Monday, March 10, 2008

Face-Lift 500!!


Guess the Plot

Time and Tide

1. A Tsunami threatens to destroy a  Pacific island - and more importantly, its last surviving Yellow Bellied Toad. Can dedicated naturalist Stephanie Peters keep the toad safe from harm in a bunker - or will both of them drown before starvation forces her to commit genocide?

2. A young man has visions of the future. Apparently caused by the tides. Anyway, hoping to profit from his gift, he sets up shop as an oracle. When, in a vision, he sees his fiancee murdered, he rushes home to prevent it. But will he find that seeing the future and changing it are two different things?

3. Shakespeare said that time and tide wait for no man, but nuclear physicist Phyllicia Higgs-Boson has spent her career trying to prove The Bard wrong. With "Atlas," the giant, pulse-pounding, heart-throbbing contraption strapped onto her back, can she stop time and reverse the tide?

4. Though the sign on the wall says "Washing Cycle 25 Minutes" it's really more like 40 minutes. It gives Miranda time to reflect on her upbringing in The Bronx, her abusive marriage, the suicide of her only son in El Salvador and the fact that those little packets of detergent cost more, pound for pound, than caviar.

5. When Professor Mendeldorf uses his time machine to go forward 50 years, he fails to account for global warming. What was Richmond, Virginia when he began, is now the Atlantic Ocean. And the time machine doesn't float. And the tide is in.

6. When Romeo Carp books a cruise, he's hoping to escape the rat race. But after three weeks without a port of call, he begins to suspect that time is passing a little too slowly. Is there any way off of a ship to nowhere?


Today, in honor of Face-Lift 500, I'm instituting a new feature. I call it Evil Eyes. How it works is this: as the query progresses, instead of inserting blue comments which invariably interrupt the flow, I'll periodically show the degree to which my eyes have glazed over. Here are some of the more common symbols, and the thought processes that usually accompany them:


Just once I'd like to pick up a halfway decent query. Maybe this'll be the one. I don't even care if the book sucks. Just a halfway decent query would be refreshing.






Uh oh, he's losing me already. Should I hang in there in case it becomes comprehensible? Nah. What are the odds of that?







I should have been an agent. One whose website says he doesn't accept new clients.







Christie Brinkley. I could make her happy.








Zombies? Did you say zombies?!!!








WTF?! Are you serious?









What are you doing in my office? No! Don't shoot! She came on to me! I didn't know she was your wife!










Original Version


Dear Evil Agent,

The Touched carry the blood of gods. With that blood comes power--at the price of their humanity. The Circle of Grimhild, an order of the Touched, once tried to conquer a continent, leading to the rise of the Inquisitors. When the Inquisitors discover a Touched bloodline in Nagryth, the Church drives the Elysian Empire to invade it in an attempt to quash the last bloodlines. But not even the Inquisitors suspect that some of the Touched have reformed the Circle.

Rudra, a burgeoning oracle, finds the pull of the tides gives him prescient visions. Despite his powers, he fails to protect Nagryth from the Empire. To save his people from slavery, he agrees to join the very army that conquered them. At least until a vision reveals an Inquisitor killing his betrothed. Though he deserts the army and rushes home, everything plays out as he foresaw it. His brother, Bala, saves him from suicidal revenge, but Rudra instead falls into fatalistic depression.

Rather than endanger his people by remaining among them, he flees into the heart of the Elysian Empire. Saving the life of a young noblewoman draws him into the service of her brother Agloval and gives renewed purpose to his life. But Gaheris, a rival noble manipulated by the Circle, attempts to seize power from Agloval. Rudra foresees the murder of Gaheris’s mother and fears her death with spark a war.

But his attempt to save her thrusts her into the arms of her killer and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. As every dark future he has seen comes to fruition, he descends back into fatalism. Rudra loses his brother and his best friends, leading him to launch a berserk campaign against Gaheris and the Circle. But when he discovers the mother he thought dead among the Circle, he realizes the Touched bloodline survives in him. The power it offers might grant him his only chance to destroy the Circle, but the price could be his soul.

I am seeking representation for my fantasy novel Time and Tide, complete at 122,000 words, the first book in a series. I have a forthcoming short story in this setting accepted by The Harrow. I would like to send you a complete copy of the manuscript. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Notes

Rudra agrees to join the empire's army to save his people from slavery? What kind of army makes a deal like that? We were planning to enslave your entire country now that we've conquered you, but if you alone join our army we'll call off the whole thing? Wouldn't they just say, "We're enslaving your entire country, including you. Welcome to the army, Private Rudra."?

The first four sentences introduce The Touched, The Circle of Grimhild, the Inquisitors, Nagryth, the Church, and the Elysian Empire. I can't tell which of them, if any, are the good guys. We know the Circle tried to conquer a continent, but not if they succeeded, and not if we wanted them to succeed or fail. We know this gave rise to the Inquisitors, but we don't know if they rose from the continent, the Circle, the rest of the Touched, or none of them. The good news is, we don't care about anything in the first paragraph, so instead of fixing it you can scrap it.

When you're having prescient visions, how do you determine that they're caused by the tides? Wouldn't you think that if the tides caused visions, everyone would be having them?

You're hoping we'll care about Rudra, so start with him. Though he foresaw his country's defeat in battle, the oracle Rudra was unable to prevent it. To save his people from slavery he agrees to use his powers to aid the enemy--until he sees, in a vision, his betrothed being murdered (by the enemy?). He rushes home, but is too late.

Wracked with guilt and depression, Rudra's life no longer has purpose. Then he meets Agloval, a nobleman who is being threatened by an evil organization known as the Circle. Can Rudra help defeat the Circle? Or will the Circle be unbroken?

You can add to that, but stick with Rudra, and don't list everything he does. What's his goal, what's standing in his way, and how does he plan to overcome his biggest obstacle?



 


34 comments:

Whirlochre said...

This is a huge wodge of info and my guess is that if it makes it to publication, it won't be 122,000 words any more.

EE is right. It has to start with Rudra. It has to be simpler.

I've read this three times now and I'm still confused - there's too much going on.

Dave F. said...

Here is the ATLAS of GTP #3
http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap080225.html

The description is funny because the thing might actually find something, maybe, possibly...

benwah said...

"Wodge." Great word.

EE, congratulations on the 500th query. And the mood pictures are a nice touch. No flames shooting from your ears?

Re: the query. I'm utterly, completely confused. I had to re-read it several times to connect it with the GTP. The Touched, The Church, The Circle...I'm sure they have a rightful place in your manuscript, but they gum up the query. And an over-long query leads to heavy lids.

Wes said...

Author,

You received sound advice. Don't be discouraged. We are all learning. The feedback I received after each submission is gradually sinking in. It's not the world I'm writing about that is important, but the characters and how much readers take an interest in their stuggles.

Dave F. said...

It's a spring wedding of the Rosicrucians and the Mason's Occio Versace to the Illuminati and the Ratso-Rizzo conference of Opus Dei, Benjamino Rullo.
The bridesmaids (from the College of Cardinals) and Best Men (from the American Catholic league) and the Boy's Choir of the Vatican are wearing virginal pink and pure white.
I'm going to hell, ain't I? The Flying Spaghetti Monster points the noodle of condemnation in my direction. It drips with the blood of Pomodoro

Now, for the query:
In any story about an individual battling the powers that be (semi-religious, semi-secular, mostly tyrannical, mostly military war mongers), you should always begin with the individual.
"A Man for All Seasons" is like fine wine.
Kevin Costner's "The Postman" is like the dregs.
Even the extravagance of organized crime - "The Godfather" (the other families are the bad guys, and the crooked cops), focus like LASER eyes on one person to tell the story.

Please, I beg you, please never open a sentence with "The Touched" because I can see in my mind's EYE, the fickle finger of fate pointing down from the sky. It's not an image you want to write into a novel.

Descended from the gods, Ragna has the power to see the future but he soon discovers that he cannot change what he sees. When a vision reveals that his betrothed will die, Ragna is faced with an impossible situation - give up his humanity (whatever that means, it's too cliche) and save his betrothed or flee and attempt to change fate again.

Prem said...

Too. Many. Names.

And that's only after the first paragraph. Cut the whole thing out and tighten the next two paragraphs. If a name is not essential, leave just the descriptor. Bala could just be called "his brother" for now.

Robin S. said...

Congrats and thank you on staying with us and making it all the way to #500, Sparky.

Love your faces with the amazing changing eyes.

MAL said...

I actually thought the blue comments were always pretty funny.

It sounds like the most consistent complaint is that the query is confusing. I'll do re-write and focus it more on Rudra and his immediate goals.

"Please, I beg you, please never open a sentence with "The Touched" because I can see in my mind's EYE, the fickle finger of fate pointing down from the sky. It's not an image you want to write into a novel."

I don't recall the reference. I googled the "fickle finger of fate" and found it was a movie. Anyway, I'll take your word for it; either way, I'll take the advice to start the paragraph about Rudra anyway.

"Bala could just be called "his brother" for now."
I was uncertain how important including such information was. Glad to hear an opinion on it.

Thanks go out to EE and all the commenters. I'll do a re-write as a comment.

McKoala said...

500. Wow. Did you ever think?

Always nice to see more of your handsome muttonchops, whatever the expression.

The query, as others have said, was awfully long. A tighter version, with fewer characters and less detail, would be good.

Dave F. said...

Think Rowan and Martin's Laugh In. The Sock-It-To-Me gang who awarded the The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate award, to actual dubious achievements by the government or famous people. Laugh-In has a couple dozen catch phrases including FFoFate, Pigmeat Markham's "Here Come De Judge" and others. Ruth Buzzi, Ernestine's: One Ringy Dingy, Edith Ann,

The only current item equally as outrageous is the Noodly Finger of the Flying Spaghetti Monster who sells T-Shirts saying "I have been touched by his Noodly Presence." I'd put a link but I've already been struck by lightnin' once today for religion jokes.

You bet your sweet bippy! 8-)

talpianna said...

The primary allusion is to Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In:

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate award, saluting actual dubious achievements by the government or famous people.

Ello said...

I can't even comment on the query because I am faint from laughing at the evil eyes! Congrats on 500 Mr. Evil Eye!

freddie said...

I like the comments better, for the purposes of this blog.

Although if I were an agent, I could see how the eye thing would be a time saver.

ril said...

Congratulations on the 500 Query milestone, sir. Well done - your stamina surely lives up to the rumours.

Now, I hope we don't have to start a "Bring Back the Blue Text" campaign...

Phoenix said...

500. Wow. Did you ever think?

Well, we did go through all the hoopla once before, didn't we? :o)

Congrats, EE! That's a lot of brain cells being exercised.

Although I must say you're made of sterner stuff than this gal if you made it to nearly the end of the query before your eyes glazed over completely.

Sorry, Mal. I was gone before the end of the first 'graph. But it sounds like you have a good grasp now of how to focus this puppy, so I won't waste any more of my brain cells over this version. I eagerly await your revision.

Anonymous said...

I want the comments back!!!! They gave me something to live for. Pweeeez.

ChristineEldin said...

Congratulations for the 500th query!!


LOL at EE's faces!! But I was a little concerned that you were sleeping during Christi Brinkley. I think at least with that one, something should be shooting from your eyes.

I don't have anything to add about the query, except that it reads like a synopsis, so perhaps you can save it for that purpose? But even for a synopsis, there are too many names.

Good luck, author!

Evil Editor said...

Man, try to do something different and amusing and special one time out of 500 and people complain. For those who miss the blue words, Take the "Uh oh, he's losing me..." comment in the key and insert it in the first paragraph and imagine that it's blue. Now take the first comment in the Notes and insert it in the second paragraph at the obvious place. And imagine that it's blue. That should be enough to get you through to #501.

ril said...

Hey, that works. A little imagination and I'm right back in my comfort zone. Phew.

But, man, those Evil Eye things were funny. Don't stop doing that, whatever you do.

MAL said...

A revised query:

Dear Agent,

Though a burgeoning oracle, Rudra fails to protect his homeland from an invading theocracy. He finds himself conscripted to the very army that conquered his people, but all he really wants is to understand the prescient visions the tides grant him. But when a vision reveals his betrothed executed by a Church Inquisitor he deserts the army to save her. Despite all his efforts, the future refuses to change.

Wracked with depression, he wanders the empire, eventually finding employment with Agloval, an imperial nobleman who gives his life renewed purpose. Agloval wants to use Rudra’s oracular abilities to defeat a rival noble house, while Rudra is more concerned with the Circle, a secret organization manipulating the coming war. His visions tell him that the murder of a noblewoman will spark that war, but his attempt to save her thrusts her into her killer’s arms. Rudra resolves to go to any lengths to destroy the Circle--but when he finds they have an oracle of their own, he realizes they’ve manipulated him all along.

I am seeking representation for my fantasy novel Time and Tide, complete at 122,000 words, the first book in a series. I have a forthcoming short story in this setting accepted by The Harrow. I have seen on your website that you represent fantasy. I would like to send you a complete copy of the manuscript. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Me


I've tried to take everyone's advice and keep the query simple and focused. I appreciate any further advice.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, I miss the blue comments. They were hilarious and my main reason for visiting your blog.

Wonderwood said...

The revision is a damn sight better. I'm not the one to be giving query advice, so hopefully some others will drop back by, but this is much improved from the first draft. Likely it can be tightened even more, but I'm too tired to help. Good job, though.

Dave F. said...

Agloval's appearance is sudden.

When does Rudra find out about the Circle's manipulation? I think that's when he tries to manipulate the fate of a noblewoman that he discovers their handwork. Before that, he doesn't know if they have reformed but when she dies, he knows for sure.
I think that you have to get that point across in the query. That sets up the climax to your story - Rudra's confrontation with the Circle of (forgive me) fortune tellers, seers, soothsayers and Cassandra wannabes.

Moth said...

This new draft is much clearer. Still seems a bit more like a plot synopsis than a hook, though. You're just rattling off events and names without giving us a reason to care, or an emotional stake.

what does "the tides grant him" mean?

Evil Editor said...

That first sentence is a turnoff.

After failing to protect his homeland from an invading empire, Rudra, a young oracle, finds himself conscripted to the very army that conquered his people.

sounds less high-fallutin'

talpianna said...

The guy seems to fail at everything he attempts. Doesn't make me want to read about him. Is this antiheroic fantasy?

MAL said...

Thanks EE. I like that first sentence much better.

Is Rudra anti-heroic?
I'd say more so because he's violent than a failure. He usually can't change the future, but maybe I can spruce up the query to mention he is good at his job for Agloval.

"what does "the tides grant him" mean?"
I took that sentence out after EE's revision. Thanks for pointing out the confusion.

"You're just rattling off events and names without giving us a reason to care, or an emotional stake."

Any suggestions?

"Agloval's appearance is sudden.

When does Rudra find out about the Circle's manipulation? I think that's when he tries to manipulate the fate of a noblewoman that he discovers their handwork. Before that, he doesn't know if they have reformed but when she dies, he knows for sure.
I think that you have to get that point across in the query. That sets up the climax to your story - Rudra's confrontation with the Circle of (forgive me) fortune tellers, seers, soothsayers and Cassandra wannabes."
I will have to think about how to revise the second paragraph to address these concerns. I don't have an answer off the top of my head. Your clarification about how he uncovers the Circle is more or less correct (though because I dropped the intro paragraph from the original, I decided not to go into the Circle being a reformed ancient organization or any of that).

Do you believe I can introduce Agloval just as an imperial nobleman (i.e. not named, just "Rudra finds employment in an imperial noble house")?

Sarah said...

Not sure if this will help, but...


After failing to protect his homeland from an invading empire, Rudra, a young oracle, finds himself conscripted to the very army that conquered his people. Without a mentor, he struggles to understand his prescient visions. When one of those visions reveals his betrothed executed by a Church Inquisitor, he deserts the army to save her. Despite all his efforts, the future refuses to change.

Wracked with depression, he wanders the empire, eventually finding employment with an imperial nobleman who wants to use Rudra’s oracular abilities to defeat a rival noble house. The visions tell Rudra that the murder of a noblewoman will spark that war, but his attempt to save her thrusts her into her killer’s arms.

During this time, Rudra becomes aware of the Circle, a secret organization manipulating the war. He resolves to go to any lengths to destroy the Circle--but when he finds they have an oracle of their own, he realizes they’ve been manipulating him all along. [hook about the fight between Rudra and the Circle].

MAL said...

The further revised letter (minus credits, word count, etc.).

Thanks to Sarah for the pointers on wording it. Very helpful.


Query:

After failing to protect his homeland from an invading empire, Rudra, a young oracle, finds himself conscripted to the very army that conquered his people. All he really wants is to understand his prescient visions, until a vision reveals his betrothed executed by a Church Inquisitor. He deserts the army to save her, but despite all his efforts, the future refuses to change.

Wracked with depression, he wanders the empire, eventually finding employment with an imperial nobleman who wants to use Rudra’s oracular abilities to defeat a rival noble house. His visions warn him that the murder of a noblewoman will spark that civil war within the empire, but his attempt to save her thrusts her into her killer’s arms. Only then does he learn of the Circle, a secret organization manipulating the war. He resolves to go to any lengths to destroy this organization--but when he finds they have an oracle of their own, he realizes they’ve manipulated him all along. After losing those around him, Rudra makes a last desperate attempt to use his prescience to overcome the superior resources of the Circle.


Better?

Evil Editor said...

Only then does he learn of the Circle, a secret organization manipulating the war.

But the war doesn't start until the woman is killed, so how much manipulation can have gone on at this point?

Is the Circle's oracle Rudra's mother? If so, that should be mentioned.

MAL said...

Thanks EE.

Second paragraph with those changes made:

Wracked with depression, he wanders the empire, eventually finding employment with an imperial nobleman who wants to use Rudra’s oracular abilities to defeat a rival noble house. His visions warn him that the murder of a noblewoman will spark that civil war within the empire, but his attempt to save her thrusts her into her killer’s arms. Only then does he learn of the Circle, a secret organization manipulating the noble houses towards war. He resolves to go to any lengths to destroy this organization--but when he finds they have an oracle of their own, he realizes they’ve manipulated him all along. Worse, the Circle’s oracle is Rudra own mother. After losing those around him, Rudra makes a last desperate attempt to use his prescience to overcome the superior resources of the Circle.

Evil Editor said...

The last sentence is boring, and you've already said he'll go to any lengths. The mother is the bombshell. I'd end something like:

Only then does he learn of the Circle, a secret organization maneuvering the noble houses toward war. When he finds the Circle has an oracle of their own, he realizes they’ve manipulated him all along, and resolves to destroy them. But will his conviction waver when he discovers that the Circle’s oracle . . . is his mother?

MAL said...

Consider it done.

Thanks again everyone. Feels like it's come a long way.

Moth said...

This last draft is much better. The mother revelation has some nice punch.