Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Synopsise early, synopsise often

The dreaded synopsis. Many people put off writing it for as long as possible because they don't know how. The internet is full of the standard rules: one to two pages, double spaced TNR twelve with a 1" margin, capitalise the first appearance of a character's name, tell the ending, state all the plot twists, tell it plainly and not trumped up, mention no more than five characters. But there is a very difficult piece of advice to incorporate with the rest: make it INTERESTING. Make it not a dry recitation of "and this happens, then this happens." How? Didn't you just tell me to plainly tell, not show, all the facts and plot twists without sensationalist language?

An Ubergrouper came to me lost on this subject, and here is my answer:

The most useful advice I've ever recieved was to write out your main character(s) emotional arc.  This comports very well with Egri's advice about how all plots start with character. That's what makes it feel like showing even though technically, it is telling. (Using the definitions in the Scribophile Academy's "Show vs. Tell" article.) You'll often see advice around the internet of "don't make it a dry recitation of 'and then this happens, and then this, and then this,'" and I'm sure you're wondering how the heck you do that while still technically telling.

Make it about someone's emotional journey. A short example: "John goes to see Anne. Anne refuses him. John leaves." was version one. "Desperate, John flees to Anne. Anne refuses him. John is devastated" was version two.  Same length. More emotional arc.

Now, I'll show you both earlier versions of my synopsis and the most current one to highlight the difference in full form. Ready for a REALLY BAD first attempt? This is the epitome of "and then this happened... and then this happened...  bla bla bla." It's also way too long. I COMPLETELY expect you to skim this. Don't injure yourself trying to really read it.

As a conquering horde approaches from the south, JOHNNY DARCY, prince of Umbrae, inherits the crown while locked in a dungeon. His second cousin AERON AE’LLEWYN, just as suddenly King of Rhae’llor, acknowledges his sovereignty, ending forty years of civil war over the Umbraen secession. With their fathers and brothers dead and their kingdoms in flames, the teenage monarchs forge an uneasy alliance against the ALEXANDER the Conqueror. Johnny must fill the role of the Hero that will save his people, or die trying.
A parhelion is taken as an omen of Johnny’s chosen status, terrifying the conqueror’s troops and forcing him to withdraw south. Johnny is hailed as a hero, though he knows Alexander will be back. Johnny discovers his friend WILL HUNTLY has protected his younger siblings EMALINE DARCY and EDMUND DARCY, and rewards Will with an earldom.
He cements the Rhae’llorean alliance by marrying Aeron’s sister, BRIGAED AE’LLEWYN. Johnny doesn’t force her when he discovers she is too young and scared to consummate, and she falls in love with her perfectly chivalrous hero.
Violence erupts along racial lines when Arcian tradesman COLIN SNOW loses his family to cholera, and druids forcefully remove their bodies. The Umbraen druids believe in cremation, but the Arcian natives bury their dead.  Grandmaster Healer THYMAEN WHITE argues that they can stop the spread of the disease by purging the bodies, and the emotionally wrecked Colin joins the Druidic Order, vowing to discover the cure.
The morning after the wedding, letters arrive for the Northern kings: Alexander has been attacked, and is begging for help. Aeron talks Johnny into going, because having their forces in the South will be a good opportunity to remove the Bastard once and for all.
On the road south, Edmund is embarrassingly lecherous towards CAITLIN D’ARMINE, heiress to the state of Armine. After an ugly conflict between the Darcy brothers, Arcian knight TEAGAN CHAMBERS suggests Edmund just needs to prove to Johnny he can be useful.
 In Yvenn, Johnny is seduced by the much older Duchess ANNE D’AQUES. Comically, the only woman who seems to fancy Edmund is Anne’s nine-year-old daughter, MARGARET. Teagan reveals that love is not so courtly for poor Arcians: he has been married, briefly, but his late wife committed suicide from despair about extreme poverty.
Now a druid in Umbrae City, Colin puts forth a theory that cholera is spread by drinking water contaminated by overflowing cesspits.
In Yber, Johnny and Aeron forge an alliance with ISMAEL DE YBER and INEZ DE YVENN, against their common enemy of the Bastard. The alliance lasts six hours, before Edmund is caught sneaking into Ismael’s harem. Ismael demands his head – but one cannot simply behead a foreign prince. Ironically, Inez speaks up in defence, unaware that Johnny has been trysting with his own wife, Anne. Johnny agrees to flog Edmund publicly, satisfying Ismael’s pride, but the Southern Alliance is ruined, and Johnny and Aeron must go back to the drawing board.
Passing through Yvenn on the way home, Johnny discovers Anne has borne him a bastard son, HAL. Johnny begs her to leave Inez and marry him instead. She refuses, reminding him of the political allegiances that would destroy. She extracts a vow that he will not throw practicality away for a stupid dream of love, and that he will be the good king that history might yet remember him to be.
Johnny returns home to a cholera outbreak decimating his population, and Colin’s theory is finally validated. Noting that cities in the South have clean drinking water due to sewer systems, Johnny commissions one in Umbrae. He also asks Emaline to finally make her choice of husbands between PAXTER D’ANDRE and REYNOLT D’ASTUR, neighbouring rulers who would make good allies against Alexander.
Johnny brings the now-fifteen-year-old Brigaed home to live as his queen. He is disappointed by her naivety, but keeping his word to Anne, he tries to respect and love her, encouraging her to be her own woman and an influential political entity.
The morning after, Johnny gets news that GUY D’ALSAE has rebelled, on the grounds of Alsaecean racial independence. Guy is joined by several neighbouring earls who resent being taxed for the construction of sewers. Johnny puts down the rebellion and claims Alsae for the crown, but in the name of Good spares the town and Guy’s underage son, HENRI D’ALSAE.
Emaline confesses that she cannot make either political match, because she is pregnant with Will’s child. Frustrated but wanting her to be happy where he wasn’t allowed to be, Johnny gives the love match his blessing.
Brigaed schemes to save the alliances by seating D’Andre and D’Astur next to the eligible daughters of his vassals at Emaline’s wedding. MATLIDA, heiress to the Earldom of Vosges, formerly betrothed to and still in love with the disgraced Henri D’Alsae, is very rude to Reynolt D’Astur. ELEANOR, heiress to the Earldom of Highcombe, still jealously wishes she had married Johnny, and feeds Paxter D’Andre vicious lies. The wedding ends in political disaster, with both neighbouring rulers storming out.
Johnny blames Brigaed for the mess. After a spectacular fight, he leaves to pick up the pieces, telling her not to ruin anything else. He makes no traction in Andre or Astur, and ends up in Aques, spilling his heart out to Anne. While Johnny is away, Edmund rudely refuses a match between himself and Caitlin D’Armine, wrongly accusing her of having slept with Johnny. Anne uses Aquesi military power to escort Johnny safely home through now-hostile Armini territory, and at home he puts Edmund in charge of the foundering sewer project instead of the kingdom.
When he tries to start afresh with Brigaed, he is crushed to discover that through reckless riding she caused herself to miscarry. His emotional withdrawal crushes her confidence.
In love with an Earl’s daughter he cannot afford to court, Teagan redoubles his displays of hard work and loyalty, in hopes Johnny will reward him. A mere Arcian can do well if he gives his all to the crown. He is promoted to Knight Commander General, but rejected by his family for being a traitorous bootlicker to the Umbraen institution.
That summer, Henri D’Alsae comes of age and elopes with Matilda, killing her father and using the power of Vosges to reclaim Alsae. Lacking adequate troops, Edmund hatches a sly plan to set D’Alsae’s camp on fire in the night. Johnny rejects the idea when his other Earls object loudly, but Edmund sneaks off before the battle and does it anyway. Despite winning, the Earls are angry about Edmund’s lack of chivalry. Johnny takes Edmund aside ostensibly to scold, but instead thanks him, and they make a pact in which Johnny will play the Hero while Edmund gets things done.
Edmund goes full steam ahead with the sewer project, raising taxes. When merchants begin to camp outside the walls, he contracts Asturian brigands to raid their tents, driving them back into the city under Good King Johnny’s protection... and taxation.
After disappointing Johnny again with her general inability to be like Anne, Brigaed stifles her opinions. Johnny hopes a child will save their relationship, which she takes to mean her only value is as brood mare. She secretly begins self-harming, tearing at her own skin and hair. Johnny refuses to grant Teagan land in principle, feeling love and marriage are a farce and Teagan should be glad not to be involved in the whole messy business. In the south, Anne and Hal are very ill with consumption, which she sees as punishment for her relationship with Johnny.
Desperate for attention, Brigaed tells Johnny her inability to conceive is probably his fault. During the resulting fight and angry sex, she goads him into hitting her. Afterwards he locks himself in his suite, retching and weeping.
Visiting, Aeron discovers the marks on his sister and threatens to unmake Johnny’s kingship the same way he made it. Aeron leaves in a fury, and Johnny, lost, alone, and hating himself, flees to Aques.
Perceiving he is not yet consumptive, Anne refuses him entrance, hoping his famed good works of ending rebellions and curing cholera will be enough to offset the crime of loving her. Unaware that Hal has died two days prior, Johnny begs leave to visit his son and is again refused. Anne whispers her goodbyes as she watches his column ride away.
Paxter D’Andre, now married to Eleanor, uses her bridal territory as a base to annex parts of Umbrae. Her father the Earl disowns her, and Johnny successfully reclaims the lost territory and captures D’Andre.  While ostensibly begging for clemency, Eleanor hatching a scheme to secure his D’Andre’s sister DAPHNE D’ANDRE as a hostage by putting her in danger so Johnny can “rescue” her.
 Johnny is devastated by the un-heroicness of the whole thing – like parhelions winning battles for him, everything he is acclaimed for is an illusion, and all of his legitimate attempts to be good have blown up in his face. He realizes that romantic notions of good and evil and happily ever after is a farce, and gives up on the idea of being good. He sleeps with Eleanor while her husband D’Andre hails him as a hero, savouring the irony.
Brigaed loses another pregnancy. Johnny remarks about the uselessness of a wife who cannot bear a child. Receiving further bad news in a letter, he sequesters himself in his council chambers. An over-eager courtier interprets his remark as a wish and sends an assassin after Brigaed. Edmund intercepts the assassin and kills him, but is stabbed. Teagan forces his way into the council chamber with the emergency news, and Johnny asks what could possibly be important when Anne of Aques is dead.
The following spring, Henri D’Alsae surfaces and rebels again. Johnny goes to put it down, ignoring Edmund’s pleas to take the threat seriously. Before the battle, Johnny relents and names the still-faithful Teagan Earl of Alsae. Edmund’s misgivings prove correct, and Henri D’Alsae is aided by D’Armine and D’Astur. The battle is disastrous and both Johnny and Teagan are killed. 
A wilfully delusional Brigaed, finally pregnant again and praying this one will make Johnny love her, runs out into the bailey as the army returns. She searches for Johnny... but there is only Edmund. 

Did your eyes to glaze over trying to read that? Way too many characters. Way too little emotion. Way too dull.  Now for version 2! Should be a little less headache-inducing.

When nineteen-year-old JOHN DARCY survives a conquest and inherits a shattered kingdom, his people are desperate for a hero. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, but the heroic ballads he was weaned on say honour and chivalry conquer all. He rallies his scattered troops and allies himself with neighbouring Rhae’llor by marrying thirteen-year-old princess BRIGAED. She’s too scared to consummate, and he’s too chivalrous to force her. She falls madly for him. 
By contrast, his younger brother EDMUND is a nasty little shit, and John must constantly police Edmund’s lechery. Then John himself is seduced by the much older duchess ANNE D’AQUES, and humiliated by the irony when he is obliged to punish Edmund for being caught in adultery. John tries desperately to make his situation honourable, begging Anne to marry him. Unconsummated, his existing marriage is not binding. He offers to name their bastard son, HENRY, his heir. She reminds him while a little fun is harmless, marrying her would start a war with Brigaed’s family. She pleads for him to go home focus on being a good king. 
John tries to live up to Anne’s standard of ‘good.’ He brings Brigaed, now fifteen, home to be his queen. Determined to do right by her, he gives her the freedom and political sway he imagines Anne would have wanted. When plague decimates his population, he chooses ethics over expense, commissioning sewers. Not comprehending the necessity and resentful of the raised taxes, his vassals rebel. He puts down the rebellion, but when he chivalrously spares those who surrender, they turn around and rebel again. Edmund settles it by burning the rebels to death in their sleep. It’s brutal, un-chivalrous butchery... but it ends the war, saving countless lives. Suddenly, good and evil become much harder for John to identify. 
John publicly reprimands his brother, but privately, they make a pact to work together. They push forth with the sewers, raising taxes again. When merchants begin to camp outside the walls, John has Edmund stage a “brigand” raid so he can “save” them, shepherding them back into the city’s protection - and taxation. Killing his own citizens in a parody of heroism makes John’s skin crawl... but the sewers end the outbreak of plague, and isn’t that what really matters? 
Brigaed’s clumsy attempts at politics backfire, turning John’s neighbours against him. She also proves unable to carry a child to term. In the absence of an heir, ambitious earls begin eyeing his throne. Frustrated and longing for Anne and Henry, John shunts Brigaed aside. She needles him about his bastards, and when he denies having any, blames their lack of children on his apparent lack of virility. She suggests she should sleep with Edmund, who is better at getting things done. Emasculated and furious, John hits her. Sick with disgust at his actions and no longer sure what he stands for, he flees to Aques. 
Anne is near death with consumption, which she sees as punishment for their relationship. She refuses him entrance. John begs to see Henry, and discovers he has died two days earlier. John leaves, deciding that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are a farce, and gives up on the idea of being a hero. He goes into a tailspin of reckless wars and bedding other men’s wives, trying to see how much he can get away with while still being called the Good King. He remarks on Brigaed’s worthlessness, which a courtier interprets as a command, attempting to kill her. Edmund intercepts the assassin and is stabbed in the process. When a messenger reaches John, he asks what could possibly be important, when Anne D’Aques is dead. 
Jaded and empty, John engages in an unwinnable battle, and is overwhelmed. He dies laughing at the joke on himself.

Now here's the best part of this process - writing the synopsis forced me to fix my actual plot.
First of all, in the long drifty first version, where I shoe-horned in all the subplots, I even fixed one of those. I realised I couldn't summarise Teagan's arc well... because I hadn't written it well. His scenes did not support a clear arc. In forcing myself to find a way to explain it in a few sentences, I realised I had to re-order his scenes so they better supported clear character development. That's a major advantage of synopsis writing well before you actually pitch - it makes you fix your actual book.

Secondly, between the first and second versions, I implemented all the advice about what an agent actually wants to see without clawing their eyes out. Made it concise, pared down, about just the main character. Made it about how he reacts to and feels about things. Made it about how he grows and changes. (Genre fiction might have different rules, but I arguably write "literary" in that it's character-driven and meant to make statements about the human condition, rather than a rollicking adventure plot, even though it's technically historical fantasy.) I'm sure you can see how that altered the versions.

I shared this and got some great feedback from another Ubergrouper:

Anne seems to drift in and out, but she seems to act as a strong motivator for John. She seems to be a loving guiding hand, and then she seems to be suddenly regretting her relationship with John. Is it your intention to make her the impossible dream he tries to reach for? Why would she suddenly feel she was being punished?

 Good freaking question! So, using the same method I had of telling the story from John's emotional perspective, I wrote one from Anne's, to define her character arc:

Anne is an Eleanor of Aquitaine analogue. She is 30 and married with three children when she meets John. She is the Duchess of Aques in her own right and the Emirah of Valenthia by marriage.  She is an icon of female empowerment in a patriarchal feudal society. She and her husband have an understanding that, exactly as a man in her era and political position would do, she may take lovers on the side so long as she does not flaunt it or disrupt the primary domestic and political arrangement. That is the context in which she beings sleeping with John. It is a reverse power play - he is eleven years younger than her and it amuses her keep him like a pet, as a duke or king might keep a mistress. 
Unfortunately, finding his nigh-Quixotic idealism endearing, she falls for him as a person. It destroys her when he can't even be an indifferent douchebag about Henry, their bastard son, like spoiled little princes are supposed to be. No, he just has to go and offer to set the world on fire to preserve her honour and protect the interests of their son. She is no longer respecting her agreement with her husband - this is not casual or in good fun any more. Heavily conflicted, she rejects John, telling him to go home to Brigaed and be good. 
When things begin to fall apart for him and with Brigaed in particular, he runs to her. Anne's in far deeper than she ever wanted to be - he's treating her like some kind of erotic idol upon which to displace his unhappiness at home. She knows she needs to cut and run, but she can't bear to see how lost he is. Against her better judgement but in line with her heart, she gives him solace (he spends the winter at her court, teaching their son to walk) and bails him out of the political mess Brigaed has gotten him into. She sends him home in the spring at the earliest excuse. 
When both she and Henry contract consumption (because of an extended visit to the consumptive household of a neighbouring Duke for the purpose of mitigating John's political troubles) in the typical mindset of the era, she sees it as punishment for her sins, a confirmation that Henry was born of a love that should never have been. To protect her other children from the disease, she retreats from her husband's estates to her own, and there Henry dies. 
When things fall apart beyond repair with Brigaed, John flees to Anne again, unaware of how close to death she is. She refuses him entrance, tries to convince herself he is being selfish, just looking to sleep with her for a distraction, but as he begs through the door to see her it comes out that because of his failure to be good to Brigaed, he desperately wants to redeem himself by being good to someone. He has heard Henry was ailing, and brought him a toy boat, hoping it would cheer him. John himself loved toy boats at that age...
She tells him Henry has died two days before, and bids him goodbye.
Several weeks later, she dies, and John gives up on everything.
Robin also picked on Brigaed:

Brigaed seems to be a piece of work, going from innocent, and in love, to bitter and twisted, from constantly being ignored and shunted aside. You could really work with that, as she seems quite instrumental in John's disenchantment, and loss of idealism. Almost the physical embodiment of his struggles.

I'm sure you can see where this is going. Synopsis format is making it very easy to verify character development and consistent pacing in my storytelling. Does the point get proven by the end? Are the proof-points evenly distributed? Does everyone have a real character based reason for acting as they do? Is it written in true Egri fashion (which I believe is also the definition of good character-driven literary fiction) wherin the plot is the inevitable, hurtling-along-unstoppably result of who these people fundamentally are? Does it only happen because there's absolutely no other way it could have gone?

So here's Brigaed's:

Brigaed is a Disney Princess archetype - pretty, headstrong, and naive. She comes from a Viking-style culture that practices selective female infanticide as a means of population control to keep within the bounds of resource scarcity. As a result, women permitted to survive to reproductive age in her culture are excessively sheltered and revered, a kind of sacred fertility doll. Polyandry in the form of multiple brothers sharing a wife is also commonly practised.
Her head is full of big dreams and romantic myths from the old epics, as well as a culturally-instilled sense of entitlement. John actually shares her upbringing on these romantic myths, as his kingdom is a colonial derivative of hers - Vikings who spilled out into the rest of the world because of the lack of women and arable land back home, settled in Normandy and intermarried with the French. They have repeated clashes over the fact that they technically speak the same language and worship the same gods, but the day-to-day manner of living and thinking of their respective cultures have grown wildly apart, causing a terrible mismatch in expectations about each other's behaviour. 
Trying to do good by her, John gives her unlimited power, because it's what Anne would have wanted. Accustomed to being granted things, Brigaed assumes this is her right, but in reality women of her culture are kept far separate from practical politics, and she has no idea what she's doing. In a misguided attempt to help him, she makes several political matches, effectively giving nearly a third of his kingdom away to his enemies. 

Unable to see the scope of the damage she's caused and unaccustomed to being able to do any wrong, she is offended that he presumes to be upset with her. When he leaves the city in frustration, she tries to follow him, and he forbids her. Rebellious, she attempts to jump a fence and escape, falling from her horse and causing herself to miscarry their unborn child.
Upon finding out about the foolishness-induced miscarriage, he is not angry, but heartbroken. His disappointment and loss of trust confirms her own insecurities, and she mentally collapses in upon herself. Though he makes a few more diminishing attempts to have a relationship with her, she has no realistic chance of ever catching up to the pedestal upon which Anne stands. She can see that he is forcing himself to go through the motions to hide the emptiness within the form. 
Knowing his heart is elsewhere and desperate for any attention at all, she needles him about their lack of children, blaming his lack of virility and suggesting she sleep with Edmund instead. She deliberately goads him into angry sex, those being the only two reactions she knows how to elicit with any intensity. The scene gets uglier than either of them intended, causing mutual trauma. 
She retreats into a public parody of happiness, too terrified of what might happen if she engages him with sincerity. She prays that one of these pregnancies will last, as she feels childbearing has become her only value to him, and therefore, their only chance at happiness. When someone tries to murder her for being "useless" after a second miscarriage, Edmund is the only one who notices or cares, and is in fact injured while protecting her. 
Brigaed is tiptoeing on eggshells, lying to herself that John loves her and that her third pregnancy will be the one that works out, when he is killed in the unwinnable battle. The army returns, and she runs out into the bailey, searching for John... but there is only Edmund.
 Finally and most importantly, I did Edmund. His goes on a bit further chronologically, as there was a planned second book about him after John's death:

Edmund is an insecure little boy growing up in his brother John’s shadow. He’s never cool enough to hang with the big boys, he’s told to hide his “evil” left-handedness, and he’s a complete failure with women. The first girl he tries to charm not only fails to notice him, she turns out to be Brigaed, the bride John was on his way to meet. 
When John shacks up with the iconic Duchess Anne despite all the noise he makes about honour, Edmund is humiliated to discover the only female who appears to fancy him is Anne’s eight year old daughter, Margaret. He decides to one up his brother by sneaking into the neighbouring Emir’s harem, seeking a married woman of equal political standing to Anne. He is caught, and the Emir demands his head. 
To regain custody, John is forced to flog Edmund for his attempted adultery – a crime that, ironically, only John has ever actually committed. Calling his brother out, however, will only hurt them more politically, so Edmund takes the punishment in silence. Afterwards, face down in the healer’s tent, for the first time in his life Edmund find himself being praised for his valour and solidarity. 
He steps into a new role – one of allegiance with his brother. The more useful he can make himself, the more John approves of him. When a rebellion flares up that John hasn’t the troops to put down, Edmund solves the problem by setting the enemy camp on fire, slaughtering the rebels in their sleep. John’s vassals are outraged by the barbaric lack of chivalry, so Edmund lets John maintain his ‘Good King’ image by pretending to reprimand him. Secretly, they make a pact to work together. 
When raised taxes drive merchants outside the city walls, Edmund hires brigands and stages a raid from which John can save them. When John leaves to pick up the pieces after Brigaed’s mistakes shatter the kingdom, he names Edmund his regent. Edmund sees in Brigaed shadows of his former self – young, naive, bumbling, cursed with never being good enough to merit John’s approval. 
Brigaed sarcastically propositions Edmund as a way to make John jealous. When John ignores her after she loses their second child, secluding himself in his council chambers, Edmund is worried about her, but is afraid to give any impression of interest. Indecisively lurking in the shadows of her suite, he is there to kill the assassin meant for her, getting stabbed in the shoulder in the process. 
Edmund discovers he is the only one who cares about anything anymore, now that Anne is dead. When the rebellion flares up again, Edmund begs John to be practical about bringing reinforcements to put it down. John scorns the idea and the resulting disaster kills him and half of the army. 
Edmund finds himself king – a lonely, heirless, and despised king, after years of playing bad cop to John, at the head of a shattered kingdom. Trapped by political enemies, he tries a reckless bluff. Shockingly, it works. Abruptly, he comprehends the joke on all kings, the one about “graves and worms and epitaphs” (1) at which John died laughing. Politics and history are an illusion, a game, a farce written by the victors – nothing is simply, starkly Good or Evil, and history only remembers what the historians are commissioned to tell. 
With the ghost of John laughing in his ears, Edmund attacks the game, eager to do things the way he told John they should have been done. He marries Margaret, now sixteen, and utilises the allegiance with her father to brutally crush the rebellion. He executes every captive including the underage heir, whom John would have pardoned. Bugger public image – this one’s not going to come back to bite him in the ass. 
He gluts himself on the superficial trappings of power. Margaret, terrified of her famous butcher  husband, lavishes feasts, hunts, additional women, and every hedonistic fantasy she can create upon him, in hopes that keeping him drunk and satisfied will prevent him from killing her.
Disguised, he sneaks into the city for a bit of sport and is caught up in a riot spawned of the same long-simmering religious tensions behind the many rebellions. He realises he caused it to boil over from lack of attention. Edmund is humiliated by his own irresponsibility. Not worrying about what people think of him doesn’t mean he shouldn’t do what he believes to be right. He lifts the ban on the oppressed folk religion, indifferent to the fury of the established church.
 His previous actions continue to come back to him. One of his Earls, genuinely believing him to be evil, attempts to murder him to save the country from his despotism. The Earl’s confederate in the scheme, however, is a practitioner of the folk religion, and backs on out on his agreement to stab Edmund in the back. Edmund wins the fight, killing the Earl. There are many witnesses, and public opinion of is further muddied. 
Rather than keep her as a concubine, he sets Brigaed up as the abbess of a convent, surrounded by those who care about her, where her body and spirit may finally heal. He tries, stutteringly, to do the thing he fears most – to be honest to Margaret, to trust her and love her, to allow her to have power over him and to think of someone else before himself. He sends away his concubines in favour of being faithful to her. He doesn’t tell her, because it’s not about bragging. It’s about doing what he believes is right no matter who can see. 
Margaret’s elder sister, current Duchess D’Aques, dies, and everyone makes a grab for the duchy. According to Anne’s wishes that Aques stay in the female line, it should go to Margaret. Edmund masses his forces on the Aquesi border, reaches an agreement with Margaret’s father, and returns home, triumphant, just in time to discover her in bed with another man. 
He is shattered. He finds himself where John once was, sequestered in his council chambers and alone in the world. Margaret comes to him on her knees, sobbing – she wasn’t aware that he had suddenly changed the rules. Still too injured and habitually impacted to communicate, the only thing manages to say out loud is that he wonders is who the children’s real father is.
He awakens the next afternoon with a murderous hangover to discover Margaret has taken the children and fled for Aques... in the middle of a succession war, refusing any military escort, because all available troops are Edmund’s and she believes she is no longer queen. Terrified for her safety, Edmund forms a column and chases after her, catching up with her several hours south of the city. His toddler son demands to know if the man in the armour on the horse is Da. Margaret declines to answer, as Edmund did not believe her last night. He removes his helm, answering yes, it is Da, and the overjoyed toddler charges into the middle of all the agitated war horses. 
Edmund leaps down and snatches him to protect him from being trampled. A shaken Margaret is left without a doubt that Edmund really considers the boy his son. She asks if he has come to collect her, his property, and he says no, he has come to ask her, his wife, if she will please come home. 
This is completely against the mindset of his era and culture, who believe kings ‘are not born to sue, but to command,’ and many disparage him as weak and lovesick. Edmund doesn’t care, and whether or not anyone will remember it in the histories, he and Margaret proceed to live quietly, ingloriously, and happily ever after.

1 –
“Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth;
Let's choose executors, and talk of wills:
And yet not so — for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?
Our lands, our lives, and all, are Bolingbroke's,
And nothing can we call our own but death;
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground,
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos'd, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos'd;
Some poison'd by their wives, some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd — for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
Keeps Death his court: and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp;
Allowing him a breath, a little scene
To monarchize, be fear'd, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit —
As if this flesh, which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable — and, humour'd thus,
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and — farewell king!”
- Shakespeare, Richard II


...guess what I found out, after five years of worldbuilding and one year of seriously writing drafts of what I was attempting to make as a dramatic arc centred around John?

EDMUND IS THE MAIN CHARACTER.

So, this forced me to REWRITE THE ENTIRE BOOK YET AGAIN. I combined what was originally going to be Book 1: Good (John's story) with Book 2: Evil (Edmund's story) and overhauled the living crap out of it. Here is the FINAL final synopsis - combining both books and detailing how I have been obliged to rewrite completely based on synopsis-writing discovery.

EDMUND D’ARCY is an insecure little boy growing up in his brother, King JOHN’s shadow. He’s never cool enough to hang with the big boys, and he’s told to hide his ‘evil’ left-handedness. When John begins an affair with the iconic Duchess ANNE D’AQUES, Edmund is humiliated to discover the only female who fancies him is Anne’s eight year old daughter, MARGARET. He tries to one up his brother by sneaking into the neighbouring Emir’s harem, but is caught. To maintain appearances, John flogs Edmund for adultery, a crime of which only John is guilty. Edmund keeps his secret and endures the brutal punishment without complaint, winning John’s praise for the first time in his life. 
Humiliated by the irony, John tries to make his situation honourable, begging Anne to marry him. He even offers to name their bastard son his heir. Anne, unwilling to start wars with their existing spouses, reminds him his child-bride, BRIGAED, is now old enough to be a wife. She pleads for him to be a good king. John tries, giving Brigaed the freedom he imagines Anne would want. Brigaed’s clumsy attempt at politics backfires and destroy an alliance, making him resent her for not being Anne. 
He puts down a religious rebellion, but when he spares those who surrender, they revolt again.  Edmund solves the problem by setting the enemy camp on fire.  It’s against all chivalry, but it ends the war. Concerned with appearing benevolent, John pardons the survivors. Secretly, Edmund begins to do all his dirty work, allowing John to pose as a hero. 
Unwanted and bitter, Brigaed suggests her inability to conceive is John’s shortcoming and propositions Edmund, who gets things done. John hits her. Disgusted at his actions and no longer sure what he stands for, John flees to Aques, only to find his son dead and Anne close behind from consumption, which she sees as punishment for their relationship. Devastated, John leaves, giving up on the idea of being a hero. When the rebellion flares up yet again, a jaded and empty John rushes into battle, and dies laughing at the joke on his life has become. 
Edmund finds himself a despised king at the head of a shattered kingdom. He comprehends the joke on all kings: nothing is simply Good or Evil, and history only remembers what the historians are commissioned to tell. Edmund decides to learn from his brother’s mistakes and lifts the ban on the oppressed folk religion, indifferent to the fury of the established church. He marries Margaret, now sixteen, and brutally crushes the recurring rebellion, finally executing the heir whom John would have pardoned. Bugger public image; this one’s not going to come back. 
He even tries to do the thing he fears most—to trust Margaret and share the crown’s power. But she is terrified of his reputation and flees. To show her he is not the bloodthirsty tyrant stories claim, he declines to retrieve her by force, instead begging her to return as his love. Though history will remember him as snivelling, weak, and evil, Edmund doesn't care, and he and Margaret proceed to live quietly and happily ever after.
Synopsis writing. It's scary. It's hard. It CHANGES EVERYTHING.

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