Thursday, October 08, 2009

Face-Lift 682

Guess the Plot


1. In the greatest mystery ever to challenge Miss Fiskle, a beautiful music student elopes with the barman from the Waterhouse-Woolibob Pub, an establishment of shady repute. Unpredictably, Penelope loses her gentleman somewhere between the altar and the car. Has the brute died, or simply gone AWOL?

2. Daughter of an opera singer and a taximan, Aria Bentley seeks fame and fortune at sea. She'll be the first teen to sail solo round the world with a full-sized piano on board. Except that, just as the hurricane begins to blow, she discovers an unconscious man in the water. Should she rescue this hairy castaway? Or leave him for the sharks?

3. When pirates board a Caribbean yacht, they don't expect the vessel to suddenly be transported into a universe where islands and ships float in the air. Nor to be chased through the sky by El Diablo. Nor to encounter Mother Earth singing "Sempre Libera." Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.

4. Anna Maria lands the lead in Carmen. She's sure to be the toast of the town--but the opera opens the night of the full moon. Will the audience buy her soprano wolf howls as an avant garde Carmen, or is she doomed to get scathing reviews?

5. Shayna longs to sing at the Met. She looks like an angel, but has the voice of a bullfrog in heat. Meanwhile her best friend, Kelly, has the voice of an angel, but looks like a bullfrog. Can one plastic surgeon, two costume designers, and a mad scientist bring these women happiness?

6. Her father wants Millicent to sing soprano, but she's perfectly content as the gothy, oppressed mistress of the opera house owner. The show must go on, however, and when the actress playing Camille falls ill, Millicent must step in. Hilarity ensues.

Original Version

Dear Agent Cuddles;

Ken Williams spends his days sailing charters from a small Caribbean island while trying to forget the friends he was manipulated into betraying four years ago. When Garth Anderson, the rogue operative who set Ken up, forces him into a modern act of piracy, neither man expects the yacht they've targeted to be pulled into another universe. [Not even Evil Editor expected it.] There, islands float in the sky, ships sail through the air and the four elements have taken human form. [Are they on a planet that has no gravity? If islands float in the sky, why doesn't everything else float into the sky?]

Ken ends up on a ship crewed by the M'wani, a handful of escaped slaves hoping to reach safety on the distant coast. [If ships sail through the air, I don't see why reaching a coast is significant. It's like a WWI dogfight over the English Channel, and one pilot thinks, I've got no more ammo and no maneuverability, but if I can just make it to the coast he can't touch me. Reaching the coast might be good if you're being chased by a submarine.] Among them is N'gali, the Earth Mother. She is being chased across the sky by El Diablo, the avatar of Fire who leads a nation of fanatic conquerors. El Diablo has already captured the avatar of Water and has exiled Father Sky, the only spirit strong enough to oppose him. [I would think water would be better at opposing fire than sky. I base this on TV shows I've seen where they spray water on burning buildings. Though come to think of it, the buildings always burn down anyway.] If El Diablo catches N'gali, he will use her power to create a fiery new world where his followers will rule forever. [Let him create a new world where his followers rule forever. Anything to get him out of our hair.] [By the way, there has to be a limit to how many of your followers can rule forever. If your followers are all ruling forever, it eventually occurs to you that no one's really following you.]

Ken has to choose between surrendering the M'wani and running a race that looks hopeless, for El Diablo's soldiers control the coast and have trapped the M'wani between fleets. [Why is it Ken who has to choose? He just got there and they've already appointed him leader? I'm surprised they don't think he's a spy.] Ken's best friend has sabotaged the M'wani ship in a desperate attempt to return to his home world, [What's Ken's best friend doing in this universe? And what do you mean by "his home world"? Isn't Ken's best friend from Earth?] and El Diablo's accidental death [The great El Diablo, scourge of the universe, villain of the novel, on the verge of capturing his nemesis, isn't defeated by your main character, but dies in an accident?] has transformed Anderson into the new embodiment of Fire. [If you're in human form, what does it mean to be the embodiment of fire? Is it like being the Human Torch?]

Aria is an 86,000 word fantasy. The complete manuscript is available on request. My short work has appeared [where the streets have no name].


What's so great about human form that the four elements would all take it? Maybe if he'd remained in spirit form El Diablo would be alive today.

Is Ken on the yacht when it is drawn into the other universe, and if so, why is he suddenly on the M'wani's boat instead of the yacht? What happened to the yacht?

What's N'gali doing on the M'wani's boat? Can't the Earth goddess come up with better transportation? Shouldn't she be on the earth instead of the water or the sky anyway?

In a novel it's bad when aliens appear in chapter 14; in a query, it's bad when they appear any later than sentence 1. The query might sound less nutzburgers if the fantasy world is mentioned up front. Or--and this will seem a bit radical--keep only the first sentence and rework the novel into a thriller set on plain old Earth.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, it sounds like maybe you started to write some vaguely plausible story about contemporary piracy but then realized your video-game alter-ego was having a more interesting life than the protagonist in your novel, so the one morphed into the other. Also known as, wtf are you talking about here, Dude?

This query makes it sound like you've got a very serious case of plot creep, in which the protagonist and his BIG problem at the beginning are lost somewhere in the middle and all attentions are shifted to another protagonist with a completely different BIG problem. Except that here, you've gone so far as to switch universes and traded devious mortals for warring deities. And scrambled medieval science with classical & other mythology and some sort of M'what-the other stuff. Also, I've seen floating islands and levitating pirates over in the Children's Lit section enough times to think they're not exactly your unique invention.

I'm guessing you'll do better if you make this sound more like a unified tale. Maybe reading up on plot structure and arcs would be helpful.

Aimee States said...


I almost peed my pants.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't it be L'Diablo?

_*Rachel*_ said...

This is insanely confusing and I want to read it anyway. I mean, pirates, floating ships, and elementals? Where can I get my grubby little hands on a copy of it?

The first two sentences are extraneous. So is this: "who leads a nation of fanatic conquerors."

If Father Sky is the only one strong enough to oppose El Diablo, what chance does anyone else have? Is that why he dies in an accident? It feels like when *spoiler alert* Macbeth gets killed by Macduff. He was born via c-section? Bah, he was still born. It's a cop-out.

What about: he will have the ability to rule the world forever. And what happens next?!?

Dave F. said...

I suspect that the only reason you make such a fuss about Garth tricking Ken is to make him a "good" guy for your readers.
That is all backstory and it doesn't help the query.

Another problem I have with Garth is that he only appears on Earth. I am guessing that makes him a one chapter character. If he appears in the rest of the novel, what's he doing? Does Ken reconcile with him?

So what we have is a human -- Ken who understands sailing and piracy -- is transported to a fantasy world where avatars of the four elementals -- Earth Wind, Fire and Water -- are battling for supremacy when they should be striving for harmony. This sounds like the cartoon show "Avatar" which I watched until I got tired of Nick Toons goofy TV schedule of out of order repeats. Not to bring up the new movie "Avatar" which is about another fantasy world. Or that Star Trek Episode where the Enterprise keeps turning into an ancient temple where the Sun God and the Moon God fight it out. Please tell me you have a better plot than that. I'm sure that you do.

And then Ken becomes the fire god, or fire avatar, or fire elemental. Yikes!

Is Ken like the The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant where the hero is a leper (or some other disease) in this world and healthy in the fantasy world? In other words, can he be like the Wizard on Wizard of Oz who never gets back to earth but holds some sort of exalted position in the fantasy world?

pacatrue said...

By any chance, does this beginning from 2007 go with this query?

Matthew said...

I once played a video game (ten years ago?) with sky pirates and floating islands. It also had warring nations that identified with different elements. And each nation had a guardian creature (avatar). It was called Skies of Arcadia.

But sky pirates are an interesting premise, so I might like your book. My advice is to set the whole thing in fantasy land and forget about the crossing over into the real world stuff.

John said...

Admit it; you were stoned and staring at an old Yes LP cover when you wrote this, right? Nothing to be ashamed of, I've done the same many a time.

Sounds a little like a ripoff of anime guy Hayao Miyazaki, but that's OK because he ripped off Jonathan Swift. Both of them had plots that strayed a bit.

Eric P. said...

This sounds crazy, but oddly the more I read it trying to figure it out, the more I liked it. I suspect it will be one of those "love it or hate it" books. Try tightening to fill up the many holes that EE and others have pointed out, and I think it may go places. As long as you recognize the sheer looniness of your plot and write with appropriate lightheartedness, this could be a great deal of fun.

I still haven't come around to liking the names, though. El Diablo? Father Sky? Pretty bland to my tastes. Why not call the protagonist "Human Guy" and be done with it?

All the GTPs were brilliant.

BuffySquirrel said...

No, Paca, it definitely doesn't :D.

ril said...

I like floating islands.

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

It seems to me you have fallen into the classic trap of sci fi/ fantasy where you try to cram all that precious, precious world building into the query at the expense of character and plot.

The entire second paragraph can be summarized in one or two sentences, i.e.: "El Diablo, the fire god, has declared war on the other three elementals and is determined to capture them, taking their powers for himself. Which is a problem for Ken when he finds himself on the ship ferrying N'gali, the earth mother, back to land."

Tell us more about Ken's journey. He comes across as rather passive right now. Give us a sense of the action he takes.

Uberman said...

Reading over the Guess the Plots, I read plot 3 and thought "This is too outlandish, this can't be it."

And it was.

A.) Why is it relevant that they be pirates from the Caribbean (is it the Caribbean in the age of piracy, the modern day, or some other time) or anyone else if they're just going to get zapped into Skies of Arcadia?

B.) How did he get zapped there?

C.) Why is Garth important besides fronting for the villain after he dies by accident? I'm imaging him standing around waiting for El Diablo to die so he can step in.

D.) You've managed to take a conflict as simple as "Villain wants to kill his adversaries" and somehow make it complicated. Where do the M'wani play into this? What are they like? How did they rescue the Earth Spirit? How are they going to find the Sky Father or anything? If they're a slave race, slaves to whom?

E.) What kind of character is Ken or Garth? All you've told me is that they're probably pirates, and they get arbitrarily zapped into another dimension, and quickly brushed them aside with floating islands and airborne galleons.

F.) Who are the M'wani? Are they like a mob, or are there some M'wani characters? Does Ken get attached to any of them? Do they complicate the conflict?

G.) A slight nitpick, but with names like M'wani and N'gali and other big fantasy names, "El Diablo" seems curiously terrestrial. Why can't he be named something like C'nsuum?

The floating islands bit, though it seems a bit isolated ("Look, there's floating islands!"), I can buy that they need to get to a "coast", as in the edge of an island, whether that's if it's surrounded by water or air. But why do they need to get there? Is that were N'gali can really start kicking ass or something? Why are they going to be safe? Is El Diablo going to say "Aw damn, it's a coast" and turn around? ...Well, he's killed by accident halfway through, so he must not be much of a villain.

This sounds like James Cameron's "Avatar" without the complex morality or epic visuals. It might well have them, and probably does, but this query doesn't make them materialize for me.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's good if a query raises questions that one needs to read the book to find out, though not so good if they're about your physics. Ideally they should be questions like what you see in GTPs, which arise from dilemmas of the main characters and the plot dynamics.

_*Rachel*_ said...

Why are half the world-hoppers I've read about British or American? I know they're English books, of course, but it'd be fun to see a shipload of, say, Somali pirates, get zapped into fantasyland.

Forgot to mention earlier: "Ken has to choose between surrendering the M'wani and running a race that looks hopeless, for El Diablo's soldiers control the coast and have trapped the M'wani between fleets." There's only one option here. There's not much of a choice if there's nothing to choose.

Adam Heine said...

Wow! All this time I thought I was the only person who'd ever played Skies of Arcadia.

Or tried to write a novel based on it.

The way this query is written, it doesn't appear to have anything to do with Ken. He shows up, sees a bunch of stuff happen, then his "friend" (who I thought had tricked him into betraying other friends?) gets turned into a fire elemental.

What does Ken want? What does he do? Why (as EE asked) is he the one who decides what happens to the M'wani?

And what, if anything, does his past and the events on Earth have to do with the story?

The first novel I wrote was about a scientist and his son who got trapped in a post-apocalyptic future. Looking back at it now, I realize the story was never about them, but about the people in the future. If I ever rewrite it, the time-travel aspect, along with the scientist and his son, will be removed.

It's possible you need to do the same. Think about it.

Although I do like the part where Garth turns into the fire elemental while he's trying to escape. So maybe it's not so bad.

Xiexie said...

LMAO @ C'nsuum, Uberman.

First question: Where does the title Aria come from?

Next question(s): Who's the best friend? Surely it isn't Anderson. How come we don't hear about the best friend at all until the final paragraph?

Then question(s): Is Anderson a constant foe throughout the plot?

[Not a question, however] please give El Diablo a new name. He can't be the fire elemental, evil supervillain antagonist with that cliche name. C'nsuum is better than El Diablo.

Final question: What's the plot in its barest form? Could you almost list out exactly what's happening here?

I think listing out the exact course of events would help with the confusion. Pirates, N' and M'names, elemtals, airships, etc have me in your corner. I already want to read this. It's just horribly confusing.

batgirl said...

Just my opinion here, but unless this floating world is meant to be an alt-earth with equivalent cultures and history to our Earth, you might want to have less obviously our-Earth names than Diablo.
Why not use the African-inspired names all the way through?

Author said...

New version:

Dear Agent Vociferous;

When sailor Ken Williams is pulled into another dimension, he lands on a ship crewed by escaped slaves. Among them is N'gali, the Earth Mother, who is fleeing El Diablo del Fuego and his nation of followers. El Diablo has already imprisoned Senorita del Agua and exiled Father Sky, the only other Elementals.

When N'gali's ship's captain is killed, Ken becomes the only one aboard who knows how to sail. If Ken surrenders, El Diablo will gain the power to create a fiery new world where her people will be slaves forever. If he aids N'gali, he'll pit his skills against El Diablo's vast navy in a race to the distant mainland where, surrounded by earth, N'gali will be safe.

Unfortunately, he doesn't realize that El Diablo's soldiers have already seized control of the coast, and Ken is trapped between fleets.

Aria is an 86,000 word fantasy. The complete manuscript is available on request. My short work has appeared [wherever fine cheeses are sold].

_*Rachel*_ said...

It's not that he doesn't realize it, it's that he hasn't had a chance to find out.

This is pretty good, but it just doesn't seem to have that zing to it. You don't trip yourself up, but you don't make me rush to read it.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Whoa - way too many characters in the first paragraph. I can't put them all in their respective categories when they're thrown at me like that. It just becomes a jumbled mess of character goo.

Para 2: When the captain is still alive, there is only him and Ken who know how to sail? How are they getting anywhere to begin with? And when you say in Para 1 that the ship is crewed by escaped slaves, I got the impression that they are sailing the ship, but this says otherwise.

I'm lost and have no idea what this story is really about. Can you simplify and lower the body count? Maybe start with Ken and tell the story form his POV.

ann foxlee said...

OK, I'll give it a try here... I think I get what the story is about, but I am still a tad confused...

How about something like:
"When unsuspecting sailor Ken Williams is pulled from our world into a new one controlled by Elemental spirits, he lands on a ship at the center of their conflict.

"The powerful El Diablo del Fuego has already imprisoned Senorita del Agua and exiled Father Sky, and now he is after N'gali, the Earth Mother, who is hiding amongst the slaves crewing Ken's new ship. When the ship's captain is killed, Ken's sailing skills thrust him into the role of captain, and he must decide whether to help N'gali escape, or to save his own hide and turn her over to El Diablo. N'gali pleads with Ken to ferry her to safety on the mainland, lest El Diablo turn their whole world into fire and all its people into his slaves.

"El Diablo's navy is vast, and the race will be harder than any he attempted back home, but Ken agrees to set course for the mainland--and freedom.
"When the coast is siezed by El Diablo's soldiers before Ken can make it there, he is left trapped on the sea between two fleets, unable to deliver N'gali to the safety of the mainland. It will take every bit of his skill to survive the final battle between Elements, let alone to make sure the right one wins."

I don't know, I think this is what you were describing? Something like that, plugging in details or plot devices that I messed up would work I think.

ann foxlee said...

On an aside note, I like batgirl's suggestion to go with African-inspired names throughout. It gives the alternate world a much more 'foreign' feel, and it would give fans of your book something to blog about later. Fans love feeling like they're in the know.

for example, they (mostly) speak Luganda in Uganda, and I googled an online dictionary and found this:
Flame= Omumuli / Fire= Omuliro
Wind= Kibuyaga / Sky= Egulu
Water= Amazzi
Land(piece)= Ettaka
Land(shore)= Olukalu

I'm sure you could find other African languages that would work as well (and I do like the ones you came up with that have apostrophes), but I think it makes more sense and gives a uniform, foreign feel to use one language or style of language (even if it's made-up!)

again, best of luck to you :-)

Sarah Laurenson said...

Ann foxlee's version starts out much clearer for me. The intro of extra characters in the second paragraph comes with a handy box to fit all of them in.

If that's close to what your story is about, this looks like a great starting point.