Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Face-Lift 322

Guess the Plot

Spirits and Scars

1. Imagine a world where, when you make a promise, it appears as a scar on your skin. If you break the promise, the spirit of the broken promise haunts you forever. Now imagine you've discovered a huge scar snaking from your neck to your navel--and you have no memory of what it is you promised. What will you do?

2. Former Secret Service agent and recovering alcoholic Crash McAvoy attempts to repair his life by working as a bodyguard for crack-smoking pop diva, Rachel Plano. But will Crash fall off the wagon when Rachel’s life is threatened by disgruntled ghosts and Self-Contained Animated Robot Snipers?

3. The new saloon/tattoo parlor is not attracting the sort of clientele that Edgar hoped for. Instead of hard drinking bikers, he's got a table of spiritualists holding a seance and a bunch of dermatologists discussing subdermal lesions. Maybe Spirits & Scars isn't the right name for the bar after all.

4. Wisecracking PI Dirk Beefhead hadn't had a case in months when the woman in red walked into his office. Sure, she was one of Satan's minions, probably sent to destroy mankind. But the rent wasn't gonna pay itself.

5. As an ebola epidemic rages in NYC, Evil Editor, Miss Snark and friends sip gin and swap tales of the nitwit authors they've scarred for life.

6. Fledgling entrepreneur Myles Turbo opens Spirits & Scars, the first of what he hopes will become a chain of specialty stores catering to customers seeking a one-stop solution to both their alcoholic beverage and body-modification needs. But when the more catchily-named "Booze 'n' Tattoos" opens up right across the street, Myles faces a fight for survival.

Original Version

I am happy to submit SPIRITS & SCARS, a 65,000 word YA fantasy novel, to your attention. SPIRITS is set on the desert-ringed world of Versa, where promises appear like scars on the skin and oath-breakers are haunted by the spirit of their broken promise. [You're thrilled to be the woman who finally landed the George Clooney of Versa, but by the time he's done promising to love you and honor you and cherish you, etc. his entire body is riddled with hideous scars, and you can't stand to look at him. But you can't divorce him, or you'll be breaking your own vows, and be haunted forever. This place is like hell.]

A Vital Promise should be impossible to forget, but Sterlyn cannot remember how he came to possess the enormous scar which snakes its way from his collarbone to his navel. It has been kept a secret since his childhood, but when Sterlyn promises his life to protect Khareh, his best friend and the heir to the Dagon throne, a new scar appears on his body that immediately conflicts with his secret one. [And vice Versa.] Forced to flee to the desert to live with the clan of disgraced oath-breakers, the Chauk, [I'm not sure which name sounds more like the noise I make when I hack up a big phlegm-ball: Khareh or Chauk.] Sterlyn must solve the mystery of his secret scar to redeem his name and return home to the land he loves. [I'm not clear on why he's considered an oath breaker. Even if we assume he must eventually break one promise or the other, no one knows about the secret scar, right?]

Sterlyn is aided by an unlikely ally: the spirit of his promise to Khareh, who appears to him even though Sterlyn is certain his oath to Khareh is still in tact. [intact] With the spirit's help, Sterlyn performs incredible feats of magic and is hailed by the Chauk as a sage of Versian legend. As rumors circulate of the tyrannical behavior of the new Dagon Khan, Sterlyn embraces his new powers and returns to aid his suffering people. It will not be easy. The cruel Khan is his former best friend Khareh, who has a powerful spirit-guardian of his own and is unafraid to wield it for his wicked purpose.

I have enclosed a synopsis and the first five pages following this letter. Thank you for your consideration of SPIRITS & SCARS.


How does solving the mystery of the scar help? He still gets haunted if he breaks the promise, and I assume if he doesn't break it, he breaks the conflicting promise. If there's a way to avoid breaking either promise, he wouldn't have been exiled. Why do they exile oath breakers anyway? Isn't being haunted by a spirit punishment enough?

I don't quite get how this promise stuff works. Say I promise to protect you from Darth Vader. A scar forms on my thigh. Then I screw up and Darth Vader kills you. People may notice I have a scar, but does anyone know I promised to protect you from Darth Vader? How does anyone know what any of the scars represents? Is it the honor system? Or is there some sort of magical system whereby a record of all promises is maintained?

If you make a promise and keep it, does your scar go away? Even if it does, a promise like "I promise to love you until I die," would leave you scarred for life, even if you kept it. Are scars considered attractive or ugly? If I knew the answers to my questions about scars, I'd only have more questions.

Being haunted by the spirit of a broken promise is a good idea. But being scarred simply by making a promise I don't get. Here's a comparison to show my problem:

Woman 1 promises to give Ann her diamond brooch when Ann turns 15. Woman 2 promises to give Jane her diamond brooch when Jane turns 65. If the scars do go away when you keep your promise, woman 2 is going to be scarred 50 years longer than woman 1, even though they both keep their promises. If the scars don't go away, then what's the point of them? Everyone would be completely covered in scars eventually.

If you eliminated the physical scars, which frankly are hard to buy into, you'd still have a decent story. Unfortunately it's called The Count of Monte Cristo.


Hwalk said...

I thought this was an interesting idea, and I liked the physical scars. But it probably does need tweaking, like always having the scar visible so that people do know you are an oath-break. Something. And I would suggest a little more character about Sterlyn instead of so much discussion of the scars.

writtenwyrdd said...

I like the idea of scars for promises; I've used something similar involving tatoos. But I do not see how this works.

A few of my many confusions: What are the consequences for the failure of an oath? How is one deemed an oathbreaker? What is the deal with the spirit of an oath becoming a spirit guide sort of being? That last really doesn't make sense as you present it.

There is a conflict between Kareh and Sterlyn; what is it? From reading your letter, it appears to me that this is the crux of the matter. Sterlyn is exiled. Then he discovers power through the spirit of his unfulfilled oath. Then he deals with new Dagon Kahn (Kareh). (The names are a bit confusing, so I hope I got this straight.)

It reads to me that the letter is mostly background info that explains the situation. The whole scar thing may be left out of the letter. What you need to emphasise is the story's events, and that appears to me to begin when the exile occurs. I'd probably start the letter with something like, "Exiled from his home for breaking an oath he hadn't known he'd made..."

The story seems workable enough, from what I see, if you heed EE's logic concerns with the scars. Good luck with it.

writtenwyrdd said...

I forgot to mention: Dagon is the name of the demon in Ghostbusters, an H.P. Lovecraft story, and is an ancient god of the Phillistines.

Also, the character Egon is so similar in name to Dagon...

Dave said...

Oh, my two favorite gourps of people: "he's got a table of spiritualists holding a seance and a bunch of dermatologists discussing subdermal lesions." GTP#3...

GTP#3 inspires me to get my old black nun habit and its guitar out of mothballs so I can take a long airplane flight and run up and down the aisles screaming "we're all going to die"...

What a nightmare!

Dave said...

Perhaps if the promise was to appear as a tattoo and disappear when accomplished. If not kept, it would turn into a scar and remain for all to see.

(you know, this society has to have a certain level of comfort with undressing before others to let them see the scars. Either that or they wear speedo bathing suits all the time.)

I think you ought to consider a promise as not something special. It requires certain words or special hand shakes. That would mean that all promises are not automatically translated into scars or tattoos.

Bernita said...

"the enormous scar which snakes its way from his collarbone to his navel"
I'm sorry, this just makes me think he had a by-pass operation.

whitemouse said...

I could buy into the promises-as-scars thing. I thought that was pretty neat; whether the logic works is something that would be apparent in the novel, not the query.

What I didn't like about the query was the fact that I don't really know what the story is. There's a lack of specifics regarding why Sterlyn has to run away, what "incredible feats of magic" he performs, and why his best buddy suddenly turns up evil and must be killed.

I think the author did a good job explaining the scar thing, but doesn't get the story itself across well.

M.W. said...

Okay, I have to differ with the other commenters. I don't understand why the promise leaves a scar. Wouldn't the breaking of a promise leave a scar and the promise itself be something else entirely? Scars are the result of wounds, I fail to understand the metaphor of a promise being like the scar tissue of a healed wound.

QuotLibros said...

The plot needs some clearing up, but the scar twist is interesting enough that I'd be willing to ask for pages. However, explaining the plot more fully will help make it seem that the scars serve the plot rather than vice Versa (which is what it seems like now).

Author said...

Hey, thanks for all your comments! I want to clarify some things and then maybe it'll be easier to help me...

I guess the biggest thing is that "promises" in Versa are worth more than a promise here. I wanted to create a world where the notion of keeping one's word is EVERYTHING. Honour is everything, and the whole basis for the world is a mix of ancient Mongolian tradition, plus typical feudal lord-vassal relationships, but heightened. So the point is, on Versa, when you make a promise you really mean it... you wouldn't just promise to give someone a brooch.. that just wouldn't count as a promise. Promises are like the vow to your lord, a wedding vow, a vow to train for one specific profession. They just don't call things promises that they know are too absurd or too 'little' to keep, because its not worth being cursed for. The words "I promise" mean something in Versa. They mean a lot. So having a promisescar is a sign of respect and honour. It means you know you can keep your word.

Hmm... maybe that should be more clear. I swear it is in the novel!

If someone breaks an oath they are haunted by a spirit. Ordinary people don't see the spirit in human form but they see it as this dark shadow that follows the person around - so there's no escaping, no denying, no hiding... they are immediately exiled (to the desert). Ordinary people can't live around people who are haunted. It's repulsive to them. But once you break an oath, you see your spirit and the spirit of everyone else's broken oaths... so there's a whole community in the desert of haunted and degraded people, a colony of exiles.

(Also, to m.w. who asked why scars + promises... scars are the results of wounds, and a promisescar is actually a wound made by the spirit of the scar. they have the ability to heal this wound as well, if and when the promise is ever fulfilled.)

Anyway, thank you SO much for the comments and I think I do know how to amp up the query letter. I need to focus on what the spirits actually can do for the oathbreaker. The interesting 'twist' to the story is that Sterlyn interacts with the spirit even though he never breaks the promise. The reason why that happens is why he needs to solve the mystery of his secret scar.

If the scar thing is just confusing everybody, then the idea is really overshadowing the plot. I think it gets explained fairly quickly in the context of the novel. Maybe if I pare it down to the spirits, the magic, the exile, then it will make it a more compelling story.

Wow, this is exciting! At least the writing of the query itself didn't get too many comments!

Evil Editor said...

Hmm... maybe that should be more clear. I swear it is in the novel!

If you're going to mention the scars in the query, I recommend clarifying that.

So having a promisescar is a sign of respect and honour. It means you know you can keep your word.

It means you made a promise. The haunted people in exile have scars, and those people don't have respect and honor. Right?

Are there any bad guys on Versa? People who might be tempted to make a promise they don't intend to keep? Khareh, for instance?

Robin S. said...

Hi Author,

This sounds like it could really capture a reader's attention, now that you've explained the background behind the promises, the scars that heal as the promises are kept, etc.

Good luck with this.

batgirl said...

Hm. The description of Sterlyn's scar made me think that it was an autopsy incision and the twist would be that he was dead. Guess that was wrong.

Crystal Charee said...

This story sounds fascinating. But I like EE's version better than yours. It's more dynamic, and less rambling. Try using more aggressive language. This is a pretty dramatic story...

I submitted a hook to the last crapometer, and people spent a lot of time picking on details of the premise, rather than focusing on the story. This was where my hook failed.

If you have a dynamic, gripping hook, then people won't be focusing on "how does this work", they'll be focused on "what happens next?"

Work on that, and you'll be golden. Great story idea. I'd love to read it.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember this plot from the Crapometer but I don't remember what Snark said.

I'm with EE, the promise-scar bit is too illogical, obsessive, and gimmicky for me. I don't care how if or how his blemish gets resolved.

Heather said...

I have to agree with anonymous on this one. The scar thing is illogical (the scar should come from a broken promise, not a promise made. That's what my brain tells me, anyway.)

Not only that, it just feels gimmicky, like it's there for the novelty of it, not to actually advance the story. It's window dressing, and feels very incidental. It's a cool idea... but it's not the point, even though the query spends a lot of time talking about it.

I still don't know why your protagonist was exiled. He didn't actually break a promise, he just didn't finish it yet (and the spirit wouldn't have helped him if he had broken it, right? Right?)

I'm also really not loving your world's name. Versa makes me think of "vice versa" and "Versian" makes me (and my spellchecker) think you've misspelled Version.

You've got a kernel of a great idea here, but it definitely needs a lot of tweaking, and some focus. It would make much more sense for the broken promise to manifest as the scar... the promise itself is marked in some other fashion (like the tattoo mentioned by someone else) and the scar is the visible price for breaking it. You see a scar, and you know you've got an oathbreaker. Scars = ugly, Oathbreaks are reviled for lack of honor and revulsion. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

I'd read this provided the pace was quick and the main character was sympathetic (and also, you'd have to do the old friend turns evil bit properly...)

In the query the scar/spirit stuff did sound disordered, but once you explained it, it sounded all right. And I imagine it comes across even better within the novel. Like they said, you dwelt too long on it in the query.

I'm pretty much your target reader (YA fantasy, right?), and I have no problems with it. I'm not going to nitpick. So long as there's some suspense and some appealing characters, all is good. And since you've chosen the character is persecuted and exiled plot, I'm already favorably inclined. I love that kind of story. old (eg. joseph was in a situation like that) but good.