So, what I’m working on…

So, what I'm working on is the synopsis and outline of the YA novel. I thought I might put the first part (half?) up here, for comments; I haven't actually given one of these to a publisher before, so no idea if this is the appropriate style/content/whatever. Any thoughts on that, or on the story thus far, would be welcome -- of course, this also means major spoilers for the eventual book, so feel free to skip the following entirely if spoilers bother you. :-)


Synopsis:

This is the story of Swati, a young South Asian-American girl, struggling to define her own identity and to find a sense of self-worth, despite the efforts of those who try to seduce her, deceiving her for their own self-centered ends. Her story is set against the background of a civil war (based on the current conflict in Sri Lanka, but characteristic of civil wars throughout history), a bloody conflict in which the participants have forgotten what they are fighting for, and refuse to see what this war is doing to their children, a war in which power and revenge have become the only goals. As Swati learns to harness her own unexpected powers, she gains insight which will help her save the people of this country -- but not in the way they expected. She will eventually learn not to trust those who only flatter her; she will also learn to trust those who truly love her, even when it is difficult for them all. Her grandparents and her best friend will assist her in this quest.

Outline:

Chapter 1: We meet Swati, fifteen and scrambling to be the perfect daughter. She has two absent-minded, busy working parents, two younger sisters to take care of, two somewhat fragile grandparents living in her home -- and on top of all that, she's started having strange dreams, in which a handsome dark-skinned prince is calling her his princess. We briefly enter the world of the prince, Rama -- to find that he is in fact in love with someone else, a princess, but is convinced that he must marry Swati as well (they practice polygamy, at times) in order to save his kingdom from terrible peril. In one of his attempts to reach Swati, she was distracted, running out the door and slipped on some wet stairs, cracking her head. She wakes up in bed, and her mother tells her she'll need to stay there for a day. Swati's friend, Kate, comes over to keep her company, and Swati tells Kate about the prince. At the end of the chapter, Swati and Kate are yanked from our world into his.

Chapter 2: We get a brief glimpse of a king, by the bedside of a fevered child. We learn that she isn't the only one ill, and that he's determined to do something about it. He knows that Prince Rama is magically attempting, to draw Swati to his side, and the king sets up his own magic to interfere. He fails to bring Swati to him, but succeeds in knocking her off course, as it were. The magic grabs Swati and Kate and dumps them in the midst of a forest on the borderland between the two kingdoms. They run into some armed peasants (of the prince), and some soldiers (of the king), and quickly discover two critical facts. One -- the magic has somehow taught Swati the languages of the two peoples, but not Kate. Kate determinedly starts learning one of the languages. Two -- Swati has magic. Big, offensive, sparkly magic that she has no idea how to control. She badly injures a soldier, and the two girls run off into the forest. They run until exhausted, and finally fall asleep -- only to wake in Swati's bedroom. Only an hour or so has passed, though they were gone all night. What the heck is going on? Shared dream? They're shaken, scared, but determined to figure it out. Kate will stay over another night.

Chapter 3: Meanwhile, Rama is nearly desperate with the failure of his plan. He doesn't know what went wrong; he and the princess quarrel, it all gets out of hand, and she leaves, angry. He sets out to try again, the following night. This time, he succeeds in grabbing Swati -- but the king is interfering again, and Kate gets drawn to him. Prince Rama apologizes for Swati losing her friend, but assures her that she is undoubtedly safe in her own world, since the magic was only designed for one. He sets out to seduce Swati, giving her costly gems, gorgeous clothes, and many compliments. All the while saying that this is poor stuff -- if only his kingdom were free, how much more he could give her. Rama explains about his poor people, trapped under the rule of a brutal dictator. Forced to fight as children in order to survive. They have suffered for millenia, but soon, soon they will be free. And Swati may even be able to help...

Chapter 4: The king, Vijay, is startled to find a tall blonde girl at his side -- one who speaks a foreign language, and has pale skin the like of which he has never seen. He suspects that she came along by accident, but he doesn't actually know how to send her back. Vijay offers her a choice, by gestures -- an escort to the border, where she might be able to make her way to the prince, or a job in his palace guard; she's tall and athletic, and he thinks she might make a decent soldier. Kate doesn't understand that she might find Swati at the border; she accepts the job of the guard, caught up in dreams of glory and battle.

Chapter 5: Swati is having a hard time resisting Prince Rama. He is gorgeous and romantic and persistent. She doesn't know why she should resist him either...although something tells him that perhaps it would be wise. She flatly refuses to marry him, though -- she has enough sense to know that she doesn't know him nearly well enough for that. But as the weeks pass, he takes her on tours of the kingdom; she meets some of the poor ravaged people. The war has been long and cruel, a mix of weapons (in which the King Vijay has superiority) and magic (in which Prince Rama has superiority). Her soft heart breaks for the people -- but when she reaches to try to help an injured little boy, her magic breaks loose again and hurts his mother instead. Swati is horrified, and the shock of it shakes her loose from this world -- she wakes to find it almost dawn...and Kate isn't there in the bedroom.

Chapter 6: Swati has to cover for Kate's disappearance -- luckily, it's a Saturday, so she can invent something, but that won't hold for long. She acts suspiciously, and her grandmother begins to suspect something's wrong. That night, Swati goes to sleep immediately, and tries to reach for the other world -- she finds herself there, in Rama's arms. Months have passed, and the war situation has worsened. The prince explains that time ebbs and flows between the worlds; there's no way to predict how much time will pass here if Swati leaves again. He begs her to stay -- he seems to believe that these departures are under her control. Swati demands that they search for Kate. Rama acquiesces, and they take a horse (Swati riding in front of the prince, since she doesn't know how to ride) and head for the border. The prince's men will search the rest of the kingdom, but they would probably have heard of a blond, pale woman if she had arrived in his lands. She is almost certainly across the border.

Chapter 7: Indeed, Kate is across the border. She has been training with King Vijay's men for three months, and while she will never be a great swordsman, she is a remarkably effective scout -- an excellent runner, and with a quick eye. She's turning into a handy bowman too, although her arm needs more training. The king's forces are desperate enough at this stage that they are grateful for any healthy arm -- many of them have been decimated by various illnesses over the years -- for Prince Rama's chief weapon in this battle is not arms, but magical diseases. Generations of suffering have marked these people, and Kate feels for them -- and is appalled by a prince who could send diseases which strike down children as well as adults. King Vijay's own granddaughter lies close to death, and while Kate is not yet ready to kill for these people, she is willing to scout for them. She's learned enough of their language to make herself understood, and everywhere she goes, she asks for news of Swati. But here, Swati doesn't stand out -- there are a thousand peasant girls who look just like her. Kate keeps looking.

Chapter 8: While travelling, Rama reveals that Swati is by blood-right, a princess of his land -- that is what the magic searched for, a descendant of a princess lost to far-travelling many ages ago. One with strong blood, and strong magic thereby. He tells her that she must be very careful, that the force of her will is sufficient to unleash the magic, and that without training, she could do immense damage. He promises to train her. Swati has visions of heroically saving the people and then being swept up in the prince's arms. They spend the night by a romantic forest pool, after a hard day of travelling. The prince succeeds in seducing Swati, and she notes an odd look in his eyes -- triumph, mixed with despair? He asks her again to marry him; she resists -- marriage is still a bit much to take in. She's weakening, though. The next morning, they continue on to the border, at least a week's hard travel away. Swati believes she is in the midst of a great love affair; she is discovering the intoxicating pleasures of sex. Rama is very skilled.

Chapter 9: At the border, it is Kate who sees the prince and Swati first. She realizes who he is, and knows she ought to tell the king's men. But loyalty to Swati holds her back -- she's desperately curious to know what's going on. And she's not yet completely inculcated into the king's army; she keeps enough hold on rationality to want more information before doing anything decisive. Still, she worries, as she sets out to meet the prince (instead of going back to tell the soldiers) -- is she giving up the chance to end this terrible, destructive war. Could one swift blow make the difference here, bring peace? She's just not sure. She comes to meet them, indecision in her heart. They meet her -- Swati with joy, Rama with suspicion. Kate is wearing the colors of his enemy, after all, and the strange white-skinned girl is no part of his plans. He hides that, and pretends welcome. Rama needs Swati for his plans to work -- and to be honest, he has grown far of her. She isn't his princess, but she's a nice enough girl for all that. He thinks she'd make a perfectly adequate wife someday, when all this is over... Rama's sure he can convince her to marry him, once she realizes the truth of what is going on.

Chapter 10: The trio travel back to the prince's encampment. The prince speaks the language of the king, and Swati's magic enables her to understand and speak both languages, so they speak that one to start. The prince teaches Kate a few words of his language; she will learn more. Within a few weeks, they're back at the encampment, enmeshed in the daily life of the camp. Kate continues training, but for the prince now. She deeply distrusts the romance that has sprung up between the prince and Swati, but doesn't know what to do about it. She is happy that her friend has found someone, at least. Swati had wanted a boyfriend so badly.

Chapter 11: (to be continued)

7 thoughts on “So, what I’m working on…”

  1. Hi Mary Anne — sorry I haven’t responded sooner, but the Real World caught up to me.

    In my somewhat limited but growing experience with synopses, I think yours is good, if a bit long. This is more like an “outline” that may get sent after you have a book deal (so the publisher knows you can writing a complete story); a synopsis is usually 2-4 pages (double-spaced), and gives a really generic look at what happens in the book — focus is on the story.

    That said, I think if you throw this together and shorten it, it’s good to go (unless, of course, an editor wants an outline). It works great as an outline, though I’d make your initial synopsis a bit more specific so the reader knows it’s more of a genre piece.

    Does that help? It’s still early and my brain’s not awake…

  2. Mike, that’s very helpful, thanks!

    Sheesh — I just realized that I never did quite finish critiquing that draft of your novel. It got swallowed up in exams. And now you’ve gone and deleted a major character. Maybe you’d better just send me the next draft when it’s ready…

  3. Actually, I’m trying like hell to revise the middle and last sections right now, and your comments on the first section were immensely helpful. I wouldn’t recommend reading the last section of what I sent you now anyway — it’s pretty… messy! 🙂

    No worries — I knew you were supremely busy! Huge thanks for the comments on what you did read. I may take you up on that offer with the revision. Thanks!

  4. Sorry for always throwing in those kick-ass comments about renaming characters. I hate to do it Mary Anne, being a writer i know how attached we are to their names. 🙂

    Here you call the prince Rama, but definitely a more secular name with less historical allusions (or no historical allusions at all) will be much much better. For one, Rama being the central char. in the Ramayana, and the epic itself being used to symbolize (and also politicize) the conflicts of the Aryan and the Dravidian divide, and the additional fact that Tamils being Dravidians and Sinhalese claiming to be Aryans (!) your using the name Rama for the King will place you inter-textually in a unintended place and people will probe what you don’t need them probing — they will look into meanings, and wonder why he is named so.

  5. I don’t know if I’ll stick with that name, Meenzie, but actually, it was a deliberate choice; the underlying battle going on in the book is actually the Tamil/Sinhalese conflict in Sri Lanka (or loosely based on it, anyway). I want to evoke all of that. But hey, since I have you here, you can remind me — which side is Rama on? I think he’s going to be the leader of the Tamil forces in my novel…

  6. Argh! Well, okay, so I make the king Rama instead — what would be a good name for the Tamil prince? Something equivalently resonant would be ideal.

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