Monday, November 02, 2009

Face-Lift 693

Guess the Plot

Shadows and Dust

1. All through his childhood, Simon Jones felt a stark, unreasoning dread at the thought of the locked door at the end of the corridor. Now, he stands before it, the key in his hand - but what will he find, when he goes through into the disused attic?

2. Granny's house had been boarded up for years--then Granny appears from the dusty house, 100% zombified. It's pretty hard to fight a zombie that feeds you cookies before eating your brains.

3. After teleporting into a distant empire and being captured as a slave, Kale dreams of leading the other slaves in revolt, and then returning to his own kingdom to destroy its rulers. Can one slave pull it off, or will his dreams be rendered . . . shadows and dust?

4. Jeanette McCray has had an effect on her family for the last fifty years, unnoticed until her distant cousin Iris shows up. The spirited girl soon notices that she's losing ambition, no longer wants to go to cosmetic college. Like all around Jeanette, Iris finds her dreams are turning to . . . shadows and dust.

5. Carefree surfer Melody is totally psyched to learn that she's inherited her grandma's old house - especially when Grandma leaves her a note saying the contents of the house are magical! Sweet! But then she's totally bummed when she gets there and the house is empty. Or is it?

6. Spring cleaning is Ernestina Wriggley's favorite event: attacking a year's accumulation of grime cleanses her soul as well as her house. This year, the dirt fights back with every slight, sin and broken inhibition Ernestina has shed over the past 50 years.

Original Version

Since the age of ten, Kale has trained as a Guardian, one of the men and women who rule over the Seven Kingdoms while protecting the world from the demonic Valren. Though many of the other novices disdain him for his peasant birth, Prince Astlonn befriends him. Kale grows dissatisfied with their lessons, which center more on keeping the peasantry down than on the magic and swordplay he anticipated. [I think if you're gonna give your main character a vegetable name, you should carry the green theme through with all your people and places:

Since the age of ten, Kale has trained as a Guardian, one of the men and women who rule over Romaine while protecting the world from the demonic Arugula. Though many of the other novices disdain Kale for his peasant birth, Prince Radicchio befriends him.]

Near the end of his training, Kale finds writings by former High Guardians, hidden in a magically sealed room. He shares his shocking discovery with Astlonn--the Valren aren't real. The Guardians use the imaginary demons as a threat to cement their power. Before Kale can use his new knowledge, [Use it for what?] Astlonn betrays and attacks him. Kale casts a desperate spell that saves him, but it also teleports him into the distant Azal [Iceberg] Empire. There, without the sacred drink that powers magic, [Green Goddess salad dressing] he's taken [collard] as a slave.

His determination to destroy the Guardians does not falter, but he soon discovers that [slaves aren't granted leaves of absence for such missions, and that] the Azal Empire has its own problems. [For one thing, the cole slaw supply is dangerously low. Also,] The slaves' plight is worse than that of the Kingdoms' peasants; he cannot ignore their need. [Especially now that he's one of them.] As Kale sets in motion a plan to free the slaves, [The slaves have been slaves for decades and haven't come up with anything, but the new guy has a foolproof plan in an hour and a half?] he learns that more is at stake. Astlonn has become High Guardian, and his plans to [turn all the cabbage to sauerkraut and] unite the world under his rule start in Azal. [There's only one hope: Lettuce pray.] [Ba dum ching.]

SHADOWS AND DUST is complete at 88,000 words. Thank you for your time.


Kale teleports in from a distant land and becomes a slave, but gets updates on what Astlonn is up to? These slaves have a pretty good communication network. How much time passes while Kale is a slave?

It seems like if you have been trained in casting spells you could find one that thwarts an attacker without teleporting you to a distant empire. Or that once there you would use another spell to teleport out before your last sacred drink wears off and you get enslaved.

I was kidding about using all the veggies, but now that I think about it, it's a little more interesting that way.


Stick and Move said...

Lettuce pray. I'll be chuckling all day long. Thank you, Evil One.

_*rachel*_ said...

You know that part in Meet the Robinsons where Wilbur's making Lewis wear a hat and then says, "Dude, I can't take you seriously in that hat." It's a fruit hat.

In other words, the comments were so hilarious I had to copy and paste this into word and take out the veggies to concentrate on the query. Ahem:

"Prince Astlonn befriends him." To make this sentence structurally better, I'd change it to, "he finds a close friend in Prince Astlonn."

Astlonn's betrayal seems a little sudden, but it's probably hinted at in the story and I can leave it alone here.

"he cannot ignore their need," sounds a bit awkward. It's not too bad, but if you can rephrase that more smoothly, it might help.

"is at stake. Astlonn has become...." I'd change it to a ":" instead of ".", because I like the sentence structure better.

I'm a bit confused about the nomenclature of the different kingdoms, mostly because Seven Kingdoms implies multiple places and I originally thought Azal was part of it. Also, Empire implies a similar organization.

Critiquing done, I think this is a good query. It's generally a good thing when names are more easily mocked than characters and their decisions.

I don't agree with EE about the spell backfiring. Everyone makes mistakes, and Kale isn't fully trained anyway. He's got to figure out a spell to save his skin, and he doesn't have much time; messing up isn't that surprising.

The same goes for not being able to get back. It's not all that uncommon for magic/superpowers/Vulcan Mind Melds to wear out the doer. He just released enough magic to propel him thousands of miles away--of course he's going to be confused about where he is (after all, he didn't intend to transport that far) and too weak to do magic. I'd be surprised if he wasn't.

EE's question about the messaging is good, though. How can Kale tell what's going on and what Astlonn is planning?

Anonymous said...

When you use made-up names, it's always a good idea to google them to find out if that's already a word to other people, and if so, learn what it means to them.

The vegetable names add considerable charm to this. Why? Because although you used several classic plot elements the gibberish names evoke no imagery and the rest of the description is too general to distinguish your project from its competition.

_*rachel*_ said...

All sorts of words mean random things, and you can't always prepare for it. You can, however, remember not to say "peach" when you're in Turkey.

I think Kale is a decent name. Not so sure about Astlonn, though.

Dave Fragments said...

I have a few questions.

How old is Kale that he is still taking lessons? The plot doesn't seem to be YA and the friendships don't seem to depend on age. But Kale in my mind can be anything from 15 to 50 years old and Prince Astlonn

Which brings me to judgmental point #1: Prince Astlonn! That's way, way, way to close to Aslan of Narnia. If he's blond with shaggy hair, you really are in deep rhubarb.

I think that this is your hook and the opening of the query.
Near the end of his training, Kale finds writings by former High Guardians, hidden in a magically sealed room. He shares his shocking discovery with Astlonn--the Valren aren't real. The Guardians use the imaginary demons as a threat to cement their power.

Something more exciting like this:
Kale, defender of the empire, discovers that the demon threat against the empire is false and to escape death at the hands of Prince Astlonn, Kale flees to another galazy.

As bad as Astlonn is, I could live with reading it but "galaxy?" Wow. The nearest galaxies are something like 170,000 light years away. Not only that, there are 200 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way. Personally, when I write stories on other planets, I pick stars out -- Aldebaran, Betelguese, Sirius, Castor, Pollux -- names like that. Pick a better descriptor than just "galaxy." SCI-Fi's Stargate picked the Andromeda Galaxy.

The story sounds reasonable -- a magic sword and sorcery adventure to free slaves and stop oppression. The query is a little flat.

And EE, this is one of your better commentaries.

Evil Editor said...

Um, the "galaxy" is in your version, Dave, not the author's.

Dave Fragments said...

OOPS, I misread galaxy and that got me started. Sorry about that.

How about an opening something like this:
Once a gifted magician and soldier in the NAME? Empire, Kale must free the slaves and become ruler of the Azul Empire where he was banished in order to save his beloved NAME? from the lies and oppression of the evil Prince Astlonn.

Naming the fake demons in the query doesn't do the reader much good. It's Kale's story and Kale's adventure and Kale's struggles that the reader has to come to know and love.

I also think a single mention of "the sacred drink that powers magic" causes more questions than it gives answers and meaning to the query. It is simple enough to say that in Azul, Kale is powerless and made a slave.

BTW EE, in the seventh episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, blancmanges from the planet Skyron in the Andromeda galaxy invade earth. And we all know, Bob, what a blancmanges is!

Faceless Minion said...

Out of curiosity, why do the rulers need imaginary demons to keep the peasantry oppressed?

Why start world domination in Azal? You say it's a distant country. Most empire builders start with their neighbors.

If this is adequately explained in the book, I would suggest not labeling Azal as distant in the query.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I'm not being political but to answer Faceless Minion's qeustion, various political parties in the USA have Communists, Castro Cubans, terrorists, liberals and environmentalists as unseen enemies. Not to mention gay, blacks, liberals and the Irish.

And certain Islamic speakers have demonized westerners and infidels over the years.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

I agree with Anon 12:35. While this is all working on a technical level, there's not a lot of specifics to set your book apart.

Just to pick an example, your phrase that the Guardians' lessons are about "keeping the peasantry down". It's not really an academic subject. Exactly what are Kale and the other Guardians learning to do? Levy taxes? Break up mobs?

(And for that matter, why would a society so stratified allow a peasant like Kale into the Guardians anyway?)

Another point that could use some clarification: if Kale can't do magic, how does he "set a plan in motion" to free an entire nation worth of slaves? Just rephrasing the sentence to give us a hint would be appreciated.

Faceless Minion said...

The current population of the USA has education, mass-communication devices, prosperity, and freedom (such as they are).

How oppressed is the population in this kingdom? Do they have any education? How does information spread? Are the peasants living hand-to-mouth with most energy being used in obtaining food and shelter? Are they even remotely aware that such things as "freedom" exist?

Unless magic/technology has given this version of fantasy land a fairly earth-modern outlook on life (or if they had one in the past) I don't think that non-existant bogeys would be necessary to oppress the population. Which is why I asked.

Faceless Minion said...

Apologies to anyone confused by my comments at 6:54. I was responding to Anonymous at 5:35.

Joanna said...

I'd read this book. Using the threat of an imaginary enemy to keep the peasantry down sounds like plausible empire behavior to me. And it says that Kale 'sets in motion' a plan to free the slaves, not that he comes up with it...either way would be interesting. I do think cutting the magic-powering drink would help.

Tolkien used Region and Celebrant as specific place names, and that seems to work even though they have English meanings; Kale seems OK to me.

Marie Simas said...

This blog is hilarious. I had no idea "Kale" was a name. Kale is what my family puts in soup.

mb said...

I think you did a very good job of laying out the plot in a short space. What would help now is to add a hint of Kale's character,what drives him, why we should root for him. As someone just said to me last week, you've got the "what happens." All you need is the "so what?"

Unknown said...

There's a lot of set up which leaves you with a line or two to explain what Kale is doing in the other world.

Start where the story does - Kale finds the writings and confronts the Prince about the false demons. Now Kale's freind turns against him and Kale uses magic to defend himself. But in his haste, he gets something wrong and is zapped to another world and made a slave.

NOW you can tell me how he manages to get back and stop the bad prince. Also, some hint of Kale's age would be great so I know if this is YA and he's trained for 5 years or he's had 40 years of training, in which case I'm less likely to forgive the messed up spell.

EE- your comments kept me smiling all day. Priceless.

_*rachel*_ said...

Not that a country can't be peaceful and nice, but having an enemy serves to unify a country and prompt patriotism, higher endurance of hardships, and advancement. Think of the US in WWII or the Cold War. Nations are most unified when they're threatened.

This makes the imaginary demons an ingenious, if unethical, tool. If people believe they have to work hard and accept oppression to save the world from demons, that's going to seem like a pretty good deal.

I don't condone people who do this, but they've got brains. Mostly.

Marissa Doyle said...

I'm still chortling at the slave getting collard line.

Faceless Minion said...

About the name, Rapunzel works why not Kale? Kale is also a real name found in baby name books and on baby name websites.

The imaginary demons seem like a Rube Goldberg plot device. Yes, it works, but if the government needs an enemy it's easier to point at the kingdom's neighbors and point out that they talk, dress, and act funny, and they keep slaves.

Full disclosure -- I'm currently reading a story where the people running the kingdom have told everyone for decades/centuries that a minority race from the mountains are demons and therefore it's completely justified to oppress, enslave, and kill them on a whim. I just realized that may be why I'm curious about why the demons here are imaginary.

I find it ironic that Kale is undermining the stability of the kingdom where he's a slave just in time for his enemy to invade.

Evil Editor said...

I did not suggest changing the name "Kale." In fact, if you had read carefully you'd have noticed that I encouraged using Kale, as well as other vegetable names.

frapoBlue said...

Yey! Can i read the book where the veggies fight? J/k. i actually loved the query with veggies in it :P

K. Andrew Smith said...

This is my query. I'll go through some of the comments and reply.


My revision will definitely include information about how Kale discovers Astlonn's plan.


The Seven Kingdoms can be compared to the US. It's seven different kingdoms, each with their own nobility and laws, united under the Guardians.

Dave F.:

Kale is 20 when he finds the writings. The Guardian training starts at age 10, when every child in the Kingdoms is tested for magical ability.

Faceless Minion @3:07:

Astlonn's plans start in Azal because the only other country (Culoth) is currently an equal match for the Guardians. I'll probably remove mention of "distant" in the query.

Sarah from Hawthorne:

If I take the time to explain how the Guardians repress the peasantry, don't you think it would focus too much on backstory? I know I want to show not tell even in a query, but I don't think I can do that for every detail.

As for why Kale became a Guardian despite being a peasant, it's because he can use magic. All children in the Seven Kingdoms are tested at the age of 10, and any that pass the test become Guardians.

Faceless Minion @6:54:

I can't really go into the why of the Valren without ruining the ending of the book, which from what I understand is the job of the synopsis, not the query.

Thanks for the comments, everybody.

Faceless Minion said...

Hi Author!

Thanks for sharing and good luck with this.

Personally I'm hoping the demons turn out to be real after they're exposed as fakes and come out to slaughter everyone. Guess I'll have to read the book to find out :)

Jeb said...

Prince Radicchio is an awesome name for a character.

Too bad I can't fit him into my next story for the World War Z fan-fic blog, but there are apparently limits even to my creative powers.

Good suggestions here, author, about cutting to the chase. It will still be a fairly formulaic fantasy novel, but at least we'll have a narrative to envision.

mb said...

author: you said you "can't really go into the why of the Valren without ruining the ending of the book" But maybe you can hint strongly that there's a really interesting "why" there?