After Luke and James each wrote three story treatments for what would become Charlotte’s Journey, James suggested that they should each take the best parts of that initial round of idea development and write three more story treatments. Below is the first refined story outline that James wrote – although not fully developed, it can be read as a short story would be. It stands as an example of how ideas for Charlotte’s Journey were conceived and developed, and demonstrates how thoughts from both creators were shared to make a more complete and better whole.
(AKA SUZY vs. COUNT VILLAINOUS MCBADGUY, GENERICALLY EVIL FANTASY NOBLEMAN IN GENERIC FANTASY REALM)
Suzy D. is the daughter of a Kingdom of the Big-ass Mountain noble. She has been raised in the safe and comfortable confines of Fort City, seat of the royal house at the base of the Big-ass Mountain. A highly defensible city, it is also the favourite target of enemy kingdoms and would-be warlords.
Suzy D. remembers a time from her youth when the city was under siege, and another when a team of bandits successfully infiltrated the royal family’s treasure room. She is equally horrified and fascinated by these events. The killing and violence unsettles her, but holds a strange sway over her imagination. What really pulls her, though, are the tales of heroism from these moments in history that she can remember – history she actually lived. Simple soldiers doing extraordinary things. Although she knows it is only a flight of fancy, the dream of a little girl who is rapidly becoming a woman, she wants to be like those heroes she has seen.
Captain Whiskers-stache doesn’t help – an amiable old fart, captain of her family’s small cadre of personal guards, he had taken a shine to Suzy from a young age and filled her head with all sorts of tales of adventure and daring-do. Though she suspects half of what Captain Whiskers-stache tells her is made up, and the other half richly embellished, Suzy still loves his stories.
Suzy’s desire to be a great adventurer is balanced by her actual place in court. Given her silver tongue, the King has made her the official apprentice to the ambassador of the Kingdom of the Big-ass Mountain. The ambassador is a bit florid, maybe pompous, but he has much to teach Suzy. He isn’t necessarily friendly, but nor is he unduly harsh or strict. Suzy likes him in spite of his politician personality. He is never phoney with her, and that is important.
Anyway, trouble has been brewing with the bandits of the Cottonwood, home of the knitting trees. The bandits are behaving more like a nation than a bunch of rogues, and they have the King justifiably worried that they may wish to challenge his rule or sue for independence from the Kingdom of the Big-Ass mountain. The Cottonwood is the source of important resources for the kingdom, so the King doesn’t want to give it up. Preferring a diplomatic solution, he sends the ambassador to settle peaceful terms with the Cottonwood bandits. Suzy, of course, goes with him.
Meanwhile, we learn that Count Villainous McBadguy really digs the idea of a Cottonwood under his control. He could accompany the diplomatic corps, but it isn’t strictly necessary – the story could go either way. His motivation and goals are simple: if the Kingdom of the Big-ass mountain goes to war with the Cottonwood bandits, the Kingdom is assured victory, albeit at a high cost in labour, wages, and lives. The King’s pragmatic and values his soldiers, and that last price is one he’d prefer not to pay.
Count Villainous McBadguy has developed a way to channel the magic that permeates the world – it isn’t a precise thing, but it does afford him unheard of martial power. If he were to incite a war, he could bring his invention to bare against the bandits, using it in place of soldiers lives. In return, he would ask for control of the Cottonwood once it was properly subdued – a fairly typical reward from a pragmatic King in such a situation.
Why does Count Villainous McBadguy want the Cottonwood? Probably money – The Cottonwood is worth ONE MILLION DOLLARS! Annually! But there could be a desirous macguffin in the wood itself. Maybe he just wants to sell blankets made by the knitting trees. Whatever. Point is, Count Villainous McBadguy does not want an accord to be reached. Unfortunately, he isn’t the diplomat, so he can’t sabotage the talks.
Suzy’s mentor, however, totally is the diplomat, and as it turns out, the bandit leader isn’t a jerk – he doesn’t want war either. Favorable terms for all parties are reached with relative ease. The people in the Cottonwood all become royal employees or something, future and home secured.
As is traditional in the Kingdom of the Big-ass Mountain, a sword is used as a sign of peace and agreement. There’s a big drunken party, and as the ambassador is leaving the boozy tent to retire under the weight of symbolic sword, The Count strikes (one. ah ha ha! Two. ah ha ha!) Suzy witnesses the attack. We see magic in action – its basically a death ray. Maybe it super-ages that which it hits. Magic is life itself – too much all at once and life runs wild. In people, it means aging super quick a la Indiana Jones and the last crusade. For plants, ultra growth like the thistles and thorns around sleeping beauty’s castle. Various other applications. Perhaps the Count himself doesn’t know what his death ray will do until the beam hits, just that it will do magic.
Anyway, the ambassador explodes in a cloud of dust, and the sword drops to the ground. In fact, it should probably stick point first into the ground. A number of people witness this act – the count messed up his secret assassination, maybe, or maybe he wanted it to be seen – who knows? All hell breaks loose, either way. Kingdom soldiers and bandits and thrown into a fray, nobody really knows whats going on, most of them are drunk, Count Villainous McBadguy fosters fighting between the two groups wherever he can. Where moments ago there was amiable peace, there is now war. The Count’s goal is to kill the leadership on both sides, to cause a vacuum of knowledge regarding the actually words spoken during the talks. He wants to make it look like messy betrayal, no matter which side is examining the evidence. The Bandits and Kingdom soldiers really are killing each-other, so the ‘truth’ the Count is constructing is totally a believable scenario.
But he doesn’t expect Suzy. His biggest error is discounting the girl. Suzy manages to grab the sword and makes an escape. In the morning, lost, confused, hurt, hungover (?), she meets a bandit who escaped the carnage as well. He tries to kill her outright. Engage silver tongue! Suzy talks her way out of execution.
The bandit is a bit of a meathead, quick to action, not a huge thinker. His name? You guessed it – Gaston! No one fights like Gaston, no one bites like Gaston, in a brawl there’s no one who punches out lights like Gaston!
Suzy convinces him that the best course of action is to take the sword back to Fort City, get it to the King so the truth can be heard and a crisis averted. The sword, inscribed with the terms of the accord, it evidence of Count Villainous McBadguy’s treachery. Getting back to Fort City won’t be easy, though.
First, they’re in the Cottonwood, an old forest that will challenge even those who know it well like Gaston. There are monstrous creatures, the knitting trees themselves, and bandits. And, of course, Count Villainous McBadguy is upset he can’t find the sword after the battle. He and his lackeys are looking for it, and are bound to pick up Suzy’s trail. Captain Whiskers-mustache should probably be around, too, so he can act as a guide for Suzy, a moral compass and mentor – perhaps he was grievously injured in battle? Death of a father-figure potential in that. Just a though.
Before escaping the Cottonwood, they need to come face-to-face with the Count. Suzy leaps into action despite Gaston’s pleas not to, and is handily slapped aside. Maybe she even gets captured. It’s up to Gaston to save the day, which of course he does – but not alone. He’s not bright enough to come up with a plan. Who helps him? Other bandits, an old wandering man, Perhaps Captain Whiskers-mustache hasn’t died, just been rendered mostly useless through an injury? This saving Suzy situation would seal his fate, though.
Suzy’s imprisonment is an excellent opportunity for exposition through villainous monologue. I think lowering her into a shark tank slowly while speaking might be a bit too much, but its worth keeping that concept in mind. Gaston succeeds in saving Suzy at the last moment (those shark fins were brushing her ankles!) and is totally proud of himself! Maybe this is even the time to suggest that Gaston thinks Suzy should be romantically interested in him – after all, he is in his own estimation totally dreamy. Suzy wants none of it. Potentially fun character dynamic there – note, Gaston himself isn’t necessarily interested in Suzy, he just assumes she should be interested in him. Naturally.
Now comes the greater trial – getting back to Fort City. The plains between the mountain and the forest are much more open, and it is harder to hide. Suzy must use her cunning, and sometimes rely on Gaston’s strength. Sometimes both fail, and they just have to run. Hiding in ditches, sleeping in barns, disguising themselves as dirt farmers and old women (Gaston would really chafe at that one), moving inexorably closer to that huge rocky beacon on the horizon.
Count Villainous McBadguy is ever on their heels, and indeed manages to set a trap for them at Fort City. Suzy has learned her lesson about rushing in, and hangs back to observe. Gaston (finally) contributes a good idea to the plan. They need to sneak into the city, or risk being killed by the count’s men at the gates. They have to act like the treasure thieves Suzy remembers from her youth, but thanks to those self-same thieves, security in the city has been considerably tightened. There are no known hidden ways into the city, not anymore.
This third part of their journey, the shortest, should really be quite simple, but it proves the most difficult. Fort City is designed to survive a siege lasting years. But where an army would break, perhaps two or three could slip through, especially given their natural talents. Remember: count Villainous McBadguy may have political capital, and he may have set a trap, but he doesn’t own the army guarding the city. Suzy can use her silver tongue, Gaston can knock some heads. With a lot of pluck and gumption, they make it through, and manage to deliver the sword to the King.
He is not immediately trusting – his ambassador is dead by the bandit’s hands, and one of them just broke into his chambers – but Suzy manages to explain the Count’s treachery well enough to cause reasonable doubt. The King’s a pragmatist, remember – the Count will be questioned, and the army marching on the Cottonwood will not attack without express orders from the King.
Its time for a final showdown.
Naturally, the count decides to fight rather than be tossed in the clink. Suzy has to be the one who kills him – perhaps even to save Gaston? Here’s the trouble with this course of action: Suzy could be lauded as a hero for defeating the villain, but she could never be trusted by any of the nobles in The Kingdom of the Big-ass Mountain ever again. She killed one of them.
Even if Count Villainous McBadguy was clearly evil (I mean, his name is literally Villainous McBadguy, guys!), he was still a rightful noble of the Kingdom of the Big-ass Mountain by right of birth or royal appointment. As a noble, you DO NOT kill one of your own. At all. Ever. Suzy’s shock when she watches the Count kill the ambassador would be a perfect opportunity to explain this early in the story. Only the King has the power to order executions, and that is seldom done. To be the hero she dreams of, to admit to striking the killing blow would be to remove all social capital Suzy has (and by extension, her family… they’d become outcasts). Suzy is fully willing to accept this fate. The King, however, is not. He needs a new ambassador. He is so impressed by Suzy and her silver tongue that he beseeches her to take the position (not even ordered! Humbling), explaining the good she could do the kingdom.
Could she do good as a sell-sword? Sure! But as an ambassador, Suzy could change the world. So, she gives up her childhood ambitions. Gaston can be the conquering hero – he is a commoner and not subject to the scorn of other nobles. SOMEBODY had the kill Count Villainous McBadguy, after all. Plus, he’s a handsome face, a hero of the people and for the people. He is given nominal control of the Cottonwood, and the original terms of the agreement are met (plus a little for the Cottonwood on the back end, as reparations and to ensure their continued support of the kingdom).
Suzy, for hero part, finds that she isn’t abandoning her childhood dreams, but rather realising them in a different fashion. She is a heroine who gets to cut with words instead of the sword she has carried. But she still gets to use swords, too – just ones covered in agreements.