Thursday, December 08, 2016

Face-Lift 1336

Guess the Plot

Princes and Pawns

1. Darryl and Carl think they've got a sure thing in their new RPG, Princes and Pawns. But when their friend and play-tester Kyle runs to a publisher with a beta copy of the game and gets it accepted, they'll be damned if they'll let this would-be game master rook them.

2. It's time to determine which of the princes is to be heir to the throne, through a series of trials. But one of the princes is trying to sabotage the other, and a  notorious gambler is trying to rig the trials, and someone on the Council is using dark magic to kill both princes. Christ, this is worse than the FIFA World Cup.

 3. Annoyed at eight princes lined up to inherit, eight peasants hash out a plan to get out from under their collective thumbs and bump them all off. Starting off with creating a game on a checkered board with a hidden message, and nary a prince in sight.

4. The Prince family's pawn shop faces closure after four generations due to plunging profits. But when William Prince finds a rusty old lamp containing a genie, he might hold the solution to their problems. In your face, E-bay, your days are numbered.

5. The heir to the underwater throne is annoyed with a local crustacean for altering the tidal pattern and starts a turf war and . . . what? Oh, pawns, not prawns? Never mind.

6. Drytown is a dystopian hellhole in the desert, where the people are controlled by a fascist military dictator. Philip, son of the last of the desert's true monarchs, wants to fight for his kingdom as the rightful heir, but he's just sixteen and secretly loves the niece of the dictator, who is secretly in love with Philip. But to prove himself worthy of her he must complete an obstacle course that virtually guarantees his death and Jesus Christ, haven't we seen enough of these murder the teenager novels yet?
7. Prince--that's his given name--Phillips joins the chess club in an attempt to spend some one-on-one time with the girl he likes. They're so desperate for members that they don't care if he sometimes forgets how horsey pieces move. But then Prince's father wants him to prove it's not a sissy activity, or he'll ship Prince off to military school.

Original Version

Dear Name-Spelled-Correctly Agent,

Fifteen-year-old Prince Kyan has been preparing to become Creftenbaugh’s next king for as long as he can remember. A skilled debater with a gift for charming even the stodgiest of diplomats, he knows he can keep the kingdom peaceful and prosperous. But his quick-tempered identical twin brother, Sayled, wants the crown just as much as Kyan, and he’s been preparing just as hard. Kyan fears that if Sayled becomes king, he’ll lead the kingdom into war.

When King Rowden and his Council announce a series of five trials will determine Creftenbaugh’s next ruler, Kyan sees an opportunity to prove he deserves the crown. But there’s a twist – each prince will compete with nine criminals from the prisons, ordering them through the trials as a general would his troops. The trials will be dangerous, and as far as the King is concerned, criminals are expendable.

With Sayled trying to sabotage him at every turn, Kyan struggles to gain his prisoners’ loyalties. Sayled motivates his men with fear and violence, while Kyan offers his their freedom – and riches – if they work with him to win.

Enn, a twelve-year-old boy with sharp eyes and quick feet, plays a key role in Kyan’s first two victories. [Sayled gets nine prisoners on his team while Kyan gets nine prisoners plus a twelve-year-old kid? That's cheating, and Kyan should be disqualified.] But Kyan doesn’t know Enn is hiding two secrets – ‘he’ is really a ‘she’ named Enna, and before the third trial a notorious gambler blackmailed her with her sister’s life to ensure long-shot Sayled wins. Her ‘mistakes’ in the third and fourth trials bring Sayled even with Kyan. 

As the final trial begins with only a few survivors on each side, Kyan learns that Sayled is not his most dangerous enemy – someone on the Council wants both princes dead, and they’ve used dark magic to sabotage the trial. Unable to warn his father or stop the competition, Kyan must fight not only for the crown, but for his life.

Told in alternating points of view between Kyan and Enna, PRINCES AND PAWNS is a 70,000-word upper-middle-grade fantasy. Thank you for your time and consideration.


This is clear and well-written, but a bit long. What can we do without? For starters, you provide information that sounds like it might be important in the book, but whose importance isn't shown in the query. For instance, Kyan is a skilled debater with a gift for charming even the stodgiest of diplomats; the boy Enn is really a girl, Enna.

The two longest paragraphs introduce the characters and tell us their situation. They can be combined into one short paragraph, leaving more room for the plot: 

King Rowden has announced that a series of five trials will determine the heir to Creftenbaugh’s throne. Fifteen-year-old Prince Kyan will compete against his twin brother, the quick-tempered Sayled. Each prince will lead a team of nine criminals from the prisons, ordering them through the trials as a general would his troops.

There seem to be an unnecessarily large number of people involved in sabotaging the trials, considering that it could be decades before the winner actually becomes king. (Or is the king dying?) You've got Sayled trying to sabotage Kyan at every turn, a notorious gambler trying to rig the trials, someone on the Council wanting both princes dead, plus the gambler's pawn, Enna. It's almost as bad as the US presidential election. For the query, it's enough to tell us that someone's trying to rig the trials. Even in the book, maybe it's better for Sayled, rather than a gambler, to blackmail Enna.

A monarchy that decides the heir through trial rather than date and time of birth seems progressive, but it seems like if they're that progressive, they'd hold off on the trials till the princes were in their twenties. Again, is the king's death imminent?

Each prince has a team of adults to command in the trials. I don't see how a twelve-year-old kid ends up being the key to who wins each of the first four trials. Is Enna one of the prisoners? If not, what are the rules with regard to recruiting additional team members? If Kyan can recruit someone capable of influencing the outcome of every trial, Sayled should be allowed to recruit a brigade of mercenaries.

To me, the trials themselves are the most interesting part. If we eliminate Enna from of the query entirely (which also eliminates the root of my annoying questions), making the evil councilperson and Sayled the only villains, there'd be room to tell us what a couple of the trials are like.

Is the point of making the princes twins to give them the same birthday, thus requiring a means to choose an heir? Because monarchies are prepared for such an eventuality. Or did you make them twins so that one can easily impersonate the other?


Mister Furkles said...

Another possibility, for the book, is to have the King as the only one knowing which prince was born first. But now his condition is terminal and he suffers from dementia. He can’t tell them apart and sometimes doesn’t know who they are. So the council arranges the trial to be completed before the King succumbs.

Anonymous said...

It's nice that your MC will keep the kingdom peaceful while his brother might cause a war, but it seems irrelevant to both the plot of both princes directing prisoners and someone trying to kill them both.

It might help to mention whether the trial thing is a longstanding tradition.

The content seems to have a lot of death involved for middle grade. Knowing what the trials are (and possibly how they are judged) would help the agent know whether your categorizing your book correctly.

Good Luck

Chelsea P. said...

I love this. I would definitely request pages if I were an agent. The writing was both clear and engaging, and the prisoner aspect added a fun twist to the princes competing for the throne storyline. Also, FWIW, I liked the stuff about Enn being Enna and Kyan being a skilled debater. I felt it gave a good feeling of conflict and character.

I did have concerns about granting the criminals freedom and riches--IF they're violent criminals who would do terrible things with that freedom and money. Based on the details about Enna, I'm guessing the criminals are more likely teens who've stolen for their families (or something like that), so it’s not a huge issue. But I wonder if there’s some small way to clarify that in the query.

Also, it felt odd that Sayled and Enna are no longer relevant in the final paragraph, when the rest of the query is centered around them. I wonder if there’s a way to tie them back in. I’m guessing Kyan has to convince Enna and Sayled to work with him to defeat the Big Bad (maybe he even uses the aforementioned debate skills?), and if that’s true, I think that might work better as your final line. Otherwise, you’ve set up Sayled (and his influence on Enna) as the threat for the entire query, only for them to drop away when the bigger threat comes about.

Just my opinion, of course. This is definitely one of the better written queries I've read!

St0n3henge said...

I feel you've buried the lede. We've gone through the selection process, identical twins, criminals, and a boy who's really a girl, and then suddenly black magic, like it's an afterthought. I feel that if black magic is a possibility in this world it ought to be mentioned earlier.

In fact, it seems odd to go through with a trial at all if anyone involved knows magic. Seems they could simply use magic to divine who the next heir should be.
It would be helpful to know how many people know magic. If it's super unusual I would get them being oblivious. If everybody and his brother know it, then they should have expected this.

Anonymous said...

Knowing what these criminals are in prison for might alleviate any worries about your MC offering freedom and wealth to people who are just going to use the offered riches to further fund their criminal enterprises once they're back on the streets.

Anonymous said...

Author here! Thanks to all for the feedback; it’s much appreciated!

To answer some of the questions:

The King isn’t dying, but there is a ceremony on the future ruler’s 16th birthday so they have to figure out who that is. The twins’ birth had complications; Kyan was technically out first but Sayled drew breath before Kyan. There is a debate on the Council about the definition of ‘born’ and they're deadlocked in their votes, so the King comes up with the trials.

Enna is one of the nine prisoners – the princes initially each pick seven, so they select the strongest-looking ones thinking the trials will be physically grueling. Then the King surprises them by letting them each pick two more, but Sayled gets to pick for Kyan and vice versa. Sayled picks Enna for Kyan because she looks small and weak, but she ends up being useful because she’s observant and can run fast. But the princes can’t recruit extra people to help them. The way I phrased it in the query wasn’t very clear though.

Some of the prisoners are awful people (and in fact Kyan sends one back to the prisons rather than have him compete) but Chelsea you’re correct that most of them are younger non-violent offenders that are just trying to eke out a living however they can.

I will have to cut down on the amount of people trying to sabotage the trials in the query. My last line used to be “told in alternating points-of-view between the boy trying to win the crown and the one trying to stop him at any cost” and then I realized that wasn’t clear because it could be like three different people. And I need to work more on the magic as well, as that’s a big part of the book (only a small group of people can do magic. The King is trying to build an alliance with them but someone on the Council gets a few of them to turn. Whenever I tried to expand on the magic my query ballooned so I erred on the side of brevity. And perhaps sacrificed the clarity. Arrrrghhh….)

If I take Enna out of the query, will the fact that it’s told in dual POV’s look weird when I haven’t mentioned her? I don't want the agent to get to the end and think "Who the hell is THAT?!" or think that Sayled would obviously be the other POV, but on the off-chance I get requests for sample pages I don't want them to read and think, "Why did she never mention this was a dual POV book?!"

Again, thanks to everyone for taking a look and providing feedback. I’ll noodle on these suggestions and then post a revised version in the comments. And probably send in my first 250. You guys rock!!! If this ever gets published you’re all going in the acknowledgements.

Evil Editor said...

I don't consider the number of POVs a story is told from essential information in a query. Most stories are told from more than one POV. Your goal is to entice them to request pages. When you send the pages, you can include a note telling them all about the POV characters.