Monday, March 24, 2008

Face-Lift 506


Guess the Plot

The Way of Dispossession

1. When an honest yet poor Nigerian actually finds $10 million US in a dead account, he tries desperately to find someone somewhere in the world willing to help him get it so he can use his ten percent share to get his dying mother a kidney transplant. Why will no one help him?

2. Alaina Gredeinian is a leader in the Sancian resistance, fighting the occupying Fredians. Her roommate Cathy Donaldson is a pacifist. When Alaina's cell blows up a major bridge in the capital city, will it put a strain on their living arrangement?

3. Allan Keanes is a financial "Mr. Fix It". When he's called into one of the country's biggest banks to help sort out their sub-prime losses, he thinks it's just a matter of foreclosure--until he discovers the money markets are in fact possessed by an evil spirit.

4. Harry knows his life is in the dumper, what with the alcoholism, the drug abuse and the trans-gender issues he refuses to face. But when his family stages an intervention with the order of the Monks of Forced Enlightenment, things get a little out of hand.

5. Adex is a mid-level demon inhabiting a 12-year-old girl in Fresno when he is unexpectedly evicted from his home by an exorcist. He finds himself in a shadow realm occupied by displaced fiends, imps, and fallen angels. Only one thing to do: Form a rock band!

6. After giving all his wealth away to a cult, Luke realizes that he has been scammed and that he will never find inner tranquility until he gets his money back. Follow him as he breaks into the cult HQ and faces the leader with only his head, hands and feet as weapons.

7. Rich, successful and empty, Daniel Piermont cannot get his life on track; everything he worked for means nothing. In a bid to find his true self, he dispossesses himself of everything he owns; but when he falls in love with Liana, he realizes happiness is more easily attained with wealth. That's when he remembers his twenty-million-dollar off-shore account in Bimini.


Original Version

Dear Almighty Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for my novel, The Way of Dispossession.

For almost three years, the nation of Sancia has been ruled by Fredia, its neighboring country. During that time, the underground movement has worked to bring down Fredia’s oppressive regime. The story revolves around Alaina Gredeinian, a leader in the Sancian resistance; Cathy Donaldson, her roommate, a pacifist; and Terrence Harlin, her long-time friend and partner in the resistance. When Alaina’s cell blows up one of the capital city’s major bridges, the government threatens to shut down the city. [Attention, residents of the capital: we're closed. Everybody out. Oh, and it's recommended that you not leave via the western bridge.] In response, the resistance steps up its efforts to smuggle food and other supplies into the city. [Why does food have to be smuggled into the city? Surely shutting down the city doesn't mean no more food for anyone?] Alaina finds herself being run ragged [How about "runs herself ragged," or "is run ragged"? "Finds herself being" is a long way to say "is," and makes it sound like a surprising discovery.] to support this effort, and during one mission, she accidentally reveals her identity to a Fredian soldier. [In other words, she makes a Fredian slip.]

[Soldier: Halt! Who are you and where are you taking that food?

Alaina: I'm Alaina Gredeinian and . . . doh!]

She, Cathy, and Terrence are all imprisoned and interrogated, and Alaina’s family is arrested in retaliation for her involvement with the resistance.

Just before Alaina’s execution date, [Oppressive regimes shoot first, then set the execution date.] the resistance rescues them; however, they are still in danger. Ronnie Hartson, a wilderness guide, [Ronnie Hartson is no name for a Sancian wilderness guide, and Grizzly Adams is taken. How about Wolverine McGuff?] is assigned to help them get to Laucasia, another neighboring country. But hiking over mountains, relying on a chain of “safe houses,” and avoiding Fredian troops are just part of their journey. Alaina deals with her family’s arrest and the aftermath of her prison experience, which was more brutal than either of her friends’. Terrence struggles with his feelings for Alaina and her tendency to push him away. Cathy tries to figure out whether, in light of her beliefs, her minimal participation in the resistance was justified. [Also, she must deal with her unexpected crush on Ronnie Hartson, wilderness guide, right?]

Even arriving in Laucasia does not alleviate their problems. [It may not solve all their problems, but if it doesn't even alleviate them, what was the point of going there?] And when they are eventually called back to Sancia for a final attempt to completely overthrow the Fredian government, they all must confront their fears and issues head-on.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

I'm not finding it that exciting, though I feel I should be. Maybe more about the rescue or the danger and less about the details. How many Fredians are they up against? How many are in the resistance? Their comrades rescue them from prison, their guide gets them to Laucasia . . . when do they do something to help the cause, and what is it? If these three people are ultimately responsible for victory, I'd rather hear about that than about how incompetent they are.

Are these three people so vital to the final attempt to overthrow the Fredians that the assault is being put off while they make their way back through a string of mountain safe houses?

If they can safely return to the capital and stay safe during the final attempt, why couldn't they stay safe after being rescued from prison? Going all the way to Laucasia only to turn around and head back accomplished what?

For some reason I find it jarring that a character named Alaina Gredeinian, a leader in the Sancian resistance, has a roommate named Cathy Donaldson and a wilderness guide named Ronnie Hartson. It's like reading a book about a high school girl named Madison and her BFF is named M'lota Larg and her guidance counselor is D'Ghor of the house of Kanjis.

You write Fredia, but I think Frieda, the Peanuts character with naturally curly hair.

Have you considered making the countries Freudia and Jungia?

Klingon names generated here.

64 comments:

Sarah Laurenson said...

LOL 'Fredian slip' Ah, my morning laugh. Thanks, EE.

Names aside, here's what I got from this. And it might be wrong - it's what stayed in my mind after reading it through once.

There's some fighting. Stupid girl (SG) gets everyone arrested. Fighters get SG and a couple others out of jail, but not SG's family. SG doesn't stick around to get mom and pop out of jail, but she worries about how mom and pop are faring with the torture and all.

SG and friends make perilous journey to 'safety' then turn around and make same perilous journey back so they can help overthrow the bad government.

Oh and there's some romance(s) thrown in the mix.

I'm actually not sure if mom and pop are still in jail. I'm just not clear that they got out at this point.

What I'm missing here is your voice. And this is something I struggle with in writing queries - getting the voice of the book into a few paragraphs.

I'm also getting the impression that your heroine is an idiot. She's fighting the bad government and she slips and lets them know who she is. Then she agrees to go on this perilous journey away from the city only to turn back and do it again in reverse? What about her is good and smart? That might be a good thing to put here instead of how it's all her fault that her friends and family are in jeopardy.

pjd said...

You write Fredia, but I think Frieda, the Peanuts character with naturally curly hair.

Who on Earth knew that she was named Frieda? You really need to get out more. I kept thinking of the movie about the Mexican painter, but of course that's Frida, not Frieda or even Fredia.

Author, besides the plot holes EE asks about, you've got the same problem in this that Dave F pointed out in one of my recent attempts: You tell a lot of "this happens, then that happens, then they have issues, then they're in danger, then this other thing happens."

You need to divorce yourself of the notion that the entire plot has to be explained in the query. We don't need the detail about shutting down the city, smuggling food, or running ragged, do we? We really need to know that Alaina screwed up and she and all her friends are about to be executed; then they're rescued. But her family's captured. And they run away. And deal with stuff.

So wait, she just leaves her family as captives and runs away? They're sure to be executed, aren't they? She's OK with that?

Alaina deals with her family’s arrest and the aftermath of her prison experience, which was more brutal than either of her friends’. Terrence struggles with his feelings for Alaina and her tendency to push him away. Cathy tries to figure out whether, in light of her beliefs, her minimal participation in the resistance was justified.

To be honest, to me this sounds awfully boring. It sounds like they've all ended up at a remote location, and they're wandering around avoiding each other, steeped in angst. Don't get me wrong; if you've got a literary masterpiece here, it could be really interesting. But... the query makes it sound boring. They seem to all be in a "poor me" situation, and rather than the MCs initiating the action, they wait until they are called back.

Throw the word "eventually" into the final paragraph, and it makes me wonder how long the wandering-around-steeped-in-angst part of the book lasts.

Can't judge the work itself, of course, without reading it, but the query makes it sound like your characters are too passive and moody for revolutionaries.

blogless_troll said...

Yeah, the names threw me. Because of the names I thought when you said "Alaina’s cell blows up one of the capital city’s major bridges" you meant her cell phone. But then I realized you meant her cell, as in sleeper cell. But then I got to the end, and now I'm not really sure.

I think you need more specifics. Calling her prison experience "more brutal" isn't doing anything for me. Also, "in light of her beliefs." Don't know what her beliefs are, or even what's the problem with Fredians except they're oppressive. Which is pretty common with governments. And since the Fredians have already been ruling Sancia for three years, maybe you could call them rebels or freedom fighters. To me resistance implies the Fredians are still in the process of taking over.

Anonymous said...

It seems like the main plot points of your book are her capture, which you should probably start your query with, her journey to Lacawhatever, which you need to explain more why they are going there and what is accomplished there, then the journey back to overthrow the evil regime.
I want to say to leave out the angst each character faces on the journey since I hate it in queries when someone just tells; 'so and so is feeling this and must deal with her blah' just makes it boring. Stick to the plot points and action is what I say.

Wes said...

Why not set your story in one of the scores of countries that have struggled for national sovereignty in the past 100 years? I believe readers would become more involved and have greater empathy for the characters even if the readers had only fragmentary knowledge of the issues driving the fight for independence. Think of how much more impactful a story would be if it were set in Tibet today. Or Kosovo a few years ago, or occupied France in WWII.

Anonymous said...

I don't really get what Cathy and Terrence are doing over in this dangerous third-world country. They both sound too naive and clueless to know or care about anything going on there.

Is Alaina a native of the occupied country? It's hard to tell with that name, but she must be because her family is kidnapped by the oppressive government.

I'd try to make it clear who these main characters are (and not just names) and why they are there in the first place. And I'd leave out the romance, it just confuses things.

Anonymous said...

I picture Terrence as a prematurely balding twenty-something with a Blackberry so he can check the basketball scores. I just can't see him being tortured in a third world dungeon. "What's wrong sir? And what are you going to do with that sharp thingamabobber?"

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a potential episode of the Brady Bunch where the family goes to an occupied nation to participate in the resistance. Probably a two-part episode, like when they went to the Grand Canyon.

I'll bet the book isn't like that but the query letter is. Do your plot justice, author!

pacatrue said...

"It's like reading a book about a high school girl named Madison and her BFF is named M'lota Larg and her guidance counselor is D'Ghor of the house of Kanjis."

I think I just found a setting for my next story.

BuffySquirrel said...

This screams Fantasy so loudly that I suspect it's going to be a hard sell as litfic. Especially given it has a strong plotline rather than exploring the characters' inner space. (don't jump on me, litficcers! I tried to be nice!)

I think for litfic it needs to be set in a real place, whether historical or contemporary, not a series of places that sound like they're straight out of a Fantasy novel. Mind you, my preferred advice would be just to make it a Fantasy novel. They sell better anyway.

Anonymous said...

I guarantee you'd get the agent's attention if it turned out that Ronnie Hartson was a zombie.

December/Stacia said...

I was bothered by how many names end in "ia". Fredia, Sancia, etc. It's a nitpick, but it really stood out for me.

I don't think Alaina is necessarily that stupid for getting caught; remember the guy about to get on the train in The Great Escape? His passport was perfect, his German was perfect, but when the guard said in English, "Good luck," (or is it "You speak very good German"?) he automatically replied "Thank you." So I can see how someone might slip.

But I agree this isn't an effective query, and that it makes what is probably an interesting book sound dull.

iago said...

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of names that end in -ia either, ah, Stacia. Generally I don't like names that are hard to pronounce, either, 'cause they get in the way of reading the story. Yeah, I'm lazy.

The query doesn't mention genre (or wordcount), so I'm wondering where Lit Fic came from. Did you just cut that out of the query for the blog, EE? I'm going to guess at wordcount being something north of 100K if fantasy; if Lit Fic, still something north of 100K, but no dialogue.

I guess there's no reason why a literary genre piece can't be set in a fantasy world (Murakami's novels have fantastic elements), but the query, at best, suggests an unenticing fantasy adventure, which I'm sure does not do you justice.

Anonymous said...

If it wouldn't hurt the plot I'd make Terrence a wolfman as well.

Prem said...

This is fantasy, but it needs to be made a bit more explicit up from. I also agree with what everyone else's said about writing in the voice of your main character(s). Perhaps the first two lines could be:

1. Fredian rule was supposed to be good for Sancia, bring it... (insert maybe a description of your world's culture - are we dealing with a cobblestone streets and kings or some cold war Eastern European surrogate).

2. Alaina's not buying it because...(personal reasons for being in the resistance)

Something like that would be a standard open.

freddie said...

This reminds me of a Q&A I saw here a few months ago where the author wanted to know why an agent had told her that her book lacked tension (I think it was a she). She said her characters experienced a number of obstacles through the story. I forget EE's exact answer, but he suggested that the characters be given the absolute minimum of time to complete their mission, or they would never make it home. Then, he suggested that the author give them even LESS time than the minimum. That way every obstacle they encountered increased the tension. This also was a good way to provide an overall arc to the story.

This is a long way of saying the query is missing the arc. We need to feel the tension of the story in the query. The story itself seems to have all the ingredients for a good thrill ride.

talpianna said...

I agree with the others: this is all over the imaginary map--too many characters, too many journeys, too much going on. Focus in on one thing. Perhaps start in the middle of the mission to blow up the bridge, then gradually widen the scope so we meet other characters and get the issues. But focus on one character. A wonderful example of an interesting opening is the fragment AFTER TEN YEARS by C.S. Lewis: a bunch of soldiers waiting for action, griping about their uncomfortable situation; gradually you realize that they are the Greek soldiers inside the Trojan Horse. Try to do something like that.

And I do want to make an issue of the names. When Tolkien was asked about the "meaning" of LORD OF THE RINGS, he said it was "an exercise in the linguistic aesthetic." And he got it right, though there's a lot more to it, of course. I am driven mad (MAD, I tell you! MAD! MAD! MAD!) by stories which are inconsistent in naming characters, because it means the authors haven't consistently thought out their secondary creation. There are sites like Behind the Name that can help you keep all your names in the same linguistic hat.

I also like the suggestion of setting the story in some real occupied country like occupied France. Or you could take a leaf out of Philip K. Dick's THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE and set it in a future occupied U.S.A.

Evil Editor said...

The author is welcome to tell us the genre, and I'll be glad to change it. I saw nothing of a fantastical nature, and I haven't seen any more than the rest of you.

iago said...

I think it's the names of the places and people that make me think of a made-up world, that makes me think fantasy world. I'm guess it's my bad assumption.

Dave F. said...

I think that the names lend themselves to fantasy.

I didn't read any "Lord of the Rings" type fantasy here. This is more of a dystopian society than a fantasy.

I don't like the odd names because it makes reading hard. Remember, high school kids and freshmen college kids HATE Anthony Burgess' novel "A Clockwork Orange" because of the language barrier.

Whirlochre said...

Noto add - the names don't add up (esp. C.D.) and it lacks the tension it ought to have.

There's lots of romping across (imaginary) country but the real crux has to be the Gredeinian/Donaldson/Harlin* head-on confrontation of fears and issues, about which you say very little.



* There - they're either a trio of authors of an obscure anatomy textbook or a firm of lawyers specialising in not getting hired. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, however...

BuffySquirrel said...

Well, fair enough, EE, but it still reads to me like a Fantasy-type plotline in a pseudo-historical setting.

mb said...

I'm with prem here. The two things I felt were most sorely missing were 1) what's so bad about the oppressive regime? What are they doing that we should sympathize with a resistance that bombs things? and b) how does this affect Alaina personally? What is her driving force? Without that, the plot looks like a series of events. If the events can be closely tied to the main character's deepest dreams/wishes/fears/identity, then we've got a reason to care.

writtenwyrdd said...

I found the 'ia' names annoying due to their similarity, and ditto what everybody else said. If this is a literary novel, perhaps sell that aspect of it instead of give the impression that it's really an epic fantasy with realistic elements? Seriously, this sounds like a tired old fantasy the way you present it in this letter. sounds like it could be a good read, the presentation is the problem here.

ChristineEldin said...

This reminds me of a Q&A I saw here a few months ago where the author wanted to know why an agent had told her that her book lacked tension (I think it was a she). She said her characters experienced a number of obstacles through the story. I forget EE's exact answer, but he suggested that the characters be given the absolute minimum of time to complete their mission, or they would never make it home. Then, he suggested that the author give them even LESS time than the minimum. That way every obstacle they encountered increased the tension.

That was me! That was me!!!!
YAY! What a great segue to me. I have lots to talk about, and to think I wasn't even going to read the comments for this one. But first let me say what a great memory you have. That was more than a few months ago.
Okay, back to me. Where do I even begin?
We're dog sitting a golden retriever and just let me say how smart she is. AND....her name ends in "ia." Can she be in this book too?
We'll probably have tortellini for dinner with some tomatoes on the side.

:-)

Evil Editor said...

I'm no expert on what constitutes a fantasy, but until the author chimes in I don't see how this war story constitutes one. If the story were set in Czechoslovakia, Romania and Russia, or in Bosnia, Serbia, and Albania, and the author decided to change the setting to fictional places, does it immediately become a fantasy?

Is every mystery, romance and children's book set in a fictional place a fantasy? Is Our Town a fantasy because there's no Grover's Corners? Are the Sherlock Holmes stories fantasies because 221-B Baker Street doesn't exist?

I have come to expect something magical or supernatural in a book labeled fantasy. Is this wrong, experts?

author said...

Thanks for the advice, everyone. I've been thinking about changing the names for a while, just haven't gotten around to it.
And nope, it's not fantasy.

Anonymous said...

The big three -- Osama bin Laden, Sukarno and Cathy Donaldson.

mb said...

EE, I'd love an answer to that question (uh, that would be the "what is fantasy?" question). I am currently working on something set in a fictional place, with a fictional history and culture, but there is no magic or bending the laws of physics. I've been calling it fantasy for lack of a better label. So, minions, what DO I call it?

pjd said...

something set in a fictional place, with a fictional history and culture, but there is no magic or bending the laws of physics.

I am no expert, but simply having a fictional setting would not stick it in the Fantasy section.

Star Wars, as my son likes to point out, does not take place in the future. Therefore, there's something else (space ships) that makes it sci fi. By this I mean (in a roundabout way) that simply being in the future is not enough to make something sci fi.

There are lots of literary genres from which to choose. Fantasy seems to have mythical creatures, knights, magic. If yours does not have any of that, then perhaps you've got a thriller, or a mystery, or a romance, or a comedy.

EE spelled it out pretty well, I thought. This query is for a war story. Most likely literary fiction due to all the angst and people being executed. My WIP is a YA adventure, and I'd never call it a fantasy just because the location is fictional. There's no answering your question, mb, without knowing what your story is. For it's the story and the fundamental elements of the story (of which setting is only one) that define it.

Evil Editor said...

If your fictional setting is on Earth, in the past, you could call it a historical novel. (I assume if you were writing a historical romance, you'd be familiar with that term). Contemporary fiction is a good catch-all if it's not literary fiction. I don't think it's required that your setting exist in fiction. Have you considered adding a wizard and continuing to call it fantasy?

mb said...

Yeah, yeah, pjd, but I didn't just fall off the cabbage truck yesterday. Have you had a look at a lot of the stuff on the shelves that IS being labelled fantasy? No magic, no knights or dragons. "Imaginative fiction?" Sounds like a tautology to me. I find the whole business of genre labelling annoying to begin with, but it's a necessary evil for the query. I'm just asking, is there a term for action/adventure/political intrigue set in a world that resembles, but is not, our own?

Evil Editor said...

What do you mean "resembles"? Is your book set on Earth in a place you made up? Or is it a parallel universe or our world as it might have been if...

In other words, science fiction or alternate history.

Would your novel work if you changed the names of the places to places we're familiar with?

mb said...

Um, sort of, no, no, and no.

Never mind -- clearly this is just as confusing as I thought it was!

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't think Fantasy requires magic or the supernatural, but what do I know? If I wrote a quest story on a fictional planet that had different rules from ours--rules that allowed actions that would be magical or supernatural on OUR world--that would be Fantasy. And after all, long pointless journeys are the very stuff of Fantasy ^_^.

And Star Wars isn't sci fi (sic); it's Fantasy. Or, at best, Science Fantasy. "The Force" isn't science. And don't get me started on the light sabres.

Then again, I can't help feeling that a historical novel requires a historical setting. Nothing about the 'ias reminds me of any particular historical setting, but then again the plot doesn't feel contemporary. Historical feel without being real history spells Fantasy to me--maybe I've just read too much (bad) 'medieval' Fantasy. Although I don't read Fantasy that much.

Also, lit-fic is mainly in the writing, and this query didn't strike me as demonstrating writing at that level.

Evil Editor said...

The author has declared it isn't fantasy. (11:09)

We await clarification of what it is and whether these nations are on Earth.

Evil Editor said...

Do Sancia, Fredia and Laucasia really sound more fantastical than Serbia, Bosnia and Romania?

BuffySquirrel said...

Yes, but not as fantastical as Timbuktu, which I refused to believe for years was even a place.

Deborah K. White said...

Hmm. Good questions, EE.

Is every mystery, romance and children's book set in a fictional place a fantasy?

No. Though, until recently, fantasy was pretty much always set in places that never really existed.

I have come to expect something magical or supernatural in a book labeled fantasy.

Very often there is something magical (like a sword) in a fantasy or magic is used or something supernatural happens. Or there is no magic, but the story uses creatures that never existed.

I think fantasy is not that the people or setting aren't real but that something in the story never could be real.

freddie said...

While fantasy is a much larger genre than medieval settings with knights and wizards and unicorns, I wouldn't classify this story as fantasy. To me, in order for the story to be fantasy, it has to include an element the author makes acceptable that would simply be impossible or otherwise defy logic.

I don't see anything like that described here.

I think this sounds more like a thriller.

Glad to bring you in as a segue, christineeldin. That Q&A stuck with me because EE simplified such a significant problem in my own stories. Saved me I don't know how many hours.

How did that story turn out, anyway, if you don't mind my asking?

150 said...

This book may not have fantastical elements, but I strongly question whether any reader of thrillers, litfic, or military novels would be willing to read a story set in a made-up place unless the imaginary countries involved have strong, obvious parallels to actual existing political entities, which would then make it a satire. Can anyone think of a nonfantasy book set in an imaginary country that isn't meant as an analogy to some existing country or government?

freddie said...

Is every mystery, romance and children's book set in a fictional place a fantasy?

Well, technically, I guess it's someone's fantasy. Heh heh.

Dave F. said...

the point to be made has nothing to do with the classification of any novel as fantasy or historical or alternative history or mystery or action/adventure or literary or political thriller or whatever...

The query isn't clear about the tone and style of the story and therefore, the reader is confused about the type of book the query represents. The novel is what it is... It's finished and down on paper. It's te query that has representational problems.

talpianna said...

What we seem to have here is the dystopian version of Ruritanian romance. "Dystopian fiction" is a known genre, usually considered a subset of science fiction. While some books, like 1984 and Brave New World, are set in the future, others are set in a nameless present (cf. some of Ursula K. Le Guin's works).

That's all I can say about the subject, as I don't care for dystopian fiction; but Wikipedia has more:

http://tinyurl.com/yrsm5c

Evil Editor said...

Can anyone think of a nonfantasy book set in an imaginary country that isn't meant as an analogy to some existing country or government?

Possibly Lost Horizon, set in Shangri-La. Most authors settle for fictional cities, rather than countries:

Amity Island: Jaws

Ilium, NY, several Vonnegut novels

Lake Wobegon--Keillor

Brewer, PA, John Updike's Rabbit books

Belvedere, OH, Silence of the Lambs

Santa Teresa, CA, Kinsey Millhone's home in the Sue Grafton alphabet mysteries

If it's true people won't read a thriller set in a fictional country, but don't mind one set in a fictional city or on a fictional island, I'm not sure why. Maybe they're pretty sure there's no Fredia, but not so sure there's no Belvedere.

BuffySquirrel said...

They do know there's a planet Tycho though.

150 said...

I'd say that a fictional city is very different from a fictional country. Belvedere still has to operate by Ohio state law; they speak American English and share local and national history. The country of Belvedere could be anything. I guess I'm wondering why you'd bother to invent world politics from whole cloth without also inventing fantasy elements to make it worth it. Or why you'd read a thriller, litfic or military novel in a world with a whole new set of rules when there are plenty such novels set in the real world, with familiar (and exciting!) rules.

Evil Editor said...

I don't think you need to invent world politics and new rules to set a story in a fictional country, if your story has nothing to do with world politics. Maybe you're a former CIA agent who's written a romance novel and you don't want to give the impression it's based on something that actually happened to you. Maybe something that happens in your book would cause the Ayatollah to issue a fatwa against you if it were set in a real Arab country, so you make one up. Maybe you want your murder mystery to take place on an undiscovered Pacific atoll. I don't think the island in Robinson Crusoe was named, but I also don't think it was real.

iago said...

Robinson Crusoe's Island.



(Although I suspect this is one of many real, genuine, Defoe's Robin Crusoe islands.)

150 said...

But if you make up an Arab country and call it Zyxistan or whatever, it's an obvious stand-in for something familiar: a satire. An ex-CIA operative wouldn't write a book on the fictional continent of NeoGondwanaland where Gilder is occupying Floren, she'd just find a way to justify the Swiss going crazy and taking over Europe. Again, can you think of a non-fantasy novel where an imaginary country invaded another imaginary one? I can't. I'm counting alternate history and sci-fi as fantasy here, btw.

Sarah Laurenson said...

What makes fantasy fantasy? A very good quesiton and one I should have an answer to since I've been reading mostly fantasy for over 30 years now.

Fantasy does cover quite a lot of ground. There are the King Arthur-style ones with legendary swords and such. There are the ones set on other planets. Alternate universe books used to be fantasy, but I think they broke off into their own genre or maybe that's just the alternate history ones.

Generally, there should be a fantastical element that is central to the story or that the story cannot work without. Just like there should be some 'can't do without it' science element in science fiction.

Personally, I read a lot of military space opera these days. Another fantasy spin-off. Military space oprea is like taking Horatio Hornblower or Richard Bolitho and sticking them on spaceships. The main difference between the wet navy and the space navy is location and gadgetry.

So if this story doesn't have the fantasy element - which it doesn't look like it does - then it must be military fiction of some sort. Perhaps military land opera?

Anonymous said...

this has gotten ridiculous

Whirlochre said...

The wet Navy?

I bet there are plenty of Hornblowers out there for whom this would constitute the perfect fantasy.

Evil Editor said...

Here's a list of fictional countries in literature, movies, TV, etc.:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictional_countries

I haven't read enough of them to declare that an invasion took place, but there's no evidence an invason took place in this book. All we know is that three years ago Fredia started ruling. Possibly through threat of force; the USSR didn't invade every eastern bloc country.

iago said...

I guess any further specifics about the book in question are going to remain closely guarded secrets about which we can only speculate; I suggest, therefore, that the book is clearly, ah, speculative fiction.

BuffySquirrel said...

I thought Robinson Crusoe's island was Tristan da Cunha (hope I spelt that correctly!).

The island in the novel is probably largely fabricated, but it's based on a real place, as Alexander Selkirk really did live for many years on a desert island, after being marooned (not shipwrecked).

talpianna said...

Robinson Crusoe was based on the real-life experiences of Alexander Selkirk, who was stranded on an island now known as Robinson Crusoe Island:

http://tinyurl.com/2wwqbo

Here's a summary of what Northrop Frye has to say about romance, which in his usage is pretty much synonymous with fantasy, in Anatomy of Criticism:

The critic Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism (1957) used romance in two separate meanings.

In one, he separated some essentials of romance from the Medieval historical vehicles, to distinguish Romance as a mode that may be detected as a theme or atmosphere in other fictions, one that falls between the mode of "myth" and that of "high mimetic". Expanding Aristotle's Poetics, Frye classified fictions by the power of the hero's actions, which may be greater than ours, or less, or roughly of the same degree. Thus if the hero is superior in kind to men, the action is a myth. If the hero is superior in degree to others and to his environment, the mode is that of Romance, where the actions are marvellous, but the hero is human.

The hero of romance moves in a world in which the ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended: prodigies of courage and endurance, unnatural to us, are natural to him, and enchanted weapons, talking animals, terrifying ogres and witches, and talismans of miraculous power violate no rule of probability... Romance divides into two main forms: a secular form dealing with chivalry and knight-errantry, and a religious form devoted to legends of saints. Both lean heavily on miraculous violations of natural law for their interest as stories" (Frye pp 33-34).

If, on the other hand, the hero is superior to other men but not to his environment, the tale falls into the mode of high mimetic.[4]

He also divided fictions into the fields of comedy, romance, tragedy, and irony. In this division, the essential component of romance is adventure, and the central theme is the hero's rescue of a princess from a dragon.[5]

blogless_troll said...

That's a pretty extensive list of fake countries. But they forgot Waponi Woo.

Dave F. said...

Freedonia goes to war.
Hail Freedonia! Freedonia All Hail!

Jamie Hall said...

When I read "cell blows up" I first thought you meant a prison cell, as in Alaina already being in prison and somehow smuggling a bomb in.

I've got several problems with this query:

(1) As others have pointed out, it has far too much of a "this happens, that happens, then this other thing happens" feel to it. When you write a query, don't write it like it is a one-page synopsis. Find the core issue of your tale and build the rest of the query around that, leaving off the ending.

(2) The names don't seem to fit with the world or with each other. I'm not sure whether you need new names, or whether a query fix will clear up this problem. However, as long as this problem exists, an agent is likely to have serious doubts about your world-building skills, just from reading the query.

(3) Your main characters are essentially terrorists (resistance fighters, terrorists, pretty much the same thing). In order to "sell" your idea to an agent, you want to have main characters who can be easily identified with. But readers will be very reluctant to identify with terrorists unless the Fredian government can be shown to be very, very evil. In your query, there isn't a strong contrast between the actions of the Sancians and the actions of the Fredians. Try to find a better way of portraying that contrast.

(4) You've included a couple of plot twists in your query that sound stupid, as others have also pointed out (such as fleeing quite some distance only to turn around and come back). I'm not saying these plot twists are stupid - I've read great books where a one-page plot summary would contain much stupider-sounding things. Your task is to either describe these plot twists in such a way that they fit smoothly and naturally with what else is said in your query, or find a way to omit them. Otherwise, they make it sound like your book is stupid, no matter how great it is.

Jamie Hall said...

Another comment -

I know I've read non-fantasy non-scifi involving a fictional country. One small fictional country tucked away in Eastern Europe, Central Asia or South America is usually easy for readers to accept. Readers also routinely accept fictional cities and towns.

However, having multiple fictional countries does seem to present a problem if your book isn't fantasy or scifi.

Dave F. said...

Well Jamie, I hate to say this, but in a historical context, the winners become patriots and the losers become terrorists.

They both tend to use the same tactics. It's just that one gets to actually write the story while the other (what shall I say) decomposes quietly.

pjd said...

Dave, I don't for a minute believe that you hate to say it. It is the truth, after all.

talpianna said...

Dave: Except for the fact that the losing sides have all the great songs--"Aura Lee," "Skye Boat Song," "Shule Aroon," and the like.