Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Guess the Plot
Penny and the Treasures of Prydain
1. Penny is an ordinary girl in every ordinary way, until she falls asleep under the rowan tree. She awakes in Underland, new matriarch of the Prydains, and learns the Queen never survives Samhain. Can Penny escape the ritual sacrifice?
2. Prydain was once handsome, but now he's a clumsy giant, thanks to a mean witch. Penny thinks Prydain is cute, and leaves flowers on his doorstep. Now she's trapped in his underground lair, and he won't let her go until she kisses him.
3. The Treasures of Prydain have disappeared, and it's up to Penarddun verch Morfudd ("Just call me Penny.") to get them back, aided by a man named Wmffre. But will they abandon their mission when their path leads to the otherworldly prison of Caer Siddi?
4. Prydain is a land rich in gold and crops. Penny had heard her mother say this often enough. And now that she's an orphan, Penny is setting her sights west. Good luck getting past the scorpions lurking in the Desert of Despair.
5. Adventures of a middle-grade fantasy writer, Penny, who, after years of trying to convince agents and editors that "Prydain" is just Old Welsh for "Britain", gives in and changes the title of her manuscript.
6. Little Penny is a shiny copper coin. When Quarter Master tells her it's time to go off to the Mint, she thinks it's the end. After a tearful goodbye to Nickle Back and Dime Bag, she's whisked off...only to arrive in Prydain, a strange vault filled with thousands of other coins. But is this really a paradise for unwanted money, or is something more sinister lurking beyond the sealed door?
Hail, O Evil One!
It’s 1920--the 750th anniversary of Prince Madoc of Wales’ discovery of the New World. [If the most interesting event going on is the anniversary of something that happened 750 years ago, maybe we need to open in a different year. Unless . . . is there something else special about 1920?] And it’s also the first Great Eisteddfod--the decennial cultural festival that brings together the druids of the Old and New Worlds--since the end of the Great War between the Pagans and the Catholics and their Ottoman allies. [1920: The Year of Living Boringly.] [If this is the first Eisteddfod, how can they already be calling it "Great"? They're gonna look pretty silly if hardly any druids show up.] [If I were a druid, I would suspect that the Great Eisteddfod was dreamed up by the Catholics as a ruse to get all the druids into one place so they could kill us. It wouldn't be the worst thing they'd ever done.] For Penarddun verch Morfudd, Assistant Curator at the Madocian Institution of Arts and Culture, it’s also the chance to mount an exhibition of the ancient Treasures of Prydain, [I would think the curator would mount the exhibition, while the assistant curator would . . . assist.] including the Cauldron of Rebirth that helped win the war by resurrecting dead soldiers on the battlefield.
[Soldier: The men are starving sir. We must surrender.
Captain: Not necessarily. If you can just find the strength to throw all those corpses into this giant . . . Cauldron of Rebirth . . . we might have a chance.]
[In three sentences you've capitalized 30 words. See if you can cut that down to 20. Also, those last two sentences are so long and contain so much information readers won't retain anything. The only interesting item is the Cauldron of Rebirth, but even that's lost interest now that its a display in an exhibition rather than a weapon of mass resurrection.]
Penny’s ready for some festivity. Life has been grim since her fiance’s death in the War--blown to so many smithereens that no Cauldron could bring him back. She’s looking forward to a reunion with her British friend Elen, and maybe the success of the exhibition will win approval from her archdruid uncle. Respite from her mother’s relentless political match-making would be nice, too. [When every druid who's any druid is in town, the matchmaking is more likely to ramp up than ease off.]
But things start going pear-shaped almost immediately. Penny has to host the belly-dancing priestess Sirona of Galatia, a woman so beautiful that nearly every man who lays eyes on her falls into Love at First Sight. Penny herself falls victim to Love at First Sight with Elen’s cousin Gwydion, but Gwydion seems to adore Sirona. [Everyone adores Sirona. If Mrs. Evil couldn't deal with the fact that I adore Julia Roberts, I'd never get any action.] The audio recordings for her exhibition are infected by a bwg [big whirling gadget] that turns informative description into bad vaudeville routines. A trip to the beach turns tragic when Gwydion’s twin brother Gil is savaged by a feline predator. During ritual single combat, a young man is beheaded [Near the top of my list of rules to live by: I refuse to engage in any religion or culture whose rituals involve beheading.] and Elen’s fiance, Wmffre, loses his arm and foot [and a couple of his vowels] when a magic sword runs amok--a sword stolen from Penny’s exhibition. And then the Treasures disappear, along with Gil, Sirona, and Penny’s brother Dylan. [That's seven examples of things going pear-shaped. Choose three and do without the rest.]
Penny, Gwydion, Elen, and Wmffre must rescue the hostages before the Treasures are put to dangerous use. [I'd leave Wmffre behind on the rescue mission. A guy with only one foot and one arm is going to slow them down, especially if his blood is still oozing and dressings need to be changed a couple times a day.] But success will bring to light shameful secrets and old betrayals. [Vague.] How far, exactly, is Penny willing to follow her dreams, [What dreams?] when their path leads into the Otherworldly prison of Caer Siddi?
Penny and the Treasures of Prydain* is inspired by my nearly thirty years’ study of Celtic mythology (PhD UCLA, 1992). [Word of advice: next time you decide to invest thirty years in the study of one subject, come up with something more useful than Celtic mythology.] I have published five nonfiction books and some two dozen articles and encyclopedia entries on a wide range of topics in folklore and mythology; Penny is my first novel. The manuscript is complete at 100,000 words and I would be pleased to send you sample chapters at your request.
*I hate this title but I have not yet come up with anything better.
Somehow I feel like we should be told everything about this world at once. The first sentence prepares me for a historical novel set in 1920. But then I find that Catholics + Ottomans have just had a war with Pagans, so maybe it's alternate history. But then I find the war was won thanks to a magic cauldron, so it's a fantasy. Was it a war involving tanks and planes and machine guns, or guys with swords on horseback? It has a medieval feel to it, but the "audio recordings" feel anachronistic. Maybe you should start, Set on an Earth where magic exists and religious wars have continued into the 20th century...
The plot description is too long. We just want to know what Penny does about her problems. She's looking forward to the big anniversary celebration when her friends are kidnapped and the treasures vanish. What's her plan, who's out to stop her, what's at stake? That's the story. The boring stuff can be put in your synopsis if you need one.
Nowadays, a high school student named Penarddun verch Morfudd would go by Penny to avoid being ostracized. But in your world, maybe not. In any case, Penarddun verch Morfudd and the Treasures of Prydain is a better title. It sounds like Baron Munchausen and the Deathly Hallows. And who wouldn't read that?