Monday, July 14, 2008

Face-Lift 543


Guess the Plot

Dragon's Beginning

1. Hunky anthropologist Petr von Bigun is researching an ancient, forgotten tribe on a remote Pacific island when the sea literally starts to boil. The natives whisper of "Dragon's Beginning" and of the end of the world. Can Petr, aided by voluptuous beach volleyball pro Anette Sands, learn the tribe's ancient language and rituals in time to save the planet from annihilation?

2. When Robby finds a dragon in a box, he makes his way to a magical land where he must drive out evil to inherit a kingdom and rescue a damsel from the evil tower. If he survives to his sixteenth birthday he'll inherit dragon powers, and shapeshifting ability, and might be able to save his family. Also, a grumpy bard.

3. Tired of dealing with riots, Zhu Tzu turns in his officer's badge and heads to the US to start a Chinese restaurant "The Dragon." His endeavour is a success, until his dragon logo comes alive and starts eating employees that complain too much. Can Zhu Tzu soothe the dragon's fragile ego and set things right? And what will happen when a notorious food critic tastes the egg drop soup?

4. Two oversized lizards in love. A passionate encounter. A fateful mutation on chromosome 18. Three weeks of incubation, and: enter, the dragon. Teased by the rest of the Brachiosaurs, he hides in the back of the herd. When a pack of Allosaurs arrives, will he save the day or turn his back on the herd that scorned him?

5. In the beginning was the Dragon. And the Dragon was hungry. And the Dragon was made of flesh, as were the things it preyed upon. And this was good. For the Dragon. But for the other fleshy things, not so much. Thus the need for Galwayn the Dragonslayer and his thirsty sword Mordran. With the assistance of a reluctant soothsayer, a buxom lady’s maid, and a disinherited earl, the stalwart Galwayn sets out to assure that the dragon’s beginning is speedily followed by its end.

6. Alexios Andronikos was born poor and patronless on the back streets of 14th century Trebizond. When his desperate parents sell the strikingly beautiful child, he is castrated and trained for harem life. But Alexios was born to be a warrior, and there will be no denying his destiny. Escape, martial arms training, intrigue, and his own dauntless nature propel Alexios’s transformation from eunuch slave to The Dragon, Scourge of Byzantium.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Details about agent, personalized from research. I hope you enjoy DRAGON'S BEGINNING, the first book in my YA fantasy-adventure series. The novel is complete at 65,000 words.

The tale of a boy and his dog is classic. When the boy is a young sorcerer named Robby who doesn't know he's also half dragon, classic turns fantastic. Mix in his guardian Dire Wolf, Mearlyn, and the amazing creatures and magic's of the land of Drakos Dnal [and you have . . . what?].

Robby's house is destroyed and his mother has disappeared. His only hope of finding her comes from the mysterious black box he unearths from the ruins. [It's obvious what happened: a plane crashed into the house.] Unfortunately, it comes with a dragon-in-the-box. [Is the dragon in the black box? Or is there a dragon-in-a-box inside the black box? The dragon-in-a-box being like a Jack-in-the-box, but instead of a clown popping up, a dragon pops up and spews a wall of flames on the child.] [Expect a massive recall on these within weeks of their arriving from China, by the way.] Setting off with Mearlyn, Robby follows the clue from the dragon, [What clue?] discovering nothing in the land is as it seems. [What land?]

He learns he is the heir to a kingdom - if he can drive the evil from the land. [When it comes to real estate, there's always a catch.] [Is he heir to Drakos Dnal?] He finds friends and enemies along the way, [The way where? Is he going somewhere?] while dodging the evil Daemon who will stop at nothing to steal Robby's magic. [What magic? Is Robby a sorcerer before his house is destroyed? Does he seem to be a sorcerer in "the land"? Because I remember you saying nothing was as it seems.] When one of his companions, Isabelle, is captured, [or at least seems to have been captured.] Robby is given a choice - offer himself up to save her, or find her before time runs out. With new allies - including a grumpy Bard and a batty witch, [Are they really a grumpy Bard and a batty witch? If so, could we have an example of something that isn't as it seems? So far, everything is as it seems.] he discovers where Isa is held. Breaching the tower, Robby must use his wits to rescue her and destroy the tower's evil magic.

While continuing the search for his mother, Robby is shocked to discover the true secret of their past. On his sixteenth birthday, he will inherit dragon powers - great magic and the ability to shift form. [If I had great magic and the ability to shift form, I wouldn't bother trying to drive evil out of some kingdom so I could inherit it. Who needs the aggravation?]

Through his journeys, Robby realizes he cares about saving not just his friends and family, but the land itself. Drawn deeper into this dangerous game, he knows he must eventually fight - and hopefully win - against Daemon, the only one to ever find magic more powerful than a dragon's. Until then, his family will be lost [His family, meaning his mother? Who else is lost?] and Drakos Dnal will continue to be enslaved.

Dragon's Beginning is my first novel. I'd be happy to send you my complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,


Notes

It sounds more like middle grade to me.

You keep bringing up stuff and assuming we know what you're talking about. You know everything. We know nothing. Give us a clear progression of the main plot. How and when does Robby get to Drakos Dnal? What's his plan when he gets there?

How come when Robby was fifteen, and didn't yet have dragon powers, Daemon, who has magic more powerful than a dragon's, was so eager to steal Robby's magic? That's like Donald Trump stealing a quarter from a homeless guy.

Although this is missing some key information, it's a bit too long. You'll have to determine which information we can do without.

32 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

This was one of your funnier commentaries, EE.

Sadly, Author, your letter isn't inspiring me to trust in you as an author. Your plot and your writing both need clarification. This letter unfortunately is really difficult to understand, as EE underscores with his commentary. Remember: If you can't write the letter clearly, the recipient is not likely to want to read your book!

Although there are some elements that were intriguing (what's not to like about dragon protagonists?)I found that plot sounded a bit trite as described, especially when you use a name like Maerlyn, which is uncomfortably close to Merlin and sparks a comparison to Arthurian tropes. Maybe change the name?

However, if it IS an Arthurian trope, that's fine; I just don't want it rubbed in my face. I want to like the book for your writing, not the trope.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't bother with any ham-handed inclusion of "details about agent", etc. If you do rote, superficial research about an agent, the agent will know you did rote, superficial research about an agent. But I doubt they'll care. They just want to know if they can sell your book.

Anonymous said...

Grumpy Bard? Batty Witch? Some new characters for the EE classic, but who will write it?

Seriously, though, this is just another fantasy with no rules, rhyme or reason. You've got to convince an agent that the story is well-crafted. The letter has to be much tighter than this or no agent will even take a chance on reading the story.

Anonymous said...

I would omit the phrase 'dragon-in-the-box' because it doesn't match the tone of the rest of this query. In fact, it seems like it mocks the story if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Was this written by Peter MacNichol?

pjd said...

I was put off by the very first sentence. Is this supposed to tie back to his guardian, Dire Wolf, who appears only once in passing? Or is it a nod to the "classic" Science Fiction film, A Boy and His Dog? Which I have not seen but which does not appear to have much to do with your novel.

But then I got stumped by what's so classic about a boy-and-dog story except it sounds boring. Are you invoking Steinbeck?

I'd be much more interested in reading the romance story describing the courtship, marriage, and eventual estrangement of Robby's parents. Half dragon? Some hot scenes in that one, I'm sure. Probably not middle grade.

My suggestion is to write your next book. Maybe go through a serious revision cycle with this one if you haven't yet, then move on. I remember starting something like this many years ago, though I never finished it. There's a good reason that many authors say their first book to sell was their third or fourth manuscript.

YMMG.

Amber said...

Dear (AGENT’S NAME),

I hope you enjoy DRAGONS BEGINNING, the first book in my YA fantasy-adventure series. The novel is complete at 65,000 words.

The tale of a boy and his dog is classic. When the boy is a young sorcerer named Robby who doesn’t know he’s also half dragon, classic turns fantastic in the land of Drakos Dnal.

Robby is a 15-year-old sorcerer, who together with his guardian dire-wolf Mearlyn, must find his missing mother. Along the way, he finds new friends and together they must dodge the evil Daemon and his monsters. When one of Robby’s companions, Isabelle, is captured, he has a choice - offer himself up to save her, or find her before time runs out. With new allies including a grumpy bard and a batty witch, he discovers where Isa is held. Breaching the tower, Robby must use his wits to rescue her and destroy the tower’s evil magic.

While on his journey, Robby is shocked to discover the true secret of his family’s past. Not only is he the heir to the throne, but also, on his sixteenth birthday, he will inherit his dragon powers – great magic and the ability to shift form. Robby realizes he cares about saving not just his friends and family, but Drakos Dnal itself. Drawn deeper into this dangerous game, he knows he must eventually fight – and hopefully win – against Daemon, the only one to ever find magic more powerful than a dragon’s.

DRAGONS BEGINNING is my first novel. I’d be happy to send you my complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Amber said...

Is the above clearer? I left out some of the details, but tried to keep the essence.

Thanks.

150 said...

The letter is terrible, but it's still not as bad as the title. Luckily both of those are fixable.

Snark formula time!

Starting point for creating a hook:

X is the main guy; he wants to do:
Y is the bad guy; he wants to do:
they meet at Z and all L breaks loose.
If they don't resolve Q, then R starts and if they do it's L squared.

Here, I can at least gather that Robby is the main guy and that Daemon is the bad guy--although I had to look twice because saying "the evil Daemon" makes Daemon sound like a species, not a proper name.

Agree that it sounds middle-grade rather than YA.

Good luck!

freddie said...

I don't think it's a terrible idea to include info about the agent as long as you don't make it sound like you've been stalking him or her. Make it clear your info is relevant to why you chose that particular agent for the query (although my style is to say nothing about the agent other than their work address and name and dive right into the story). Just get the gender of the agent right. ; )

You say this is a tale of a boy and his dog, but the dog drops out of the story almost immediately. Is the Dire Wolf his dog? How does the dog play into the story? If the dog doesn't play a role in forwarding the plot, you don't have a 'boy and his dog' story. And wolves aren't dogs. Granted, wolves and dogs genetically aren't much different than each other, but a wolf is still a wolf and a dog is still a dog. Dogs came from wolves. If Mearlyn is a wolf, say so. You've got 'a boy and his wolf' story. But at the moment, that is neither here nor there because as the query stands, your story is about a boy who finds out he's half dragon and grows into his ability to use it. Mearlyn is merely tagging along in this query.

Drawn deeper into this dangerous game, he knows he must eventually fight - and hopefully win - against Daemon, the only one to ever find magic more powerful than a dragon's.

Didn't like 'hopefully.' That sentence has gotta sound like the the world's survival hinges on the duel between Robby and Daemon. That's your climax, right? If so, make it sound like it.

Boy, did I get bossy in this one.

Kiersten said...

Hi Amber,

The second version is much better. While the boy and his dog opening is kind of clever, I don't think it really works in this context, as it is kind of confusing.

The second paragraph can be tightened. A lot of the sentences are fairly generic without being very informative. "Along the way he finds new friends," etc. Show, don't tell. Try to give specific examples from the story (that aren't confusing. It's a tough line to walk).

Wow, the minions are being kind of mean on this one. Writing a bad query letter isn't always indicative of writing a bad book. I find writing 250 pages of story much easier than writing two paragraphs describing the story. Don't be discouraged, Amber. Write another couple of drafts, keep at it.

BuffySquirrel said...

Mearlyn? Really? What's wrong with Merlin?

Dire Wolf sounds like something out of D&D. Even if it is, you might want not to make it so obvious. Agents are wise to the D&D novel.

WouldBe said...

I agree with Kiersten that the second version is improved. But a major note is missing, the reason behind the conflict: Along the way, he finds new friends and together they must dodge the evil Daemon and his monsters...Why? The rest of the (still longish) query hinges on this.

Along the way, he finds new friends and together they must dodge the evil Daemon and his monsters who know their dominion will be challenged once Robby reaches his sixteenth birthday. On that day....

(Or whatever has pissed off the Daemon.)

The dog story kick off doesn't seem to work. You're starting with an vague, milk toast comparison when the query reader is looking for something to sink his teeth into.

freddie said...

I think your opening line still sounds disjointed from the rest of the query. (I assume his dog is the dire-wolf.)

Maybe change 'he' in the third paragraph to 'they' to tie in the fact that Mearlyn plays a role in the plot? Just some minor changes now would do it:

I hope you enjoy DRAGONS BEGINNING, the first book in my YA fantasy-adventure series. The novel is complete at 65,000 words.

The tale of a boy and his dog is classic. When the boy is a young sorcerer named Robby who doesn’t know he’s also half dragon, classic turns fantastic in the land of Drakos Dnal.

Robby is a 15-year-old sorcerer, who together with his guardian dire-wolf, Mearlyn, must find his missing mother. Together they must dodge the evil Daemon and his monsters. Luckily, they find new friends to help them along the way. When one of Robby’s companions, Isabelle, is captured, he has a choice - offer himself up to save her, or find her before time runs out.

With new allies, including a grumpy bard and a batty witch, Robby and Mearlyn discover where Isa is held. Breaching the tower, Robby—with Mearlyn's help— must use his wits to rescue her and destroy the tower’s evil magic.


And so on. Does that make sense? Otherwise you might want to cut the opening line to the story. Mearlyn drops out pretty quickly even in the second draft.

Robin said...

I'd work on the "one sentence"...and make it a question, "What if the world's fate hinges on a boy and his dog realizing their origins...before it's too late..."

Take the original idea and make it one sentence, everything else should support it?

(Just guessing here!)

Dave F. said...

If "A boy and his dog" is a classic story, why are you so determined to retell it?

I refuse to write werewolf and vampire stories because they are so prevalent. A number of the novels are such classics as to show up any flaws I might have in my writing. For instance - Anne Rice's "Interview With a Vampire" is well beyond my abilities.

One of the anonymice mentions Peter MacNichol who starred in the movie Dragonslayer about a youthful wizard who has to slay a dragon.

How about Eragon - a young man who is mentally connected to a dragon and has to defeat the enemy and save the country.

Those are several examples of why I wouldn't point out that the story is "a boy and his dog" without explaining why your story has a new twist or a new POV or a fresh approach.

So here's what I suggest. It's not easy, but I think you are up to the challenge. Throw that opening paragraph out. That's going to be hard to do because you invested a lot of yourself in the book and now the query, but that comparison hurts your query. You're going to have to say to yourself - SELF, my wonderful words, so carefully crafted, must be for my eyes only. It's hard to give up words you worked on with diligence and care.

I thought my opening to MetalCrack was GREAT, WONDERFUL, PERFECT. Go look at the bottom of the comment line and see the new version. I took an ax to it and chopped away. I made so many changes that they are still bleeding into the body of the story. You don't have to do that much. I'm a real rat-bastard taskmaster on my own writing.

So where does that leave you?

"A 14 year old wizard's apprentice, powerful in his own right, discovers he is master of a fire-breathing dragon and will soon be heir to the throne.

That's one opening.

The last of the dragon-lords, 14 year old Robbie, has lost his dragon, lost his mother, and is about to lose his throne.

That's another.

Start with a sentence about Robbie's struggle -- to gain his power and the dragon's freedom.

Saving the kingdom is a side benefit. Think about that. Robbie is first a kid grounded in the plain, unmagic world. Suddenly he finds out his mother is missing in a house fire (adjustment), he's a dragon master (adjustment), and he's heir to the throne (adjustment). Those two adjustments are sufficient for one kid's struggle. If he saves himself and reunites with his Mother and the dragon, then he has accomplished all you can ask a boy of 14. At least all you can ask in a query where you only have a few hundred words.

How does Robbie grow up? How does he come of age? What lesson does the YA reader take with him/her at the end of the book. There is your query.

Phoenix said...

Hey Buffy: The Dire Wolf was a large wolfen species that lived around the time of the Ice Age, I think. They have a display of them at the La Brea Tar Pit, if I'm remembering correctly from my visit there many years ago.

Pete: A Boy and His Dog -- definitely not MG. Neither the short story nor the R-rated movie. I remember sneaking into it underage and breezily convincing my dad that the slugline "A kinky tale of survival" wasn't at all what it seemed to mean.

Deep breath, Amber, and give it another try, keeping in mind where the minions appear to be having problems with the query. Start with your rewrite, which is, as Kiersten says, much clearer than the original, look to tighten it some and to give us a little closer look at Daemon. Sleep on it for a day or two if you need to, then post it up. We'll wait.

writtenwyrdd said...

Please take out the boy and dog reference. It's truly not beneficial.

Jeb said...

Chiming in here (or piling on) to add that trying to sell a series from a first-ever novel ups the bar against you.

If you can pull interest in this one book without mentioning 'series' (or even 'series potential'), then the agent is in the happy position of asking for more. And you want agents asking, whether it's for more pages or more books in a series.

Ditch the 'series', seriously. At least in the query.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Dire Wolf, tar pits, yep. You remember correctly, Phoenix.

I wonder if it would help to write a long query, include examples, then cut back a little at a time. Trying to be cute at the beginning doesn't seem to be passing muster here. And it uses up precious words that you might need to get the meat of your book across.

talpianna said...

"Dire Wolf" is also a great Grateful Dead song:

http://arts.ucsc.edu/Gdead/AGDL/direwolf.html

Amber said...

Thanks to everyone who commented. I am going to have to sit on this for a day or so, then look over my new version and see what I can do with it.

I guess I really missed the mark, and I'll remember in the future that a query isn't a short, confused synopsis ;)

I appreciate all the feedback, it does help - even the tougher ones :)

I did want to say, I really fudged up on one part of the query because my MC is born and raised in Drakos Dnal, not here.

So, I need to make that clearer too.

I will figure it out, and put up another version by Wednesday.

Thanks again,
Amber

Sarah Laurenson said...

Here's my bleary-eyed, late night suggestion:

Dear Whatsyername,

In the land of Drakos Dnal, 15-year-old sorcerer Robby, his guardian dire-wolf Mearlyn, and the new friends they meet while looking for Robby’s missing mother must dodge the evil Daemon and his monsters. When one of their companions, Isabelle, is captured, Robby has a choice - offer himself up to save her, or find her before time runs out. Breaching the tower where Isa is held, Robby must use his wits to rescue her and destroy the tower’s evil magic.

Robby is shocked to discover the true secret of his family’s past. Not only is he the heir to the throne, but also, on his sixteenth birthday, he will inherit dragon powers – great magic and the ability to shift form. Robby realizes he cares about saving not just his friends and family, but Drakos Dnal itself. Drawn deeper into this dangerous game, he knows he must eventually fight – and hopefully win – against Daemon, the only one to ever find magic more powerful than a dragon’s.

DRAGONS BEGINNING, complete at 65,000 words. is my first novel. I’d be happy to send you my complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration.

wendy said...

Okay, I have to admit that I'm a big fan of being able to describe what your book is about in one sentence. Then you can expand it into a controlled query message.

Also, there are too many peple and creatures in this query for my taste. I want to see the world acording to Robby. I want to see how he will act upon his world.

Your second try is better, but cut cut cut!

Sorry that's a little harsh. Clearly there's a story here I just can't find it...yet. Keep trying!

Julie Weathers said...

Amber,

You've already heard the most important things. Query writing isn't easy.

You give a condensed version the whole story in a synopsis. In a query, all you're trying to do is intrigue the agent enough to ask for more.

Using the Snowflake Novel Writing method helped me a lot. It's meant to help people write novels, but it's also a good way to break down a finished novel so you can pick out your important points. He posts the method on his blog by that name.

First thing you must do is work on a good lead, whether that be one or two sentences. You simply must have an intriguing, clean opening.

Then a short paragraph hitting a or a few high points with a minimum of characters and action. Think of it as back cover copy or a movie trailer. They show the bits that will draw someone in.

As for the personal information about the agent, I disagree with anon. Most agents say they like knowing up front you've done your research. This immediately tells them, if you do it right, you're not just sending it out to the first fifty agents on a list.

Julie Weathers said...

"If you do rote, superficial research about an agent, the agent will know you did rote, superficial research about an agent. But I doubt they'll care. They just want to know if they can sell your book."

Most agent sites will disagree with that. Plus, I've been told by more than one author they get more responses from agents when they include the personal information about why they are being approached.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think Sara Laurensen's version is very good, not perfect, but it reads well and I'd be interested in knowing more about the story.

mb said...

Amber, the query's not all that bad -- you can probably use bits of it. The second version does compress the plot, which is good. What is really missing for me is any sense of why I should care about Robby. The plot elements all sound kind of standard fantasy -- so make sure you tell us why Robby's different. What's at stake for him? What drives him? What does being half-dragon really mean? Has he always had a strange ability to breathe fire, or unusually scaly skin? What does being heir to the throne mean for him -- has he always had control issues? You only have one or two sentences to make his character clear, but you really need to convince us that Robby is unique, or the book will look like a generic-fantasy clone.

Anonymous said...

Amber, you said it exactly right. The query letter and the synopsis are completely different things. You don't have to cover everything in the query letter, and you shouldn't. You don't even have to tell how it turns out. You just have to make your story interesting, to the point where an agent might actually want to know how it turns out. Of course, writing the query well always helps.

You should poke through Miss Snark's archives, especially the "hook crapometer". Because what you want here is a hook, not a synopsis.

I agree with the other poster that summarizing your book in a single sentence is GREAT practice for boiling down the essence of your plot. Like Dave said, we're all in love with all of our own words but nobody else will be (well, he was far more eloquent than I was).

BuffySquirrel said...

Thanks, Phoenix--another good reason why we need you around here!

Only encountered the old Dire Wolf in Warcraft III. I should learn to google before I foogle.

ChrisEldin said...

Not very often we get a good query thrashing these days.

Author, good luck.

You can work on it, then let us thrash it again on Query Shark.

Amber said...

Hey all,

I've been working on revising my query, but still trying to get it right. I'm out of town tomorrow until next Wednesday. I'll get my query polished up and post it when I get back.

Again, thanks for all the comments, I have them printed to take with me :)

Amber