Thursday, May 29, 2008

Face-Lift 531


Guess the Plot

A Thief's Honour

1. Infamous cat burglar, Kitty 'Meaow' Felinski, vows to make amends for her life's misdeeds by returning all her stolen treasures. Donning her leathers and clutching her swag bag, she heads for the Louvre. But can she still swing it at the age of 77?

2. Czaretta Zigellva is on trial for her life. Her crime? Deflowering a young man, who happened to be the son of Dragbah's crime lord. Can she convince the judge she's blameless--without resorting to seduction?

3. Allan Smithee is an Internet plagiarist, his crimes too minor to attract attention--until he hacks into the British MI6 cryptography mainframe and copies a top secret encoded message. Now he must contend with counterintelligence operatives disguised as grammarians, a librarian with Nazi sympathies, and the vagaries of British spelling while trying to crack the code.

4. Master cat burglar Danny DeWilted can sneak into anyone's bedroom undetected and purloin whatever takes his fancy. But slipping into the boudoir of the hefty Eve Lavavoom to steal her pearls might prove a fatal mistake. Will his honour be tested by the pulchritudinous Eve? Or by her shotgun-wielding father?

5. "I wouldn't dream of keeping it," Nigel Codswallop declares as he flings back all the stolen swag from his burglaries. After all, that's what Catch and Release is all about.

6. After twenty years in prison, a master thief gets out and takes a job as a police adviser. When his daughter is kidnapped by someone who wants him to pull an impossible heist, he must risk his future--and his honour--to keep her alive.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor

Jenn was a master thief, unstoppable, uncatchable, until [he was stopped and caught.] a friend betrayed him. Now, after twenty years hard labour, Jenn wants revenge.

However, that former friend, Roland, is now a powerful lord who is not adverse [averse] to getting rid of people who annoy him, including a broken down ex-thief. [You've been in prison twenty years. You finally get out and someone you've never wronged wants you dead because you annoy him? If someone who hasn't seen me in twenty years still finds me so annoying he's willing to kill me, I'm resolving to stop ice chewing, knuckle cracking, and toenail clipping in public.] Jenn bides his time, rebuilding a life for himself by becoming a police advisor, [Jenn's job interview with the Police Human Resources Manager:

PHRM: Tell me about your recent job history.

Jenn: I've been working in laundry and license plate manufacture for 20 years.]

which brings him into Roland's social circle. [A powerful lord socializes with the cops?] It also brings him into contact with a young lord, who wants Jenn to help him with a burglary. Jenn agrees, believing it's the best way to keep his new friend out of trouble,

[Young lord: Life as a young lord isn't exciting enough. I've decided to become a criminal.

Jenn: If you get caught you'll spend 20 years at hard labor.

Young lord: But if I don't get caught, I'll possess someone else's property.

Jenn: Mind if I tag along?]

but their break-in attempt goes wrong, and Jenn finds himself facing trial for burglary and maybe murder.

[You're under arrest for burglary and maybe murder.

Maybe murder?

Depending on if that guy on the floor is sleeping with his eyes open or dead.]

He fingers the real culprit, Roland, [How does Jenn know Roland is involved?] who retaliates by abducting Jenn's daughter. Roland is a reasonable man though, he'll let her go, if Jenn does a little job for him -- break into impenetrable Haven, the one place that defied Jenn when he was young and able [and unstoppable except by Haven].

If Jenn refuses, he loses his daughter. If he tries, he could lose his freedom, his new friends, and everything he has worked to regain. [He could have lost all that for helping the young lord commit burglary, but he wasn't deterred.] And either way, his enemy benefits, unless Jenn can find [a way] to turn the situation to his own benefit.

A Thief's Honour is a Fantasy novel, complete at 100,000 words. Thank you for the taking the time to consider this. I look forward to hearing from you.


Notes

Why didn't Roland just abduct Jenn's daughter in the first place, instead of setting up the robbery?

It seems there should be something in your plot description to show what makes this a fantasy. Is there a character with magical powers? A fantastical creature? Something about your setting that isn't normal?

It doesn't seem reasonable that after 20 years of hard labor a guy who has gotten his life on track and is obsessed with revenge, would risk his future and his revenge to assist in a burglary that he doesn't care about. What are they trying to steal?

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

A brief interlude:

My partner: [notices the webpage I'm reading] Why is that man burning a book?
Me: That's Evil Editor. He burns manuscripts with his eyeballs.
My partner: Oh. You haven't sent him any of YOUR manuscripts, have you?
Me: No, because the full edit on the Brenda Novak auction is up to thirty-nine hundred bucks.
[There followed a discussion about whether or not several months' worth of rent money could be used for this purpose. Homelessness in a rainy climate, alas, trumps editing.]

Anyway! This reminded me of, erm, Ursula K. LeGuin's (?) snipe about fantasy dialogue that could be rendered into non-fantasy dialogue by changing the place names. The only thing that even remotely pointed to 'fantasy' here is the fact that a few people are lords, and given that you're using British spelling it's much easier to assume that you're referring to a couple of toffs. And that also makes it easier to believe that a master thief was a friend of a guy who becomes a lord - clearly they had adjoining rooms at The House.

Also, sadly, you give me no reason to care about whether this guy succeeds, goes back to prison, becomes a lord himself, etc.

- Yank in Scotland

Anonymous said...

Oh, there are *two* possible fantasy elements, the second being 'Haven' - but then I assumed it was some codename for a James Bond-type place.

- Yank in Scotland

benwah said...

While I'm aware of the eponymous song, it seems these fantasy novels are populated by entirely too many Rolands.

Anonymous said...

"Scott From Oregon" should change his handle to "Scott in Yankland".

BuffySquirrel said...

Maybe you should look around Scotland a little more while you're there. Everyone in Britain uses British spelling, "toff" or noff.

writtenwyrdd said...

I read that this was a fantasy genre novel at the end and that completely blew the query for me. One rule of fantasy writing is if it could be written without the fantasy elements, then don't write it as fantasy. So I recommend that you revise the letter to show the fantasy elements. And they should have something to do with the plot and its complications. (hint)

Show the logic to the actions like EE says and make us care about Jenn and his problems.

fairyhedgehog said...

Someone has got to write GTP #3. It sounds very Jasper Fforde, only better.

I love the idea of an Internet plagiarist as petty criminal. I love the counterintelligence ops disguised as librarians. Heck, I love the whole of the second sentence.

Anonymous said...

Buffysquirrel - I've marked hundreds of essays; I'm familiar with the concept of British English - much of it a lot less grammatical than this example. :)

- YiS

Wes said...

Author, EE and WW give good advice.

BuffySquirrel said...

It was Le Guin, in an essay called "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" (1973), reprinted in "The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction" (1979). She transposes Fantasy dialogue into a White House setting.

She also writes:

"Nobody who says 'I told you so', has been, or ever will be, a hero."

Xenith said...

It seems there should be something in your plot description to show what makes this a fantasy. Is there a character with magical powers? A fantastical creature? Something about your setting that isn't normal?

No. I was playing with one of the fantasy tropes, so... The fantasy elements are rather light on though.

It doesn't seem reasonable that after 20 years of hard labor a guy who has gotten his life on track and is obsessed with revenge, would risk his future and his revenge to assist in a burglary that he doesn't care about.

I tried leaving this out of the query, but then it didn't make sense. "Assist" in this case meaning showing him how to make it look like an outside job, which J doesn't see as being a risk to his himself.

You're right though, the whole story is fundamentally flawed :(

Xenith said...

given that you're using British spelling it's much easier to assume that you're referring to a couple of toffs

Rather assuming it might be because I use them all the time? Makes sense to me. Really.

BuffySquirrel said...

It's not that bad, Xen. But you haven't read "Twilight", so you wouldn't know how bad something can really be.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I was curious about Jenn's daughter. If she's young, how did he get a daughter while in prison? If she's older, does she care if Jenn exists since he was in prison?

This query does seem to have some issues getting the real story across. I get that Jenn is pissed about being betrayed. That his betrayer doesn't want complications in his life and is willing to permanently remove them.

It strikes me as Les Miserables with a twist. The trick is making the twist more interesting than Les Miserable.

talpianna said...

I know about a dozen people named Jenn, and all of them are actually Jennifers (except for one Gennita), so you lost me at the beginning by making it a guy's name.

The character running across "lords" all the time suggested a fantasy setting; but I couldn't reconcile this with "police." I don't think I've ever read a fantasy set in an alternate world in which law enforcement was referred to as "police." They are usually the City Guard, the Wardens of the Peace, or some such.

writtenwyrdd said...

I also thought #3 should be written and thought of Jasper Fforde.

Phoenix said...

Why is it fantasy, you ask, EE?

Something about your setting that isn't normal?

It doesn't seem reasonable that after 20 years of hard labor a guy who has gotten his life on track and is obsessed with revenge, would risk his future and his revenge to assist in a burglary that he doesn't care about.


I believe you've answered your own question.

Xenith, how much of the novel have you written? It may yet be workable with a few tweaks. Give Jenn and Roland some juicy backstory. Maybe Roland hung his friend out to dry because he was having an affair with Jenn's wife/mistress and maybe Jenn's daughter is really Roland's child. But she doesn't know it and she loves Jenn like the bio dad she thinks he is and has visited him in jail weekly and Roland is loathe to kill Jenn because of her relationship with him. But Roland knows Jenn is pissed at him and has to get him out of the picture somehow so that's why he arranges the "kidnapping" and sets Jenn up for a fall.

Maybe Jenn is bi (I mean, he WAS in prison for 20 years), and is all flattered that a young lord only a couple of years older than his daughter would actually dote on him and it's been 20 years and he's not at all thinking clearly so when the young lord seduces him into helping with the robbery, he really does think they can pull it off.

Or something like that.

But yeah, you may want to make it Chicago in the 20s rather than fantasy.

Whirlochre said...

The plot seems workable — with recommended tweaks — but I'm not very hopeful. It's a very pedestrian query and I can't see why this story is a fantasy at all. If your book has magical oomph, it's impossible to tell from this. I need to know why this isn't just a burglary romp set in Monte Carlo. And I need zing.

Bonnie said...

Most of the plot and motivation problems are fixable, but the whole story left me cold. Jenn comes across as unlikeable, which I could live with, and stupid, which I can't. I'm also rather turned off by the aspect that the only female character is a pawn of the men (a.k.a. the "Disposable Female" trope). I don't know whether these are problems in the underlying story or only in the query.

If the query accurately reflects the story, you may want to look into finding a crit circle to help you find the heart of the story and get it into shape.

Anonymous said...

Rats! Sarah beat me to my comment: this sounds like Les Miserables.

Anonymous said...

I took it that Yank in Scotland meant that the British English meant this was set in the UK and therefore the Lords could have been ordinary Lords today, not that the author was a toff, as evidenced the use of British English. I believe it was simply an extension of the "what about this is fantasy" discussion.

--Yank in England

batgirl said...

There is fantasy that has no magic - Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint and Privilege of the Sword, for instance. But that usually depends on a thoroughly-imagined alternate world (and please, no, fantasy worlds do not have to be permanently in the middle ages, please!) which hasn't been presented in this query.
I could accept this as a fantasy novel, but I'd want to know more about the world it's set in. Two sentences about that would make a huge difference in how I saw Jenn's story.
But I'm not an agent, so who the heck cares?
-Barbara