unnecessary info, into something like:

Under the laws of Sarkine, Leo Rogan can buy his late father's fief from Sir Egan--if Leo can come up with the money within a year. The fastest way to earn money is tracking down runaway faery slaves, so Leo, a skilled hunter, uses his abilities to establish a thriving slave-catching business.

It seems out of character for landowners to accept a law that requires them to sell their land to the children of their deceased fief workers. With enough deaths they might no longer be landowners.

The plot description is well-written, but I'd like some of the issues I brought up dealt with.


Rachel6 said...

EE, all of your points are excellent ones. I actually address everything within the novel, from the laws that make Zara a slave to the laws covering the lands. My question is, wouldn't explaining all of this slow the query down and make it too long?

Also, the landowners use the faery slaves for menial labor. The fief owners pretty much just pay ridiculous taxes.

arhooley said...

Author, the problem EE pointed out with the faery wife/slave makes me wonder about your topic: is this a story about theft of labor, or a parable about racism? Or both? It should be clear in the query.

arhooley said...

Rachel6, a slave is someone whose labor is being stolen. For whom is Zara working for no pay?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Rachel6, the answer to your question is always the same, for everyone: If it's too complicated to explain in the query, leave it out of the query altogether.

Rachel6 said...

arhooley, author here. I see what you're saying. Under Sarkinian laws, a faery without protection or written freedom can be claimed as a slave. Without her husband to protect her, Zara would be made a slave. Except then Leo steps in, so it's all good...

More about theft of labor, I guess. Honestly, it's more about what fantasy history gives me the most fun to write about? :P

Evil Editor said...

So if you get jailed for thirty days for stealing a loaf of bread (or because someone claims you stole a loaf of bread), when you get released from jail your spouse has been sold into slavery? Harsh.

BuffySquirrel said...

I thought the query was perfectly clear wrt Zara being sold as a slave, but I seem to be in a minority. Of one sqrl.

I thought at first that when Leo bought the fief he'd be buying the right to hold the land in fief, not actual ownership of the land, and would become Egan's vassal. Not sure how I formed this opinion, given the query opens with Leo wanting to be a land *owner*. Holding land in fief and owning land are not the same thing. Tbh I'm much more confused by that than by the Zara/slave thing.

Leo will be trapped as Leo's servant? Servant implies someone who works for pay. Trapped implies a slave or villein. Again, I'm confused.

EE I think is right to query the existence of villeins and slaves, although I'm not convinced he understands the liege arrangement all that well. This Sarkine seems mightily over-populated with workers, though, if there are villeins and you can get rich catching all those pesky runaway slaves ;).

batgirl said...

I'm guessing that the faeries are hereditary slaves, and can't buy their own freedom, or be freed? But humans can move up in society by becoming landowners, and Leo is a human. And there's no up the river to freedom in this world?

Maybe make it clearer that it's Zara's race/species that makes her a slave, and not economic circumstance?

arhooley said...

Well anyway!

I do like the love triangle, or love tension, or whatever it is. Guy takes girl as protective hostage, falls for her even though her husband is guy's legal rival.

Sorry I got carried away with the slave thing.

AA said...

I understood the slave thing. Guy marries minority, people make jokes/slurs behind his back but are respectful when they visit. Guy gets arrested, there's an F-word just hangin' around and we can't have that, can we? There's no one to STOP them from seizing her.

As for "Why do you need slaves if you have sharecroppers?", you DON'T need them. It's a matter of status. More slaves equal more status.

At least, that's what I assumed.

Rachel6 said...

Alaska, thanks. I'm rewriting the query now, trying to simplify some plot problems and answer some of EE's questions. The land aspect is being changed completely to debts; much easier to handle and to explain.

EE, if you're a faery, valid fear!

Batgirl, you've got the gist of it. The only way to escape slavery is to reach the Faery Realm, which humans are afraid to enter.

And arhooley, hey, if you didn't ask, I wouldn't think to sort it out. :)

PLaF said...

I'd read this. I like all the elements.
I thought by purchasing his father’s fief, Leo would become a land owner.
I don’t understand how all of Leo’s profits will go into Egan’s coffers or how Leo will become his servant.
Are runaway slaves a widespread problem – enough to establish a thriving business?
What is Reynard’s real line of work? Abolitionists aren’t necessarily well-paid. Is Zara known to be a faery before Reynard goes to jail? And did she have an “out” in case something terrible happened to Reynard?
I don’t believe he’d buy Zara unless he already had feelings for her. Pity for her situation likely would not cause him to give up his quest.
Is slavery the big picture here?
And what’s up with the rest of the faeries? Why aren’t they rescuing their captured brethren?

Rachel6 said...

AA, you pretty much hit it. It's status, and it's also a way to show the free faeries who's boss.

PlaF, I'm reworking the terms of Leo's debt to Egan. That was less thought out than I had thought. As far as the runaway slaves, and the rest of the faeries, that's a somewhat complicated political situation and ongoing problem. It is somewhat common, but certain laws mean they don't actually get very far.

I'm thinking Reynard is a rich philanthropist with a rebel streak. Zara is obviously faery: pointy ears and magic fingers. (Groundbreaking, I know...)

And the big picture...I guess it's slavery; I tend to focus more on the little people.

AA said...

Assuming that freed slaves are frequently caught and re-sold or enslaved again by the captor, what would be the point of buying Z. and setting her free? Unless L. was willing to transport her to a hidden and safe site. And THAT'S assuming Z. would trust L. with the information about where the safe faery realm is. Which she wouldn't.

If L. is that gaga over Z. that he'd spend desperately needed money on her, he'd KEEP her.

This seems like a major logic problem. It would help if you clarified that, for instance, non-landowners can't legally own slaves, or whatever. This wouldn't solve the problem, but I'd know why he couldn't just keep her.

Rachel6 said...

Ladies and gentlemen, round 2:

Under the laws of Sarkine, Leo Rogan has a chance to inherit his father’s lands--if he can first pay off his father’s debts within a year. The fastest way to earn money is tracking down runaway faery slaves, so Leo uses his hunting skills to establish a thriving slave-catching business.

Leo’s biggest challenge isn’t catching the faeries, though that’s tricky enough. His biggest challenge is Sarkine’s convoluted laws about faeries. The recently passed Claim Law decrees that any owner-less faery may be kept by the first human to capture him. Half of Leo’s hunting time is spent fighting with humans reluctant to give up their finds, trying to prove his employers’ claims. He’s usually successful. Until he meets the Reynards.

James Reynard, a wealthy abolitionist who poses as a slave-owner, starts claiming the runaways. Though Leo tries everything--bribery, force, bailiffs--every time, he loses to Reynard. He suspects Reynard is smuggling the faeries to the magically-protected Realm, a crime punishable with imprisonment. When he figures out a way to prove it, Reynard is arrested.

With Reynard’s imprisonment, his faery wife Zara is promptly enslaved. To spite Reynard, Leo claims her as recompense for the business Reynard cost him.

But living with a faery causes Leo to look more sympathetically at the slaves he tracks. It's a sympathy he can't afford, for the year is drawing to a close and he still doesn't have enough to pay his father’s debts. Worse, he is beginning to fall in love with Zara.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Rachel, what do you want your readers to care about? What's at the core of the story? From the query I can't tell if it's more Reynard's story or Leo's. The Fox sounds more interesting and likeable, because he's already against slavery.

The Lion could be likeable if the focus is on his conversion. If you're going for lovable rogue here, you haven't quite hit it. (Lovable rogue is extremely hard to hit. Han Solo = lovable. Cugel the Clever = loathsome to the nth degree. It's a fine line.)

Basically, decide who your protag is. The query should only have one. Decide what he's up against. Start the query with something other than the laws of a country we never heard of-- in fact, leave the laws out of the query altogether.

They're taking up too much space that rightfully belongs to the characters.

Anonymous said...

This reads like a law-school exam question.

Show us the central conflict: who is Leo's antagonist, what choice does Leo have to make, what does he stand to lose?

Drop the world-building legal stuff about inheritance rights and claim laws, because the more you inject, the more you have to explain. Just tell us the story: Leo is a slave hunter, he falls in love with one, and... then what?

BuffySquirrel said...

I dunno. If Han Solo is so loveable, why is Lucas editing out his roguery? Also, if this were a law question, the first character to be mentioned would have a name beginning with A, the next with B, then C, and so on through the alphabet.

Yes. Sad that I know that.

Skilled hunter Leo Rogan has only one chance to inherit his childhood home--he must pay all his father's debts within a year.

When Leo turns his hand to the lucrative business of catching escaped faery slaves his business thrives, but then a new law is passed that empowers anyone to claim a runaway as their own unless prior ownership can be proved. Now Leo's often embroiled in lengthy court actions that cost him money and time.

Once wealthy abolitionist James Reynard starts claiming all runaways as his own, Leo loses his cases, his captives, and his fees. With his hopes of reclaiming his inheritance beginning to fade, he manages to get Reynard imprisoned. Vengefully, he also buys Reynard's faery wife, Zara, at auction.

Soon the year's almost up and only by selling Zara can Leo finish paying off the debts. But the time he's spent with her has forced him to realise faeries are people too. Now Leo must decide whether Zara's freedom is too high a price to pay.

150 said...

Eh, I kind of like this version. It's a bit dry, but at least I can tell what the book is about.

sarahhawthorne said...

The problem I see in this draft is that you have two conflicts: Leo versus Reynard and Leo falling for Zara. But these conflicts happen sequentially - Leo doesn't start falling in love until after he's gotten Reynard arrested.

So now I'm confused. Are the first four paragraphs (Leo/Reynard) just set-up to the main plot of the book (Leo/Zara)? Or does Reynard continue to be a threat to Leo's goals even after he's imprisoned?

sarahhawthorne said...

Oh, and I think I have a way for you to summarize the entire middle three paragraphs down into one:

But Leo’s biggest challenge isn’t catching the faeries. It’s James Reynard, a wealthy abolitionist who uses Sarkine’s convoluted legal process to claim the runaways right out from under Leo. When Leo discovers Reynard is smuggling the faeries to the magically-protected Realm, Reynard is arrested and his faery wife Zara is promptly enslaved. To spite Reynard, Leo claims her as recompense.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Rachel, go to yesterday's EE Classic and look at the comment by pjd. I think what s/he says about the Cigarette Angel applies to your query as well.

AA said...

That's a good rewrite, Buffy. The whole thing so far leaves me feeling a bit "meh," though. What do I care about this guy sitting in a courtroom? That's only interesting in courtroom dramas. In this type of story I expect people to act much more directly.

See if this sounds more interesting:

Leo is a bounty hunter. He captures escaped faery slaves and returns them to their owners- for a fee. Many think Leo is obsessed, but they don't know he has a secret plan. He intends to buy back his father's land from the inbred idiot son-of-a-duke who foreclosed on it years ago. Leo has one year to come up with the money.

Leo's chief rival is bounty hunter Reynard. There are speculations that Reynard is an abolitionist who illegally sets his captives free across the border in Free Fairy Land. Leo can't afford Reynard cutting into his profits, so he finds proof and gets Reynard thrown in jail. For good measure, Leo takes Zara, Reynard's common-law faery wire.

Zara was raised free and doesn't take well to being bullied. Leo soon finds that no one wants to buy a free-spirited slave. He doesn't want one, either. What Leo doesn't know is that Zara is just what he needs to make a human being out of him.

Time is running out, and Leo can't afford to be sympathetic now. When a desperate gamble puts Zara in danger, will Leo finally learn the true price of his soul?

Very tongue-in-cheek, of course. But this is the kind of book I would read. Not the kind that seems bogged down with minute business and courtroom concerns.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

I like AA's version. Simpler, easier to follow and clear.

Keeping the spotlight on Leo is a big help.

BuffySquirrel said...

I dunno, AA, your Leo doesn't sound like anyone I want to read about.

AA said...

Sorry, Buffy, my humor can be a bit too subtle at times. Subtle meaning, you need a microscope.

I was showing how to keep the spotlight on Leo and Zara, and inventing a central conflict.

I also wanted to see the characters when they weren't all bogged down in red tape, for my own amusement.

BuffySquirrel said...

A microscope or a less sleep-deprived sqrl.