Sunday, November 30, 2008

Synopsis: First Test by Tamora Pierce

The daughter of the Yamani Ambassador, ten-year-old Kethry of Mindelan, was exposed to a different culture than her native Tortall. Her decision to become the first openly female Tortallan knight meets with resistance – from the knight training master.

The first two sentences don't really flow into each other. I'd be wondering if your writing style is this disjointed. What you've left out is that in Tortall's male-dominated knighthood, there is a striking exception: Alanna, who is (can I recall now?) King's Champion, or something? So now Kethry is the first girl to go through knight training without hiding her gender.

Allowed to train, on probation, Kethry also has to deal with the prejudice of the boys and their attempts to force her to leave. While her prior Yamani training further sets her apart, it enables her to physically fight to right the wrong in the hazing – bullying – she sees. Only an anonymous benefactor gives her hope in the form of exercises for the upper body.

Nevermind about "in the form of exercises for the upper body"; it's unnecessary detail. Replace it with "of finishing her first year in training".

Kethry pushes herself to persevere through black eyes, bloody noses, and punishments for fighting and not completing her homework. The end of her year of probation brings tears as she readies herself to leave. The training master surprises everyone by allowing her to return the next year.

"Black eyes, bloody noses" is the kind of detail that's useful in this context. But I can't remember now: did the book end this anticlimactically? You had me pretty interested until that last sentence.


Jan Jones said...

It's Keladry of Mindelan.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I kind of remember this novel as being a LOT more dull than your typical Tamora Pierce... (Never even finished this series... these books and her circle of magic books just didn't do it for me... But she redeemed herself in my eyes with the "Trickster" books!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me why I don't read fantasy. It has nothing to do with the qualtity of synopsis, but anytime I have to learn/remember three weird, unpronouncable (at first sight) names, I lose interest.

Yamani Ambassador, Kethry of Mindelan, native Tortall all combined with training for knighthood. Gee, I've got a headache.

I imagine writing synopsi for fantasy is harder than for contemporary fiction since you have to introduce a new world in some sort of common sense way in addition to covering the plot points.

Dal Jeanis said...

Oh, I have to plug Tamora Pierce's "The Circle Opens" quartet. Four fantasy police procedurals, set in different magical societies. I especially recommend "Cold Fire" to writers, as an awesome example of how to introduce LOTS of characters while keeping the reader oriented to who they all are. I break that out every year or so to study the technique.

Anon 9:36 - You're right, the "daughter of Yamani Ambassador" part should have been omitted- especially since that makes it unclear whether it's the ambasador from, or to, Yaman.

That identity is extremely important to the character's chances for success, but not to the synopsis itself. I'd delete that statement in favor of mention of her huge size and prior weapons training.

The YA fantasy novel I have under contract at the moment has that same problem - too many new concepts to fit into a paragraph without choking the reader. I eliminate the country names -- just using "foreign" for the antagonist from a nearby country -- in order to make room for the cool stuff that will really sell the story.

Of course, historicals have somewhat the same problem if they are not set in a time (or dealing with a conflict) that most Americans know well. Really, try to explain any part of the Hundred Years' War in a synopsis without unpronouncable words like "Plantagenet".

Stephanie McGee said...

No, the book did not end this anticlimactically. Her maid, whose name escapes me at the moment, is kidnapped in an attempt to keep Keladry from the trials which she must attend and complete in order to continue on with the last three page years, and her four years as squire before becoming a knight. Her main antagonist, the master-at-arms or something like that who is in charge of the knights-in-training, decides that since she was unable to attend the trials because she was doing what she was bound to do through the code of chivalry (save a woman bound to her service) she would be allowed to complete the trials at a date set about a week later. She completes the trials and is allowed to continue her training.

Sarah Laurenson said...

First Test is only the first year of her training. The maid doesn't even appear until the second book. The second book encompasses three years of her page training and then the maid is kidnapped and Keladry risks redoing the entire four years in order to save her.

Sarah Laurenson said...

So EA, since the ending is more about the training master's change of heart, would you write the synopsis concentrating on his actions towards her and then show why the change to letting her stay is more interesting than it seems? The book seems to have two main threads - the one between her and the training master and the one between her and the other page trainees. She wins over the master and some of the trainees by the end of this book. Would it be better to say she earns he right to continue her training and also hint about the boys who still do not like her?

Anonymous said...

First, yes her name is Keladry.

Second. I'm not a writer of any sort, but I have to jump in because you seem to be missing the essence of the story. There are two main themes. One, Keladry is fighting against the common predjudice toward girls in Tortall. She is showing, with perseverence and a lot of hard work, that she can do what boys do. In some cases, she can do it better. Two, (and this is the theme of the entire series) she is standing up against bullying. She is fighting for the rights of teh small. In this book, this means fighting for first year pages bullied by older pages. In other books it's fighting for animals and the rights of commoners. Those who don't have the power and wealth of the nobles.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I woke up this morning thinking about themes. While the theme of the series is that she is Protector of the Small, it's not mentioned in this book. You see the start of it here. You see the start of a lot here. Made me really think about what is the theme of just this book.

What I came up with was acceptance. She is fighting literally and figuratively for acceptance into the ranks of the knght-trainees. The setup shows how unfairly she's being treated. That leads to how hard she has to work in order to achieve what the boys get just for being boys.

When writing a synopsis for the first book in a series (for an unpublished author), how much can one talk about the theme of the series or should the synopsis really concentrate on the theme of the book?

This has been a very good exercise, EA. And trying to fit it into 150 words was a lot more difficult than I had thought it would be. Also a good exercise.

So here's my stab at a rewrite:

Girls have been allowed to train as knights for ten years, but none have dared to step forward. Keladry, raised in another land and trained in a different form of the warrior arts, petitions to be the first. Her decision is met with resistance and a year-long probation no boy has ever faced.

Fighting the prejudice of the boys, the dangerous indifference of the training master and her own self doubts, she exercises every free moment to prove she is worthy of what the clumsiest boy gets just for being a boy - the chance to continue training.

Some of the older boys bully the new students and Keladry fights against that, too. Literally. She perseveres through black eyes, bloody noses, and the unfair punishments piled on her for fighting with the older boys. Her probation ends and the training master is forced to admit she has earned her place.

Anonymous said...

I finished reading the Kel series just the day before yesterday, so the book is fresh in my mind. I think Sarah's synopsis captures it very well.

But -- I think the ending of the FIRST TEST really was anticlimactic. Even if you don't know the titles of the sequels (PAGE, SQUIRE, and LADY KNIGHT), it's not a book that leaves real doubt about whether the protagonist will achieve her goal. Mostly, the book establishes the characters and themes and problems that continue through the rest of the series. It makes me wonder whether Tamora Pierce really sold this as an individual work, or if she sold the whole series together.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Tamora once said that she broke her writing up into four books because she thought that kids wouldn't read a longer version. After JKR and the explosion of the length limit myth, she wrote Trickster as two books.

I imagine that by the time of Keladry, she was selling the whole series. Even though First Test is more of a setup book, this particular series is my favorite.

Jan Jones said...

As I understand it Tammy was told very firmly by her editors that "children - even young adults - would not read thick books", so she had to split her first few ideas into sets of four. Then Harry Potter came along and she rather pointedly said, "Well then, what about letting me have a go?" and thus was able to get a contract for Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen.

I don't think there are any of her series that I don't like. I just wish life would allow her to write a little faster.

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