Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Face-Lift 1112

Guess the Plot

The Virgins of Kraa

1. Every year, the island of Kraa sacrifices one virgin to the great volcano. Right sick of this, this year the girls of Kraa have taken action, leaving poor, humiliated Henry the only virgin of the proper age. Hilarity ensues.

2. Wealthy yet innocent mogul Kraa has discovered one thing he doesn't own: a harem. He orders 40 virgins for his harem, and decrees they all must remain virgin, at cost of death. Boy, is he going to be surprised when he finds out what a harem is for.

3. Siddi is pregnant despite her chastity vow, and the priestesses think it's a miracle so they want to sacrifice the child to the goddess Kraa. Meanwhile a secret society wants the baby as their organization's figurehead. And Sid's parents want to murder her. It's a hard life being one of . . . The Virgins of Kraa.

4. The people of Kraa choose a perfect male for the noble honor of sacrifice to the gods, as has been done for time uncounted. Then waifish earther, Kami Sole, crashes on the eve of the selection tournament. Now the virgins struggle to find one reason to hop into the fire.

5. The dragon of Kraa had a discerning palate: he ate only virgins. Therefore Kraa’s rules of sexual propriety changed. Peghter was ten. Given a choice between an arranged marriage or the shame of the town’s concubine, he instead gathers heroes to defeat the dragon once and for all.

6. Emperor Kraa has not produced an heir, despite a harem of young women who are determined to be the mother of the next emperor. Follow their antics as they try to undermine each other and turn the emperor away from his beloved general and force him to perform.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I would like to offer my novel, The Virgins of Kraa, for your mockery.

Just because she was born on the goddess Kraa’s feast day, fifteen year old Siddi is expected to shave her head, don the white robes and serve in Kraa’s temple for five years. Forget it! Siddi soon finds ways to break her vows – especially the ‘chastity’ one – and enjoy herself while supposedly ministering to the poor in the teeming slums. [Is this book for teens? Usually if the MC is 15, the book is meant for kids a year or two younger than that. Whether parents want their 13-year-olds reading a book in which the 15-year-old MC is enjoying herself by breaking her chastity vows I will leave to those minions who actually have 13-year-old kids. Would the book be unfavorably altered if girls born on Kraa's feast day began their temple service at age 17?]

Pregnant, she flees from the temple, [I was under the impression she was breaking her vow to serve in the temple by hanging out in the slums.] knowing that her actions would bring shame on the family [This could suggest that she's hiding her pregnancy from her family, yet later she's fleeing her family. Do they know or not?] - and shamed families can only regain their honour by killing the child who shamed them. [That rule sucks. Especially if your friends' parents feel no shame even if their kids are mass murderers, while your parents feel shame if you wear clothes that don't match.] Siddi takes refuge in the slums and ekes out a living waiting for the birth of her child.

Arka, her only confidante from the temple, warns her that the priestesses believe her pregnancy to be a miracle, and a blood sacrifice of the baby will transform the goddess Kraa from a minor deity to the top of the pantheon, in accordance with prophesy. [Life would be so much better if we could just get Kraa to the top of the pantheon.] [I wonder if in ancient Greece there were followers of Pan, the god of goatherds, who sacrificed babies in hopes of elevating Pan above Zeus in the pantheon.] [Actually, for all we know, Zeus was originally the god of sandals, and only became top dog because sandal wearers sacrificed a lot of babies.]

Fleeing both Kraa’s followers and her outraged family, Siddi and the newborn are taken in by a secret underground society, the Naturalists. [As "naturalist" is a term that describes a large number of people in our world, maybe your small group in your world should have a different name. For instance, "Ferirama." I got that one using this fake word generator.] Their aim is to discredit the gods and build a society based on rational thought rather than superstition. But they need a figurehead to give their movement momentum – and who better than a baby targeted for sacrifice?

With a mad priestess believing herself to be the physical embodiment of Kraa now after the baby, and the king declaring the Naturalists a threat to the realm, Siddi really doesn’t need more attention being drawn to her baby and flees the Naturalists. She and Arka need to infiltrate the temple, discredit the goddess and make it appear that the temple itself is the threat to the monarchy.

Told in alternating viewpoints between Siddi and Arka, The Virgins of Kraa is complete at 80 000 words.


Pregnant, she flees from the temple.
Fleeing both Kraa’s followers and her outraged family...
Siddi ... flees the Naturalists.

That's a lot of fleeing. I would focus less on the fleeing and more on the one sentence that hints at Siddi doing something, namely: She and Arka need to infiltrate the temple, discredit the goddess and make it appear that the temple itself is the threat to the monarchy. We want to see the main character taking action to solve her problems, not fleeing every threat that comes her way.

I don't think we need all three groups (family, priestesses, naturalists) in the query. Possibly we can get by with just the priestesses. A paragraph introducing Siddi and stating that the priestesses want to sacrifice her unborn child is enough setup. That leaves plenty of room to tell us how she plans to save herself and her baby, what goes wrong, etc.

In my opinion, this society would have a law that if you get a girl with shaved head and white robes pregnant, you suffer a horrible amputation.


IMHO said...

The first paragraph has a light-hearted feel. Siddi says 'forget it!' to shaving her head, and enjoys hijinks instead. It doesn't fit with the subsequent description of pregnancy, slums, fleeing, and baby sacrifice .

The family is outraged, the priestess is mad, and the Naturalists are subversive -- but Siddi seems merely inconvenienced by it all (e.g., she 'really doesn't need more attention'). To me, Siddi comes across as a self-centered airhead (what's that reality show about teen moms?). I'm more interested in Arka, based on this query.

Veronica Rundell said...

I, too, wonder about the audience, because the title and premise scream Fantasy (to me) and the MC's age is problematic given the very mature themes.

EE's right that parents won't want their darlings reading about a loose priestess who's also pregnant and interested in taking down the religious dogma of the society. There are dozens of blogs written by authors, agents and editors who specify the norms and conventions of YA writing--and how even the most tepid of sex scenes can be taboo. And, THIS story has at least five hot button issues in the query alone. It is bound to agitate the "decency" meters if it is intended for the YA market.

As to the structure of the query: a lot happens to Sid, but don't sense her voice, and there's no hook. What is the most serious problem she faces, and pick that as the focus. To me, it seems guarding her unintended pregnancy is the main issue. I'd build the query on that.

Also, was this a pregnancy from a beloved, or an oh-no no idea who's the baby daddy? Because, if the former, this could go Romance...

Best of luck.
(Disclosure: I give my teenaged son YA books with sex, drugs, and all that to read...he finds them boring. So one can never predict how the audience will receive it.)

150 said...

I'd read any of those GTPs.

You'll probably only benefit by making it less starkly clear that the book has an Agenda. Ways to do this include: portraying your mad priestess less cartoonishly, showing the Naturalists with a goal more specific and immediate than killing god with science, and giving the priestesses a reason to suspect a virgin birth other than that the mother wasn't supposed to have been schtupping anyone.

From the query, I don't understand the need to have two viewpoint characters.

After the promising first paragraph, I don't see Siddi making choices or being proactive, just reacting to immediate threats. If she continues directing her own life, show that.

khazar-khum said...

Is Arka really Kraa in disguise? I wonder because it's an anagram.

BuffySquirrel said...

Was your protagonist dropped on her head as a baby? Chastity? Forget it! Death sentence? What death sentence? Oh, *that* death sentence....

I suggest making Arka the protagonist instead. She just wants to wait out her five years of nothing very much but her dearest and also most stupid friend from infant school/younger sister/whatever insists on running around getting into trouble.

Siddi could at least do something that doesn't involve bringing a death sentence down on herself, or running away at the slightest hitch.

Anonymous said...

Woah, tough audience to please, here. Never realized that the minions could sting more sharply than their evil master, but clearly not the case.

Thanks, Veronica for the tip about making it a Romance - I could skew the query that way.

Yep, Siddi is as self centered as most teens are. So if that's how she comes across - great! And she makes mistakes as fifteen year olds do. She has no choice but to live in the temple but is determined to cut corners and break rules whenever she can.

Part of her temple duties are to visit the poor, and it so happens she can have a rendezvous with her beau in that part of town, so she takes advantage. I didn't want her to be a Tess of the D'Urberville type person who gets punished for a rape-pregnancy. I prefer her to own her mistakes. But she didn't think it could happen on the first time.

I should reword the query to make Sid seem more proactive. In the narrative, Arka is the over-awed bestie who gets swept along in her friend's wake, but everybody here seems to think she's the sensible one. Ah, well.

Also, if my infant was being threatened by powerful people, I'd probably want to lie low and get as far away from them as possible, instead of being thrust into the limelight as the figurehead of a movement. I really wouldn't call that "running away at the slightest hitch", but as some of you seem to think it is, I'll have to tweak the query yet again.

anybody got ideas?

AA said...

This is an "idiot plot." None of this could happen if all the characters involved weren't idiots.

The teen protag is stupid. She gets pregnant knowing it will mean her death? Please. It would be one thing if she actually fell in love with somebody, but just for fun? And she only has to stay at the temple five years, not the rest of her life. It just doesn't warrant that type of rebellion.

Then she falls in with these naturalists, who are really dumb. They decide the best way to draw attention to their cause is to take a newborn baby that's targeted for assasination and parade it in front of everybody? It makes no sense.

"...the priestesses believe her pregnancy to be a miracle, and a blood sacrifice of the baby will transform the goddess Kraa from a minor deity to the top of the pantheon, in accordance with prophesy."

This is an extremely contrived reason for the priestess to come after the baby. It isn't very believable.

Don't be a lazy writer. Characters have to have believable motivations. If the Protag got to be around seventeen and actually fell in love with someone she met in the slums while earnestly trying to do her job there, I could believe that. Then, if she accidentally got pregnant, I could buy that.

Suppose she decided to confess the whole thing, only to find out that the priestesses believed it was a miracle. Being young and facing a death sentence, she lets them believe it. But then when she realizes they want to sacrifice her baby, she runs away to the naturalists, and they hide her and the baby. She has to stop running at some point, though.

Also, it would make more sense if the priestess had an agenda to fool the gullible public into thinking she was a goddess instead of actually believing all that stuff herself. Making the main villain a cartoony madwoman isn't helping the story. It reads too much like a longer, more adult-oriented Scooby Doo episode and that isn't good.

BuffySquirrel said...

I'll buy that she doesn't believe she can get pregnant the first time. I won't buy that she thinks it's worth risking death to find out. And honestly, a man who's prepared to have her take that risk? Not a romantic hero.

Also, she's let out of the temple with no chaperone? Umm. Women raised with strict sexual codes tend to obey them, especially as they're usually surrounded by people making sure they do.

Maybe you need to look at the worldbuilding again, because the freedom she's given jars with the whole enforced celibacy angle.

No abortion in this world?

It would be nice to see something in the query about her owning her mistakes. Runnning away is not owning. Also, the plan at the end is not owning, either. Owning would be standing up and trying to convince people that their laws on celibacy and temple service are wrong.

All that said, I don't find this too tricksy for YA. If abortion was introduced as an option, THEN it might be.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Yep, Siddi is as self centered as most teens are. So if that's how she comes across - great!

Mm, not quite.

To a grown-up, it's quite clear that most teenagers are self-centered. To teenagers, though, what they are is uniquely, catastrophically misunderstood.

So your target readership doesn't want to read about a protag who is self-centered.

150 said...

I don't agree with Buffy on two points. One is that no girls risk sex under penalty of death; in our real world, a few do, and those are the ones I'd rather read about anyway. Second is the idea that abortion might knock this out of YA. It wouldn't; modern YA is more about the growing-up journey than any maturity rating.

I do largely agree with her and everyone else, though. I thought this bit was telling:

Also, if my infant was being threatened by powerful people, I'd probably want to lie low and get as far away from them as possible, instead of being thrust into the limelight as the figurehead of a movement. I really wouldn't call that "running away at the slightest hitch", but as some of you seem to think it is, I'll have to tweak the query yet again.

This is the third time she's fled in one query. That's a lot of fleeing. The thing is, most readers expect a protagonist to stop laying low and start fighting back by then, if not sooner. Protags gotta protag. If she does, please tell us, because otherwise it's a flee-fest* up in here.

Either way, the thing to keep in mind is that we can only judge your story as presented in your query, so for every time we say "your story --" mentally replace it with "your query makes it sound like your story --". It's just annoying to keep typing out.

*Flee circus? Flee market? I'll work on that one.

BuffySquirrel said...

150 makes good points. I don't read much YA so mostly my observations about abortion are based on how rarely it ever appears in fiction of *any* kind. Except of course when the woman changes her mind or is punished in some way afterwards. It seems to be a 'no go' area all of its little own.

Anonymous said...

Cider House Rules...

AA said...

I second Buffy about the fact that a teen priestess isn't going to be allowed to go minister in the slums without a chaperone. The young Mormon missionaries around here can't even go into the house of a respectable middle-aged single woman without an elder present. This is just to avoid the appearance of evil. And when they do go, they double up (to keep each other honest, I guess).

I also second Alaska. Most teens wouldn't want to read about a self-centered and apparently pretty dumb protag. There are a lot of self-centered and airheaded adults out there, too, but that doesn't mean they'd want to read a story with a protag like that.

In fact, if this is what you think of teens in general, you probably shouldn't be writing about them. It's like being a children's author and writing a book called "Levi, The Obnoxious, Whiny, Snot-Nosed Little Brat." Well, you could write it, but who would publish it?

Veronica Rundell said...

Wanted to run this query by two of my sons--for an audience take on the topic... (For reference, one is 16 and the other 10)

So, I began with the title, and the 16 y/o interrupted: "Wait a second. Did you just say Virgins of Crotch?" This caused considerable hilarity with the 10 y/o choking on his drink and water/snot rocketing out of his nose.

After we cleaned up the mess and I got back to reading the query they agreed. The girl's weak. She does too much fleeing.

Most valuable advice from this totally random sampling: Beware people thinking the book is called Virgins of Crotch and shelving it in Erotica...

BuffySquirrel said...

Also, if my infant was being threatened by powerful people, I'd probably want to lie low and get as far away from them as possible, instead of being thrust into the limelight as the figurehead of a movement.

See, I think that's the problem right there. You want your protagonist to do the safe and sensible thing.

Readers, on the other hand, want protagonists to protag. To take risks. To do the right and dangerous thing.

AA said...

Suppose they don't want to use the infant as the figurehead of a movement- which doesn't make any sense anyway- and want to use Sid instead. That would make sense. A priestess who left the church and was able to state why clearly is better than an infant who, for all people know, is just a normal infant.

Then Sid could be conflicted. On the one hand, this is a new family. They are taking care of herself and her baby. She really wants to do as they ask.

On the other hand, it's bad to put her baby in the spotlight. Despite all the people around, they aren't very powerful people, and she doesn't want to do anything that would hurt the baby.

One thing she can't do here is run away from the problem. Alone, she and the baby are sitting ducks and she doesn't have experience with survival in the outdoors anyway, having been groomed for the temple.

Having characters conflicted, make painful decisions, and face difficult truths is what makes them realistic and interesting.