Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Synopsis 6: Hang the Thief

Please do comment on synopses and queries! We can all help!

Etan, a misguided student, learns how to open gates that will allow magic to return to Craie, believing it is mankind’s destiny to do so. After a harrowing escape from the guardians of Skull’s Passage, he makes it to the First Altar and performs the ritual necessary. But rather than finding the power and fame he sought, he finds death.

Magic does return, herald by pulsing orbs over stone monuments, natural disasters and monsters of lore. And the deities awaken, allowing clergy to use blessings for healing and protection. The day after Etan is killed the first orb appears in the barbarian lands. Mina, a priestess, is attacked by a griffon. Her death is imminent when she evokes mercy from her goddess and unexpectedly fire flies from her fingertips, slaying the beast. In the Jagged Teeth mountain range, geysers erupt. A trapper is killed and another cornered. Drake, a soldier, rescues him and they barely make it out of the mountains ahead of a fire. In the Six Valleys an old gypsy woman warns Lord Bruce that an exotic woman begins her journey soon and he will have a debt to pay to her. She further warns a time of darkness and evil is coming.

One year later, Ehlana, a gregarious street performer turned thief, is nearly killed in an earthquake that accompanies an orb opening near her city. She survives but hundreds do not, including her parents. Prince Corran and the Patriarch of the official faith of the Kingdom, along with a huntsman, Adair, visit the orb. They discuss the natural disasters, the broken-beasts and healing power of the priests. They further discuss the success and failures of trying to master the power. Adair informs the patriarch that he will be escorting a noblewoman Meria to the Republic so she can learn how to control her magical gift under their tutelage and to find out how successful they are at mastering it.

Ehlana after seeing strangers enter the sewers in her neighborhood decides to find out what they are doing. She witnesses a cult ritual where a man is enchanted to kill himself. A priestess explains that with the return of magic, worship of an evil deity has been revived, but without proof of wrongdoing nothing can be done to stop it. Ehlana infiltrates the cult, using her ability to talk anyone into anything, a gift that has grown stronger since the return of magic, and learns of its plans to assassinate a court official. The cult is raided but not all the leaders are apprehended and Ehlana is convinced to travel to the Six Valleys for her safety. She agrees but first she warns her brother he may be inadvertently helping the cult.

His involvement is far from unintentional and he sets her up for murder. Ehlana is saved from the hangman’s noose when a priest proves her innocence. Her brother isn’t finished with her yet and sends a fellow thief to murder her as part of his coup to overthrow their boss. She is saved by a friend.

Ehlana joins Adair’s party with Meria. She learns of the nightmarish existence of the common folk who have been left to defend themselves from the broken-beasts, bandits and corruption. When her barge is attacked by harpies half the crew is killed. Meria reveals that magic is being used to summon the monsters and for the ultimate evil of raising the dead.

In the Six Valleys, Ehlana masters her musical talents, learns the ancient language of the clansmen and becomes a bard. After helping to defeat an enemy clan by infiltrating it and stealing war plans, the army sees her as their lucky charm. But she is restless and haunted by dreams. She is warned that her nightmares will continue unless she heeds its warnings to travel to a mysterious temple. Advice she rejects. When her lover betroths himself to another for political gain, she decides to return home.

The clan has found her too valuable an asset to simply allow her to leave. In order to force her give her oath to the clan she is imprisoned. Spirits warn her that her food is poisoned and beseech to fulfill her destiny by going the temple. As she wastes away in her cell, refusing to eat or speak, mutiny is threatened and she is set free.

Adair agrees to escort her to the temple but they will need a guide to cross the barbarian lands. After a barbarian tribe is massacred by northern raiders, Mina believes Ehlana was a hero foretold of in an ancient children’s story. She becomes not only her escort but promises to be her shield as well. They hire Drake to be their guide over the Jagged Teeth.

At the temple she learns the orbs are gateways to hell and if they are not closed the
world is doomed. Knowledge how this can be done can be found in the famed Anarian Academy and Library.

On the way, they learn the northern raiders razed the Six Valleys using magic and the raised dead. The group is joined by a surviving knight, Lord Bruce. At the library, Ehlana uses her gift to understand any language she reads or hears and deciphers clues hidden in ancient songs. They also learn magic is exacts a price from its users – their humanity, leeching out all that is good within their souls. They also find Meria who is being held against her will. They rescue her and escape the city.

They must travel to the First Altar by the first day of spring in order to close the gates, which is only weeks away. They are attacked by a demon and survive. Ehlana performs the ritual necessary but before she completes it, Meria kills her. Ehlana’s soul ascends into the heavens, becoming a star next to other heroes who gave their lives in similar acts of bravery. Her friends are unsure whether they succeeded in closing the gates.

Comments

The author sent a long version (997 words) and a short version (552 words). I went with posting the long version because I had many of the same comments for both of them and the longer version gives everyone more meat to work with -- and more fat to cut away.

Reading through, I think it felt a bit listy -- this happens, then this happens -- and a bit rushed at the end.

My main peeve is that there doesn't seem to be enough motivation put forward for why things happen:

  • Why does Ehlana go into the sewers? Why does she step outside her comfort zone to infiltrate the cult if she doesn't care about anything?
  • Why does her brother want to murder her?
  • Why do spirits suddenly take an interest in her since it seems they haven't bothered before?
  • Where did Mina come from and why does she think Ehlana is someone out of legend?
  • Who is Meria? And for me, the biggest question of all, why does she kill Ehlana? I simply don't see any reason for it in either version of the synopsis. I think it's critical to give a woman beholden to Ehlana for rescuing her a reason to kill her.
As an aside about the book rather than the synopsis: The end seems like it doesn't have much of a denouement. Presumably, if they've succeeded, the magic will leave the world. Will it be suddenly or slowly? Seems it would go as fast as it came, so it wouldn't be a lengthy wait and that the characters would know soon enough whether there was success or not. As a reader, I think I'd like that same closure.

I noticed, too, that Ehlana seems to need a lot of rescuing by others. Could just be the way the original synopses portray it, but it stood out for me.

My Revision

This first pass is 857 words and could still use more character development and "reaction shots," I think. I made some guesses and added a couple of elements, such as Meira being her brother's wife, just to demonstrate motivation.

When a misguided student stumbles upon the secret to return magic to Craie, the gods reward him with death for performing the heinous ritual. Magic floods the world, heralded in part by erupting geysers and wildfires in the Jagged Teeth mountains and the reappearance of griffons, chimera and other monsters of lore across the land.

The first to harness the magic are the clergy who use it to heal and protect. But the world leaders have other plans for it, and as they race to master the power, the common folk are left to defend themselves not only against the broken-beasts but the corruption and criminals that rise in its wake. The gypsies see the magic for what it is and warn that a time of darkness and evil is upon them.

A massive earthquake triggered by the opening of a magical gate near her city nearly kills Ehlana, a gregarious street performer turned thief. She survives – but hundreds do not, including her parents. After seeing strangers enter the sewers in her neighborhood, a distraught Ehlana slips after them. There she's horrified to witness a cult ritual where a man, enchanted, is forced to kill himself. Till then Ehlana had little interest in magic, or for that matter, anything beyond her own day-to-day existence. Confronted with the brutality of what it can do, Ehlana decides to challenge those who would turn the magic to evil. That decision is reinforced when she sees cult members purchasing weapons from her brother's shop. Concerned for his safety, she infiltrates the cult using her ability to talk anyone into anything, a gift – along with other unique language skills -- that has grown stronger since the magic's return.

When she saves the life of a court official after discovering he's targeted for assassination, the king's guard raids the cult. Not all the leaders are apprehended, though, and the king convinces Ehlana to travel to the Six Valleys for her safety. She agrees but, sticking true to family, she warns her brother first that he may have been inadvertently helping the cult.

His involvement, however, is far from unintentional and, in a cunning act of betrayal, he frames her for murder. Ehlana is saved from the hangman’s noose when a priest proves her innocence. But her brother isn’t finished with her yet and sends a fellow thief to kill her as part of his coup to overthrow their boss. The plan nearly works; she's cut down and left for dead, saved only by the kindness of a passing clergyman with a touch of healing magic.

Ehlana escapes the city, throwing in with Adair, one of the prince's huntsmen on an escort mission to the Six Valleys. The ravaged countryside and the peasants' nightmarish struggle against magical beasts and outlaws tears at Ehlana's soul. When harpies attack her barge and half the crew is slaughtered, Ehlana is forced to see that whoever wins the fight for control of the magic gains the power to summon monsters and to command the ultimate evil: raising the dead.

In the Six Valleys, Ehlana's silver tongue and thieving ways prove quite useful, gaining her notoriety and wealth as a spy for the local clan. Success brings another unexpected pleasure: a lover she's becoming more attracted to every day. But a growing restlessness and nightmares threaten to suck her spirit dry. When her lover deserts her to marry another for political gain, Ehlana, hurt beyond caring, decides to return home.

The clan, not about to let such a valuable asset simply leave, imprisons her. Drawn by her natural magical talent – and perhaps something more -- spirits swarm about her, beseeching her to follow them to a temple that holds her destiny. With their help she escapes, finding the huntsman Adair and others equally drawn to her plight, waiting to escort her out of the city. They are not long gone when the Six Valleys are razed by an old enemy -- her brother has raised an army of the dead, and he's now on a search-and-destroy mission for Ehlana.

She and her company soon understand why. The gates through which the magic came into the world must be destroyed before the magic tears the land apart and leeches all that is good from the very souls of those that try to wield it. Ancient texts hold the key to how to close the gates – a key Ehlana discovers using her unique abilities to comprehend any language she hears or reads. But the ritual must be performed in the same place the gates were originally opened. A place guarded by a demon Death Knight.

And there is a traitor among Ehlana's company: her brother's wife.

After the company defeats the demon, Ehlana performs the ritual necessary to close the gates. But just as she's completing it, her sister-in-law attacks and slays her using magic. Ehlana’s soul ascends into the heavens, becoming a star next to other heroes who gave up their lives in similar acts of bravery.

Her friends, mourning, can't be sure whether she succeeded in closing the gates. They'll have to wait till tomorrow's sun to find out.

9 comments:

Matt said...

Hi Vivian,

A few things:

Her brother as the bad guy is a strong choice with potentially many emotional payoffs. I feel it isn't explored in depth.

Ehlana's character isn't grounded. While it's true she can't let the world be destroyed, that's not something readers can identify with, especially considering she has no family to protect. If her motivation is protecting her new lover, then that needs to be made a bigger part of the synopsis at the expense of something else.

Her silver tongue ability reminds me of the jedi mind trick.

The healer/friend saving her from death is Deus Ex Machina. It might be explained logically in the book, but he pops out of nowhere in the synopsis.

The "warning of dark times to come" line seemed silly to me, what with the gates already opening and all. It's like walking into a war zone and telling the troops they're in danger.


I don't like the line about her being a bard (which Phoenix removed) because that makes it seem like a final fantasy/dungeons and dragons ripoff.

In short: expand on Phoenix's revision by grounding Ehlana.

vkw said...

Author here:

I have rewritten the synopsis but I wanted to post the concerns that Phoenix has and Matt, so others can read the concerns and see if the newly revised synopsis helps answer those concerns.

Motivation:

Why does Ehlana go into the sewers?
Why does she step outside her comfort zone to infiltrate the cult if she doesn't care about anything?
Why does her brother want to murder her?
Why do spirits suddenly take an interest in her since it seems they haven't bothered before?

Where did Mina come from and why does she think Ehlana is someone out of legend?

Who is Meria?

And for me, the biggest question of all, why does she kill Ehlana? I simply don't see any reason for it in either version of the synopsis. I think it's critical to give a woman beholden to Ehlana for rescuing her a reason to kill her.

As an aside about the book rather than the synopsis: The end seems like it doesn't have much of a denouement. Presumably, if they've succeeded, the magic will leave the world. Will it be suddenly or slowly? Seems it would go as fast as it came, so it wouldn't be a lengthy wait and that the characters would know soon enough whether there was success or not. As a reader, I think I'd like that same closure.

All the questions above should be answered in the new synoposis - except who is Mina. She didn't make the synopsis cut. She is one of four guides and you'll have to read the book for the questions you posed. :)

You'll have to let me know if I adequately addressed all these questions - which were excellent.

vkw

vkw said...

Hi Matt - thank you for commenting and you have excellent questions/concerns as well.

He commented about her brother's involvement and how it was not explored enough. Ehlana leaves the city right after she is almost killed. There is not much of a chance to explore the emotional impact this has except that it makes it difficult for her to return home.

She doesn't have a new lover. One of her guides' motivation is that he secretly loves her.

Ehlana comes to believe this is her destiny. She witnessed throughout the book the horrids of magic and comes to realize that she can't allow this happen. Her struggle is always, why me and not someone else. And she comes to believe that there is no escaping fate.

Ehlana would never be a Jedi - she has little discipline, is a really bad fighter, and although one of her gifts is similar to the mind trick, it's very different and as aside I only realize the similarities when i re-watched Star Wars over this labor day weekend. It's execution is verbal.

Healer/Friend as a ex machina - answered in query.

I took the line you didn't like out - but it's not silly when put into the context it was said in the Six Valleys, isolated mountainous clans, where nothing bad had happened.

Bard's out as well.

Let me know how I did. Thank you again,

vkw

vkw said...

HANG THE THIEF
SYNOPSIS

Part One ---

Etan, a misguided student, believes he has discovered man’s destiny and opens gates that allow magic to return to Craie. But rather than finding the fame and wealth he sought, he finds only death.

One-by-one over the course of months, pulsing orbs appear over Stonehenge-like monuments across the continent. Wherever they appear those ‘gifted’ are able to learn how to wield the forgotten art. It is far from idyllic for the orbs are accompanied by natural disasters and the beasts of lore, such as griffons, basilisk and wyverns. Thousands are killed between the two.

Ehlana, a gregarious street performer turned thief, is nearly killed in an earthquake that accompanied an orb appearing near her city. She survives but hundreds do not, including her parents. As she stands over her parents’ grave she wonders about a deity that allows two of his most faithful to be killed in this way. She cannot hate something she does not believe in and finds it easier to hate magic. She vows not to end up in a pauper’s grave with the forgotten people and people like her – criminals.

Her boss imposes a moratorium on jobs, following a string of grisly murders where the victims’ bodies have been mutilated. Ehlana passes the time sitting on her roof, staring at the city gates as she dreams of leaving. From her lofty perch, she sees strangers enter the sewers in her neighborhood. She doesn’t like it. She wants her neighborhood to be a lowly place, unwatched by the Watch, overlooked by criminals and a place of her own. But she has no inclination to do anything about it until she sees a self-proclaimed assassin enter the sewer.

She investigates and witnesses a cult ritual where a man is enchanted to kill himself. Ehlana learns that with the return of magic worship of an evil deity has revived, but without proof of wrongdoing nothing can be done. Ehlana volunteers to infiltrate the cult. A difficult task unless someone is gifted with unique language skills like Ehlana – gifts that have grown stronger since magic’s return. She learns of the cult’s plans to assassinate a court official and the cult is raided. Not all the leaders are apprehended and the man she saved convinces her to travel to the Six Valleys for her safety. Despite the fact she is offered what she has been dreaming of, she hesitates.

vkw said...

Part Two -

While in the coven she learned they use body parts for rituals and poisons. Her brother, also a thief, wants to expand their gang into the new game of grave robbing. She is compelled to warn him what he may be getting himself into. What she does not know is that he is already there. In a cunning act of betrayal he sets her up for murder. Ehlana is saved from the hangman’s noose when a priest proves her innocence. The cult and her brother put two –and-two together and realize she was the one that informed the Watch about what they were doing. She is nearly murdered but a hired bodyguard dispatches the assassin and heals Ehlana’s mortal wounds with magic. Ehlana pauses to reconsider her dislike for magic and all that use it.

Her doubts don’t last long. Ehlana joins a party with Meria who is traveling to the Republic where it is hoped she’ll learn to control magic. As it is right now, she is a hazard to herself and everyone around her. Ehlana witnesses firsthand the struggles of the common folk who have been left to defend themselves from the broken-beasts, bandits and corruption as the world’s leaders race to master the forgotten art. When harpies attack her barge and half the crew is slaughtered, Meria reveals magic wielders are able to summon the monsters and for the ultimate evil of raising the dead. She admits that it is these skills that she is hoping to learn in the Republic.

In the Six Valleys, Ehlana’s performing skills and language gifts earn her all that she dreamed of – fame, wealth and, yes even love. When she sneaks into an enemy encampment and steals their plans, saving her own clan from certain defeat, she becomes precious. Despite the adoration, she realizes she will always be considered an outsider. Nightmares begin to haunt her as her homeland spirals further and further into despair and social unrest. When her lover betroths himself to another for political gain, Ehlana decides to return home.

The clan, not about to let such a valuable asset simply leave, imprisons her. Spirits warn her that she must travel to a mysterious temple she been dreaming of to fulfill her destiny. “Why me?” she pleads. They reply simply – much is asked of those that are given much. With their help she is released and travels over dangerous and hostile lands with the assistance of three guides.

vkw said...

She and her company learn the orbs are gates to hell and the cost of using magic is the user’s very soul. Ancient texts in the Republic hold the key on how to close the gates – a key Ehlana discovers using her unique abilities to comprehend any language she hears or reads. They also discover Meria. She has been detained from leaving because of the failing relationship between the Republic and the Kingdom.

After rescuing Meria, they must make it to the same place the gates were opened. A place guarded by a demon Death Knight. The company successfully defeats the guardian and Ehlana begins the ritual necessary to close the gates. But Meria’s soul has been eaten away by the magic and she hungers for the ecstasy it brings. Closing the gates suddenly seems blasphemous and she slays Ehlana before the ritual is complete.

Ehlana’s soul ascends into the heavens, becoming a star next to other heroes who gave up their lives in similar acts of bravery. Meria is killed as she attempts to escape and the surviving companions, unable to use magic, are left to wonder if they succeeded.

Matt said...

Processing...

Matt said...

Notes:

I don't believe this revision is superior to Phoenix's (though I recognize Phoenix alters the plot).

Naming Etan fools us into believing he is the main character, and when he dies two sentences later we again wait to be grounded in the true MC. This slows down the reading experience, and impatient people will start to tune out.

You need to paint a clear picture of Ehlana from the outset. Example:

When Ehlana Desaria is no longer able to support her ailing parents as a street performer, she becomes a thief.
#

Now, I don't know if that's accurate or not, but a sentence like that gives us deep insight into her character: she puts her family's safety above her own. And that insight is crucial for us to connect with the ending when she puts humanity's safety above her own. Only when we have a clear picture of Ehlana can we see her grow/change over the course of the story. It also gives impact to the moment when her parents die.

As the betrayer, I feel Meria could also stand some fleshing out. Right now she reads a bit like Boromir from Lord of the Rings.

I also noticed some repetition errors, as in, "...the key on how to close the gates. A key Ehlana discovers..."

Repetition can work well in a powerful moment, like an emotional change, but it slows the pace when used to describe physical action.

All in all, this is a tough one because there are so many characters/events and the main plot is a bit diffuse (Due to Ehlana being a wanderer). These things will need to be streamlined in the story as well.

Phoenix said...

This one is a bit wordy and seems to ramble a bit rather than give us incisive motivation. For example:

One-by-one over the course of months, pulsing orbs appear over Stonehenge-like monuments across the continent. Wherever they appear those ‘gifted’ are able to learn how to wield the forgotten art. It is far from idyllic for the orbs are accompanied by natural disasters and the beasts of lore, such as griffons, basilisk and wyverns. Thousands are killed between the two.

Could be condensed to:

Over the next six months pulsing orbs appear in the skies near cities across the continent. Where they appear, the "gifted" manifest the forgotten art. The magic, though, comes with a price: thousands dead as natural disasters and mythical monsters follow in the wake of the orbs.

As Matt pointed out, there's also a lot of repetition. Her abilities are always described as "unique," for instance.

I do think this version gives us a better peek into Ehlana's character and Meria's. You did a good job in editing Adair and Drake out and I didn't miss them at all here. I also felt more grounded in her decisions and in her brother's betrayal.

I think if you take what's here and edit it pararaph by paragraph with the intent to cut 10-20% out of each paragraph without losing character motivation or impact, you'll be well on your way to a nice, tight synopsis.

Really. Try moving each paragraph to a page by itself and working on just that paragraph for about 10 minutes, and not going to the next till that paragraph is as tight as you can get it. Look at what's necessary for telling the story from the readers' perspective and what isn't (e.g., does the reader need to know the monuments are Stonehenge-like? Does the reader need to know about the monuments at all?). For something less than 1000 words that's a manageable -- and for some -- a truly useful exercise.

Short forms are a bitch. We all get that. But I've seen some extremely insightful comments here and over at EE's from you. You get all this stuff viscerally. Now you just have to get it down on paper. ;o)