Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Face-Lift 1288

Guess the Plot

The Feast of Masks

1. As the kingdom of Galailia prepares for the sumptuous Feast of Masks, at which every maiden of age is matched with whatever noble chooses her, one feisty, raven-haired countess thinks she's beat the system by sending a shape-shifting goblin in her place . . . until her secret crush picks the goblin.

2. Only one woman can prevent a dragon from augmenting its power and laying waste to the city during the Feast of Masks festival. But in doing so, will she become an even greater threat than the dragon? Also, in the broad scheme of things, does it really matter?

3. When the Queen of Al Laheria dies, a Feast of Masks is held to choose her successor. All women between the ages of 13 and 30 are required to attend. Rabinah desperately hopes to be chosen. But with 5000 other girls attending, how can she increase her chances of being chosen and escaping poverty? Also, why should readers care?

4. Nothing is what it seems, there's an elusive secret, and a young serving boy must make a terrifying choice that will change the course of the armistice banquet: red wine? or white?

5. A new fad diet has taken the world by storm. It turns out plastic Halloween masks have half the carbs of a slice of bread. Little does the public know that this is the dastardly new scheme of mad scientist Dr Petar Vlodstolk, whose wife has recently opened a costume shop. He doesn't want to see her become depressed after yet another failed business.

6. Everyone who's anyone was invited, but when the guests remove their masks at the end of the Feast of Masks, they find their faces have changed. They all look exactly like their masks. It's a total disaster . . . Although you don't hear the woman who wore the Kate Middleton mask complaining.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Years ago, Tali Adilrein abandoned the practices of the dragon path and sealed away the destructive magic they gave her.

When Tali rescues the Commissioner of Customs’ niece from smugglers, she's hired as the girl’s bodyguard. Her none-too-happy client is a dragon treasure: Her gifts can catalyze spells for those on the dragon path. Her life can augment the power of a dragon. [Meaning the dragon must kill her or just use her?] [Is the girl "none-to-happy" because she's a dragon treasure or because she's stuck with a bodyguard?]

The smugglers awoke an imprisoned dragon. It's influencing them to bring it treasure to fuel its magic. When it acquires sufficient power, it will lay waste to the city. [
Not clear whether the smugglers woke the dragon while trying to abduct the girl, or had awakened the dragon previously, and were trying to abduct the girl for the dragon.]

The dragon spreads its influence to one of Tali's allies. [Unlike Tali's alleys, Tali's allies is a good tongue twister.] [Also, what do mean by Tali's allies? Allies against what enemy?] It hunts her client with magical flames. Tali returns to the dragon path to protect the girl. In doing so, she may become as great a threat as the dragon. 

The Feast of Masks is a stand-alone fantasy adventure with series potential, complete at 111K words. I’m currently working on another book set in the same world.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Was Tali in the bodyguard business before she rescued the girl?

The last two plot paragraphs need more sentence variety. Those short sentences read like an outline. 

 Maybe it would be better to start with the dragon:

When smugglers inadvertently awaken an imprisoned dragon, the creature compels them to bring it treasures to fuel its magic. If it acquires sufficient power, it will lay waste to the city. 

One powerful "dragon treasure" is Jane Doe. The smugglers abduct her, but Jane is rescued by Tali Adilrein, a woman who years ago abandoned the practices of the dragon path and sealed away the destructive magic they gave her. Tali is immediately hired by Jane's uncle as her bodyguard.

As the dragon hunts her new client with magical flames, Tali reluctantly returns to the dragon path to protect the girl. But in doing so, she may become as great a threat as the dragon. 

That introduces your main character in the second paragraph, which isn't ideal, but it also gets the setup into paragraph 1 instead of P3. And it leaves room to add a bit more information, perhaps showing more about the new threat the dragon brings besides "magical flames." 

Not sure we need to know Jane is the niece of the Commissioner of Customs, as we don't know whether that's an important position like adviser to the king, or a minor position like  supervisor of mail carriers. Just knowing the dragon needs her is enough.


Anonymous said...

I'm confused on the timeline. What I've got is, the smugglers abducted the CoC's niece for typical smuggler reasons (like a ransom) and inadvertently awakened a dragon during the abduction, and lo! it turns out the niece is just the sort of girl the dragon needs to acquire power. Anyway, Tali rescued the girl from the smugglers, so what role do they have now? Is the dragon trying to compel them to get the girl back and bring her to him?

"The smugglers awoke an imprisoned dragon" is an interruption in tense that should be changed to something like "The smugglers have awakened an imprisoned dragon." Since it's also a significant plot turn, I'd preface it with something like "It turns out that" or "To worsen matters."

The dragon's "influence" is vague and reads like managerese. I realize fantasy queries can get so packed with magical devices and proper names that they get unnavigable, but I might make this "influence" more tangible. What exactly is the dragon doing?

I'm not a fantasy fan, but this seems to be a salable set of characters and conflicts.

Tk said...

EE’s rewrite makes it much clearer for me what is happening. But what is the dragon path?

Anonymous said...

I struggled with "dragon path." It just sounds odd to me; almost as if one would shout the word "DRAGON" and then apologetically whisper "path" after it.

Then I wondered why Tali gave up her powers in the first place, and why they're called dragon powers. What does one do if one has dragon powers? Turn into a dragon? Is she fighting a real dragon or someone who turned into a dragon?

Dragons are cool, but I don't know if I want to get involved with this story yet.

Matt said...

EE's rewrite is perfect. I'd read that.

Nice pawnbroker fakeout in Guess the Plot #3.

InkAndPixelClub said...

I feel like the story isn't progressing in a logical way yet. We jump from Tali abandoning whatever the dragon path is and whatever cool powers come with it to Tali being hired as a bodyguard to her client's also coincidentally dragon and path related powers to the smugglers who tried to abduct the client to the dragon they woke up at some point to One of Tali's mysterious allies who is being influenced by the dragon. Only after all of this do we get anything that directly relates to the magic powers Tali abandoned, which is where the query started.

Near as I can tell, your story is about a woman who gave up her magical powers years ago due to some drawback having to call upon those powers once again to defeat a dragon. Try to rewrite the query so everything in it fleshes out that story. What are Tali's powers and why did she seal them away? What might happen if she starts using her powers again? What will happen if she doesn't? Once you've got that, you can decide if details like the dragon path, the smugglers, and Tali's allies are necessary for the query.

I'm not sure what it means to hunt someone with magical flames. Dragons generally use flames to set things on fire. Are the flames seeking out the dragon treasure and showing the dragon where she is? Do the flames chase Tali and her client and herd them towards the dragon? How are magical flames different from regular flames?

Author said...

Thanks much for all the insights. This is very helpful.
I'm going to answer a few questions in hopes of hearing opinions as to whether some of this information should be included on the next rewrite, or if anyone thinks a different angle might work better.

Tali works for a primitive security organization before she's hired as a bodyguard. When I set it up, I was thinking dime-novel Pinkertons.

The niece is unhappy about being saddled with a bodyguard. Her bodyguards have a tendency to die for subplot reasons. Would it be better not to bring it up?

The smugglers find the dragon in a cache of ancient artifacts before the book starts. They don't know they've found a dragon since it's in a magical prison which looks like another odd artifact, and they don't realize they're following suggestions made by the dragon. They think they're kidnapping the niece for smuggler reasons. The book starts at the kidnapping. Part of the plot is the good guys discovering what's behind the festival getting more out of hand than usual. They don't realize there's a dragon till ~3/4 of the way through.

Dragon magic is fueled off items that people consider valuable, e.g. gold, jewels, etc. Cue rash of burglaries. People like the niece can make any item into treasure for a dragon they're compatible with at a cost to themselves, or the dragon can eat them for a large power boost, so both used and/or killed. The niece is compatible with any dragon, which is unusual. She's bait, er, subplot which I can go into if it'll be useful.

Tali's allies is shorthand for the other people who help hunt down the dragon.

The dragon path is a set of esoteric practices which gives people dragon magic and will eventually turn them into dragons.

I will now spend a few hours avoiding thinking about my mess of subplots by composing tongue twisters with "Tali's allies".
Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

"They don't realize there's a dragon till ~3/4 of the way through."
Do you withhold this knowledge from the good guys while sharing it with the reader? I'd like more info, because I'm not sure if this is a mystery story and whether you could build some suspense in your query. Does Tali reluctantly return to the dragon path 3/4 of the way through the book?

And what's "the festival"? (It would be nice if you told us just what the Feast of Masks is.) Are the smugglers lugging the dragon around the whole time, including while they've got the niece? Is he communicating with them telepathically? Are the good guys simply trying to keep things from "getting out of hand" until they find out what's really going on?

Tali now seems to be tougher that I first thought, wresting the niece from the smugglers even though the smugglers are being telepathically controlled by a dragon that's getting more powerful by the minute.

I'd still like to know what's happening on your 111k words.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I should try writing the query for it as a mystery. I like EE's rewrite, but I'd also like to get the MC into P1.

The Feast of Masks is a large week-long festival/trade fair with masked revelries. The city tends to get a large amount of visitors for the duration. Need more than that?

Tali returns to the dragon path ~1/2 way through when the magic attacks get bad enough she needs to fight back the same way. She originally left because using dragon magic get pricey in more ways than one.

The artifact the dragon's caged in is too big to lug around, but the dragon has range for its influence after the smugglers get close enough. The dragon's not powerful enough to control them directly at first, that's why the smugglers think they're kidnapping the girl for smuggler reasons. It can read surface-level thoughts and make suggestions. As it grows stronger it can control the smugglers directly and they become expendable since its also got its own spells and can get more minions. It's slightly cautious in its actions since it doesn't know what happened to the people who caged it originally.

I've got hopefully enough clues that some disparate-seeming attacks are actually related, so the reader should be picking up on things being connected. I tried to make it so the reader would figure out there's a dragon behind everything a bit before the good guys do. The good guys are trying to find the smugglers, trace the problem-causing artifacts from the cache, keep the girl safe, etc.

Probably more than you want to know. Thanks for the interest and ideas.

Tk said...

Thanks for explaining what the path is about. I think your idea of a disguised trapped dragon is interesting and worthy of being in the query; it would make your story stand out.

St0n3henge said...

I tripped over: "Her gifts can catalyze spells for those on the dragon path. Her life can augment the power of a dragon."

The "dragon path" isn't clear, and neither is "catalyze spells." Does a person or dragon have to cast this spell in order for it to be catalyzed, or does the girl read it from a book and catalyze it, or what?

"Her life can augment the power of a dragon" is also vague. I can't tell if you mean just the fact that she's alive does this, or she has to be in the proximity of a dragon, etc, etc.

The problem is your familiarity with your writing makes you think others know what you're talking about.
As EE has shown, you can make it clearer if you remember that your readers aren't familiar with your world.

"The dragon spreads its influence to one of Tali's allies. It hunts her client with magical flames." Agreement problem. There are three its: dragon, influence, the ally. I assume you mean the dragon because you mention flames, but it's still not great sentence construction. You need to pay attention to details when you're trying to get someone to buy your book.