Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Face-Lift 554

Guess the Plot

Aleth and the Serpent

1. When a fire-breathing serpent burns the town's crops, the people choose Aleth to go kill the creature. They figure she's a 10-year-old orphan, so no one will miss her if she fails. But she succeeds! She returns from her quest with the serpent's heart. But before she can show the townspeople, her guardian eats the heart, with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

2. In the eighth century, the French town Aleth is troubled by a scourge of poisonous snakes. Believing the snakes have a supernatural origin, the townspeople beg their Bishop to save them. But a Deacon discovers that the Bishop has become enslaved to a sorcerer known as . . . The Serpent.

3. Young Alice, mockingly dubbed "Aleth" by her classmates because of a debilitating lisp, is drawn into a parallel universe that is no Wonderland. When forced to battle a beast that uses only the letter "s", Alice learns to pronounce her sibilants. And much more.

4. Same old serpent, different maiden. And this one wields the dreaded Spoon of Andor, with which she plans to blend Chaos, Anarchy and Evil into a big gooey mass of total control of reality, thus upsetting the comfortable status quo of Good vs. Evil. Can the snake stop her plotting before it's too late?

5. Aleth can't wait for her birthday: she's going to be sacrificed to Quaa-Tua, the Serpent God. Instead, she's rescued at the last minute by meddling Elves. What will happen to her homeland if Quaa-Tua doesn't get his way?

6. They say you can get anything you want at Aleth's Rethtaurant. But when Lomar orders Serpent Tartare, he's met with a blank stare. Can Aleth prevent him from destroying the place with his broadsword by offering him today's special: Komodo Dragon skewers?

Original Version

Dear Agent,

I’d be honoured if you’d consider representing Aleth and the Serpent, a 20,000-word fantasy for 7-11-year-olds.

Orphaned Aleth is best friends with Werner, a cheerful 13-year-old. Both are reptile enthusiasts and until Werner starts treating her like a little girl they seem to have everything in common. On Aleth’s tenth birthday they quarrel, and Aleth, trying to prove she’s grown-up enough to be Werner’s friend, set off on her traditional eleventh-year quest alone. [I see we've switched to past tense. Switch back immediately.] Based on a hint from her guardian, Aleth quests for the King of Reptiles, who turns out to be the beautiful but wicked Six-Legged Serpent. [My admittedly abridged sources suggest that serpents have zero legs. Apparently it's true what they say: In the country of the limbless, the six-legged serpent is king.] Aleth foolishly enrages the Serpent (or Dragon) [or giant cockroach] who then burns the Town’s crops.

Hannadrasp, Aleth’s guardian and First Lady of the Town, decrees that whoever stirred up the beast must retrieve his heart, a cluster of living gems, in which is stored the virtue of everything the Serpent has ever stolen.

[Hannadrasp: Someone must acquire the heart of the King of Reptiles. I suggest Aleth.

Aleth: Thanks a lot, Mom.

Hannadrasp: Hey, I'm just your guardian.]

When it is planted in the ground, all will be restored. Through cowardice, the Town agrees and sends Aleth to do the dangerous deed while the Serpent sleeps. But Werner, regretting the quarrel that separated him from Aleth at the vital moment, goes with her. Together Aleth and Werner accomplish the task. Aleth's presence of mind and growing independence prompt her to save the Serpent's life by feeding him a bit of the Heart. All that is good in the Serpent survives, and he is transformed into a tiny Salamandral.

Just when the story seems to have resolved, however, [it is discovered that it's all been back-story and the real plot begins to unfold.] Werner begins to wonder how the disaster really came about in the first place. Hanndrasp [a.k.a. Hannadrasp], Aleth’s guardian, is revealed as the true villain of the story. First, Aleth finds out that Hanndadrasp [That's the third time you've mentioned this character and the third different way you've spelled her name. Maybe you should call her Ann.] actually lured the Serpent to the Town then suggested the Quest to Aleth, hoping to get the Serpent’s Heart or Aleth’s property or both. Second, Hannadrasp keeps the Serpent's Heart for herself.

However, Hannadrasp’s greed brings about her own downfall as she, misunderstanding the uses of the Serpent's Heart, tries to eat it and shrinks away almost to nothing. With his greater knowledge, the Salamandral is able to help Aleth set things right once and for all and they restore the fortunes not only of her own Town but of many others as well. [Just when the story seems to have really resolved, however . . . ]


We don't need this much plot. Maybe you should cut it off at the point where the story seems to be resolved and just hint that there's more to come. '

How come "Heart" is capitalized every time it's used except the first time? I note that "Six-Legged" is also capitalized (not to mention "town" and "quest"). Are all the Serpent's body parts capitalized? Is the Heart the Serpent's actual heart? Because you'd have to be a pretty heavy sleeper if a kid were able to remove your heart without waking you.

If the serpent is a dragon, why not call it a dragon? It's a more familiar word to seven-year-olds.

What does Hannadrasp think will happen when she eats the cluster of gems?

Cowards or not, I don't see a town sending a kid to take on dragon. What's with this "decree"?

Townperson 1: We need to get the dragon's heart.
Townperson 2: Why?
Townperson 1: I don't know. Handclasp decreed it.
Townperson 2: Sounds incredibly dangerous.
Townperson 1: Not to us. We're sending a 10-year-old girl to get it.
Townperson 2: Why?
Townperson 1: I don't know. Handicraft decreed it.
Townperson 2: Thank God we have someone to think for us.


writtenwyrdd said...

Sounds like you have two separate stories here. Also, it doesn't sound very interesting as you present it.

Seems like the big issue is that Aleth is betrayed by her guardian, and overcoming the guardian's evil is the main plot thread. How about you begin by telling us that Aleth is tricked into meeting the king reptile and thus into retrieving the heart for her (apparently heartless) guardian, who also wants Aleth's $$$.

This is apparantly mid grade, and if it isn't the letter makes it sound like it should be. Otherwise I'd suggest you have the kid me in her mid to late teens.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I don't think you need to specify the age range of who this is written for. A generic 'Middle Grade' label should suffice. 20K is good but a little on the thin side. I've seen thinner manuscripts get published because the editor fell in love with the character, but the author still had to beef it up.

This seems more like a synopsis than a query. A synopsis gives the whole book boiled down to a few paragraphs. A query is a bit of a tease, an intro to what is about to happen in the book, just enough to spark interest in an agent or editor and get them to read your gloriously well-written first pages. But not too thin there either.

IMO: Queries are a bitch, and require a lot of practice that could be better spent working on the book, but that's the way this business works.

AR said...

WW, if it's mid grade (and it is) why should the protag be a teen? The kids I talked to told me they prefer to read about someone their own age doing grown-up things.

AR said...

So 1) I don't need to tell the whole story in the query? and 2) the query should provide more believable motives for the way people are acting?

Evil Editor said...

1) I don't need to tell the whole story in the query?

No. The synopsis should take us through the story; the query includes a brief synopsis, but just enough to whet our appetites.

2) the query should provide more believable motives for the way people are acting?

Well, don't make up believable motives if there are none. If you can't convince us certain actions are believable, can you describe the story without those actions?

For instance, instead of telling us the townspeople agree to send a 10-year-old girl into the dragon's lair, which is hard to swallow, you could just tell us the girl goes into the dragon's lair to get the Heart, knowing it's the only way to save the day. If we assume it was the girl's idea, that's our problem.

AR said...

Thanks, Sara. I was hoping someone would tell me something really practical about age-ranges and word count, and synopsis. vs. query.

AR said...

Thanks, EE. That's very helpful.

beth said...

Um...isn't 20k words a LOT short for a MG novel? I mean, that's only about 75 pages!!

Also: ROTFLMAO @ EE's scene at the end!

Anyway, here's my take on some of the lines:

1. Liked the first three lines--well done.

2. "set off on her traditional eleventh-year quest alone" If it's traditional, wouldn't there be some sort of, um, tradition around it? Like a ceremony or a typical object? Do they just chuck eleven year olds out into the wilderness and shout "Do something cool!"?

3. "wicked Six-Legged Serpent" If it's a dragon, call it a dragon. It seems ridiculous to call it a serpent, especially one with 6 legs.

4. Heart = gems = confusing.

5."When it is planted in the ground, all will be restored." No indication here that something else would happen if they're, oh, say, eaten.

6. I agree with EE: TMI on the plot.

Here's my rough take on a revision.

Orphaned Aleth is best friends with Werner, a cheerful 13-year-old. Both are reptile enthusiasts and until Werner starts treating her like a little girl they seem to have everything in common. On Aleth’s tenth birthday they quarrel, and Aleth decides to prove her worth to Warner by finding the King of Reptiles, a beautiful but wicked dragon.

Aleth doesn't just find the dragon--she enrages him when she does X. The dragon then attacks her hometown, burning the crops.

Hanna-whatever, Aleth's guardian and First Lady of the town, informs everyone of the power of the dragon's heart: if the heart is buried into the ground, the crops can be restored. What Hanna-? doesn't tell them is that the powerful heart can be used for other purposes, too...

When guilt-ridden Aleth and Warner try to make things right by slaying the dragon, they never thought that the dragon could be their greatest ally against their enemy at home.

Xiexie said...

I think this is an interesting story, but this query isn't enough of a tease. I don't think we need to know fully about Hannadrasp (whom I continue to call -- in my head -- Handrasap). Just offer us enough so that we get that ther's an ulterior motive and Aleth has to do more questing.

150 said...

If I was the King of Serpents and some middle-schooler enraged me, I wouldn't burn the town's crops. I'd burn Aleth.

150 said...

(I looked at the opening and noticed you'd commented on my comment, so here's my response to that)

If you want it pronounced with a long "a", try another spelling that suggests it, like Aelith, Aileth, or Aoleth.

writtenwyrdd said...

"if it's mid grade (and it is) why should the protag be a teen?"

Try rereading what I wrote.

Anonymous said...

Author, scroll down and read the query letter for Monster House Fraternity. It's got flaws but the format is more what you want to look for. Don't overload the query letter with detail or unanswered questions. INtroduce the main plot lines, hint at a cool ending, leave out out plot elements that make sense in the book but won't necessarily add up without a ton of explanation.

A synopsis is very different than a query. It's a teaser to make somebody want to read it. It should maybe include some suspense or mystery and of course should be written with perfick grammer and speling.

Whirlochre said...

Anything written for the 7-11 market needs to be super crisp and simple and I'm not getting these qualities from this query.

As Sarah says, you seem to have intruded on synopsis territory and given us more than we need.

The penultimate paragraph reads like a sailor's knot and since the general consensus is that you'll need to get the shears out, I'd start the big cuts here.

AR said...

Something more along these lines, perhaps:

Ayleth loves reptiles. There's something uncanny about their scratchy iridescent skin, their quick jerky movements, and their strange hissing speech. In the countryside town of Mirrogarden, there are plenty of reptiles to be found. And in a world where animals really are people, too, understanding them is more than a hobby. If Ayleth distinguishes herself, her noble guardian Hannadrasp will find a place for her at court, studying to be one of the King’s Ambassadors to the Reptile Kind.

But people begin studying for such honorable careers at the age of eleven, and Ayleth is turning ten. Now is the time, she feels, to act.

So when Hannadrasp lets fall some words about an obsolete tradition - the eleventh-year quest - Ayleth decides to look for the Lord of Reptiles. Transgressing an ancient treaty, she flees down the Reptile Trail, which is supposed to be off-limits to humans. She discovers a rare and frighteningly beautiful place – a hidden Fire Meadow - and there she meets the Lord of Reptiles indeed. He has the body of a serpent, six legs, and massive wings. And he’s angry. By the end of that terrible birthday, the Reptile Lord has burned all the town’s crops, and Hannadrasp, who is also Representative of the King’s Justice to Mirrogarden, has convinced the town that only the person who brought this upon them can set things right.

From inside a whirlwind of guilt and apprehension, Ayleth wonders whether Hannadrasp ever really cared for her. Perhaps she never meant to send her to court at all. However, the choices before Ayleth are no longer between a simple country life and one at court. Life or death; salvation or exile – this is her future.

But there’s a practical, cheerful boy next door who used to be her friend and suddenly he's by her side again. It’s just possible that with his help and her own reserves of wit and strength, Ayleth will pull through.

benwah said...

GTP #6 was great. "I'm just thittin' here on the benth, just thittin' here on the group W benth..."

"Orphaned Aleth is best friends with Werner, a cheerful 13-year-old." Aleth is your MC, but it's not until later you tell us she's 10. This opening line takes the focus away from her.

EE's right. Things in the story may be well explained, but as so far presented in the query, they strain credulity a bit. Because in the letter you don't have the luxury to describe just how it makes sense that the townspeople sent a little girl out to battle a monster, you can probably omit some of those details. A little girl out hunting a multi-legged snake (huh?) is story enough.

Those little mistakes like spelling the guardian's name three different ways will kill you.

Dave F. said...

Wow, so much stuff in that query that you don't need.

First off, there is no hook. You need a hook to open the query. Second, there s too much of the story

Try something bare bones like this to start and make it exciting. Make is sexy and exciting.

Ten year old Alicia's quest is to find the King of Reptiles, a six-legged dragon and (do what with the dragon). When the dragon follows her back to the village and burns the crops, Hanna, Alicia's guardian and matriarch of the village, orders her to find the King of Reptiles' crystalline heart to restore prosperity to her village. Her best friend, Werner accompanies her. When they find the heart, the restore the dragon's goodness and transform it into a Salamandral.

However, Hanna has other plans for they crystalline heart. She tries to use the crystalline heart to gain dominion over the village, forcing Alicia and the Salamandral to save the village and restore the fortunes of the town.

Beth said...

Way too much information for a query letter. Cut it back to one substantial paragraph, and present only the main character(s) and main conflict in an interesting, colorful way.

Beth said...

re your rewrite:

Still far too long and still too much information.

For a query, you to have to fit your pitch, in addition to information about you, onto one page.

writtenwyrdd said...

Keep trying. You are likely too in love with all your details at this point. It is easy to be too close to your story, making it difficult to select the really important points to share in the letter. Step back and see the main plot issues and write only about those for the draft of your letter. The reworked opening still doesn't get us immediately to the main plot. The first two paragraphs are backstory still.

Also, you might benefit from reading previous posts or the snarkives at Miss Snarks blog (sadly, now defunct) in order to discover what makes a query letter or a synopsis.

Dave F. said...

BTW - I didn't change the names in my revision of the query for any reason than it made it simpler for me to concentrate. Your names are OK. From what I read, you world has a rich set of names. So the change was for me and my odd brain, not a comment to the author.

Xiexie said...

Don't give up, AR! Take from Dave's example and build from there. He's got the essentials, just toss in some few details and that'll help you shape the query just right.

stick and move said...

I can't think of anything of value to add to what's already been said, but I will say EE's scene at the end was a bright spot in my day. Thanks for that, EE. And by the way, you've got Townperson 2 talking twice in a row, which I don't think you intended.

stick and move said...

Oh, and GTP #6 was also a killer. Nice job.

talpianna said...

I think it might make a better story if Aleth was (ssssecretly) best friends with the Six-Legged Serpent, who is innocent of evildoing but framed by Handrasp for her own evil deeds; and Werner was her nemesis, always picking on her. Her quest would then be to prove her friend's innocence, and Werner would be along against his will. They would learn to work together and discover the real villain.

And then Aleth would be sent to study at Hogwarts and Werner would become a vampire...

Sarah Laurenson said...

Here's a suggestion to muddy the waters even further. 4 sentences, 91 words.

Ayleth celebrates her birthday by transgressing an ancient treaty and angering the Reptile Lord who retaliates by burning all of the town’s crops. It wasn’t what Ayleth had in mind when she set off on her eleventh year quest one year early. Her noble guardian Hannadrasp orders Ayleth to find the Reptile Lord’s crystalline heart to restore prosperity to the village. However, Hannadrasp tries to use the heart to gain dominion over the village, forcing Ayleth to join forces with the Reptile Lord against the only mother she has ever known.

Robin S. said...

Townperson 2: Sounds incredibly dangerous.
Townperson 2: Not to us. We're sending a 10-year-old girl to get it.
Townperson 1: Why?
Townperson 2: I don't know. Handicraft decreed it.
Townperson 1: Thank God we have someone to think for us.

Ha! You made my early morning so much brighter.

December/Stacia said...

How does Hannadrasp have the heart to eat, when part of it was fed to the serpent and the rest was buried to save the town?

AR said...

Stacia, at that point the heart hasn't been planted yet. Actually it ends up turning out a lot different than Hannadrasp said it would - she's quite ignorant.

Beth said...

Sarah, that's so much better. You are definitely on the right track. You might consider leaving out the reference to the 11th year quest, which isn't important to the query. And the reference to the mother at the end came out of the blue. In fact, you said Ayleth had a guardian, Hannadrasp.

Oh wait--are they one and the same?

I fiddled a bit and here's your paragraph, rearranged just a little...

When Ayleth decides to make her tenth birthday one to remember, it wasn't part of the plan to transgress an ancient treaty and anger the Reptile Lord, who retaliates by burning all of the town’s crops. Now she has been ordered to find the Reptile Lord's crystalline heart and return it to him to restore prosperity to the village. But her guardian Hannadrasp, the only mother she has ever known, has a plan of her own--she intends to use the heart to gain dominion over the village. To stop her, Ayleth must join forces with the most unexpected ally of all--the Reptile Lord himself.

I really like the fact that you put her in conflict with her own adopted mother and make an enemy into an ally.

AR said...

Which is exactly what my story does...only I didn't have the sense to point that up in my query.

AR said...

Thanks, everyone, for your help!