Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Face-Lift 1267

Guess the Plot

A Knight's Quest

1. In a vaguely Arthurian setting, Gawain, a newly-knighted lad of 17, sets forth on a knightly quest and does not encounter a sassy princess who must ally with her old enemies, the fae, in order to save her land from the evil Troll-people. He also doesn't need to capture a legendary weapon. Complete at 400 words.

2. When his parents threaten to throw him out, degenerate Kevin reluctantly takes a job at the local medieval fair as their newest knight. Standing in stinking armor all day is hardly "Sir" Kevin's idea of a good time, but after hearing a rumor that Allison, the fair's big-breasted princess wants to puff the magic dragon. Kevin finds himself in a desperate quest to find the sacred herbs.

3. To save his family from bankruptcy, Cedric must rescue the princess from an evil wizard and save the city from an attack by an army of immortal creatures. Hey, no one said being a fifteen-year-old was gonna be easy.

4. The dragon has captured a damsel, and it's up to Sir John to rescue her. Trouble is, his horse is afraid of dragons, his squire suffers from narcolepsy, and his shield had to be duct taped together after the last jousting match. Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Sir Lancelot Academy, New Camelot, isn’t for faint hearts. It’s a place where aspiring knights are trained, and fifteen-year-old Cedric is one of them. After years of sparring and archery lessons, he has only one more test to pass to become a knight: the Quest. If he rescues Princess Rhiannon, kidnapped by the dark wizard Mordred, [Change his name to Krissbroun.] Cedric will become a knight and receive an award of three hundred thousand crowns– enough to save his family from bankruptcy. [How did his family manage to get 300,000 crowns in debt?] [Ironically, today one crown would be enough to get them out of bankruptcy, as long as it's an 1847 Queen Victoria "Gothic" crown in mint condition.] 

Problem is Rhiannon might be a [beautiful (like diamonds in the sky)] damsel in distress, but she can deal with it. She escapes from Mordred’s dungeon and in the process saves Cedric’s life too. [I'd get rid of "Problem is."] Well, Cedric is annoyed. Knights are supposed to rescue damsels. Not the other way round. On top of that, Cedric and Rhiannon discovers Mordred’s plan to steal one of the most powerful magical artefact [artifacts] in Britannia: the Grail. Mordred needs it to build an army of dark, immortal creatures and attack the city. [It's always a good idea when building an army of creatures, to give them a three-week life span rather than immortality.]

When Cedric and Rhiannon warn the New Camelot knights, unfortunately they don’t take them seriously. The Grail is protected by state-of-the-art spells, [The term "state of the art" originated in the 20th century.] and stealing it is considered impossible. Not even Mordred can succeed. Determined to protect the city even without the knights’ help, Cedric has to work with Rhiannon to stop Mordred’s plan. [So you're saying Mordred can succeed? Does Cedric know how Mordred can overcome state-of-the-art spells? How does he plan to defeat a powerful wizard?] But if he can deal with a self-rescuer, warrior princess, fighting an evil dark wizard should be a piece of cake. [That's like saying, If he can deal with a perky kitten, a Tyrannosaurus should be a piece of cake.]

A KNIGHT’S QUEST is an upper middle grade fantasy novel, complete at 70,000 words.

Thanks for your time and consideration.


The query isn't bad, but I'm not sure I buy Cedric's ability to defeat Mordric when he couldn't even rescue Rhiannon.

According to a website I just consulted, titled "Becoming a Knight," the apprentice knight period (aka squire) was ages 14 to 21. Of course that was the real world rather than a fantasy world, but it still seems like 15 is rather young to be going into battle against adult men, much less wizards and dragons. 

If I were the king of New Camelot and my daughter the princess had been abducted by an evil wizard, I wouldn't be sending a kid who wasn't yet a knight to rescue her.

Possibly instead of calling Mordred a dark wizard and his army dark creatures, you should go with evil wizard and savage creatures. I'm not sure what "dark" means when applied to a creature or a wizard. I do know it's good when applied to chocolate.


khazar-khum said...

I'm getting a kind of "Harry Potter the Not Knight" vibe from this.

Here's a thought: Cedric's knight is hurt going after Mordred, so Cedric takes it upon himself to go and rescue Rhiannon. That way we see that he can do things himself, instead of waiting for someone to tell him what to do.

Anonymous said...

For upper MG, sure, why not? I'd simply add some evidence to your query that you've created that testing, teasing, first-love light-headedness between Rhiannon and Cedric that presumably sets your story apart and makes the read worthwhile. Maybe one line about just how dreadful the dark beings are, too? You know, whatever makes your Arthurian retelling especially fun and unique.

InkAndPixelClub said...

This feels kind of generic. The hapless hero, the princess who isn't on board with the whole "damsel in distress" thing, and the bad guy who wants to use a magical artifact to raise an army of the dead are all elements I remember from the Prydain Chronicles and I doubt that's the only place they've shown up before. Having some common elements for sword and sorcery fantasy is fine, but the only idea you e presented that doesn't feel like every other fantasy story is that Cedric goes into the knighthood for financial reasons instead of a calling to do good or a thirst for adventure and glory. Maybe emphasizing that aspect could help your story stand out?

I'm not getting any sense of who Cedric is and why I'd want to read about him for 70,000 words. Your first sentence doesn't even mention Cedric and the second one merely states that he's one of any number of knights-in-training. The only hint I get at his personality is his annoyance that his damsel in distress went and rescued herself and saved him to boot, which is somewhat understandable, but not something that makes me want to read about a character on its own. Even more troubling, at the end of the query Cedric still seems to consider Rhiannon and her unconventional attitudes toward being a princess a problem that makes an evil wizard who plans to raise an invincible magic army seem like a cakewalk. If I hadn't already put the query down for being too much like everything else on the market, this is where I'd ditch it and go looking for someone who wrote about the feisty princess and her troubles with the would-be knight who can't accept a princess who doesn't need rescuing.

For the query to work, Cedric needs to be interesting and sympathetic. He's a knight-in-training who needs to help his family, who are in debt because (x). (Is this a common problem in New Camelot or is Cedric one of a very few potential knights doing it for the money?) was this his idea, or did his family pressure him into it? Does he have any interest in being a knight or is it just the best way to get his family out of debt?

If you want the reader to see Rhiannon's ability to save herself as a real problem and not just a blow to Cedric's manpride, you need to lay out the consequences of her actions for Cedric. Will he be kicked out of the Academy if word gets out that the princess he was supposed to save rescued herself and him? Does this put his plan to pay off his family's debts in jeopardy? That would be far more sympathetic than Cedric's chauvinist world view getting upended.

Is Mordred the same Mordred from Arthurian legend? If he is, I'd put in a reference to it. Call him "King Arthur's old enemy" or "the nemesis of the legendary King Arthur" if Arthur's not around anymore. If he's not The bastard son of Arthur and his half sister, I'd take EE's advice and rename him.

Wrap up with some sense of what Cedric's up against (does Mordred get the Grail and create his immortal army or is the big final confrontation about preventing Mordred from gettin the Grail?) and what qualities Cedric has that might help him succeed. If all he's got going for hi is a brave and capable princess who he inexplicably still sees as a problem, I'd ditch Cedric and write a story about Rhiannon.

Anonymous said...

And here we go. Author, I hope you don't mind this digression from your query itself to ask about when it's okay to go "generic," to write something "like every other fantasy story" or "too much like everything else on the market." Those were pretty much my thoughts, and yet I said it was reasonable enough for MG in my comment above, my thinking being that an MG reader hasn't necessarily encountered all these conventions in a full-length book so it's okay to roll them out as long as you give them some detail and flair worthy of an MG reader.

(I remember when I was nine years old stumbling across a book-length version of Cinderella called "The Glass Slipper" that surprised and delighted me. Hmm, I see on Amazon that it has a tiny fanbase.)

Are agents and editors really insistent that if you've got a familiar tale aimed at MG readers, it had better be different somehow? (Unique, yes, but different?) The thing is, I don't necessarily see why an MG reader would insist on that -- but maybe I'm missing something.

SB said...

This sounds potentially interesting to me. Although "state-of-the-art" had me suddenly picturing a Mission Impossible / Ocean's Eleven style heist. Which could probably be pretty cool, but I doubt that's what you were trying to describe.

I'd like to know more about the princess other than that she's self-sufficient, because the un-damsel princess has been done enough that it's a cliche in itself at this point. These days, she'll need qualities in addition to that to catch a reader's interest.

I also agree with pretty much everything Ink said above.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Anon #2> You may get a better answer from someone more familiar with the publishing industry, but I think one of the issues is that it's tough to stand out with a story that can be described as "like every of fantasy story." Ultimately, you need to either convince an editor to buy your story or convince an agent that she can sell you story and that can be tought if there's not much to differentiate your story from both the hundreds of similar unpublished stories out there or the hundreds of already published stories in that vein. Sure, I didn't realize when I first encountered "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" that it was pretty much by the book portal fantasy (though given its age, it may well be one of the books the later ones are by). But if I'm going to write a portal fantasy, I'm going to have to put something in there that will answer the editor's question "Why would a kid read this over "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe," or any of the other stacks of portal fantasies out there?"

A lot of stories are predictable. I'd take pretty much any odds to bet against Mordred taking over New Camelot permanently and Cecil's family living out their remaining days in crushing poverty. That doesn't mean it's not a good story. It does mean I need a protagonist I feel really invested in to make me forget about what I already know is likely to happen, to make me care about what happens to him on the way to his happy ending. Cecil might be that protagonist, but I'm not seeing it yet.