Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Face-Lift 754

Guess the Plot

Eden's Rat

1. When the serpent decides that what he really wants to do is direct, he entrusts a lowly rodent with the role of tempting Eve.

2. Ricky has had it. The snake gets all the press, but who do you think did all the work?

3. What, you thought we didn't show up until the plague? Wrong, my friend--we've been around since Eden. A chronicle of our fecal deposits to prove it.

4. At last, the inside story of the Fall of Man, by the guy who bet the serpent five bucks he couldn't pull it off.

5. Rat is working as a guide in the best city in the world, but he has problems. For starters, there's his name. Rat. It's hard to get work as a city guide when your name is Rat. People are afraid you'll guide them to back alleys and dump sites. Also, homicidal magicians.

6. After Adam and Eve screw up, God replaces them with a more self-reliant pair. As Eden is overrun by rodent-spawn, God realizes He's just been conned . . . by Satan.

7. Eden will fail biology if she doesn't come up with a killer science fair project. Her pet rat suggests himself: a talking rat. But now that she's heard him talk, can she resist the temptation to sell him to the circus?

Original Version

Esteemed Evil Editor,

I submit for your ridicule the following query:


His homeland invaded and enslaved by Antang fanatics, Maac-Kail isn't too picky where he looks for allies. [It would be more entertaining if his homeland were invaded and enslaved by Tang fanatics. I'm not sure why Tang fanatics would need slaves unless it's to stir their Tang, but any book that posits Tang fanatics is a work of comedic genius.] His best hope is the magicians of Selzburg, [That sounds too much like the musicians of Salzburg, the most famous of whom was Mozart (whose fan club was known as the Wolfgang Fanatics).] the strongest remaining free city. His problem? They murdered his brother. His other problem? He is a back-country hick of a hedge-magician who can't walk the streets of Selzburg without his mouth hanging open as he peers up at the tops of the buildings. [His other other problem? The ability to make a hedge disappear isn't all that useful.] He hires a street boy named Rat to guide him around the city and keep him out of trouble as he tries to figure out how to approach the magicians. [If my task is to figure out how to approach someone, I'm gonna sit on a park bench and think about it for ten minutes, not hire a city guide.]

Robielle, Antang prince and ambassador, is looking for a useful bride. Princess Margaret of Selzburg is the willing target. If he can slip her out of the city and marry her, the people of Selzburg will break into factions and the city be more easily conquered. His scheme rests on Margaret being a bit dim. Everything goes as planned at first, but the magicians are on his trail, and Margaret may be learning she doesn't need a handsome prince after all. [We're still in Selzburg, but suddenly we have a different cast of characters. I expected this paragraph to be about Maac-Kail and Rat approaching the magicians. It's usually best to focus on the main character.]

Rat, an orphan teen growing up on the streets of Selzburg doesn't have much but problems. [We already know he's a street boy. And "doesn't have much but problems" is awkward and vague. Move on.] He finds a handkerchief, clue to the location of the eloped princess. Now the magicians are after him and Maac-Kail is his only hope to escape them alive. [They're going to kill him just because he found her handkerchief? How do they even know he found her handkerchief? Are they using magic to monitor what this orphan teen does when they could be using it to locate the princess?] Can Rat trust a foreign magician any more than the local ones, or is Maac-Kail using him to further his own schemes?

EDEN'S RAT is a YA fantasy of 83,000 words.

Thanks so much for your time and attention.



What kind of powers does a magician have in this world? They're after Robielle and then they're after Rat. Can't they use magic to immediately find them, instead of having to trail them?

The query sounds like three short stories all set in the same world. Tie it all together. I assumed the plot was Maac-Kail consulting the magicians about saving his homeland from the invaders. If he never gets around to saving his homeland, you don't need the first paragraph; just say something like: Driven from his homeland by Antang invaders, Maac-Kail flees to Selzburg . . . If he does get back home, you don't need much of the second and third paragraphs; just say Maac-Kail recruits the Selzburg magicians and get to the part where they drive out the invading Antang fanatics. Focus on the main character(s)/main plot line.

Maybe you should call the invaders extremists instead of fanatics. Antang fanatics sounds like fans of a rock group.


Anonymous said...

EE, you say focus on the main character. What if you have different POV characters with separate but intersecting story arcs, say, like in Claire Messud's "The Emperor's Children"-how do you handle that in a query??

_*rachel*_ said...

Keep this: "He is a back-country hick of a hedge-magician who can't walk the streets of Selzburg without his mouth hanging open as he peers up at the tops of the buildings." This is a good example of when you can get away with telling instead of showing.

That said, you need to focus on only one of the main characters/plotlines here, probably the Maac/Rat one. I'm guessing a third of the book is from the prince's POV, but in the query you should probably shorten it to something like: "When Selzburg's princess elopes with the enemy prince, panic ensues." Then tell us how that affects your MC(s).

The writing in this isn't bad--it's got good voice, for one thing--but you should consider starting your next draft pretty much from scratch.

The main thing I didn't like: names. You had a lot of them, and many were either just plain weird or too similar to real life (Tang & Salzburg). And then you had Margaret and Rat. Could names be a little more consistent and English-y? Oh, and (though it doesn't have to be in your query) what does Eden have to do with anything?

Send in your revision when you have it; I've got a feeling it'll be a good one.

Bernita said...

The query is jumbled and confusing but it sounds like there's an interesting book in there somewhere.

Evil Editor said...

What if you have different POV characters with separate but intersecting story arcs,

Choose one on which to focus, and mention the other(s) briefly. If you aren't sure which to focus on, try writing more than one query, each with a different character focused on and send the one that tells your story most clearly.

Amy said...

Some of the writing is awkward, like this:

His homeland invaded and enslaved by Antang fanatics, Maac-Kail isn't too picky where he looks for allies.

I'm not enough of a grammar expert to know if that opening phrase is grammatically correct or not, but it feels awkward.

I was expecting an explanation of "Antang fanatics" later in the query, but I didn't get one. If you don't have room to explain, maybe use a descriptive phrase that doesn't raise so many questions. "Serpent worshippers," or whatever they are. (See, I have no idea.)

I agree that Selzburg is a bad name choice. I immediately pictured scenes from "Amadeus."

I like the description of Maac-Kail as a backcountry hick of a hedge-mage--that's awesome--but I don't like that he hangs around the city trying to figure out how to approach the magicians. It makes him sound weak. Man up, Maac-Kail. Walk in the front door.

And I agree with the others--the second and third paragraphs are confusing because we switch away from what appears to be the main storyline. Pick one character and focus on him. It's hard enough to tell just one character's story in a query letter, and near impossible to tell three.

If he can slip her out of the city and marry her, the people of Selzburg will break into factions and the city be more easily conquered.

"...and the city be..." is awkward.

This sounds pretty fun, and I like the voice of the query. But I think the query needs to be restructured to focus on one character, and the writing needs to be smoothed out.

Stephen Prosapio said...

The query thus far sounds mostly like set up for the story rather than the actual story itself. I've seen the "3 character pitch" done on the back of book jackets, but they're much shorter and...."pitchyer" than this. And if this is a query designed to get an agent, you don't get anywhere near far enough into the story to give an idea what's going on. IMO

Tom said...

Thanks EE, and thanks to all the others. I grappled with how many people to mention and tried to tie together why these people are butting heads. Rat and Maac-Kail (gotta get rid of the hyphenated name) are the primary characters throughout the story, but I thought I needed to get in why they were being hunted.

As for Maac manning up and going in the front door, that's what got his brother killed. Maac is scoping out the city and coming up with a plan to make the magicians take him seriously enough not to kill him out of hand. They don't like competition.

By the way, EE, is it OK to post a link here so if anyone were interested enough they could go and read a few chapters?

Evil Editor said...

Yes, though actually, your name is a link to your profile which has a link to your blog, which I assume has a link to your chapters?

Xiexie said...

Too much is going on. It does feel like you want to focus on all three arcs but just choose one. The Maac-Rat (makes me think of packrat :p) is the most intriguing.

I agree about the names' needing to be more consisent. Robielle used for a male name just doesn't sit well with me cos usually 'elle' is reserved for females.

To Amy: the first sentence is grammatically correct; however it could be less awkward thusly: With his homeland invaded and enslaved by Antang fanatics, Maac-Kail isn't too picky where he looks for allies.

Tom said...

OK, so I'm a little slow...Actually what's on the blog right now needs to be updated.

Anonymous said...

I wish the main character's name wasn't McHale...picky, I know, but I kept waiting for his Navy to show up. Not all your readers will be under 18, and even the ones who are may have seen the show. It's okay until someone reads your query out loud.

Tom said...

Anon, I pronounce it to myself MacKail, about the same, and I had thought of the TV show. Like I said, that name needs a tweek or three. So far no one who has read it has caught that. But they are all teens. I don't think many under thirty would even notice. (Are you giving away your age?)

The names have a wide variety because the characters come from different countries. Selzberg is somewhat Germanic, Maac-Kail Celtic etc.

By the way, I reposted a big chunk on my blog. Take a look.

Chicory said...

Ditto on the `work on the names'. When I first read that Princess Margarete had fled, I assumed that she was secretly Rat. My idea was that she had disguised herself as a boy and that Rat was a shortened form of Margarete, maybe a nickname given to her by an older brother or annoying cousin. That's one problem with changing perspective in the middle of a query. People will invent hoops to jump through to form some connection between the old characters and the new ones.

Joe G said...

Au contraire, evil editor... I'd say those Wall Street magicians have had a lucrative career making hedge (funds) disappears.

I felt the story started in the third paragraph. Street rat finds handkerchief, only clue to whereabouts of missing princess, pursued by evil hedge fund managers, then what happens?

Tom said...

Joe G, that is where the story kicks off, the very first page I wrote was Rat finding the handkerchief. By about the third chapter I found that Rat wasn't nearly as interesting as Maac, so I shifted focus to him and rewrote a lot.

batgirl said...

Maybe start with Rat finding the handkerchief? Hey, it's a clue to Princess Margaret, whose disappearance has thrown Selzburg into an uproar, and it leads straight to the Antang ambassador. But if he takes it to the Magicians of Salzburg, he won't get a reward, he'll be accused of being part of the plot. The only magician who'll believe him and help is Maac-Kail, a refugee from Antang conquest. But Maac-Kail is only a hedge-wizard, and worse, he's a back-country hick he can't walk the streets of Selzburg without his mouth hanging open (etc.)