Friday, October 05, 2007

Face-Lift 431


Guess the Plot

Phantom Tears

1. Better than the visage of Jesus in the grilled cheese sandwich. More powerful than the specter of Mary on the garage door. It is the miracle of the tears that aren't there. Come feel them for yourself in Cranston, RI.

2. Two phantoms work with their hosts to prevent an approaching cataclysm that threatens to destroy the world's peace. Also, the Devil reveals his favorite food.

3. Famed tenor Mario Belcanto, out of work now that the "Phantom of the Opera" franchise has run its course, decides to end it all if he doesn't land a role in "Il Pagliacci." Can soprano Gertrude Hugenbuttem convince the director that Mario was born to play Beppe, and dry Mario's Phantom tears? Can she get him to quit wearing that stupid mask?

4. Jane Merriwether needs just one more ingredient for a love spell to attract handsome Lord Romley -- the tears of a phantom. But the phantom cries only at the death of a child. Will Jane commit cruel murder to win her love?

5. When four year-old Gabe Wilson can't produce the necessary tears to get his daily ice cream fix, he learns phantom tears work almost as well with the new babysitter. Except the new babysitter is a crack dealer. Will Gabe's tears get him his dessert, or will his babysitter string him out on something worse than sugar?

6. Living next to a graveyard scares Misty Fedine. But late one night she hears a hauntingly beautiful tune floating over the graves and follows the sound until she encounters the ghost of a young man. Can she help him find his lost love?


Original Version

Dear Ms/Mr Agent

I understand you have much interest and experience in the genre of Science fiction, Fantasy and Young Adult, therefore I would like you to consider my speculative fiction novel, Phantom Tears, complete at 255,000 words. [I guess if you write in three genres at once, it makes sense to write enough for three books.]

'The Devil's favourite dinner is sin forged in the noblest heart.' - Anon, 7012, new calender [In the year 7012, much has changed; for instance, "calendar" is spelled differently. Or . . . was that colander? "The Devil's favourite dinner is angel hair strained through the noblest colander."] [Opening a novel with a quotation isn't unusual. It usually mean either that the author finished the book, looked through some quotations, found one that sounded cool and slapped it on the first page hoping people would think he found the quotation first and based the book on it, or that the author just likes the quotation and figures that because she's had a book published, people will assume it must be a really profound quote, no matter how meaningless and irrelevant it is, and will admire the author for her sagacity in choosing this other person's words.

Opening a query letter with a quotation--a query letter that will be read by one unpaid intern slush reader--is almost as annoying.]

When ideologies are seperated by miles of magic ravage wasteland [And people ask me where I get off rejecting their life's work after reading less than one sentence.] its easy to believe everything you hear, but when Layne and Tania are drawn into a web of lies and deception it forces them to realise everything is not black and white, about both their enemies and their own City, Trachedae. [Hey, the good news is, from here, there's nowhere to go but up. I hope.]

As military students, advanced engineering tests and combat simulations were Layne and Tania's biggest worries, then two seemingly unconnected acts of opportunist aggression tear Layne's world apart. In the aftermath he uncovers a trail of clues that, amazingly, brings him into suspicion and he is chased from not only the Garrison, but also his home City. Tania is also forced to flee the Garrison, a military training centre dedicated to protecting the City, after finding Layne's incriminating notes and takes refuge within Trachdae itself. [Trachedae.]

With the aid of their intangible symbionts, Shyla and Djan, the pair struggle to survive; [Life is so much easier when you have an intangible symbiont. I wonder if I could get an intangible symbiont to do my blog.] Layne forced to seek redemption within the evil Gang Fortress and Tania seemingly a target for assassination from within the Garrison itself. Working from opposite ends of the same problem, they reveal a plot that threatens not only Trachedae, but could destroy the delicate standoff between the Gangs and the Cities that keeps the whole world in relative peace.

Phantom Tears is a novel that mixes magic and science and explores preconcieved notions of right and wrong amongst the snowballing events of an approaching cataclysm. It would appeal to fans of Michael Marshal Smith, Clive Barker and Iain M Banks, as well as the big kid in all of us.

Enclosed please find a synopsis and a sample of the first 5 pages of my manuscript, I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Yours Sincerely


[The 'Phantom' in question is the technical name for Shyla and Djan, the symbionts.] [Saying the technical name for symbiont is phantom is like saying the technical name for homo sapiens is dude.]


Notes

There are enough spelling, grammar, and sentence structure errors here to bury you. Plus, the first clause of the first sentence of the plot makes no sense.

I also have no sense of what happens. Here's what we know: Two unspecified acts of aggression by unspecified aggressors tear Layne's world apart. He uncovers clues of something unspecified and comes under suspicion of something unspecified. Tania finds his incriminating (to him or her?) notes about something unspecified. Oh, and by the way, Tania and Layne have intangible symbionts.

It's all too vague.

Start over. The gangs and the cities are at peace. Someone is plotting to disrupt the peace. Layne and Tania are the good guys. Who are the bad guys, and what are they up to, and what do the good guys plan to do to stop them? Be specific. And stop capitalizing "city."

There's no need to mention the symbionts in the query if you aren't going to make it clear what role they play.

20 comments:

Dave F. said...

You have an adverb problem, too. You would do well to purge those little suckers -- a heavy duty, old time communist type purge. Send those adverbs to the gulag.

Goblin said...

Also, it's "symbiot", not "symbiont".

You're not ready for publication yet, but keep writing and keep working to improve your writing skills. As EE noted, you should probably work on spelling and grammar first.

Also, most novels are less than 100,000 words, and most publishers won't consider a novel 2.5 times that big from a new author. This is because binding a book that large requires a different (and more expensive) technique than for smaller books. It makes your novel a bigger financial risk for the publisher.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Author, one question. Well nix that, I had a question. I was going to ask what an intangible symbiont was. I looked up the two words and found the meaning you were trying to get across as far as these incorporeal symbiotic "phantoms".
They're mentioned quite late in the query but your title is Phantom Tears. That leads me to believe that the two symbiont are important.
Set up the world for us with the Gangs and the Cities; how the shaky truce (?) keeps the world at peace, and then maybe the hook could be:
Layne and Tania's investigations threaten to destroy [their world's] volatile peace. Or something to that effect.

-Xiexie

Evil Editor said...

To save everyone the trouble of writing in, it is, in fact, "symbiont."

Church Lady said...

How do you all know what the English standard will be in 5,000 years? Are you a symbiont?

Goblin, haven't you heard of 4 point font? No binding changes will be necessary.

I may be in the minority here, but in 5,000 years, country music will rule, and if you want to have sex you have to travel via the DinoBus to the Midpoint refueling station.
Chocolate will taste much better, and Dave F. will be frozen in someone's laboratory. Those are my predictions, and I stand by them.

Robin S. said...

Hi author,

I'm thinking English may not be your first language, from the formality and choice of wording of this passage in your letter - "I understand you have much interest and experience in the genre of Science fiction, Fantasy and Young Adult, therefore I would like you to consider" -

If I'm wrong, hope this isn't offensive. it certainly isn't meant to be! It's just that I would imagine writing a query in a language that doesn't roll off your own tongue is a tough thing to do.

Robin S. said...

CL - I saw your comment just after I'd posted mine.

Country music in 5,000 years? Oh, no, girlfriend. Well, not unless you count Jimmy Buffett-like stuff.

And is there any possible way chocolate could taste any better than it does now? Wow - If so, it will a dangerous game to eat any, but probably worth the risk.

Dave - have you made cryogenic plans you haven't shared with us? And how does CL know about them? Hmmmm.

And by the way, author - I really like this -
"Phantom Tears is a novel that mixes magic and science and explores preconcieved notions of right and wrong amongst the snowballing events of an approaching cataclysm."

Probably people who actually know how to write queries, and aren't just talking, won't agree with me. In which case, i'd go with what they say if I were you. I just like your sentence, and what it says.

Goblin said...

You can't make chocolate taste any better than it already does; they're just going to genetically alter our tongues so we sense it more acutely.

At which point, chocolate will make crack cocaine look like Nescafe.


(With apologies to Dennis Miller.)

GutterBall said...

Saying the technical name for symbiont is phantom is like saying the technical name for homo sapiens is dude.

This cracked me right the hell up. So did Church Lady, to be honest. Heh.

As for the query, don't lose heart. I'm sure your very lengthy story has an excellent hook buried in there somewhere. I know it sounds cruel and like months (years?) of hard work, but you might consider a rewrite.

My first finished novel clocked in so huge I decided that, instead of cutting, I'd make it a trilogy. I let it sit for about six months, then revisited it after writing a bunch of short stories for anthologies. What I saw horrified me. The pace was all wrong. I told entirely too much stuff that really wasn't needed for my core story. Sure, I needed to know it, but it didn't need to end up on the page.

What had seemed like my best work to date was bloated and pasty. And flabby. I swallowed the child wailing inside, took some serious shears to that overgrown hedge, and cut so much just out of the first book that I may well get all three novels back down to one by the time I'm really done.

It hurts, yeah. But sometimes, it's necessary. An editor is gonna see that 225K and mentally tag it "pass", and unless you come up with something just mind-blowing for your query's hook, you won't change his/her mind.

Anonymous said...

Church Lady - Hysterical.

I'll start saving now for the future cost of chocolate.

Anonymous said...

I took the query basically as is and just worked on some of the spelling, grammar, pacing issues. There's more that needs fixed. I, too, liked the same sentence that Robin liked. I thought it made a great one-liner summary to lead with. But that's just my opinion. I left in the Queen's English.

It still needs tightening in parts and fleshing out in other parts.

Sarah

Phantom Tears is a novel that mixes magic and science and explores preconceived notions of right and wrong amidst the snowballing events of an approaching cataclysm.

'The Devil's favourite dinner is sin forged in the noblest heart.' - Anon, 7012, new calendar.

When ideologies are separated by miles of magic-ravaged wasteland, it’s easy to believe all the bad things you hear about your enemies. Layne and Tania are drawn into a web of lies and deception, forcing them to realise everything is not black and white. They reconsider their beliefs about both their enemies and their own City, Trachedae.

At the Garrison, a military training centre dedicated to protecting the city, advanced engineering tests and combat simulations were Layne and Tania's biggest worries. Then two seemingly unconnected acts of opportunist aggression tear Layne's world apart. In the aftermath, he uncovers a trail of clues that brings him into suspicion. He is chased not only from the Garrison, but also his home city. Tania is forced to flee the Garrison after finding Layne's incriminating notes. She takes refuge within Trachedae itself.

With the aid of their intangible symbionts, Shyla and Djan, the pair struggle to survive. Layne is forced to seek redemption within the evil Gang Fortress. Tania is seemingly a target for assassination from within the Garrison itself. Working from opposite ends of the same problem, they reveal a plot that threatens not only Trachedae, but could destroy the delicate standoff between the gangs and the cities that keeps the whole world in relative peace.

I understand you have much interest and experience in the genre of Science fiction, Fantasy and Young Adult, therefore I would like you to consider my speculative fiction novel, Phantom Tears, complete at 255,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Michael Marshal Smith, Clive Barker and Iain M Banks, as well as the big kid in all of us.

Enclosed please find a synopsis and a sample of the first 5 pages of my manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Phoenix said...

The excessive word count being pretty much an auto-reject for a newbie has been well covered.

In the query, apart from the grammar issues, there are a number of cliches that would likely make an agent wonder if 200,000 of the novel's words were cliches as well. For instance:

its easy to believe everything you hear, but when Layne and Tania are drawn into a web of lies and deception it forces them to realise everything is not black and white

Since lots of speculative fiction novels sprinkle in quotes from works written in the speculative world, pulling in a relevant quote that helps anchor themes and dates in the novel might work OK in a query. But the operative word here is "relevant." I can't figure out how this quote relates to the story being told in the query -- what's the sin and whose heart are we talking about?

I would also want to know more about how the magic plays here. You mention it in that there are miles of magic-ravaged wasteland and later tell us that the novel mixes magic and science, but I don't see any interconnection in the query.

Also, it's not "a sample of the first 5 pages of my manuscript." Not unless you're sending the first two sentences on page 1 followed by the third paragraph on page 2, the second 'graph from page 3, etc. It's simply "the first five pages."

Phoenix said...

Oh, I see Sarah has also offered you a revision, but since I've already done this one --

If you can get the novel down to about 115,000 words, here's a suggestion for restructuring the query a bit:

First paragraph (hook):

On [Devilworld], all that separates the Gangs from the Cities are miles of wasteland created during the latest mage wars. And all that separates war from peace are two military students caught in the machinations of a [covert militia] trying to [do what? play both sides against each other? to what purpose?]

Second paragraph (Layne):

Layne's studies are abruptly interrupted when [a pipe bomb explodes under his parked hovercraft and, only a week later, his aunt and uncle are murdered in their sleep]. The trail of clues seems to throw suspicion on him. Knowing he's being set up and fearing orders are coming from the highest level, Layne flees the City. Taking refuge in the unsavory Gang Fortress, Layne finds an unlikely ally in the symbiont Shyla, [an intangible being that serves the mage lords living there].

Third paragraph (Tania):

When Layne smuggles a letter to his study buddy Tania detailing his suspicions, she becomes the target of an assassination attempt. Suspecting school officials to be the instigators of the attempt, Tania hides out with an [underground organization operating out of the central district of the City the training centre is sworn to protect.] In her search for answers, she, too, finds her own unlikely ally -- the symbiont Djan.

Fourth paragraph (Layne and Tania and how they reveal the plot):

Working from opposite ends of the same problem, Layne and Tania discover [a military faction intent on resurrecting the mage wars by coercing a host of symbionts to trigger an insurrection]. And now it's up to Layne and Tania, aided by their symbiont allies, to [kick butt, take names, and maintain the delicate peace between the Gangs and the Cities].

Church Lady said...

Phoenix's rewrite is awesome. And I also liked the sentence Robin mentioned.

Pete said...

Newbie or not, that's a lot of word count. Even if I were an established author, at that length, I would take a hard look at what I had to say. Perhaps I am putting too many chefs in the soup? Perhaps I'm writing too many ideas into one book? I don't know.

Andrew said...

Author here:-

Firstly thanks everyone for their comments. Quite obviously it doesn't matter how many books you've read on cooking - doesn't mean you can make a kick ass omlette....this is just the first in a long line of broken eggs.

On the word count....yeah I know its huge...the revision is going to take alot out....I'm likely to drop the first two chapters anyway...for a start I wrote them 4 years ago now....that'll wipe out 10k off the bat...but yeah I know it'll be a problem.

It's blindingly obvious now that I spent so much time trying to find points I didn't have to qualify (in order to avoid the messy summation of an idea) that what I've done is exactly as EE said - Explained nothing of relevance. Also I wanted to make the query relatively short...again i've not seen the wood for the trees and let that override too much of the explaination....like avoiding giving an overview of the world and, thusly, trying to squeeze the phantoms into half a line. Not my best choice.

Oh and yeah the quote at the start was a massive mistake...realised that a while ago after I'd posted...again spent too much time trying to find neat little points along the plot, not enough worrying about the 'voice' of the query. You can see why everyone hates the idea of writing a synopsis and a query. So easy to get it wrong and not realise until someone points it out.

Hooks: Yeah this one done me....I listed about 7-8 when trying to find that killer hook. I went for the general 'theme' of the evil guys arn't all evil and the good guys arn't as saintly as you think once you get up close and personal. Perhaps the symbiosis or the role of magic in a technological society would have been a better angle.I went for the more personal option, potentially the wrong one.

Well I've got an hour or so before bed so might have a pop at a quick re-write and repost it.

Andrew said...

OK...I'll have another crack....it's not revised...its 2am and I've had a long day....but I'm hoping to see if I'm getting the right info in there without leaving too many unanswered questions....you'll have to bear with the spelling - My PC is partitioned, and the good side doesn't have MSWord so I'm working off notebook of all things. My other side has Word, but it's a bit infected so I only write on there, not surf.......anyways here goes.

--------------

Mankind always thought their greatest achievement would be to tour the stars, instead they tore down the boundaries of science and magic and turned the world into a wasteland full of perilous half animal - half magical monstrosities. It was this separation that kept the corrupt ideallogy of the Gangs from using the newly discovered magic from overrunning the Cities. An uneasy peace lasted for centuries, until the Gangs looked to tip the balance in their favour and now all that stands between war and peace are two military students caught up in a plot to create a magicial super weapon.

Layne and Tania were just two normal trainees at the Garrison, where people who were able to tap into the power from the magical plane through their symbiotic link to the beings who existed there, Phantoms, were trained. But that all changed when their first mission ends in disaster and both barely escape Gang clutches when the routine convoy is ambushed.

Layne follows the trail of clues only to find suspicion is being thrown on him. Knowing he's being set up and fearing orders are coming from the highest level, Layne is forced to flee the City and take refuge in the unsavoury Gang fortress of those who he had escaped from just days before.

When Layne smuggles a letter to Tania detailing his suspicions, she becomes the target of an assassination attempt. Convinced Garrison officers are involved she flees to the City itself and finds unlikely allies in a governmental organization designed to root out corruption anywhere in the City.

Working from opposite ends of the same problem, Layne and Tania reveal a plot to ressurect long forgotten technology to break the limits of magic and sweep aside the order of the city. And now it's up to them to somehow stop the Gangs from destroying the delicate peace those limits allowed.

Andrew said...

Oh and thanks for the re-write phoenix....I nicked the structure ideas from there....cheers dude

Robin S. said...

Hi Andrew,

Joke's on me, huh? Definitely English as a first language. With the "ou"s of favourtite, etc., I should have known.

150 said...

I think you mean "cheers homo sapiens."