In Heaven's Name, What Was I Thinking?

Wile-E.-Coyote

There’s an old Wile E. Coyote cartoon that I wish I could find again for one two-minute segment. Wile E. is in the desert, standing under a flat outcrop of rock with a stick. For some reason, he’s poking at it. Over and over and over. Then you hear a crack, and Wile E. looks at the viewer and pulls out a sign that says, “In heaven’s name, what was I thinking?” Then the rock collapses on him.

This isn’t the same one, but it’s very close . . .

If they ever film my life, they can just play that two minutes over and over again. Especially they can play it when they’re talking about my story choices. (And my romantic choices. And my real estate choices. And . . . wait, where was I?)

A zillion years ago, three of us were working on a fairy tale collaboration. We came up with a premise and plotted the novel and then we all wandered off, but I kept playing in the world and I built more stories on that premise. Today I went back to those stories to pull them in line with the Monday Street stories since they take place in the same world, and I really looked at that premise for the first time.

In heaven’s name, what was I thinking?

It’s not like I haven’t been here before. Several years ago my agent sold a book to my editor at SMP, the only book I’d never sold. It had never sold for a reason and a big part of that reason was the godawful stupid premise, one of the worst romance premises of all time: the hero makes a bet he can’t get the heroine. Stupidest premise of all time since it guarantees that (a) the hero is a jackass and (b) the Big Misunderstanding is going to crop up over and over again. I did everything I could to get out from under that damn premise including having the hero turn the bet down and having The Big Misunderstanding implode early, but it’s still a terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE premise. After that, the first thing I looked at any time I got a story idea was, “Does this make sense?” closely followed by “Does this mean the protagonists are jerks/stupid/users/criminally insane?” It’s amazing how many premises don’t survive those two questions.

And yet when I went back to the Zo Stories, now with the working title of Paradise Park, there I was again. “Does this make sense?” No. “Does this mean the protagonists are stupid?” Yes. But I liked the stories. I liked the characters, liked who they were, liked what they did. The only real problem was the idea that made them all possible: it was impossible. Not just that the antagonist would have to be dumb as a rock to think that would get him his goal, not just the entire world of the story would have to be asleep at the switch to let him get away with it for as long as he does, not just that one character with a modicum of common sense could put an end to the whole shebang, but that the goal was biologically, physically impossible. Also it didn’t make sense.

In heaven’s name, what was I thinking?

I’d explain it here, but I just tried to explain it to Toni, thinking she’d talk me out of the woods, and I couldn’t even explain it to her. So we tried to reverse engineer it: “People are trying to kill/kidnap all the Riven princesses over the age of 16 and the only way they can escape is to marry a commoner.” Figuring out motivation for killing or kidnapping princesses is easy; figuring out why getting married to a commoner removes the impetus is damn near impossible, unless the princesses have to be removed before they marry royalty, in which case, two questions remain:

How many damn princesses are there?
and
WHY????

Dumbest premise ever. At this point, I’d welcome a hero making a bet.

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Make me feel better. What the dumbest premise you ever encountered in a story?

128 thoughts on “In Heaven's Name, What Was I Thinking?

    1. Deborah – it certainly sounds like BET ME and I really like that book too. That’s why I’m confident that the girls in Jenny’s basement have a way to make the fairy tale stories work as well. They just haven’t shared it with her yet.

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    2. Bet Me was my first Crusie. I loved it! It was the one that hooked me and started me reading romances again. Shows true talent when a bad premise can be turned into such an excellent story!

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  1. Hmm interesting problem

    I would make that world’s Royalty a matriarchy, So flip the standard male entail for land, the throne can only go to the female line, so daughters then female cousins come ahead of sons. Princesses become eligible for the throne when they reach sixteen, If there is no direct descendent, you’re left poring over the family trees to find who has the strongest claim, so the niece of someone’s granddaughter or the great grand daughter of someone’s son, who are Princesses by right, but by marrying a commoner you lose the right to succession. Almost happened in England to Princess Margaret (Peter Townsend). Of course someone powerful is trying to improve their own chance of succession, so the more sensible or less protected girls are trying to disqualify themselves

    It’s midnight in the UK, this may sound dumb in the morning:)

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    1. This is EXACTLY what I was thinking when I was reading that. Somebody’s bumping off princesses to up *their* princess up the marriage tree. People can want that for all types of reasons — power and money are probably two of the most solid reasons. People will do all sorts of things to keep their reputation and “respectability.”

      This part of the post resonated with me lots: “Does this mean the protagonists are jerks/stupid/users/criminally insane?” I still have a book idea I love but in order to make the plot work I feel like it makes my hero a jerk. “How can anybody like him?!” I keep thinking. “What a self-serving jackass.” And yet part of me knows it’s not unrealistic. Just because he’d do something that benefits him at the cost of someone else’s happiness (especially is he thinks that person is being ridiculous and petty) doesn’t make him a bad person. But once the heroine explains why and he persists….. *that* makes him a jerk. LOL.

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      1. That’s such a hard call to make. Good people do act like jerks sometimes, but in fiction, people you want the reader to root for just have to be better than that.

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        1. I think your protagonists can act like jerks once the reader has gotten attached to them, so the reader’s reaction to the jerk behavior is “Oh, I understand why she did that, and she’s going to feel so awful later” rather than “Ugh [close book].”

          I’ve been re-watching the Gilmore Girls since it became available on Netflix, and Rory is really awful to Dean as she’s falling in love with Jess. But it still works because you’ve already gotten to like this character, and you know she’ll feel bad about her behavior once Dean explicitly calls her on it and breaks up with her. (And the show does depict her feeling immediately bad in a “I got caught and embarrassed” way as soon as he breaks up with her, and feeling bad in a more mature “I acted very badly” way later on.) Certainly over a long story like a multi-season TV series, protagonists have to behave badly occasionally or otherwise they look inhuman, which doesn’t keep the audience’s sympathy/interest either.

          Even in shorter stories like a children’s movie, jerk behavior doesn’t lose the audience so long as we are already sympathetic to the character and understand why he acted that way. I just saw “Big Hero 6” (recommended), and the main protagonist does act like a jerk in the heat of the moment at one point, and is terrible to his friends. He comes to realize that what he did was wrong and he apologizes to his friends and is better going forward.

          Actually the “better going forward” might be the most important thing for me. As I’ve mentioned here, I can stick with a story in which the protagonist keeps making mistakes; I cannot stick with one in which she makes the same damn mistake over and over and never really learns even after people have explicitly told her “This is the mistake you keep making” and she says, “Yeah, I see that.”

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        2. Exactly, and there’s my problem. Can’t have the hero intent on dragging the heroine back home when she doesn’t want to go no matter how loyal he is the person he’s doing said favor for. Add a self-serving factor to it and…. blah! I’ve never been able to get around that for this plot, so the book sits. And sits. And sits.

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          1. Yeah, I was trying to think of a way around that. He knows it’s better for her if she goes home. Nope, he’s still taking away her agency.

            That kind of plot always takes me back to Moonstruck. It’s really Ronnie and Loretta fighting over Loretta’s future, the safe one she wants or the passionate one he thinks will set her free. Turns out he’s right, and he wins, but he still destroys who she was to do it. Who she was imprisoned the real Loretta, but the difference between Ronnie and a stalker is pretty thin, the saving grace being that he negotiates with her, he doesn’t force her or follow her. He doesn’t invade her space as much as he convinces her to let him in, over and over and over again, and when he is with her, he treats her with such overwhelming respect and love that you have to root for him.
            Don’t know if that helps, but I think it’s an outstanding example of the heroine vs hero plot. Toward the end when he makes his “we were born to break our hearts and love each other and die” speech and then says, “Now go upstairs and get into my bed,” you’re thinking, “Go get into that bed, Loretta, what are you, nuts?”

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          2. Didn’t Shrek (the “hero” in the movie Shrek) basically drag the heroine back home… good movie. just saying. 🙂

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  2. I was wondering the same thing Deborah. And I love Bet Me too. And I am hoping the fairy tale stories eventually make it to publication.

    I like Kay’s idea of the matriarchal lineage for succession. It would make your story line very plausible. And since this is a fairy taleish type of world, why can’t there be several princesses? After all, if the Duggar family can have 19 kids in our world, the queen and king can have half a dozen or so kids in their world!

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  3. Oh man, the world is full of stories with stupid premises. Elderly man goes out in a small boat on the ocean to catch a fish. Thinks great thoughts in short sentences.

    Unattractive servant girl suffers, is rejected by snobby distant relatives, gets courted by stiffnecked selfish missionary and self-absorbed wealthy playboy, whose life is shattered by crazy firebug wife, almost all live happily ever after.

    Man wakes up as insect. Strange things happen.

    I think your readers will want to read your books because of (a) the characters and (b) the setting, which sounds fun. If you find more-or-less logical reasons for your basic plot points, I will suspend disbelief and really enjoy the book.

    As for the how many princesses problem, can’t this be a serial challenge, with some reason to try for the right one and go through some wrong ones along the way?

    Or can’t you just add some feature that makes the princesses’ motivations clear to them but not to the antagonist(s), and vice versa, so that they are at cross purposes? Maybe the princesses aren’t after commoners per se, but specific families or possessions, or occupational monopolies, while the bad guys/princes/tyrants are looking for — well whatever it is that they believe they’ll get by nabbing their quarry at a specific moment.

    I think in a fairy tale, this kind of thing is resolvable in lots and lots of ways. It just sounds like you haven’t sat around in the heads of these people for long enough to make their feelings and assumptions clear to you, which is always a challenge when it comes to explaining them to someone else.

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  4. I, too, loved Bet Me. I lived in Malaysia for several years. There the royal blood of the Sultans is considered magical in itself. Heal the sick, tell the future, etc. If sullied by common blood, it is no longer magical. This is an exaggerated version of the belief but it would explain why the princesses are a threat

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  5. It is a matriarchy, but the crown is still passed to the oldest son of the oldest princess if she married royalty. If bloodlines are important, that’s the smartest way to do it. You always know who’s the child of royalty because the royal person gave birth, but there’s no handing down the throne to the eldest son of whoever’s on the throne, there’s always a handoff of power to another branch of the family.
    For story-telling purposes, of course, this sucks. Too much convoluted back story.

    I did get as far as the royal bloodline passing on some tangible talent through the princesses, and then I hit the wall of “which is neutralizes when she marries.” Because there’s no way that one’s gonna work biologically.

    Yes, that book was Bet Me. I ended up tossing all but about 5000 words so I pretty much started over. It’s still a stupid, stupid premise.

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    1. Would the stories work if it was neutralized by pregnancy by a commoner, rather than marriage? Pregnancy can do all sorts of wacky biological stuff.

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    2. No, it has to make sense. The air fish make sense within the universe.

      I can set up a million reasons to kidnap princesses. I can’t think of one that goes away if she marries non-royalty.

      The thing is, it’s fantasy, but it’s logical fantasy.

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      1. Prophecy.

        When in doubt, the Delphi oracle (or your equivalent in this world) has spewed a prophecy that says an unmarried princess is going to be a danger to the antagonist’s goal or that a princess married to a royal is going to accomplish what they want. Everyone is reading the prophecy that marrying a commoner takes that princess out of the running for the rest of the prophecy.

        The best part of this is a well written prophecy is like Oedipus – what you think is what you bring about because the meaning is not what you think.

        The other thing that could disenfranchise your princesses is a more medevial religious view. Someone mentioned Princess Margaret & Peter Townsend. Belief is a powerful tool – if the society and the princesses believe that marrying or sleeping with a commoner makes you unclean, it can.

        Except when one princess says no.

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    3. I did get as far as the royal bloodline passing on some tangible talent through the princesses, and then I hit the wall of “which is neutralizes when she marries.” Because there’s no way that one’s gonna work biologically.

      Royalty is royalty because of a spell. This is the source of their talent. The spell is broken when they marry a commoner.

      Works?

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      1. Let me think about that one.
        So somebody’s killing them to deprive the royal family of this centuries-long gift?
        Must be some gift. Cogitating.
        Not sure why marrying a commoner would take them out of danger; they’d still have the gift, just couldn’t pass it one.
        Maybe I just need to ditch the marry-a-commoner part. Although there goes my romance plot. Which was stupid anyway.
        What was I thinking?

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        1. Not sure why marrying a commoner would take them out of danger; they’d still have the gift, just couldn’t pass it one.

          My thought was the gift is present because of the original spell, thus the gift is spell related, not blood related. The spell could be for the original Riven princess and all her female descendents. (Just like curses are often multi-generational.) If the spell is broken by marriage (or fooling around?) with a commoner, then the gift for that princess is gone. Much like true love’s kiss broke the spell that woke Sleeping Beauty.

          Of course you’d have to consider who cast the original spell and why. Why that particular caveat in the spell about commoners? Did they cast a similar spell on any other families? Are they still around somewhere?

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        2. The divine right of kings is a gift, yesno? Someone’s killing all the possible divine-right heirs to… start a republic? There have been plenty many creepy republics, I suppose we could still be on the side of the princesses.

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        3. Marriage is a state change. A wedding is a spell (magic ring, the ritual words, the ritual gestures…). If marrying a prince can make you a princess, then marrying a commoner can make you stop being a princess. It’s a fairy tale; magic is a legitimate factor.

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  6. Worst premise: Lizard-people-alien-murderers set up a scavenger hunt among teenagers to…um…I forget (get home? live forever?), but it’s one of my all-time favorite books ever.

    It’s not the premise; it’s how you write it.

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  7. – What about there being a prophecy that Some Powerful People are desperate to prevent being fulfilled? The prophecy is going to be fulfilled by a princess married to a non-commoner. 16 is the marriageable age so the Powerful People kill princesses if they don’t marry a commoner. The prophecy could be about the non-commoner and what will happen if he takes over the throne.
    – Or it could be like the Madness of King George? The royal families are all inter-married and there is a rampant crazy gene. The princess kidnappings and killings are to prevent 2 royals marrying and producing yet another crazy king. Or it could be an aggressive gene, so maybe 2 royals marrying gives you a Ghengis Khan? Maybe that already have one mad king locked away. You could swing it biologically, because it’s a gene that both the parents have to have. But what if a commoner marries a princess and has the gene (he’s the result of royal fornication from way-back)?
    – If it’s a magical world, maybe it isn’t about biology. Perhaps a royal princess marrying a commoner means she loses her immortality?
    – Perhaps royal men only ever have daughters and the nation needs male princes so the marriageable princesses are forced to marry commoners? If it needs to be medically believable (well, half-believable), anaesthesiologists are more likely to have girls because of something to do with the gas they work with. Maybe there is a planetary gas (environmental toxin) that causes the royal men to have girl children? Perhaps they’re expecting a Grand War and want the princesses to have male children so they have a clutch of male, royal leaders?

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    1. All good ideas, except it’s 1910. If they don’t want princesses marrying royalty, they just pass a law. The prophecy would work in an earlier time, but 1910? Nope.
      It’s just a stupid, stupid premise. And I’m going to lose a big chunk because I was a stupid, stupid writer and built my story on the equivalent of sand. ARRRRRRRGH.

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      1. So, you’re saying that the royalty doesn’t rule, since people can pass a law?

        I knew Monday Street was 1910 but are all the stories in this world during the same timeframe or could they be from other centuries?

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        1. These stories are 1904.
          The origin of this premise was back in the 1600s or so, fairy tale time. Then I, with my usual acuity, started stories in 1904 and just kept the STUPID STUPID premise. That was a mistake.

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          1. Because they share characters with Monday Street. Harry, my hero in Monday Street, is a screw-up cop in Paradise Park. Ecks, the hero in Paradise Park, is his uncle and his superior in the force, so in Monday Street, six years later, Harry reports to Ecks. I like the way the two books feed each other, build on each other’s stories.

            Someday we may go back to the Fairy Tale Lies story, and then that’ll be set way back when. But these two books are only six years apart.

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          2. It doesn’t feel stupid. It feels like there’s potential there. It’s just a matter of keep turning the puzzle til you find it. You know you’ll do it while washing dishes or in the shower or something. LOL.

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          3. Well, the dishes do need washed. Just had a shower yesterday and got nothing out of that but clean.
            I really need a bathtub in this house. I used to do some incredible plotting in my old bathtub. One of the few things about the Ohio house that I miss.
            If I finish a book, I can get a bathtub. Now that’s inspiration.

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          4. I get the impression (from Barbara Tuchman, surely) that royalty in *our* 1904 was a whole lot less modern than everyone else. After all, what was in it for the royals?

            That seems usable, having 1600s mores and 1900s mores collinding in a country/family/person.

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      2. You’re thinking prophecy won’t work because it’s 20th century but it’s royalty in the 20th century and royalty draws its strength from earlier times. Think Rasputin at the Russian Court or Edward being forced to step down because he wants to marry a twice divorced woman. There’s no logical reason Edward couldn’t marry her and there was no SECULAR law at the time against it. But the head of the Anglican church could not marry a divorced person at that time.

        It was a religious problem that brought about a government crisis. If he had tried to marry a Catholic, that would have been against the law.What does everyone else believe?

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  8. I forgot to mention that the Monument Valley game has added 8 new levels. Have you noticed? They’re more difficult than the original game and I’m seriously stuck. So much fun!

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    1. THERE ARE NEW LEVELS FOR MONUMENT VALLEY?????
      Talk amongst yourselves. I’ll be back later.

      ETA: So I’m stuck on the Escher level because I can’t figure out how it works. But it’s fabulous. Thank you so much!

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      1. I don’t think they are out yet for non Apple users. At least, I can’t find the levels or a way to update. 🙁

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        1. It’s an in-app purchase. Boot up Monument Valley and it’ll tell you that you can get the next eight levels for two bucks. SUCH A DEAL. And they’re amazing, too.

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          1. I don’t know what Monument Valley is, but it’s probably better I don’t know. I get obsessed with Sudoku, which is just kinda sad, really. Imagine if the game were really fascinating.

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  9. Most Hollywood movies I’ve seen in the past 20 years or so have an incredibly stupid premise, as well as incredibly stupid characters. Which is why I watch fewer and fewer Hollywood movies as the years pass.

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    1. Me, too! First, I switched to Bollywood, but now I am a Kdrama addict (Korean dramas) because the plots usually have great twists. Also, I love the characters.

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  10. What if the princesses, being wise women, want to end the feudal monarchy. They believe there should be a democracy, with equal rights for women. So they’re marrying commoners to end the royal succession, and bow out of the system. But the male royals want the old power base to continue, and need to reinforce it – so they want all the princesses in royal marriages so the succession is secure even if some of them die or don’t reproduce. Besides, those uppity women need putting in their place, and bringing back under male control. (Their fathers having had control of them until they were 16. Or perhaps the fathers have been killed, because the up-and-coming evil princes are fighting to introduce a much more corrupt system, since they can see that the monarchy’s in a natural state of decline as democracy increases, even without the princesses’ revolutionary tendencies.)

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    1. Well, first I’d have to sell the idea that every female in the royal family agreed to give up the perks of royalty. And then that would be what the book was about.
      The idea was that I could just do a handwave and say, “Somebody’s kidnapping/killing princesses to wipe out the royal line so most of them are marrying commoners to survive.” It seems workable until you realize that the antagonist is an idiot; you want to wipe out the royal line, just kill everybody. Slowly wiping out the breeders is inefficient and calls just as much attention to itself as a nice ceiling drop at the next reunion. Plus after the dust clears and you’re the next in line, there’s gonna be some finger-pointing.

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    1. For some people. I don’t think most of them believed; they were like ouija board parties. Not sure how a seance would be forcing princesses to marry commoners. Of course, NOTHING forces princesses to marry commoners so that somebody won’t kill them. Hence my problem.

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      1. That’s because women realize that killings things isn’t what makes you strong, bringing in new life and working so that it is good, that takes waaaaay more strength. Not that I like baby plots. However, I do agree that women deserve more action roles & credit for doing it too.

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      2. Lol! Is THAT what Moby Dick is about? I never understood why it’s a classic.
        I confess I haven’t read it, so how could I understand it, but the reason I haven’t read it is the premise. Doesn’t sound interesting.

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  11. Haven’t read the comments yet, so I bet someone has said this but . . . .

    Whaaaat? Of course the princesses escape the curse by marrying the commoners. They aren’t princesses anymore. That’s what happened to the Japanese Crown Prince’s sister — they made her renounce her royalty.

    And you know how to curse a commoner? Make her marry a prince. Where do we start the list? Princess Diana, Princess Masako . . . I’m pretty sure there’s long list.

    And Bet Me was brilliant.

    Is there any great story that starts from a really well-reasoned, perfectly rational premise? I don’t think so. I think we want to read about people who are slightly insane. The dreamers who dream bigger than reality, the revengers who think two wrongs make it all OK, the lovers who think love is everything, and the end of it is the end of the world. These are stories worth reading.

    (-: My goodness, how did I get up on this soapbox? Perfectly ridiculous of me.

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    1. Escaping the curse by marrying commoners is good.
      Now why is somebody trying to kill/kidnap them but stopping when they get married to commoners?
      The Premise: It Sucks.

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      1. Well, what do they lose by marrying a commoner? A royal vote? A solid gold place-setting? The way out of the Escher level in Monument Valley? What is valuable enough to someone else that a princess must decide to break the status quo?

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      2. Ah! Could it be Science? That whole period of about 30 years was a time of tremendous change. Electricity coming in, telephones, horseless carriages. And also, the idea of being a Princess, thanks to the suffragette movement, was looking less and less attractive. But surely some women thought, “well, I’ll be a princess — WITHOUT a man — AND a scientist/photographer/torpedo delivery engineer.” Some princesses doubt the curse. So . . . some villain has to make the curse a little more personal and upclose.

        Yeah, I see. It all smacks of Scooby-snacks — which is not an insult, because I spent many happy hours watching Scooby Doo.

        I have another data point, just in case it sparks something: Edward married a commoner just about the same time period. Chucked it all for an American divorcee.

        What if you had a plague of male American fortune hunters descend upon the kingdom and unionize to trick princesses into marryiing them . . . . (-: Never mind. Different book.

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        1. Problem with the Edward VIII scenario is that he’s seen as having abandoned his duty; as having been weak and not up to the job when it came to it. Don’t want a lot of weak heroines; would only work if they were making a positive choice in their ‘work’/role as well as in their love life – e.g. if they think the royal system should end, that it’s a bad thing for people.

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  12. Dumbest premise for a book I read was a corporate conservative family owned upscale department store management team held their corporate retreat at pirate retreat and everybody slept with everybody else. Aside from that, I liked the characters and the romance but I couldn’t finish it because the premise was so incredibly ludicrous.

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  13. Oh, I see. Being a princess is a pretty good thing (pre-paparazzi and all).

    OK. But remember that monarchy itself is somewhat magical thinking, and a whole lot stupid premise — but it’s managed to survive into the 21rst century. Barely.

    Do you think there might be something in the history of Archduke Ferdinand that would have relevance to this problem? THERE was a stupid premise, that brought about WWI. Princesses forced to marry commoners so their spouses won’t be assasinated? No. Nevermind.

    Just wrassle with that premise until you pin it down. There’s a great book in here.

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  14. I grew up on Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons and adore them. Now I’m going to have to search for some to watch to get my fix. Thank you.
    And I struggle with logic, to the frustration of my engineer husband. I loved BET ME. So, press on.
    Stupidest premise ever…Sharknado.

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  15. Da nada. You would have found Monument Valley soon anyway. I think the android version is coming out this week or so.From reading this thread, it looks to me like you’re in a creative panic and turning in little circles. It happens to all really creative people. You are a brilliant writer and we’re all waiting impatiently for the new book. No pressure, though. Take deep breaths, go for a walk, make something (crochet another adorable rabbit or so) and let the solution percolate through the layers.One of the most enjoyable things about your books is that the basic premise is off kilter and you make them work and be funny and endearing. Welcome to Temptation is certainly not based on the ordinary romance plot nor is Faking It or any of the others. Non traditional plots are your strength. Making them work must be a pain in the butt but it’s what you do very well. End of sermon.

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    1. The book I’m working on is going fine. It’s the book that precedes it in time, the one I’ve been working on for years, that has the stupid premise. I’m ready to go on that one as soon as I get that big block of stupid out of the way.

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      1. It ‘s a pleasure to return the favor. After all, I found MV through you. I’m seriously stuck on level 8, though.. I think I’m trying to solve it too late at night and my brain is fogged. I’m a quilt maker and every quilter I know has a stack of what we call UFOs. Unfinished objects. Sometimes, they’re just trial runs for a better idea, sometimes they’re good ideas that lose their appeal half way through but mostly they’re quilts that need to stew a little while until solutions appear. The solutions always do appear finally. If you have an idea and commit to work on it, there is a solution in your head somewhere but usually hidden beneath layers of daily life and, in my case, panic. Sorry for another sermon… I love this stuff. A big puzzle with many pieces, how can anyone resist. I’m going to try level 8 again. Wish me luck.

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        1. I’m stuck on eight, too. I have three pieces of totem, but I can’t figure out how to get the one that’s so far underwater.
          Poor totem. That part where you have to smash him to smithereens caused me real pain.

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          1. Me, too. I was thrilled to see him again (isn’t it interesting how we both assume the totem is a he?) Ida looked so sad and lost when he went under the waves. It took me a while to get the nerve to drop the rocks on him and I can’t figure out the 4th part either. We’ll get there.

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  16. Follow the money? Entailed will wherein any woman who does not marry “suitably” is disinherited. The big bad is trying to recover the vast family fortune because merely still wealthy isn’t enough (make them veiled illusions to the Koch brothers who are as close to fairytale evil incarnate as I have ever seen). Male heirs aren’t the problem. They are his/their sons. However, their 12 brothers all had girls and they want the money BACK for the “proper” use of menfolk. Would that work?

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    1. Well, it’s definitely an approach. It wouldn’t work with the wider scope of the story, but since that’s screwed anyway . . .
      Basically, the princesses have been hunted for like twenty years which is why there’s a whole school devoted to protecting and training them. And the school is one of the linchpins of the plot. YES, I KNOW THAT’S DUMB. Stupid premise leads to stupid plot points.

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      1. hmmm … could school be band of rebels formed by illegitimate sibling(s) of the Big Bads (who can be 60ish and the school could have still be operating 20 years easy) and if the “money” is “magical power” and the illegitimate sibling AKA the Big Good is trying to keep the Big Bads from getting more of it and taking over the world …

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      2. Could it just be a combat school for princesses because women aren’t allowed into the regular army, and a variety of assassins try to kill both sexes of royals but the boys all do military training? Or does the Big Bad have to be the one killing ALL the princesses, and only princesses (not princes) for 20 years?

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      3. Ah, Boko Haram? Instead of Western Education is Evil, Divine Right is Evil? We’ll put up with what’s here, but we don’t want anymore Divine Right candidates being born. It’s been 20 years — the girls are starting to look at suitors, and it’s time to off them or get them safely married off. (Masculine mistake of thinking a married woman has too much to do to rabble-rouse.)

        Still stupid, I grant you, but stupid with precedents.

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  17. Hmm, don’t know if you could work it in. But what if there was “magic” or power that the princesses possessed. To be able to pass it on to their children it would have to be a union with Royalty. Such as the male royals carry a specific gene or virus passed on in their semen that turns on the magic “gene” in the offspring. Thus continuing the magic. If a princess has a union with a commoner the gene isn’t turned on or the magic isn’t passed on to the child. So the child is “common”. You could even play around that if the princess has a union with a commoner and the magic isn’t passed on it burns out at a certain age if not passed on to the child. While if the princess marries royalty and passes the magic on to the child she may retain her magic. Something to play around with.

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      1. Because they want something the royal family magic prevents them from having and they’re trying to whittle down the number of people who have that magic. As far as kidnapping, they want the magic for themselves or their family line and they’re trying to find a way to get around the problem of the magic dying if the princess marries a commoner, so they have to keep kidnapping new princesses when the latest magic they try doesn’t work.

        The royal family is trying to both breed more princesses to keep enough magic alive and trying to keep those princesses safe.

        It’s not a stupid premise – you just haven’t figured out the reasons yet. Magic has to be logical but it doesn’t have to be the same logic as our world, it just has to follow the magical laws of that world. If magic allows a man to be turned into a chicken and still think and talk, then there’s a reason a princess loses her magic if she marries a commoner, whether it’s complex or something so simple as a curse.

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        1. Maybe there is something in the way the Big Bad is tracking the princesses that gets neutralised or disguised by marriage to a commoner? Or something in the genetic mix of a child born to two royals that threatens them, that isn’t there if one parent is common? Good luck!

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      2. BEcause they want magic out of the world. They want a nice, sane (ha) non magical world and they’re willing to do anything to get it.

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  18. I have to say I truly enjoy your books especially the dialogue. Wittiest and funniest stuff ever. Tried to get through all the suggestions but fighting a cold so reading first time through a little brain cramp. What if one of the princesses is the one trying to knock off the competition, at the age of 16 they start to come into their “power”, (which could be a whole other area of confident, strong women and those who fear them…or not) and the marrying the commoner is a cover story because it’s more about “true love” even if they make you crazy (and true love and acceptance plus a little snarkiness is fun). I’ve always liked the idea of the heroine and compatriots being a little smarter and wilier than given credit for. So maybe there is a well-guarded get out of jail free card (either passed down secretly to the princesses or maybe they don’t realize till it happens) and the commoner thing is just a red herring that happens to be true. Maybe like a test somehow, of some sacrifice or choice the princess has to make. Each princess has her own battle to fight and doing the right thing, making the hard choice, the result being getting the guy and getting the power.

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    1. I’ve still got the whole school thing; another princess would know where the rest were holed up.
      Basically, STUPID PREMISE.
      Should be discarded.

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  19. “Bet Me” is one of my favorite books of all time. As in, if I were stranded on a desert island (preferably one with a full bar and plenty of cabana boys), and I could only take 5 books with me to read again and again, “Bet Me” would be among those 5. I’m just sayin’. Sometimes a ‘terrible idea’ in the right hands (those would be yours) can be the best idea ever. Re-lurking now. 🙂

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  20. Okay, now I finally get it. You’re looking for something classically fairytale, yet completely rational.

    Whatever you end up with, I hope it includes piles of mattresses and a pea or so. Now THAT was credibility that meant something.

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  21. So, I’m struggling with is this fantasy or fairytale? I get how they are similar but they aren’t the same. In a fairytale, a princess can be cursed to have something happen to her on a specific birthday and suddenly she and an entire kingdom fall asleep and all that is needed to break the curse/spell (magic) is a kiss. So, getting married could be a combination of actions and words (a spell) that breaks a curse/spell. The saying of “I do” with the motion of a ring on the correct finger in a particular location (optional) after she’s a certain age breaks the curse. An element in the spell or leftover from the original curse is that the person putting the ring on the finger has to be a commoner or else the curse takes full effect – anything from immediate death to the princess to being barren to turning into a frog to having crops fail. The barren thing would take a while to figure out or something that actually affects others, so we enter at a time when it was finally understood what would break the spell. If the curse didn’t affect the princess directly but injured someone else distantly, they would have motive to force the marriage of a princess to a commoner or at least to prevent her marriage to a royal.

    Okay, I rambled there.

    I’m trying to reconcile what I know about Monday Street (saloons, worst neighborhood in town, mafia, and low lying magic) with a fairytale setting where a guy kissed a girl in a park like setting and turned into a frog & then the “magic police” turn up. They don’t mix well in my brain. Seems like 2 different periods n history.

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  22. The Monday Street stories are a different book than what Jenny’s talking about here. (g) She’s ret-conning something that she’ll be writing that’s a stand-alone in our world, so she’s working on bringing that plot into the balance of the world without destroying the really great crunchy stuff she had already written.

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    1. I get that Monday Street is a different book, but it was because the fairytale stories are going to be set in the same world that I was trying to blend the settings and magic. I understand why Jenny is having a hard time doing so. Unlike her, I don’t think the premise is stupid for the princesses, but I am confident that she’ll figure out a premise she can work with. Jenny’s earlier comment that the princess stories were originally in 1600’s helps.

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      1. Yeah, the original premise was really bad. The rest of that book was excellent, I loved my story in it and I think Krissie and Lani felt the same way about theirs, but that princess premise . . . we must have been drinking.

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  23. Some darlings are Fixed Points in Time and cannot be killed; re-con must continue so that the Great Atuin will keep on keeping on.

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  24. The simplest thing to justify marrying a commoner is that it removes the princess from the line to inherit the throne. Maybe they have laws there that only an unmarried royalty or those married to aristocrats can inherit. And a second marriage don’t count. That doesn’t require a long and elaborate backstory, just a sentence or two.
    As for a silly premise: I have such in my novel. My heroine is a magician. She wants to apply for an Adept license (the highest rank of magicians) but she can’t do it legally until she loses her virginity. It’s a magical thing. That’s what sends her on her journey. Many readers hated it and said so in their reviews. Of course, that wish of hers slips into background, when she encounters a real problem, but some readers didn’t read that far. I should’ve sent her on a journey for a magic jewel or some such… 🙂

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  25. Worst premise — the movie “Face/Off,” which I love dearly BECAUSE it is so hillarible (hilarious/terrible) in every way. I once laughed so hard I cried while trying to use it as an example of “plot-driven” (vs “character-driven”) to my creative writing students, many of whom hadn’t seen it. I got to the part where they literally pasted in a speedboat chase that had been filmed for a different movie (after the shootout in church with doves flying across the screen, natch) before I lost my ability to speak. (My students looked on, as they so often do, in stunned horror/amusement/silence.)

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  26. Well I know I’ve read books and thought “Worst Premise Ever.” But two days later I have forgotten. And it takes a REALLY bad premise to make me think that. Mostly I don’t notice. Right now I’ve got something niggling away at the back of my brain saying “this is the worst one ever,” but I can’t make it come to the surface. ah well. That’s age for you. Or age aggravated by four children.

    You write great books, so if you say it has to go, then I have to believe you. Even though I’m pretty sure you could make it work. Anyway, spending time continuing on a book when you keep thinking Worst Premise Ever can’t be productive. I hope you work out something that lets you keep all the crunchy stuff.

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  27. You could go with the cliche “prophecy”. There could be a prophecy that if a certain magic child is born it will be the end of the country/trigger a curse etc. The key to the prophecy is just the child has to be “born” so the villains are trying to prevent royal children from being born (because killing them after they are born wont avoid the curse). So they either kill the princesses or if they are already married to a commoner their children won’t be magical. Of course they could try killing the royal men but they think they would be harder targets.

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  28. Maybe because I write fantasy, the premise doesn’t seem quite as impossible as it should. As Michelle says, all it takes to make plausible is a curse: the kingdom will be laid waste by a royal heir born to one of the princesses. To make the princesses life more complicated, the evil witch/wizard/alien who set the curse in motion deliberately neglected to specify which princess and which of their eligible children. Naturally, fans of the status quo don’t want to take any chances. Since this kingdom insists that there must be royal blood on both sides of the match for a princess’s child to qualify as a royal heir, marriage to a commoner would remove them from risk…unless of course, one of those commoners happens to be a prince in disguise. But that’s another story entirely. Good luck!

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  29. Maybe they’ve been cursed by a witch who fell in love with a prince but couldn’t marry him because she was a commoner. The prince could have given up the crown and run away with/married the witch, but in the end he chose the royal bloodline over her and married a snotty, pure-blood princess. So now, the broken-hearted witch is determined that no other princess will find happiness through a royal marriage, and she pretty much sold her soul for a curse powerful enough to taint all future royal blood lines. Princesses who marry princes die on their wedding night. It took a few funerals for word to get out, but now the kingdoms know about the curse, and until they find a cure, the only choices for princesses of age are common-peasant spouses or a life of abstinence. Half-royal will be the new royal, until eventually the blood lines die out, which is what the witch wants.

    As a Crusie reader, I just have to say that the premise isn’t the main thing… your voice, your wit, your characters and the communities they have/create… that’s what make Crusie stories so great. Demons-in-an-amusement-park-prison might sound like a strange premise to some people, but Wild Ride is a fabulous, wonderful book. Your fairy tale stories will be fabulous, too, because you are the one writing them.

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    1. Maybe that curse but it’s the *prince* who dies. Cursed princesses are left to suffer, regret, raise the child of the wedding night who grows up to be a cursed princess…

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  30. Oh, and the people killing the princesses are a crazy spin-off group from the curse witch’s coven. One of them lost the love of her life (a commoner) when he married a princess who was fleeing the curse. So now this group of witches blames princesses for all of their unhappiness and are determined to wipe them out completely. There are lots of princesses; many small kingdoms with many, many daughters, so the school is necessary to teach them to battle these witches and protect themselves. Marrying a commoner will save you from the curse, but can’t protect you from the group who hates you and all you represent. Even after they marry, the ex-princesses have to be able to protect themselves and their “half royal” children. The half-princesses will be hunted, too, so the school has to continue until either the curse is broken or the hunters stop hunting.

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  31. Turn it around? As in, if the princess marries a Royal, something really nasty happens to her. It has been a Big Secret for a long time, but princesses are no longer the dumb silly romantic innocents they used to be, kept in the dark (almost literally) until marrying age, to be offered up on the altar of Male Royalty (or something like that). So now princesses sneak off to Princess school, where they get properly educated in whatver they need to know to survive and marry a nice, suitable Commoner to get the Royal Male idiot out of their life.

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  32. First of all, you saying “Bet Me” has a bad premise falls under the: What are you thinking? catagory. We have all found ourselves in ridulous situations that were not of our own making. He didn’t make the bet, as he keeps saying over and over in the book. But as the best friend says: the bet existed because everyone knows about it, not because he made the bet. “Bet Me” was the first of your books that I read and remains my favorite.
    Really bad premise: Royal line males catching scent of royal line females during their fertile time are driven to killing any other males in vicinity. And their line is dying out. Go figure. But I still enjoyed those books.
    As for your story, the kidnapping could be the point and the killing just when a kidnapping goes wrong. The reason? Power, of course. The more connections to the royal family, the stronger the power base. Taking over the country without the expense of war. The school is because people know who wants to invade through marriage and are giving these girls some tools to defend themselves. Which is a pretty revolutionary idea, by the way.

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  33. Just read the comments and there’s a lot of creativity among argh people!

    But I’m having trouble with these princesses. They get sent to combat school to learn to defend themselves, and after that, they desperately marry a commoner to save themselves? I don’t think so. I reckon the first 4 graduates would look at each other, roll their sleeves up, and say “right, who’s trying to kill us? Let’s go get them.”

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    1. Well, as I said, stupid premise.

      In my defense (there is no defense), if you spend all your time defending yourself, you’re too exhausted to accomplish anything. Pet’s trying to get a school for endangered girls reopened in the city; that’s not going to be something she can do if people are trying to kill her. In fact, she’d have to stay away from the school to keep from drawing danger there. Plus if somebody really wants to kill you, they’re gonna do it sooner or later. You can’t stay alert all the time. Which is where the title came from: The Frog Principle. Like the frog in boiling water, if you get used to the danger, you’re gonna die.

      But still you’re right: stupid premise. Also Argh People are brilliant. Of course, they’ve had practice. I throw a lot of “Well, I screwed this up, anybody have any ideas?” at them and they always come through. Although they’ll never top the how-to-get-rid-of-a-body series. That one will live forever.

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  34. Why must they all be princesses as opposed to a mix of royalty? Some princesses, sure, but also a fair number of duchesses and countesses and viscountesses and ladies all in line for the throne, even if very indirectly. Unless in your world, any girl remotely in line for the throne has the title of princess. It’s your world. You could totally do that.

    As for why the killing off of princesses, I dunno. Perhaps someone wants to end the matriarchy. Someone who never had a daughter, but perhaps a single son who she wants to see on the throne.

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    1. Because the whole thing started as a fairy tale. The stories/chapters in Paradise Park are still riffs on fairy tales: Zo White and the Five Orphants, The Frog Principle, Hansel and Gleep, The Goose Guy, The Rubber Bridegroom, Sleiping Beauty, and The Wolf and the Witch. There used to be one called The Twelve Missing Princesses, but once I got a good look at the premise, I ditched that one.

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  35. Bet me is my absolute favorite of your books. Premise-smemish – you can’t look at these things too closely. You are creating it, so you see it. We are caught up in the story so suspension of belief kicks in. Georgette herself had some pretty thin plots; Arabella leaps to mind. I agree with Allie, It’s not the premise, it’s how you write it.

    My first thought was the same as Mary (Egads), it’s a fairy tale, so what’s wrong with a curse? Since when did curses have to make sense? Everyone sleeps until the prince kisses the princess????????

    It’s the kidnapping and killing part that seems more problematical to me. Kelly J’s idea could work. What if the antagonist thinks (rightly or wrongly) that the princesses have a magical power that manifests at 16, and thinks if it is used correctly it will bring someone antagonist loves out of a magically induced coma? Antagonist keeps trying ways to accomplish this in ways that end off killing off the princesses instead, which is not her intention. Marrying a commoner makes one lose this theoretical magical power. Which could be all in the Antagonist’s head because she read this dusty old book while trying to find a solution to her problem………

    I don’t claim my solution is a good one, just that a solution can be dreamed up that is at least plausible not to bug the reader. And with something like this, you don’t have to go into why the person is killing off princesses up front – it can be a mystery to everyone but the antagonist until it is discovered, which will hopefully allow you to write the story you want to write, not some stupid backstory.

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  36. This is just my two cents:
    How about the princesses meet their husbands while trying to stop the bad guys? They defeat the bad guys, the princesses tell the King that they want normal life?
    Would that work?

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    1. For the stories, there’s only the one princess; the whole kidnap/kill thing is just part of the premise. She’s trying to get married to a commoner so she can save the school so her goal is not to stop the killing/kidnapping although that would be nice, it’s to find out why every guy she kisses turns into a frog because that’s seriously damaging her prospects of marrying somebody. That part of the story works; it’s the premise behind it that I can’t seem to parse through. But all of this helps; it’s making me think about it in different ways, always good.

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  37. There has to be something they can only do if they are unmarried, and which the kidnappers don’t want them to do. That could be as simple as “marry somebody else” or it could be something magical. You might want to look at the Celtic tradition of the goddess of Sovranty (Sovereignty) who sleeps with the king to legitimize his rule, and see if you can do something with these kinds of ideas. A thing that wouldn’t work for me is if the heroine has to be a virgin to do something, because a) ick and b) cliche and c) stupid, and d) you have been so great about not doing this trope, and having empowered heroines who know what sex is, and not have it be something is isn’t, or standing for something it isn’t.

    There’s a thing you (used to) get in gothics where there’s an inheritance left to two people who don’t know each other on condition they marry. Could you do something with that, only it’s some big deal magical thing, left to two married descendants of x and y, and a unmarried descendant of x is seeking out unmarried descendants of y and kidnapping them and killing the ones who refuse? Or if they have to be kidnapping married royals too, then maybe divorce from a royal is fine (if they can be persuaded to do it) but marrying a commoner takes you out of eligibility?

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  38. Huh. Fairy tales…Bet Me… What about Bonnie? She understands how fairy tales work in the (more or less) modern age. Could you, I don’t know, call her and run your ideas on this past her? She might be able to give you more insight into how it all fits together, since she came out of the same brain that produced your current dilemma. Or do you lose contact with your characters after you’ve finished their stories?

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  39. Another thing I thought of is what if there isn’t anybody really trying to kill or kidnap her. Maybe she just thinks they are after her. Maybe there is some secret initiation thing or ordeal she has to go through. Maybe her thinking they are after her and trying to stay a step of head is the initiation or ordeal she has to overcome.

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  40. What if these princesses are the heirs to property, wealthy, or supernatural power which they come into and which remains under their own control if they marry a commoner? As compared to a future as pampered brood mares without independence or rights or power of any kind if they marry within royal lines?

    So: marry a prince and live a boring life of indolence, getting my nails done every day while he dallies with his ever-younger mistresses and I have no say in the matter; OR, marry a baker and wake up with telekinetic powers and/or a fortune which remains under my own control–and a husband I can divorce if he screws around on me.

    If the only problem is, how to make them want to marry commoners, then it’s a matter of making something about that choice more attractive, and something about remaining within the royal fold LESS attractive.

    Alternately, thinking about real royal families: Could the princesses be worried about potential offspring if they remained within the royal family, due to hemosphilia, homicidal madness, or other congenital disorders in the royal lines? Or could ther be a custom of killing off royal wives at a certain age, which makes becoming one a pretty unappealling prospect?

    And then the motive for kidnapping and killing princesses could arise from that: at a certain age (puberty? 18? 21?) a princess becomes either threatening or valuable, and while her solution to this is to marry a commoner, her enemies’ solution to this is to kill her before she can do that.

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  41. What if the reason the villain is taking twenty years is because he isn’t doing it for himself, but for his son? He’s not a commoner, but is so far from the throne it’s just not possible to put it in his own sight, but with his wife’s blood/connection, his son will be say 20th in line, instead of 100th. So he’s taking his time knocking out all of the competition, both to try to be subtle about it (also doing this through lots of seeming accidents and poison to look like natural causes) and also because he doesn’t want the plan to come to fruition until his son is of age to be able to take the throne.

    The princesses, however, are no dummies… while they might not know who it is that is doing the killing (though they have some strong suspicions), they have noticed that the seeming curse against princesses stops if you marry a commoner (this knocks them out of the running to get the throne because of the magic blood that royalty have which requires them to marry other royalty, even if its just minor royalty, and as the villain is seeing himself as the hero of his own story, just acting in his son’s best interest, he doesn’t kill them because they are already ruled out, that would be going too far!) and have set up the school.

    It could even be that there is another boy ahead of this man’s son, so everyone suspects him/his father, but can’t catch them, with the real villain happy to have them as a protective shield/decoy.

    (Apologies if I’m repeating an earlier suggestion, read some but not all of the comments).

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  42. What if a princess married to another royal can have a physical change -like wings or a super power shared between them as a couple. But it doesn’t always happen. It can’t happen with a princess married to a commoner but it also doesn’t happen with every male royal – only some of them. Say one out of 20.

    When it does happen – it’s always a dynasty change and the dynasties last for a long time. It’s been 50- 75 – 150 years and everyone is waiting for the next matched pair. The new reigning couple makes the fields fertile & gold fall from the skies but the longer their descendants rule, the more the magic begins to run thin. So a lot of people are really looking forward to the change. But no one knows which combination of princesses & prince will actually work until after they’re married. (Or have sex – it is 1910 after all : ) )

    Bad guys could be other royals who want to screw with the natural couple, anarchists who want to kill the whole monarchy but realize screwing with golden ages gets you killed or another princess who figures once everyone else is out of the running her baby sister can be the natural survivor.

    It’s not a bad premise. It’s not even in the top 10 of bad premises. But if you remember Bet Me (I was on the cherry list for that one), you fought the fairy tale every screaming step of the way. I bet you we can find the posts where you kept fighting the fairy tale every screaming step of the way. Until you gave in and we got a great book.

    So stop fighting the fairy tale before Fate picks up the butter knife and drops it on your foot.

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  43. Another thing for the pre-WWI time period that would be important is the ability to prevent your small country from being overrun by a much larger, more powerful one. Perhaps these are princesses of something like Switzerland but instead of staying neutral through the power of banks, the country have a less Nazi-gold-driven form of magic.
    However, this magic is part of the royal family and is reduced to some extent by the death before marriage to a royal, and to a greater extent by intermarriage with commoners. So anyone from the surrounding countries who wants to take over has a motive to lessen that magic by killing princesses, while the princesses have a reason other than snobbery to want to avoid marriage with a commoner — until their lives depend on it. The person killing princesses wouldn’t do it if they’ll instead marry a commoner, because that’s even more damaging to the country-protecting magic than their deaths are. The princesses feel awful about how the act that protects them from getting killed makes the whole country more vulnerable, so they try to put off for as long as possible having to marry a commoner, which is why there’s a school to guard the unmarried princesses.

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  44. Princesses have fairy godmothers, right? And some of those fairy godmothers are not anyone our Big Bad wants to piss of by killing their princess. But fairy godmothers are generally flighty and unpredictable, so he’ll kill a princess if he has to, but he’d much rather she neutralize herself by marrying a commoner (or by doing whatever he wants her too). Much less chance of drawing the notice of an angry fairy godmother. If you make killing a princess his last resort, instead of his immediate goal, then the idea that he’s not just killing them all at once becomes more logical.

    In terms of why there are so many princesses: In WWII a bunch of rich people in Europe sent their daughters to this boarding school in the wilds of Ireland, because that was a place not currently getting bombed. So if there’s some global threat happening outside of your country, but not to your country, people might send their princesses to the school because it’s the safe place.

    In the category of solutions that make the plot holes bigger: time-traveling big bad? If all the princesses he’s killed over the years were a single day’s work for him, then he’s not going insanely slow. He’s just picking a moment in time when he knows a princess is vulnerable, then goes back and offs her. No one can be on guard all the time, and if you know the exact moment when that person will be unguarded, and when you can place the blame on someone else… Like seven league boots, but for walking through time.

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  45. the princesses are experimental subjects. They are being taken to test a theory or grab a power they have or to learn how change them into something more interesting/useful.

    Maybe it’s just money/power, they are being grabbed to distill and sell their power on the black market like unicorn/rhino horn.

    Marriage to anybody saves them, but royal men are reluctant to marry princesses these days because then the next generation of daughters will be at risk.

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  46. Hey, and I just had a thought about your princess/commoner problem.

    Maybe one of the commoners isn’t really a commoner. I think what you might have is a riff on the classic ‘secret baby.’ You also have a classic ‘time lock’ or ‘ticking clock.’

    The princesses are commanded to marry a suitable royal candidate, before X date, or the monarchy becomes a Republic. It’s law baby, and there is no gettin’ around the law, especially one written so long ago.

    There is no suitable “continue the line” mate below the age of 80 (since the reckless one of this generation had facsination with dynamite, or acid or whatever and wiped them all out). It seems the kingdom was destined to become a Republic. Until… it is revealed on a death bed that there was a boy baby switcheroo… Someone we though was a dead prince/Noble was actually a commoner and someone we think is a commoner is really ________. (Fill in the blank) (OK, Prince/Noble is the answer) >>>better idea, see below>>>

    So there is one last chance to save the kingdom… Find the right commoner.

    The (non heroine) princesses want power, want to save the kingdom, ((but they don’t want an 80 year old (aw heck, let’s make him gay) man.)) So they are trying to guess from the the way the men act, which is the “most royal” because, clearly the blood will show.

    Perhaps there is a birthmark or a tattoo, or thumbprint recorded on the real baby. In an effort to ID the bodies from the explosion,(and or acid spill) they realized one of the “princes or noble dudes” wasn’t actually ‘noble’ since his fingerprint didn’t match. (better than death bed) They did use fingerprints in 1906-1910. I saw it on a TV show, and TV doesn’t lie.

    Darned if that dang wet nurse didn’t switch babies (probably the same wet nurse from that Victoria Holt novel whose title I can’t remember)

    I think you also have a time lock problem.

    There is a ticking clock here you haven’t thought of. The reason they want to kidnap all the princesses is to keep them from making the correct choice and continuing the monarchy.

    Clearly at some point in the 1600’s, to calm the peasants, there was an addition to the law of the land saying that if the throne was unoccupied by a suitable heir, the kingdom would become a Republic. As in “We don’t want none of that William and Mary shit. We speak English here and Dutch is practically freakin’ German which has, like 25 ways to say the word ‘the,’ and we’re not into that.”

    I think your villain or your most probable, but later proved innocent suspect, would be the one most likely to rule the Republic. Basically somebody is messing with the princesses so they can go all Cromwell on the Kingdom.

    So it’s a case of kill or kidnap the princesses, before they marry the right guy, before the time runs out and the Kingdom becomes a Republic.

    There is no need to kill them after they’ve married because, they are out of the line of succession having chosen the wrong guy.

    Why don’t they just fingerprint all the men?

    Some of them will want the Republic and refuse fingerprinting. Some of them will already be married, and maybe, just maybe three or four of them prove to have the same fingerprint as the long lost prince or whatever (there’s fraud afoot! some commoners want to be royal! Gasp.)

    Maybe they’ve released the information that there must be a fingerprint match, but the real identifying marker is something else. (A scar on their forehead shaped like a lightening bolt, they only have one eye. Or testicle. Wait. It’s a romance, so maybe they have THREE testicles. Talk about macho! Three testicles! I’m swooning here.) They’ve done this for security reasons, but the Princesses don’t know.

    Maybe each princess who chooses wrongly is tricked by the man in a different way.

    I wouldn’t have more than three princesses, maybe four. Any more and their disappointments should have already happened before we start. Not that I want to tell you what to do. You are the master after all.

    I’m assuming the princess who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about this royalty shit and purposefully chooses the least likely, and most uncooperative candidate is in for a surprise.

    I haven’t been following all your posts regarding this, so it is possible that the above makes no sense to your story. Hopefully there are parts you can use.

    In any case, it was fun for me!

    Li

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  47. It does occur to me that if I was for a Republic, all of the above would be a great way to knock all of the Princesses out of the running. Make them think a commoner was actually a noble, but have it not really be the case. A big, fat double fake.

    The 80 gay guy as the only available marriage option wouldn’t solve the problem, for the Monarchists, just put it off. I should have pruned him out, but forgot.

    Once again, I’m working from just the quandary you presented in this post, other posters seem to know more of the particulars, and there appears to be magic involved.

    The darkest magic is a believable lie…

    Li

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  48. I’m still cogitating on this and I’ll post again with where I am.
    The smart thing is just to drop the story. Except I like it.
    Back to restructuring the book it’s a subplot in.

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  49. Jenny, if you want to know the motivation behind killing people, why not ask Bob? 🙂 Or does he just kill them off because its time for someone to die?

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  50. Do there have to be multiple Rivan princesses who need to die?

    Could someone just be trying to kill Zo for any number of very good reasons?

    If she’s trying to protect her foster kids, then marrying someone nonroyal/out of the spotlight could be a way to protect them. Maybe she can only adopt them at that time in a traditional family structure, so she has to find someone nonroyal she can marry so that they can be adopted and protected.

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  51. Sorry, I feel the need to explain that I believe in all types of families – and would certainly never suggest a family has to be “mom, dad, kids” to work – but to clarify that I could buy it as a construct that would be necessary to get an adoption approved in the 1920, even for a royal. And that adoption would cause succession issues for the monarchy and rule out a royal marriage leading to adoption.

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  52. So, I was thinking of the tale of the King and the Beggar-Maid. The tale where royalty marries a commoner. I also thought of how often nobility is behind the times compared to ‘common’ folk, especially when it comes to the rights of women. How about that at the age of 16 they come into their inheritance. This inheritance is always seen as their dowery, to be handed over to their noble husband on the wedding day. However, in common marriage, the woman’s assets remain theirs after the wedding. Giving rise to the idea that a princess can keep her inheritance (money but usually property passed down the female line) if she married a commoner. A good reason to marry a commoner, and to piss off a lot of people, giving rise to reason to kill them.

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  53. Please excuse my stream-of-consciousness notes and suggestions. And I’m sorry this is so long!

    By choosing early 1900s you’ve picked a nicely volatile time in European history to work with (presuming these are princesses in some prewar Genovia-type tiny principality). Arms dealers, ententes and alliances, spies, fears of world war lurk everywhere. Mysterious assassins are everywhere in the woodwork, and a shadowy master criminal villain is not far-fetched; he could be a member of nobility, banker, arms manufacturer, would-be Bolshevik, from Old Money/Power or New, meaning lots of possibilities for your plot direction. I am feeling a Robert Downey, jr. Sherlock Holmes vibe, which may be too dark or not what you have in mind at all.

    And Bonus – perfect timing for Lost Princess Anastasia as well, minus the cartoon bat from the John Cusack movie. This means real context for a believable missing-princess plot.

    What if: instead of 20 years of princess-hunting, it’s more like 10-15. Instead of a school to train only these particular princesses, it is a facility for young upper-class girls/women from across Europe to get the protection and training they need in an era of rampant kidnap, ransom, danger lurking around every corner. Wealthy parents of various stripes send their girls there, giving some nice internal class/international conflict among female students, if you want that.

    Proposal for the Riven Princess plot: Six princesses, sisters from the same royal parents who die a la Disney’s Frozen (or assassination) around 1888 when the girls range in age from 8 years old down to an infant. Maybe they have a 10-year-old eldest brother who is heir, allowing them to live relatively safely for the next 15 years. Under the care of a selfless family retainer (like Bruce Wayne’s Alfred?) they are raised in an environment of danger and assassination attempts. When one succeeds in nailing big brother, retainer packs them off to Buffy Training School with warnings not to divulge actual identities or reasons for being there, perhaps even that they’re related. This could be after 14 years in 1902.

    Marrying a commoner is not a curse, biological, or other salvation. It is disappearing into a whole new persona, never looking back. The second oldest girl does this at age 20, leaves a note to sisters at school that she is marrying common and loves them, but will never see them again. The rest realize this is a way out, and face the choice of commoner marriage and life vs. living on the endangered list as a royal. Your story picks up in 1904, with five princesses still at school ranging from age 16 to 24, including the heiress/young Queen.

    Villanous possibilities could include searching madly to find the Lost Princesses, infiltrating the school staff/administration/fellow students to seek them out, a ticking clock as they start getting closer and closer to discovering them. For the protagonist seeking the commoner as an out, she is not necessarily disqualified from ruling even if she marries him. But lots of Big Misunderstanding potential if he hates that she’s royal once he finds out, or if he always knows her secret but she’s worried he’s a gold-digger or will sell her out.

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    1. This is great stuff. I need to review all the answers in this post and rethink the story, especially since I’ve made major changes in the world since collaborating with Toni. But there are a lot of possibilities here. Thank you.

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