Monday, June 25, 2012

Face-Lift 1038

Guess the Plot

Princess of Swans

1. One word, people: were-swans. YOU'RE WELCOME.

2. Gina has always felt like the ugliest of ducklings. Now 27, she still hasn’t become a “swan.” With only 6 months until her best friend’s wedding she vows to be a princess of swans . . . if it’s the last thing she does.

3. Little Amberly is thrilled when a flock of swans settle into the pond at the neighborhood park. But that's before they start crapping all over the play equipment and chasing tiny children away from their territory. Turns out wild swans don't really want a princess.

4. When a witch turns Michael into a swan - a girl swan - the last thing he wants is anyone turning him back. But to hide, he's going to have to fly off the beaten migration path.

5. Taunted as a child, Cygnet never fit in. When she finally discovers the truth of her parentage, Cygnet rises to claim her birthright. Not only can ugly ducklings grow up to be swans – they can grow up to be princesses too.

6. The king of Amgovar keeps his disfigured daughter imprisoned in a tiny castle. Who wants to look at that face every day? But when her marriage to the prince of a neighboring kingdom is foretold, the princess escapes and goes to win her husband. Of course, he hasn't actually seen her yet... Plus, prophesies don't always come true, right?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

Princess Feyana Belmaron may be heir to the throne of Amgovar, but she’s no man’s idea of a prize.  For ten years, the king has confined his dark-skinned, disfigured daughter to a tiny, outland castle to shield her from the perils of court. [Readers are going to wonder what dark skin has to do with anything. My research reveals that the ugly duckling in Andersen's The Ugly Duckling was merely ugly, not dark-feathered. In fact, in cartoon versions, the ugly duckling is white, while the other ducklings are yellow.] The high stone walls protect Feyana from every danger but the one she fears most -- loneliness. [Doesn't she have a lady-in-waiting? Or at least one of those talking mirrors that tells her how fair she is?]

But when an injured volkarei foretells Feyana‘s marriage to the crown prince of Amgovar’s bitterest enemy, she upends the princess’s quiet life for good. [No wonder she's lonely if her only companion is an injured volkarei.] [Also, what's a volkarei? The closest Google can find is a Volkswagen beetle.] Such a marriage would not only free her from her isolation, but permanently end the war. [War? There's a war?] There’s only one catch: the prince likely has no idea Feyana exists, and prophecies aren’t always what they seem… [That's two catches.]

Unwilling to leave her people’s fate to chance, Feyana escapes her castle prison and ventures out to win the prince.  It won’t be easy. Pirates, soldiers, and thugs fill her path, all eager to get their hands on (or blades in) a renegade princess.  One of her newfound allies is a traitor; the other hides a dangerous secret. [Nice job of choosing allies, Princess. Reminds me of when Italy hooked up with Nazi Germany.] Even her prince may prove a threat. [Especially when he gets a look at her.] To save her country, the sheltered Feyana must first save herself -- and Dal help the monster who stands in her way. [Monster? There's a monster? ]

PRINCESS OF SWANS is a 105,000 word YA fantasy.  Thank you for your consideration.


Usually we say Dal help anyone who stands in her way. Is there a monster? If there's a monster, Feyana may yet have a shot at true love. Also, monsters belong in the first sentence, not the last. Something like: Princess of Swans is the story of a woman only a monster could love; conveniently, there happens to be a monster in the book.

Is this a take on The Ugly Duckling? It sounds more like a take on Beauty and the Beast. Where do the swans come in? In any case, it does sound like a fairy tale, and if it's really for a YA audience, you may need to make it sound more grown-up.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Some years ago in an Anchorage thrift shop I came across a little board book called, IIRC, The Black Duckling. It was the ugly duckling retold with the ugly duckling being black instead. The publisher was a religious press. Anyway it was... well-intentioned, I'm sure.

But that's by the by.

Not sure if this is a real story or not, but I agree, it sounds like middle grade rather than YA.

Hard 2 say anything else without knowing if this is a real query :).

Evil Editor said...

I will alert you when the fake queries appear. I'm giving priority to the real ones as long as I have fake plots for them.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Ah, okay! In that case:

Writer, I like the idea expressed in the penultimate paragraph. That sounds like a story I would want to read. It sounds like a protagonist who rides forth protagging. That's the story we all want to read.

The first two paragraphs are minus that feature. They show other people acting while your protagonist just kind of sits there. I get that you need to set up some background to explain why your protag is going out to kick A and take names, but you can do that in a sentence.

And speaking of names: character names should be memorable. Or at least memorizable. Between the place name and the protag name, I don't remember anything.

Finally, from the details you've provided in your query this does sound like MG and not YA. That's not major, however. I'm always insisting my stuff is YA and it sells as MG anyway.

104k is way too long for MG, though, and kind of long for YA.

150 said...

You have PIRATES and you don't mention them until paragraph three? PRIORITIES, PEOPLE.

Princess Feyana has been confined to a lonely castle since puberty, when it became clear she wasn't going to "grow into her looks" in a princessly way. But she's not ready to let her disfigurement stall her life. When an injured traveler spills a prophecy that Feyana will marry the son of her country's bitterest enemy, she packs her things and sets out to win her prince.

She's not the only one on his trail, and her father isn't going to let her go so easily...then you just repeat the word "PIRATES" until the end, sign off cheerfully, and wait for the offers to come rolling in.

Tk said...

Really like 150's version!

Princess Sara said...

Thank you for the comments, they've been extremely helpful. Yes, this is most definitely YA, not MG, but I see why my query doesn't do a good job of conveying that. Argh.

I'll get right on revising this so it (A) doesn't bury the lede so badly and (B) doesn't come across as The Ugly Duckling with pirates. (Although, come to think of it...I would read that.)

khazar-khum said...

Disfigured? In what way? Does she have hair all over her body, like the wolf boys? Is she missing her nose? What, exactly, is wrong? And does the story emphasize that her looks have nothing to do with her character?

Sara said...

Yes, this is a real query, if a bad one. Thanks for all the helpful comments.

It is definitely YA, not MG, but I can see how the query misrepresents that. It's also not The Ugly Duckling with pirates (although, come to think of it, I would read that). Argh. Revision time, for sure.

(In conclusion: Pirates. And, yes, a monster. News at eleven, once I stop burying the lede.)

sarahhawthorne said...

Overall I thought this was pretty strong. It's a book I would definitely want to read.

Agree with Alaska that you can get to Feyana's action a little earlier. 150's revision is great. Then you have room to flesh out the action and give us some hints to Feyana's character arc. Is this story about her winning the respect of her people? Is it about learning leadership and politics? Or is it a straight up swashbuckler?

Incidentally, I would leave in the word 'volkerai.' It goes towards world-building, indicates that we're in what I assume is a Russian-esque fairy tale.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I was thinking more of "The Ugly Duckling" meets Till We Have Faces.

(Best book about an ugly princess ever written. Really left nothing more to say on the subject. Except, possibly, PIRATES.)

I'm kinda sorry to hear it's YA, because YA is becoming a vast wasteland. You don't want a girl protag who protags there. You want a girl protag who gets all weak-kneed and sappy at the sight of a boy. Preferably a boy with bugger-all to recommend him.


150's and AA's queries are always brilliant. They should go into business.

150 said...

150's and AA's queries are always brilliant. They should go into business.

You would not say this if you knew which of the past queries were actually mine. :(

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Well, you should still go into business. You could write other people's queries. Hire other people to write yours.

'S funny... before the advent of the internets, and specifically the writernets, the query just wasn't the Holy Grail it is now. And there weren't nearly so many ways to do it wrong.

sarahhawthorne said...

I love love love "Til We Have Faces"! One of my favorite books ever.

Ambee said...

GTP #1 made my day. I like the sound of this book and hope the author has luck with querying. :) I too would like to know what swans have to do with the story.

Rachel6 said...

"You don't want a girl protag who protags there. You want a girl protag who gets all weak-kneed and sappy at the sight of a boy. Preferably a boy with bugger-all to recommend him." Gah. I may or may not be quietly adoring from about a million miles below you. IT'S SO TRUE. That's why I read the oldies. Like 'Till We Have Faces'.

I like the story! To me, it felt like a little bit of Shannon Hale (excellent feeling, author!) and it reads like it'll be a fun story. I'd read the book now based on the present query, but I'd also love to see it more YA than MG. Partly just to read more....

Also, I loved volkerai. What's a volkerai?

Evil Editor said...

I don't know what it is, but the two people who've commented that they like it couldn't spell it.

A. M. Perkins said...

I agree with Ezzie on GTP#1. Were-swans had me laughing at my desk (thank goodness no one else is here yet).

Just a thought - if literal swans have nothing to do with your book, you may want to consider changing the title. It definitely has the "fairy tale" feel (I'm assuming intentionally), but "fairy tale" makes the book look younger, and since you're aiming YA...

I have to say, the first paragraph really turned me off. The very first line - "she's no man's idea of a prize" - had me thinking she's this evil, cruel, castrating harpy. Nope, she's just disfigured by an accident or birth. I'm sure this wasn't your intention, but my initial thought? "Wow, that's actually insulting to her AND to men."

Do I know superficial men? Of course. Do I know men who value a woman's inner qualities over the outer shell? You betcha.

Then one of her negative qualities is that she's dark-skinned? comment.

Overall, it sounds like an interesting story - one I'd probably read - but that opening left a sour taste in my mouth.

none said...

She's been locked up in teh equivalent of a convent all her life, yet whenever people see her, they go, "HEY! It's the renegade princess!" Does she carry a sign? Does she tell people who barely know she exists that she's a princess and they *believe* her? If it's causing problems, why the heck does she tell them? Is it stamped on her forehead? Has she considered a disguise?

Not sure how I got past the first sentence, to be honest, as it put my back up no end. After I calmed down, I got to the second sentence.

Then she escapes her prison on the promise of a prince. Clearly then she could have escaped at any time. Yet didn't. So up until now she's been perfectly happy to 'leave her people's fate to chance'.

She's really not coming across as a sympathetic character.

It may be there's absolutely nothing wrong with the book. It could be a great book. A princess on a quest! But the presentation is problematic for me. You're using the external male gaze when you should be inside the character's view of the world.

Princess Sara said...

Okay, here's the revision:

Twenty-year-old Feyana Belmaron – the first ever female Prince of Swans, heir to the throne of Amgovar – should be the most powerful woman alive. Instead, she is a prisoner. After a wartime disaster killed the queen and irreparably scarred Feyana’s face, Feyana’s father confined her to an isolated castle to keep her safe until the end of the war. Fifteen years later, the princess wonders whether peace will ever arrive.

So when an injured volkari lets slip a prophecy that Feyana will marry the prince of her country’s enemy, the princess escapes the castle to find him and end the war for good. Pirates and soldiers stalk Feyana’s path, eager to get their hands on – or blades in – the renegade princess. A legendary monster lurks beneath the mountains, and the volkari of the forest don’t take kindly to human travelers. Even the prince himself may be a threat. To save her country, the sheltered Feyana must first learn to save herself...or she’ll lose much more than just her freedom.

Evil Editor said...

First of all, the original spelled it volkarei, then two people commented on it, spelling it Volkerai, and now you're spelling it volkari. Ten to one it's spelled at least three different ways in the book. Maybe you should make up a word that's easier to spell.

The last paragraph is a list of dangers: pirates, soldiers, volkari, monster, the prince. Lists are boring. I'd go with: Finding the prince means crossing the mountains and braving the forest, but a legendary monster lurks beneath the mountains, and the volkari of the forest don’t take kindly to human travelers. This cuts the list to two items. It also opens up some room for other information and shows the relevance of the monster sentence. If we don't know she has to get by the mountains, we don't know why you're bringing up the monster.

Even if injured volkari are the only volkari whose prophecies come true, we don't know that, so we don't need to know the volkari is injured.

Does she have to be a prisoner? Can't she just agree that for her own safety she should stay in the castle, thus allowing her to leave instead of having to escape?

Princess Sara said...

It's spelled exactly one way in the book. Find and replace is a glorious tool. Based on the confusion people were having with the spelling, I tried to simplify it (hence the change in this revision).

I like your suggestion regarding the list. That definitely reads better.

Striking "injured" is easy enough.

In the novel her father outright refuses to let her leave, forcing her to escape over the wall. Escape is the correct word.

Thank you for your feedback, it has been very, very helpful!

Evil Editor said...

Hey, I was joking about the spelling. But if we're gonna discuss it, find and replace doesn't work unless you try every possible way the word could be spelled wrong. Did you you use find and replace to change all the places you spelled it velcro?

If my father told me told me to go to my room and said I was absolutely forbidden to come out, and I came out three hours later, I wouldn't say I "escaped." My point being, if the princess could have gone over the wall anytime but chose not to until she had the prince incentive... Even if she's a prisoner in the book, she doesn't need to be in the query. The view we have of a father who puts his daughter in a safe house isn't the same as the view we have of a father who imprisons his daughter.

Now that you've revealed the princess is 20 years old, I'm not sure why it's specifically for the YA audience.

Princess Sara said...

I searched for "volk" and hoped for the best. I'm in the process of rereading and spot editing, so if I catch any instances of "velcro," I'll first be highly amused, then make the appropriate changes. (Or maybe I'll just change the name to velcro everywhere else. Hmmm, possibilities.)

You've convinced me to drop the "prisoner" reference. That makes sense to me, and I certainly don't want the query to be confusing.

As for genre, I started out calling it adult fantasy, but my critique partners unanimously insisted it was YA. Is there a hard-and-fast rule distinguishing YA and adult? I've asked other writers about it, but I haven't gotten much more of a response than "I know it when I see it."

Latest revision:

"Twenty-year-old Feyana Belmaron--Amgovar's first female Prince of Swans and sole heir to the country's throne--should be the most powerful woman alive. Instead, she lives in isolation. After a wartime disaster killed the queen, Feyana’s father confined her to a distant castle to keep her safe until the end of the war. Fifteen years later, the princess doubts that peace will ever arrive.

But when a winged volkari witch foretells Feyana's marriage to the crown prince of the enemy nation, the princess ventures out to find him and end the war for good. To reach him, she'll have to cross hundreds of miles of hostile territory, evading the pirates and soldiers who stalk her path. Her only allies, an impish thief and a part-time monster, can't stand each other--and worse, one of them is a traitor. Before she can save her country, the sheltered Feyana must first learn to save herself...or she'll become Amgovar's highest ranking casualty."

Anonymous said...

Volkkari is Finnish for the Volkswagen Beetle :)

I don't think you need the word in the query if you have winged witch.

Alaska is the YA expert, but I wonder if the key element isn't some sort of coming of age thing - perhaps you need to emphasize her angsty growing up/into herself. The revisions have been moving away from that - it's hard because you want her to be take-charge, but can you also show "sheltered" in a more emotional way so the agent sees the character arc too?


After a wartime disaster badly injured Feyana, her father confined her to a distant castle to keep her safe until the end of the war. Fifteen years later, the princess doubts that peace will ever arrive - or that she'll ever play a part in making it happen.

T.K. Marnell said...

I like the revised versions. The one sticking point for me in the original was that it put a lot of emphasis on the poor little princess's lack of beauty, as if that was the reason she was locked up and the catalyst for her adventures. Throughout history, most aristocracy has been ugly as sin, and it never bothered them--the obscene amounts of money and militant power were enough to compensate. I just hope the characters in the novel are sensible about it--one would think that if you have the opportunity to annex a powerful nation and end a war just by signing a marriage certificate, a tan and a scar or two wouldn't stop you.

Princess Sara said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you all for your continued comments. This query is already head and shoulders above where it started.

My latest revision, taking the most recent comments into account:

"As the first female Prince of Swans, Feyana Belmaron should be the most powerful woman in her country. Instead, she lives in isolation. After a wartime disaster killed Feyana's mother, the king confined his daughter to an isolated castle to keep her safe until the end of the war. Ten years later, the princess doubts that peace will ever arrive--or that she'll ever have a chance to serve her people.

So when a winged volkari witch prophecies that Feyana will marry the enemy nation's own crown prince, the princess ventures out to find and woo him. Such a marriage of heirs would not only end Feyana's seclusion from power, but unite the warring countries for good. But her path to the altar runs through hundreds of miles of hostile territory, full of pirates, soldiers, and thieves long since angered by her father's policies--and eager to revenge themselves on his naive, sheltered heir. Unless Feyana can prove herself a worthy leader, she could lose a lot more than just her freedom.

She could lose the war."

Tk said...

Sara, like I'm saying to KC (#1039) - thank you, thank you for bravely sharing so many rewrites. It's been fantastic to read your process and far more educational than just looking at one version and the critiques on it.

Plus, they have got better each time and this one is great, with a zingy ending. I liked it best yet.

P.S. prophesizes not prophecies

Evil Editor said...

Go with prophesies, not prophesizes. And certainly not prophecies, which is a noun.

Is she the princess of swans or the prince of swans? Calling the book Princess of Swans, and calling Feyana a female prince of swans is confusing. What's her official title? Would you call the 1st male heir a male princess if the previous heirs had all been girls?